The X-Men series has been one of a handful of comic book-to-silver screen adaptations that I have truly been able to get into. Perhaps it’s because of the human traits inherent in each “mutant” character, or maybe it’s that the franchise uses the word “mutant” with such seriousness. Regardless, the first two films had an undeniable charm and camp appeal, not to mention top-notch action and special effects. They were molded to summer movie season perfection.
X-Men: The Last Stand is the third entry in the series, and presumably the last (although I doubt it). Taking over for director Bryan Singer, who helmed the first two installments, is Brett Ratner – he of Rush Hour and After The Sunset fame. Ratner’s never come across a blatantly obvious joke he didn’t like, not to mention his eye for action is not the sharpest. I cringed when I discovered he was taking over the series, and now that I have seen X3, I can reassure myself that gut reaction is right on more often than not.
This time around our precious X-Men are faced with a very real danger: the threat of extinction. A serum has been developed to “cure” mutants. This scenario divides the group; as some choose to follow extremist Magneto (McKellen) and others follow the more sensible Xavier (Patrick Stewart). Complicating things is the return of Jean Grey aka Phoenix (Janssen), the sultry beauty with otherworldly powers who supposedly died at the end of X2. The battle lines are drawn as the mutants fight for their survival.
Perhaps the most surprisingly aspect of X3 is that it’s curiously boring. The screenplay by Simon Kinberg and Zak Penn is very talky as the simplistic plot is stretched out to unnecessary excess. There is sporadic action throughout, but the film doesn’t truly kick into high gear until the final twenty minutes. It may be too little, too late for some by then. Add to that the fact that there are simply too many characters, thus explaining the uneven, temperamental feel of the film. Ratner’s direction isn’t horrible by any means, but compared to Singer’s earlier incarnations he clearly struggles with the delicate balance of action and comedy. Everything feels emptier here.
That’s not to say the film is no fun. There are more than a few jaw-dropping special effects moments, particularly when Magneto has some fun with oncoming traffic. Vinnie Jones nearly steals the show as Juggernaut, a muscle-bound hulk of a man who has no trouble running through concrete walls. Wearing obvious muscle prosthetics and a ridiculous stone helmet, this is the best comic relief to be found in the film. Wolverine (Jackman) returns with his usual deadpan charm, calmly lighting his cigar during a firefight.
It could easily be argued that the first two X-Men films set the bar so high that this film, regardless of director or screenplay, stood no chance of living up to expectations. This is a fast and fun series of films, but X3 is clearly the weakest of the lot so far in terms of delivering the goods we have all come to expect. The X-Men faithful will likely eat this up regardless, but the more discerning fan may be disappointed and possible even bored. There’s plenty of reason to believe that X4 will become a reality, and be sure to stay for the end credits to find out why I say that.
Studio: Twentieth Century Fox
Length: 104 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of action violence, some sexual content and language.
Theatrical Release: May 26, 2006
Directed by: Brett Ratner
Written by: Simon Kinberg & Zak Penn.
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Ian McKellen, Famke Janssen, Anna Paquin, Kelsey Grammer