McKellen as 'Magneto' (3rd from left) and Janssen as 'Phoenix' (far right)
X-Men: The Last Stand, the third installment in the ultra-popular movie series based on the ultra-ultra-popular Marvel Comics series, is mutant fortified. There are so many damn mutants in this battle royale, it's virtually impossible to keep track of them, let alone what special powers they possess. Some can walk through walls, others can hurl sharp spears of bone from their wrists, and some can duplicate themselves ad infinitum.
Thankfully, at the center of this overpopulation of mutants lie the core X-Men themselves -- weather-controlling Storm (Halle Berry); cigar-chomping, self-healing Wolverine (Hugh Jackman); freezer-pop Iceman (Shawn Ashmore); and newcomer Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page), who can pass through anything solid. They continue to be led by that wheelchair-bound master of mind-control, Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart). These are the good guys.
As for the bad, they continue to include the rebellious Pyro (Aaron Stanford); the delectably wicked Mystique (Rebecca Romijn); and a handful of new rouges -- including Juggernaut (played with delightful comic verve by Vinnie Jones), who can power through anything that stands in his way; Callisto (Dania Ramirez), whose super speed is matched by her ability to not only sense other mutants but what level of mutantship they've attained; and Kid Omega (Ken Leung), from whom porcupine-like needles emerge in an instant (warning: don't hug this guy). The evil ones continue to be overseen by Magneto (Ian McKellen), able to bend metal to his will, and who has grown so powerful, he can now relocate a portion of the Golden Gate bridge.
Since the end of the last film, mutants and humans have reached a peaceful accord. Relations are less strained, and there's even a mutant on the President's cabinet, Dr. Hank McCoy (Kelsey Grammer), a blue-furred behemoth with an erudite manner aptly known as Beast.
In need of a good razor: Jackman
When a permanent cure for mutants is developed by Worthington Labs, it sparks a nationwide debate. Is mutation a disease or is it a part of one's individuality that shouldn't be tampered with? Yes, the "gay cure" allegory is billboard-sized, as are allusions to the Holocaust and genocide. Some mutants, it seems, want a cure. As the shaggy, cobalt Beast tells the normal-looking Storm, "Not all of us fit in easily as you. You don't shed on the couch." A even better example is Rogue (Anna Paquin), for whom a cure means finally being able to touch people without killing them.
When the government turns the serum into a secret weapon, giving mere mortals an advantage over the super-powered, Magneto rallies an army to destroy the cure's root -- a young mutant named Leach (Cameron Bright), being held in an impenetrable facility on Alcatraz Island. I'm sorry, did I say impenetrable? Yeah, right. No one stops Magneto when he puts his magnetic mind to work.
Once again, it's up to the X-Men to stop Magneto. So as in the first and second X-Men movies, the story winds up in mutant-versus-mutant mode.
This time, however, Magneto has a weapon so powerful that it makes his knack for metal-play seem quaint by comparison. It's Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), back from the dead (you may recall she gave her life for her fellow X-Men at the close of the last film), and now known as Phoenix, a Class 5 mutant, the most powerful ever. "She can do anything she wants," purrs Magneto, of his new charge. And indeed she can. Her idea of fun, for example, is to turn everything in her path, including people and mutants, to dust.
Romijn as 'Mystique'
Xavier tries to save his friend Jean, but to no avail. She's gone over to the pitch black side. The switch finally gives Janssen, easily the blandest character in the first two installments, something juicy to play. And she juices the role for all its worth.
It may seem strange to bemoan the loss of outgoing director Bryan Singer, who helmed the first two films and instilled a touch of class, and, especially in X-Men 2, a powerful sense of drama and agony, but bemoan we shall. Because incoming director Brett Ratner is interested in one thing and one thing only: action. He's very good at it -- there are some heart-pumping moments, chock full of mind-blowing special effects. But Ratner inevitably over-pulverizes the material. By relying on the action -- and not interpersonal dramas -- to carry the movie along, he pretty much wipes away Singer's previous efforts to make the X-Men franchise something more than just another comic book movie.
That's not to say there aren't some terrific moments in X-Men: The Last Stand. The climax is a potent, power-packed stunner, as is an earlier scene that takes place between Professor X and Jean Grey in her childhood home. But Ratner is incapable of nuance and the movie engages you solely on a primal level. It's missing its X-heart.
Lucky for Ratner, he's inherited a great cast -- McKellen, Stewart, Berry and especially Jackman are as wonderful as ever. The addition of Grammer is an inspired touch, an Ben Foster makes a brief but poignant appearance as Angel, a white-winged stud who soars through the sky with an elegance and purpose that takes away your breath.
Thought it's purportedly the last film in the series, X-Men: The Last Stand made $120 million in its opening weekend. That's the kind of figure that makes X-Men 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and X not just possible, but a sure thing. The series could go on forever. And why not? There seem to be enough mutants to go around.