Superhero Month: "X-Men: The Last Stand" Review

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As the third installment of the X-Men series opens, the world has entered a relatively peaceful period for mutants. There's a mutant-tolerant president of the United States, a blue furry mutant named Beast (Kelsey Grammer) heading up the Department of Mutant Affairs, and Magneto's shape-shifting femme fatale, Mystique, has been captured. The tranquility is shattered when Worthington Laboratories, using a powerful mutant boy, develops a serum that eliminates the "mutant X gene" permanently.
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Superhero Month: "X-Men: The Last Stand" Review

-- Rating: PG-13 (intense sequences of action violence, some sexual content, and language)
Length: 104 minutes
Release Date: May 26, 2006
Directed by: Brett Ratner
Genre: Action / Adventure / Sci-Fi

The first scenes of "X-Men: The Last Stand" are a callback to the origins of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), who Magneto (Ian McKellan) and Professor X (Patrick Stewart) visit as a child to witness her enormous powers. They ask her whether she would like to accompany them to a special school to get her powers under control before the powers begin to control her. The movie then fast-forwards to the present, and the viewer now sees her fellow mutants, especially Cyclops (James Marsden), reel over her assumed death at the end of the "X-Men 2" at Alkali Lake.

As the mutants mourn, a government-funded laboratory has just come up with a way to suppress the mutant gene, meaning any mutant can become normal if he or she so desires. Some, like Rogue (Anna Paquin), will gladly jump at the opportunity; Rogue is in love with Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) but can't so much as kiss him, because her mutation would leech the life out of him. Others, such as Storm (Halle Berry), think that all mutants are perfect and don't need to be cured. Magneto agrees with Storm's view and believes that this cure is nothing more than the government's attempt at a type of racial cleansing of all mutants. He angrily gathers some like-minded mutants and forms the Brotherhood to battle humans who hate the mutants and to get rid of this cure before anyone can use it.

Those who oppose the Brotherhood don't necessarily want to be cured but rather think that all mutants should be able to decide their fates for themselves. They also don't hate humans and have sworn to protect them, even as so many humans are fearful of or misunderstand mutants. This leads to an inevitable battle between the two deeply opposed camps. The battle's emotional factor is raised significantly with the introduction of the Dark Phoenix, who is formerly known as the supposedly departed Jean Grey. Some mutants, such as Cyclops, will find it very hard to oppose Dark Phoenix now that she and her outsized, potentially catastrophic powers have clearly landed on the side of Magneto and the Brotherhood. Even the might and regenerative powers of Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) might not be enough to bring anything but a tragic conclusion to the impending face-off.

Bryan Singer helmed the first two films in this Marvel franchise, "X-Men" and "X-Men 2," to great fanfare and success. Fans automatically thought that he would return for the third film in the series, but Singer was offered the possibility to direct the new "Superman" series, so he bolted. In came Brett Ratner to direct, which was not an easy job to do. Fans of the series had their doubts that the opinionated director could fill Singer's shoes, but he does an admirable job nonetheless. Often, when a series changes directors, two visions for the franchise seem to be going forward. "X-Men: The Last Stand," however, feels like it could have been directed by Singer; it is well done and doesn't feel out of place with the first two films.

Most of the original cast is back, which helps with the continuity of this film compared to the first two. Some are playing an additional character, such as is the case with Janssen in the mysterious new Phoenix. Screenwriters Simon Kinberg and Zak Penn add quite a few new mutants to the mix, which is necessary because two very divided mutant camps are going to face off against each other by the end of the film. The new characters are handled well and are deftly introduced into the script, allowing the audience to get to know each one and their powers well. It's amazing how quickly viewers will get attached to the new characters and will want to root for them no matter which side of the impending battle they fall on.

All the actors do a fine job of portraying both their human characters and their mutant counterparts, but it is McKellan and Stewart who once again stand out as Magneto and Professor X. They are careful not to upstage anyone, but it is undeniable that these two seasoned, lauded acting vets are the beating heart at the center of the film, just like they were for the first two films. That's why it is such a huge gut punch when one of them perishes, because people who have watched the character all along were invested in him. This shows just how much McKellan and Stewart mean to the fans and the franchise. This makes "X-Men: The Last Stand" the rare film that is both action packed and emotional, and Ratner succeeds in balancing these two aspects of the movie with ease.

Rating: 3 out of 5