X Hits the Spot
The last X-Men movie entertains with a gaggle of mutants and some impressive action sequences.
Thursday, May 25, 2006
The final chapter of the X-Men trilogy sees a seamless directorial changing of the guard from Bryan Singer’s beloved cinematic vision of the popular Marvel comic book to the capable hands of Brett Ratner (of the Rush Hour franchise). Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine leads the 16-primary-character-narrative in which a “cure” for mutancy gives birth to a war between Magneto’s (Ian McKellen) brotherhood of evil mutants and Charles Xavier’s (Patrick Stewart) school of mutants. It’s an energetic comic book movie with heart and just enough vague social commentary about conformity to balance its outrageous visual sequences.
Screenwriter Zak Penn (X-2) does a commendable job of allotting meaningful screen time to the franchise’s numerous returning and newly appearing characters. Most fascinating is a computer-assisted flashback episode in which the 20 years younger, and more compatible, Charles Xavier and Magneto visit the home of a very young telepathic Jean Grey, the mutant child of an average American family. The friendly chemistry between Stewart and McKellen as real-life friends of the Shakespearean stage comes across in the scene. Jean makes cars levitate outside of her suburban house and the two genial acting masters breathe in an air of relative calm before the narrative storm strikes. X-Men co-creator Stan Lee makes a trademark cameo appearance in the sequence as a worried neighbor watering his lawn.
Compacted into the prologue is the introduction of Angel (Ben Foster), the mutant winged son of Warren Worthington II (Michael Murphy) the scientist who discovers how to change mutants into normal powerless human beings. In Angel’s flashback, his father beats down a bathroom door where the young boy has chopped off the wings that grow from his back. Although Angel’s limited presence in the film seems scant considering the visual appeal of a winged man able to fly, Angel determines a crisis regarding the mutant cure that carries implications for the story.
Kelsey Grammer commands the screen as the larger than life Dr. Henry McCoy aka “Beast” in charge as Secretary of Mutant Affairs in the US president’s cabinet. Hidden behind an oversized build, startling blue skin and muttonchops Grammer imbues the character with an intellectual prowess that fans of the comic book will acknowledge.
Brett Ratner benefits from the unity of style and tone that Bryan Singer established in the first two films, and even more so from the returning actors who match their characters’ previous levels of intensity. In a scene that contrasts audience expectations of life-and-death in the mutant world, Cyclops (James Marsden) rides his motorcycle to Alkali Lake where Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) sacrificed her life in X2. The potentially melancholic moment is shattered when Jean is reborn from the lake as “Dark Phoenix,” a character so dangerous that she is a threat to her fellow X-Men, the world at large, and the man in front of her who loves her.
Wolverine has more fight scenes than in the past films, Storm finally takes flight, the evil Juggernaut (Vinnie Jones) breaks through walls that Kitty Pride (Ellen Page) slips invisibly through, and Mystique (Rebecca Romijn) performs an impressive array of shape-shifting acrobatics. Magneto’s mental ability to manipulate all things metal takes center stage in the film’s beautiful action centerpiece where he dismantles San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge to create a link to Alcatraz where the mutant cure is being developed and distributed. The scene is sheer flamboyant entertainment full of comic-strip appeal. Cars fall into the bay as the structure splits apart and the frenetic activity of panicked civilians juices the audience with adrenaline. The movie is so jam-packed with escalating action that its heroic culmination comes off as something of an anti-climax when the mutants engage in a nighttime battle on Alcatraz.
X-Men: The Last Stand is a comic book movie that crams in a stunning number of characters while still managing to map out emotional underpinnings. It’s a blowout party for fans of the comic books to revel in seeing characters like “Colossus” (Daniel Cudmore), “Multiple Man” (Eric Dane), and “Callisto” (Dania Ramirez) show up. Even for audiences unfamiliar with the comic books, or the previous two movies, it still stands up as a great popcorn movie.
X-MEN: THE LAST STAND ( * * * )
Directed by Brett Ratner. • Starring Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen. • PG-13, 104 min.At the Century Cinemas Del Monte Center, Maya Cinemas, Northridge Cinemas.