When the government announces that they’ve discovered a “cure” for the mutant gene it further polarizes the Mutant population: while some welcome the prospect of “normalcy”, others view it as little more than a veritable “Final Solution” wrapped in the guise of medicine. The two camps – led by Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen) respectively - prepare for the inevitable showdown, unaware that a new, or more appropriately, renewed player is about to tilts the scales. It seems that Jean Grey, former good gal telekinetic is back in the game, but Phoenix, as she is now known, is capable of tapping into limitless power and has an uncontrollable yen for destruction.
I believe I can fly, I believe I can touch the sky...
When Bryan Singer revealed that he was going off to direct 'Superman' with 'X-3' on the horizon there was a collective scream from fanboys around the world. Soon after, his replacement, Matthew Vaughn, passed on the project in favour of some much-needed family time. The studio’s decision to hire Brett Ratner was not exactly greeted with open arms - many considered him to be, well, hack is one of the nicer comments –and there were dire predictions that it meant the end of the comic book genre itself. People, you really need to lighten up.
Bryan Singer favours tight direction and focussed story lines, preferring to flesh out the histories and motivations of a few select characters. Although some fans complained that their favorite characters were either underutilized or altogether absent, 'X-Men I' and 'II' proved to balanced and engaging. More importantly they were accessible by non-comic book fans. Ratner however prefers to use broader strokes to paint his mutant canvas. The results are mixed.
While Rather showcases a greater range of characters and their powers, the inherent time constraints mean that we get to know little if anything about the actual characters. Angel is the most flagrant example: a new character with the most potential - his first scene is one of the few truly clever moments in the movie – yet he receives far too little screentime. Consequently the audience never gets an opportunity to connect with him and his inclusion is ultimately moot. Ratner could have easily remedied this oversight by either adding some back history to the story (the movie has only a 100 minute runtime after all), or judiciously excising some of the other characters and irrelevant plot points. Ratner takes other shortcuts as well.
The cure in question is derived from a young mutant (the continually creepy Cameron Bright), yet we never learn who he is, why this is his special power or how he was discovered. And what of its “Hallelujah Effect?” After a quick jab with the Mutant panacea individuals instantaneously morph into real boys and girls (or men and women as the case may be). I haven’t seen results this dramatic since watching the healers on Sunday afternoon tv, and I didn’t them any more convincing. There’s also the small matter of Jean’s “rescue”: the execution is laughable, overacted and largely unexplained, as is Jean’s rebirth as Phoenix. And why is she perpetually pissed? The brief explanation provided by Xavier raises more questions than answers. But before you write off X-3, there are some pluses.
First, whereas Singer proved hesitant to take out any of the major players (Jean’s “death” was far too clean for my liking) , Ratner et al., have no qualms about killing off or altering major characters in spectacular fashion, which elicited audible gasps from the audience. I for one, experienced a morbid sense of glee over the decision to disintegrate the perpetually petulant mutant who has annoyed me since the series’ cinematic inception. Ratner also ratchets up the adrenaline quotient a few notches with several balls to the wall action sequences including the novel truckjacking scene, the Mutant version of The Amazing Race between Juggernaut (Vinnie Jones encased in a prosthetic rubber suit) and Kitty Pryde (Ellen page) and the
Phoenix-runs-amok pieces. It is Magneto’s impromptu mutant mass transit system however that deserves kudos as one of the most innovative, audacious and downright cool looking CGI scenes that I’ve seen in a very long time. The cast also deserves recognition for their solid performances.
Newcomer Kelsey Grammar infuses the hirsute Beast with equal parts civility and brutality, but again his character suffers from a lack of backstory. As a longtime Patrick Stewart fan, my only disappointment was reduced face time in X-3. When he is onscreen he rarely fails to deliver, rising above the sometimes-mediocre dialogue. Hugh Jackman, who has become synonymous with Wolverine, is also in fine form further expanding upon the character’s range and providing a closer glimpse into the softer side beneath the leather clad adamantium interior. Indeed his scene near the end of the movie proves to be one of the most emotionally wrenching moments in the series thus far. The other standout is Ian McKellen, whose even-tempered self-absorbed Magneto unintentionally highlights both the dangers of extremism and the power of epiphany.
In spite of weak dialogue, a pantheon of undeveloped characters, and a razor-thin storyline, Ratner deserves credit for taking chances with the franchise i.e. the aforementioned liquidation/transformation of key characters. He does however set the tone for the film in the jacked up opening sequence and maintains a brisk pace throughout. Although X-Men: The Last Stand is not the best in the trilogy, it looks great, is undeniably entertaining and leaves an opening for a sequel.
P.S. by now everyone is probably aware of this, but just in case, do not leave until the credits have completely finished.