© 2006 Ray Wong
One of the most successful comic book-movie franchises, X-Men continues with the third installment entitled The Last Stand. There were worries that Brett Ratner, taking over Bryan Singer as director, might not be able to keep up with the franchise's unique blend of big-budget, high-octane action, thought-provoking political commentaries, and riveting characters and sensibilities. In many ways, Ratner has managed to put everyone at ease with some interesting surprises.
When an industrialist finds a "cure" for treating human mutations, a war is raged between the militants led by Magneto (McKellen) and the "Homo sapiens." Magneto believes that the "cure" is only the first step toward a mutant genocide. While Dr. Hank McCoy/Beast (Grammer), the Secretary of Mutant Affairs, strives to reach peaceful resolution through diplomacy, the President (Josef Sommer) is ready to use military force against the rebels when necessary.
Meanwhile, Logan/Wolverine (Jackman) and Storm (Berry) discover that Jean Grey (Janssen) is still alive. Professor Charles Xavier (Stewart) concludes that Jean is not the same person, but her alter-ego Phoenix, who is the only Class 5 mutant possessing an incredible, deadly power. Unfortunately, Phoenix is ruthless and uncontrollable. When Magneto recruits Phoenix as his secret weapon against the humans, Xavier and his X-Men have no choice but to combat the militants in a war of right vs. wrong.
Jackman (Van Helsing) reprises his famous role as Wolverine with the same intensity, broodiness and sensibility. His love for Jean results in tragic consequences, and Jackman's portrayal is heartfelt and heroic, paving the way to the spinoff, Wolverine (2007). This time, Berry (Catwoman) has a bigger role as Xavier's would-be successor. Her character has matured over the years, and Berry handles the subtle growth very well. Together, free-thinking Wolverine and sensible Storm make an interesting team.
McKellen (The Da Vinci Code) continues his reign as Magneto with relish, turning the role into one of the most sympathetic yet loathed villains in movie history. In contrast, Stewart (Eleventh Hour) is wonderful composed and genuine as the peaceful and philosophical professor. If Wolverine is ever the heart of X-Men, Professor Xavier clearly is the mind and soul behind it. Janssen (The Treatment) has the most interesting task of playing Jean's "evil" twin, Phoenix. But the former Bond girl does "bad" so well that we almost end up not missing Jean Grey.
Reprising their respective roles as Rogue, Mystique, Cyclops, Iceman, and Pyro, young actors Paquin (The Squid and the Whale), Romijn (Man About Town), Marsden (The Notebook), Ashmore (The Quiet) and Stanford (The Hills Have Eyes) all do well in helping to move the plot along. Joining the huge cast is Grammer (Even Money) in one of his first post-Frasier roles, and the intelligent yet resourceful Beast is a perfect role for him. Foster (Alpha Dog) also impresses as new mutant Angel.
The story of The Last Stand follows a familiar arc as the previous two X-Men films. While the humans and the mutants try to get along, the undercurrent of unrest escalates and Magneto seizes on the opportunity to rage a war he's been planning all these years. In a way, the similarity between Magneto and Osama Bin Laden is not lost to us -- both are revered leaders holding on to flawed ideologies and resorting to terrorism to achieve their goals. In fact, X-Men touches on so many issues that are allegories to our real-life hot topics including stem cell research, gay rights, global terrorism, war ethics, and conspiracy, to name a few. The plot also involves devastating twists concerning certain main characters such as Xavier, Cyclops and, most important, Jean Grey/Phoenix that is going to leave fans reeling and feeling lost.
Director Ratner (Red Dragon) doesn't have the same track record as Bryan Singer does, but he more than holds his own with The Last Standing. He does a good job managing the multiple plot threads, interweaving them in interesting ways that move the story along without sacrificing character development. There are key scenes in the film that are very personal and Ratner does a fine job keeping focus without falling into the trap of letting overblown action and special efforts take over.
Unfortunately, while Ratner does a good job balancing the high concepts with over-the-top action sequences, X-Men does seem to tackle too many socio-politcal issues, then skimp over them. Also, the huge cast of new mutants also become tedious and confusing (and some of them are simply ridiculous). Technically, though, The Last Standing is an outstanding film with great entertaining value. Fortunately, the story continues to anchor its emotions on key characters such as Wolverine and Jean Grey, and the audiences continue to care about them. It's not going to win an Oscar for Best Picture or the Nobel Peace Prize; but if this piece of popcorn extravaganza could provoke discussions and thoughts on some of today's most-debated issues, it could only be a good thing. And you can bet this won't be the last X-Men. Not a chance.
Stars: Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Famke Janssen, Anna Paquin, Kelsey Grammer, Rebecca Romijn, James Marsden, Ben Foster, Shawn Ashmore, Aaron Stanford, Vinnie Jones, Dania Ramirez
Director: Brett Ratner
Writers: Zak Penn, Simon Kinberg
Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense action violence, some sexual content, brief nudity, language
Running Time: 149 minutes
Script – 8
Performance – 9
Direction – 8
Cinematography – 7
Editing – 8
Production – 9
Total – 8.1 out of 10