X-Men: The Last Stand
Directed by Brett Ratner
Written by Simon Kinberg
and Zak Penn
Starring Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen and Hugh Jackman
Don't take that "last stand" part of the new X-Men film title at face value: If you hang on through the closing credits, past the roll call of hundreds of stunt men, animators and assistants to everybody, there's a final teaser scene that strongly hints of future wars and more apocalyptic scenarios to come in the X-Men franchise.
With more superheroes, more action and more stuff blowing up than ever before, X-Men: The Last Stand has the climactic oomph that suggests a finale, though not the gravitas to suggest a resolution. The series, started by director Bryan Singer in 2000, and continued in his impressive 2003 follow up, is not quite like anything else in the comics-to-movies world -- an ensemble superhero movie that is more about social issues (and wigs and prosthetics) than about heroics. Though this third film, directed by the ham-handed Brett Ratner ( Rush Hour), slides into overstuffed narrative complication and self-parodying quippiness, the pop mythology remains intact, even vital.
X-Men has always been casual, even anarchic, in hewing to the laws of physics or narrative logic. The twin poles are Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, the two Royal Shakespeare Company veterans, who use their polished baritones to makepreposterous declarations sound almost plausible. They are assisted by the architectonic sets and a rotating cast of superhero skills: those with porcupine quills, wings, sword fingers, those who walk through walls and those who knock them down. And, of course, there's Rebecca Romijn's Mystique, a woman capable of assuming any human shape who prefers to walk around mostly naked and painted blue. The result is a kind of attention-deficit movie-making, where the busy parade of costumes, characters and cameos provides a constant source of diversion without wasting our time with dramatic filler between the action sequences. Given what passes for drama in most action films, this is not entirely a bad thing.
In any case, X-Men has always been more about issues than characters, with vestiges of its 1960s history, when Stan Lee created it as a mirror of the civil-rights movement. Led by the bald and brave Professor Charles Xavier (Stewart), the gang of misfits around Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters battle anti-mutant discrimination and Bush-administration-like intrusions of government authority.
This time, the issue is a discovery of a "cure" for mutancy, which will turn these near-gods to diminished mortals. "You can't cure being a mutant -- there's nothing to cure," protests Halle Berry's Storm, stealing from the gay-rights primer.
At the same time, the good mutants must stop the radical bad mutants led by McKellen's Magneto, who, in the current incarnation has transformed from simply misguided to a campy version of Osama bin Laden, a narcissistic terrorist who issues gloating videotapes to rouse his followers and taunt his enemies.
The core group -- Hugh Jackman's Wolverine, Berry's Storm, Famke Janssen's Jean Grey, Anna Paquin's Rogue -- are all given their brief slices of screen time for their rivalries and intrigues with other mutants. This may cause astute fans of the franchise to wonder: Wasn't Jean Grey deeply and unqualifiedly dead in the last movie?
Well now she's back, or rather, her suppressed alter-ego, Phoenix, a woman of powerful sexual and destructive impulses, has arisen inside her. Poor Jean/Phoenix stands, her coppery hair blowing in the breeze as she wears the worried look of someone who might have left the kettle on, while the world explodes around her. This makes romance with the lusty Wolverine difficult, nor does she trust Charles Xavier. Naturally, the wily Magneto co-opts her for his side as his personal weapon of mass destruction, to accompany a new batch of mutants. Then, in a showy display, Magneto relocates the Golden Gate Bridge so that it serves as a ramp to Alcatraz, where the "cure" in the form of a messianic boy child (Cameron Bright) is being held.
In the busy final standoff a whole new batch of mutants on each side show their skills, with Aaron Stanford's Pyro and Vinnie Jones's Juggernaut on the bad mutants side, with the angelic winged Ben Foster and callow Ellen Page as a girl who can walk through walls. Surely some of these characters must make a return in future incarnations?
Most notably, there's Kelsey Grammer, dressed up as the blue and hairy mutant-to-human diplomat, who makes an appearance as Henry McCoy aka Beast. Finally, it seems Grammer has found a role that doesn't make you think of Frasier Crane (though given the chaotic logic of X-Men, you could easily see him vanquishing his enemies by performing Three Little Maids from School Are We from The Mikado). Unexpectedly, he's the same blue shade as Romijn's statuesque Mystique, though the possibility they are of the same species, either mutant or human, seems remote.