A review of “X-Men: The Last Stand” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ** 1/2

Rating: PG-13 for language and intense action violence

Run Time: 1 hour, 44 minutes

 

 

“The Da Vinci Code” may be the darling of the intellectual set but for comic-bookers and action aficionados “X-Men 3” is the place to be this summer. Deserving of the hype? Yes and no.

Mass mutant war is the crux of the finale in the Marvel-inspired “X-Men” trilogy that kicks off with a frenetic simulation exercise at Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters and doesn’t let go until the bitter end.

“X-3” is about choice, the choice to retain mutant individuality or succumb to a “cure” that will sap the mutants of their gifts and allow them to fit in at long last. The suppressive antibody presents an interesting conundrum; one with a lasting impact on diversity that speaks to alienation and prejudice.

Not to mention the perfect excuse for malicious mutant supremacist Magneto (Ian McKellen), who believes in survival of the fittest at all costs (“we are the cure!”), to stage war on those who preach tolerance and acceptance, among them telekinetic Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Secretary of Mutant Affairs Dr. Henry McCoy, aka Beast (played with rock-solid warmth and intelligence by Kelsey Grammer).

The stage is set for a catastrophic showdown between man and mutant, ripe with atmosphere and pregnant with the ramifications of contemporary bias (think homosexuality, immigration, etc.). Unfortunately playboy director Brett Ratner (“Rush Hour”, “Red Dragon”) sacrifices socio-political relevance for flashy pyrotechnics and visceral pleasures galore.

Parallel plot sees Dr. Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) resurrected from her watery grave, up front and center as the wildly volatile telekinetic (harkening Brian De Palma’s “Carrie”) whose alter-ego Phoenix lashes out with furiously steely unnerve. Grey’s full force unleashed is powerful and daunting and rather unforgettable.

Cast of beloved regulars returns with curious faculties intact; brooding loner Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), tempestuous Storm (Halle Berry), angst-ridden Rogue (Anna Paquin), fiery Pyro (Aaron Stanford) and the sinuous Mystique (Rebecca Romijn). Their vast grasp of power makes for tantalizing tangents that hint of delicious melodrama but rely on a quip-heavy script to get the message across. New players Angel (Ben Foster), Juggernaut (Vinnie Jones) and Multiple Man (Eric Dane) have small but pivotal roles.

Comic books’ fool-proof blueprint of petty jealousies, romantic foibles and moral quandaries lack the narrative development they deserve. Futuristic images of Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge sparkle.

The savvy tone of Bryan Singer’s “X-1” and “X-2” and the potentially captivating mutant conflict is lost in a last gasp of CGI-infused sleight-of-hand as Ratner gleefully manipulates his big-budget toys and leeches every bit of soul from the action at hand, lost in a ostentatious need for speed.