Saturday, June 10, 2006

Movie Review: "X-Men: The Last Stand"

Starring Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Ian McKellen, Famke Janssen, Anna Paquin, Kelsey Grammar, Rebecca Romijn and Patrick Stewart
Directed by Brett Ratner

Practically promising a conclusion to the “X-Men” movies by stressing “The Last Stand” over “X3,” the popular Marvel Comics series gets its biggest, although not best big-screen treatment this go around.

That said, director Brett Ratner largely acquits himself from the firestorm of criticism he received upon news that he would be taking over the movie franchise from Bryan Singer, who directed the first two installments. Singer, who left the project in pre-production, moved on to his career dream project of helming a “Superman” movie. That film, “Superman Returns,” will look to compete with “X-Men: The Last Stand” for box office supremacy when it opens later this month.

Picking up a short time after the events in “X2,” the mutants face their biggest challenge yet, as news quickly spreads of a scientific “cure” to mutancy that will allow them the ability to be entirely human. In the collective thinking of the government and probably most of the human population, that means being “normal.”

Naturally, not everyone is thrilled with the newly developed opportunity, particularly Magneto (Ian McKellen), one of the more powerful mutants with the power to control and manipulate metal. He sees the cure not as an option, but as the beginning of a war to wipe out mutants altogether. The fact that he learns many doses of the antibody are being loaded into guns to be used against them only serves to fuel his already heavy skepticism.

But his more ego-like counterpart, Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), ever the optimist, holds out hope that a peaceful coexistence can still be attained. He tries to convey this outlook upon his colleagues and students at his school, with varied degrees of success. Among them are Woverine (Hugh Jackman), Storm (Halle Berry) and Rogue (Anna Paquin).

The wild card in the conflicting philosophies of Magneto and Xavier arrives when Wolverine and Storm find friend and fellow mutant Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), believed to have perished in “X2.” As the X-Men quickly realize, Jean’s not quite her normal self and is in fact, capable of destroying pretty much anything in her path, if she sets her mind to it. This puts her former colleagues in the unenviable position of trying to decide if she can be saved or whether she must be destroyed.

As the mutants led by Magneto choose to fight tooth and nail against the human’s desire to administer a cure, Xavier’s side tries desperately to fend off an impending war.

While the script by Zak Penn and Simon Kinberg brings up some quite interesting philosophical dilemmas and complicated issues of conformity versus individuality, they tend to get muted beneath all the noise and special effects. That’s not to say the special effects don’t impress, because they do – perhaps no more so than an intense sequence at Jean’s house where characters and the house’s very frame are being lifted into the air. It’s just that by the film’s near chaotic conclusion, which features more characters than you can keep track of, “X-Men” starts to break down.

If anything, this is a movie that probably could have stood to be a little longer, as it features so many new characters, that few of them are very well developed. Meanwhile, older ones are pushed to the background or disappear altogether. Some of those developments bring a bit of surprise to the proceedings, but still leave you wanting more.

As for this film truly being the end of the “X-Men,” don’t believe the hype. With the franchise showing it still has life in story and at the box office, you can bet they’ll be no “cure” coming for at least some of these mutants anytime soon. Let the spinoffs begin.

Grade: B
(Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action violence, some sexual content and language.)

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