Thursday, January 11, 2007

X-Men: The Last Stand


Stands and Delivers

I like the X-Men franchise. Not only is it freakin’ cool to watch, but actually has something to say. The first two films have done well, both with audiences and critics. Now comes the inevitable third installment in the series, X-Men: The Last Stand, which may be a misleading title, since I highly doubt this will be the ‘last’ time we see these characters or this universe. It just wouldn’t be good business.

There is a new threat to the mutant population--a “cure” for the Mutant X gene. A serum has been created from the DNA of another mutant, Leech (Cameron Bright), whose power drains other mutants of their abilities, returning them to normal. When the serum is turned into weapon form, Magneto (Ian McKellen) declares war. More trouble comes in the form of the resurrected Jean Grey, who suddenly has limitless power with little means to control it. Can the X-Men intervene before countless lives are lost?

One thing I’ve really liked about these movies are the ethical questions they pose. Originally, it was “us against them” stories that focused on the themes of tolerance and acceptance. With X3 we revisit those ideas as well as another compelling turn: if you could take a drug that would allow you to fit into society better (while sacrificing everything that makes you unique), would you? For some mutants like Rogue (Anna Paquin), whose mere touch can be fatal, this solution is more tempting. It’s a perplexing story development that helps make X3 just that much better.

All of our favorite characters are back, led by the wonderful Hugh Jackman (Van Helsing) as Wolverine. He is just great as the cigar-chomping, claw-wielding, scenery-chewing Logan. Halle Berry (Catwoman) is also a lot of fun as weather-controlling Storm, who seems to have a meatier role this time around, as well as a sexy new hairdo. Patrick Stewart (The Game of Their Lives) and Ian McKellen (The Da Vinci Code) reprise their roles as Charles Xavier and Magneto, respectively, rounding out a cast that must have cost a pretty penny.

The most intense performance, however, has to go to Famke Janssen (Hide and Seek) as Jean Grey/Phoenix. She is a powerhouse of telekinetic rage who destroys anything in her path at the molecular level. The filmmakers have CGIed her up to look pretty creepy at times, and she reminded me of powers-gone-awry women in Brian De Palma films like Carrie and The Fury. She does get to showcase her acting ability (even if she does appear to be standing around for long stretches), and is quite good as this tragic character.

Probably the silliest new addition is Kelsey Grammer’s Beast, a mutant that looks like the offspring of a Smurf and a grizzly bear. I don’t care how much makeup and fur they covered him in, I just couldn’t help but think I was watching Frasier in a blue gorilla suit. Beast seemed to work much better in the comic book, but here, I’m not so sure.

Of course you have all the requisite action and adventure that is the hallmark of these movies. These sequences are first rate, and while not up to the level of realism (this is a comic book adaptation after all) set by Mission: Impossible III, they are quite good in their own right. Director Brett Ratner (taking over for Bryan Singer) does a much better job than I originally gave him credit for.

While I did like the bulk of X3, there are a few eyebrow-raisers. If the government had developed this “cure”, why not just inject it into mutant criminals instead of transporting them so they could be easily freed? Did Magneto really need to manipulate the entire Golden Gate Bridge (not a fan of architecture, I guess) to get himself and his crew to Alcatraz? Why not just take a boat? Did I mention Kelsey Grammer?

What makes this movie work is the characters. We care about them and their plight, and learn very fast that they are not above death, or being relegated to a forced “normality”. It’s this emotional core that raises X-Men: The Last Stand from standard summer fare to very good all-around movie. Check it out, Bub!

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