"X-Men: The Last Stand" is the final film of the hugely popular comic book trilogy - assuming that the series is a trilogy. After the financial success of the last two films, and the fact that this latest entry is going to make at least $120 million in its first weekend, it would be foolish of 20th Century Fox to even consider scrapping such an entity. Still, director Brett Ratner does his best to wrap up the loose ends, though the results are not on par with the previous two films.
"X-Men" starts off where the last movie ended. The School for the Gifted is going strong, led by Professor Xavier and his band of mutants. The President of the United States has found peace with the mutants and is more tolerant than ever, but all good things come to an end. When a pharmaceutical company invents a "cure" to mutation, the country becomes split - some see the cure as salvation and a way to fit in among the rest, whereas others see it as an embarrassing insult aimed at eliminating mutants forever. No one sees it as an extermination more than Magneto (Ian McKellan), who is quick to assemble an army to destroy the threat once and for all. On the other front are the X-Men, who don't necessarily agree with the cure but want people to choose for themselves. But the real threat comes from Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), who supposedly died in the previous movie but has been resurrected as the Phoenix, a dangerous weapon who can destroy anyone and anything in her path. Which side will she choose?
Ratner has taken over the directing chair from the wildly popular Brian Singer, who left this project to direct "Superman Returns" for Marvel's arch rival, DC Comics. With Singer went a level of confidence that the third movie would be as good as the last, which was one of the best comic book adaptations ever. With any change of directors there is a level of uncertainty involved, and the concern is valid - "X-Men: The Last Stand," while decent, lacks the edge that the other two films had. Much like "The Da Vinci Code" last week, only to a lesser extend, "The Last Stand" fails to attain the level of suspense and excitement I was hoping for.
Still, it comes close. The movie is smart in its political views, and has some pretty good action scenes. Its allusions to the persecution against homosexuality are strong, and, in the midst of colorful creatures fighting each other with superpowers, "X-Men" makes several valid points about the current situation in our country. If the X-Men are for choice and Magneto is for abolishing any choice, you can guess what the writers considered to be "the good side" in American politics.
Of course, politics are only a small factor in the overall enjoyment of the movie. "X-Men" is fast-paced and to the point, with several good action sequences. New additions to the character roster, including Kitty Pryde, Beast and Juggernaut, are a pleasure. Several major - and I mean major - characters are either killed off or lose their powers to the cure, which makes it impossible to tell who will die next. The movie is never boring and keeps you entertained...
But it just doesn't feel the same. With so many characters, this "X-Men" doesn't seem to have a central character to build its story upon - it is all about action and not about character. What made "X2" so successful was that it built itself around Wolverine, the most flawed off all the characters; there is none of that here. More so, Ratner does not build up to the money scenes in the way the previous movies did, although "The Last Stand" certainly has one or two bigger money scenes - the destruction of the Golden Gate bridge being one of them. The level of suspense has been taken down a notch, and there is certainly less emotion here.
The soundtrack is also a bit cheesy at times, which takes away from the impact of what we're watching.
SPOILER ALERT. When Cyclops gets killed early on, his death is treated as if nothing major happened. He was never a very exciting character to begin with, but the screenplay doesn't give him a second's notice. The death of the biggest character in the movie is a bit more shocking, but still doesn't have the emotional impact it could have had. I also didn't buy into Rogue's decision at the end, and Rogue herself (Anna Paquin) plays such a small role we can hardly care. This is probably too picky, but the cure itself is also a bit questionable: how does it act so fast? How can it be so successful on one injection? If there is nothing wrong with mutants in the first place and some mutants look like monsters (Mystique), how come they look like normal humans after they are injected? In the last movie, didn't Mystique say herself that she was by nature blue? END SPOILER ALERT
"X-Men: The Last Stand" is an entertaining, action-packed movie that is successful in rounding out the series with plenty of character deaths, political commentary and some exciting moments. As an action film, it succeeds. However, its lack of emotional involvement and ability to keep the suspense that it could so easily have attained makes it a less desirable picture than the previous two efforts.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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