May 25, 2006


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X-Men: The Last Stand (PG-13)
The mutant gang reassembles for X-Men: The Last Stand, the series’ part three where this time the menace is a potential “cure” for the superpowers that separate human from mutant.

There are two types of people who will see this movie. There are the comic book fans, those who read all of the X-Men comics and could rattle off the names of countless characters who have never appeared in any of the films and who know the origins and relationships of all those who have.

Then, there are the people like me, people who love superhero movies. I’ve read a few X-Men comics, seen a few of the cartoons but mainly I like the genre. I like the way that the universes of Batman and Spider-Man and the X-Men are filled with rather elegant metaphors about politics, society and our internal struggles. I like the adventure of these films, the grandeur that must be approached just right (equal amounts of accepting that a kid can swing between buildings on spider webs and moments of poking just enough fun at it that the situation isn’t unbearably absurd). I like the fact that though these movies are full of big explosions and razzle-dazzle CGI, they also require layers, nuance and a certain level of smarts to make it work.

Lucky for me and the other superhero movie fans, the third X-Men movie has enough of these things and more or less does work.

X-Men: The Last Stand has as the subjects of its main story two potentially destructive sources. The first is a so-called “cure” the humans have found that suppresses the mutant gene, turning mutants — permanently — into humans. Some mutants, like Rogue (Anna Paquin), have conflicted feelings about this vaccine which might allow them to live a normal life (which, in Rogue’s case, would mean that she could finally touch her boyfriend). But other mutants, both those at Charles Xavier’s (Patrick Stewart) school and those of Magneto’s (Ian McKellen) Brotherhood, see the cure as a way for the humans to wipe out what many still see as a threat. Trying to walk the line between the two is Dr. Hank McCoy (Kelsey Grammer), the secretary of mutant affairs who doesn’t want to see the cure forced on his fellow mutants.

As the destructive possibilities of the cure mount, the X-Men find themselves dealing with another ticking time bomb, the return of the believed-dead Jean Grey (Famke Janssen). Reappearing on the side of the lake where she died, Jean is alive but she has wild, long red hair and a dangerous look in her eye. We learn from Prof. X that inside Jean is the alternate personality Phoenix, an all-id girl who might not be able to control her extraordinary powers. Extreme in her emotions, Phoenix/Jean attracts the concern of Prof. X but also the interest of Magneto, who sees her potential as a weapon to fight the humans and their cure.

Desperate to save Jean is Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), who has never quite given up on the idea of a romance with her.

The dialogue of this X-Men isn’t quite up to X2 standards. The scene where Prof. X explains what’s going on with Jean Grey and the existence of Phoenix is particularly shaky. There’s an “oh, by the way” feeling to the scene that glosses over the situation too fast. And there is about 20 percent more Storm (Halle Berry), who has always been the weakest character. But even Storm isn’t so bad. Perhaps that’s the most amazing superpower this movie displays — the weaker, shakier bits of the stories or the characters tend to melt away, allowing you to concentrate on some of the more dazzling special effects, the meatier parts of the plot and the unexpected outcomes of some of the characters.

The “cure” is, pick your metaphor, a general commentary on conformity, a display of how a majority will inevitably treat a minority of which it is afraid, an example of government’s amorality when it feels threatened. The cure comes about in part because the wealthy Warren Worthington (Michael Murphy) was desperate to hide the pair of eagle-like wings growing on his son (Ben Foster). These scenes make their point well without getting too heavy-handed.

The film features a few major character developments too good to spoil that also help to up the emotional resonance of The Last Stand. This movie isn’t as sharp as the earlier films — fans of the first and second movies will be able to get into the story more than newbies to the series, who might be lost as to who some of the people are and why we care. But the twists to this part three feature enough punch to allow viewers an exciting ride. B

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