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X-Men: The Last Stand

2006x3

Movie review by Greg Carlson

Despite his reputation as a shallow hack who weakens the big-budget movies he helms, Brett Ratner possesses enough skill as a filmmaker to not only connect the dots, but also to keep things moving briskly, even when character is sacrificed for special effects-driven action. “X-Men: The Last Stand” is the sort of movie that manages to resist Ratner’s directorial shortcomings, given the title’s status as a massive franchise and its placement as a “final chapter” (at least for now) in a trilogy. For all the griping about Ratner’s suitability to replace Bryan Singer, X-fans should be relieved, thrilled, and arguably overjoyed that the reins weren’t handed to someone like Joel Schumacher, who virtually took a pile driver to the “Batman” series.

In many ways, including some of the most important ones, “X-Men: The Last Stand” equals if not surpasses the Singer-directed movies. In this installment, the government reveals a so-called cure for mutants, an announcement that deeply divides the fringe community largely composed of two camps: Professor Charles Xavier’s (Patrick Stewart) nurturing academy and the underground collection of outcasts led by Magneto (Ian McKellan). Like many other superhero sequels, “X3” labors to adequately divide its attention evenly among the myriad characters, a task made all the more difficult with the tacit requirement that a handful of new faces be added to the mix.

Fans of the long-running comic always have their favorite characters, and several new faces appear onscreen in varying levels of prominence. Kelsey Grammer works perfectly as Dr. Hank McCoy/Beast, the furry blue acrobat who heads the Department of Mutant Affairs. Ben Foster plays the winged Angel, but despite the script’s best intentions, his screen time amounts to little more than a bit part. Much more fun is the appearance of Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page), whose fetching allure attracts the attention of Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) and the ire of Rogue (Anna Paquin). Kitty, who can walk through walls, is given a terrific scene in which she plays hide-and-seek with Vinnie Jones’ Juggernaut.

The film makes room for the new inhabitants by essentially dispensing with a few of the older participants. While the diminished role of the bland Cyclops (James Marsden) is no great loss, the movie misses a great opportunity to explore the complex relationship between Magneto and Mystique (Rebecca Romijn). Following a gripping prison-convoy rescue sequence, Mystique vanishes, even though the outcome of her liberation melee sets up a potentially engrossing character dimension. To reveal more would be unfair, but Mystique deserves a bit better than to be the subject of a hammy line-delivery of the “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” chestnut.

Like the previous two “X-Men” movies, “The Last Stand” alternates between CG-enhanced battles and the soapy machinery of multiple relationships. A spectacular dismantling of the Golden Gate Bridge provides plenty of eye candy, and the most prominent figure in the series, Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, finds himself at the center of much of the action. As Storm, Halle Berry struggles to assume the role of Xavier’s second in command, but her character has always been underwritten. McKellan and Stewart are wonderful as always. This leaves the conundrum of Famke Janssen’s Jean Grey, whose rebirth in “X3” drives much of the plot. The richness of the Phoenix saga in the original comic would require several films, making the severely altered and truncated version presented here a somewhat confusing disappointment.

This review was originally published in the High Plains Reader the week of 5/29/06.

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