This review needs to start off with a message to the fanboys (of whom I am one): You can stop ragging on Brett Ratner now. X-Men: The Last Stand - the third in the popular film series based on one of Marvel Comics’ most beloved franchises – has been unexpectedly controversial among comic aficionados. Original series director Bryan Singer bolted to make the upcoming Superman Returns, and his replacement (Layer Cake’s Matthew Vaughn) dropped out of part three for “personal reasons.” In a pinch, the producers tapped Ratner to take over. Ratner cut his teeth on music videos and the Rush Hour pictures, whereas Singer and Vaughn had artsy indie cred. Fans, apparently fearing that Ratner would do to the X-Men films what Joel Schumacher did to the Batman flicks, waged an online war of words against the director. As a long-time X-Men fanatic, I’m happy to say that Ratner is apparently the kind of guy who steps into an assignment like this wanting to give the fans what they crave. Fears that the series would become campy or silly have proven unfounded.
Instead, we get a story that fits perfectly into the mythology established by the first two X-Men adaptations. The uneasy co-existence between humans and mutants continues unabated. A scientist announces that a special mutant – a boy named Leech (Cameron Bright) – has been discovered. His power is, essentially, to negate the powers of other mutants. The government sees an opportunity to create a “cure” for the mutant gene by extracting the boy’s DNA and making a vaccine.
This news is not entirely met with enthusiasm. Storm (Halle Berry) and Professor X (Patrick Stewart) believe that there’s nothing wrong with mutants and therefore they have no need to be “cured.” Villain Magneto (Ian McKellen) agrees, but on an entirely different principal: he suspects that the government will try to force the vaccine on mutants. Not wanting to be forced into submission, he asserts his idea of mutant superiority by organizing a small mutant army to find and kidnap Leech so that the cure cannot be manufactured.
His secret weapon is Jean Gray (Famke Janssen), who died in X2 but, as any comic book fan can tell you, is reborn as Phoenix. Armed with more power than any other mutant and a dangerous split personality, she gives Magneto a serious chance of succeeding in his mission. Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) leads the fight against Magneto, with the help of Storm, Iceman, and some new mutants, including Beast (Kelsey Grammer) and Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page). They try to get to Leech before the kidnapping can take place.
The X-Men have been popular for so long because they represent the outcast, the rejected, and the different. On the page, their battles have often held parallel meanings to real life events (the civil rights struggle, for instance). This deeper level has translated well to the movies. X-Men: The Last Stand, in particular, made me think of our nation’s ongoing discussion of homosexuality. Many feel that homosexuality is something you’re born with and there’s nothing inherently wrong with it. Others have argued that homosexuals should have fewer rights than everyone else because of their orientation. Still others believe it is a sickness, with some psychologists and clergy even coming up with theories about how to “reverse” it. I’m not saying that the movie is a parable for this issue, but it is one of several real-life examples that the plot effectively mirrors.
I like how the film looks at all sides of its mutant issue. Many of the characters strongly oppose the cure, but a few are intrigued by it. In one scene, blue hairy Beast comments that some mutants (a.k.a. Storm) fit in with humans more easily because they “don’t shed on the carpet.” The plot also deals with Rogue (Anna Paquin), whose power has left her unable to physically touch other people. This prevents her from kissing or holding hands with her boyfriend, so the idea of a cure is tempting to her. This kind of thing is the heart and soul of the X-Men comics, and it’s gratifying to see the movies be about something rather than just trying to be mindless action thrill rides.
Of course, there is a lot of action here and it is all pretty exciting. However, it’s exciting because it serves the ideas. When Magneto declares war, he ends up creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. The only way for the human army to battle his angry mutants is to create special guns that fire darts filled with the cure. This leads to an intense battle on the island of Alcatraz (following an amazing sequence involving the Golden Gate Bridge). There’s also a brilliant chase scene in which two opposing mutants race side-by-side to get to Leech first. One of the mutants walks through walls, while the other smashes through them. As in the first two installments, the balance of action and honest-to-goodness story is perfectly achieved.
There’s a lot more to say about X-Men: The Last Stand, especially since it is allegedly the last film in the series. Then again, these are things that you talk about with friends afterward. (In other words, expect major surprises here.) Last, but not least, we get some cool new mutants, my favorite of whom is Juggernaut (Vinnie Jones). Beast is pretty awesome too. Oh, who am I kidding? They’re all awesome. That’s why I’m such a fan. And it feels good to know that the three X-Men movies have been faithful to the source material. These aren’t just superheroes; they’re superheroes who stand for something that all of us can relate to.
( 1/2 out of four)
Note: For a special - and crucial - surprise, make sure you sit all the way through the end credits.
X-Men: The Last Stand is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action violence, some sexual content and language. The running time is 1 hour and 45 minutes.
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