Like a lot of people I was a bit concerned when it was announced that Bryan Singer
had abandoned the X-Men franchise to take the reins on a revised Superman film. I had
enjoyed the work that Singer and his company of actors did on 2000's
X-MEN, but
admittedly  was somewhat disappointed by its sequel
X2 (2003). For my money, it was a
case of too many screenwriters. There was much to admire, but also much that didn't work.
Now for the last part of the trilogy,
X-MEN: THE LAST STAND, Singer has relinquished
control to Brett Ratner. Again, I've been underwhelmed by Ratner's oeuvre so I had some
misgivings going into the screening. Well, I'm here to say that he has managed to get the
job done, but that's not saying a whole lot.

 X-MEN: THE LAST STAND is chockablock full of action set pieces that outdo the
previous installments. The screenplay is credited to Zak Penn (who worked on the second
film) and Simon Kinberg (who has
XXX: STATE OF THE UNION and MR. AND MRS. SMITH
on his resume). They have fashioned a sort of exodus for several of the main characters that
should move the audience but somehow doesn't. Part of the problem may be due to the
action-packed plot, or part of it may be that Ratner isn't able to fully muster anything resembling
real emotions.

 The plot certainly has potential. After part two's tale of dealing with an anti-mutant
movement led by a gung ho war hero (in which Singer found a quiet parallel to several
forms of discrimination from homophobia to antisemitism), this edition focuses on a "cure"
for mutation. This doesn't sit too well with one of the new characters, Dr. Hank McCoy aka
Beast (Kelsey Grammer wearing a castoff costume from the musical stage version of Disney's
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, albeit dyed blue), the Secretary for Mutant Affairs in the US
president's cabinet. Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) also isn't too happy with
the development, which is dividing the students at his Academy for Gifted Students, particularly
Rogue (Anna Paquin) whose powers preclude her the ability of any kind of physical contact.

 Things at the school aren't going all that well anyway. Scott Summers aka Cyclops
(James Marsden) hasn't been the same since the apparent death of Jean Grey (Famke
Janssen) at the end of
X2. Scott had been handpicked to be Xavier's number two, but
his overwhelming grief leaves the professor to make a new choice. He settles on Storm
(Halle Berry) who sports a new haircut but otherwise remains the weakest link in the cast.

 On the side of those opposed to the "cure" is Magneto (Sir Ian McKellen). With a backstory
of having been incarcerated in a concentration camp, Magneto is an odd yet perfect choice        
to lead a rebellion. He appears in television videos excoriating the idea of a cure and
exhorts his followers to fight or else they will be carried away for extermination. As he did in
THE DA VINCI CODE, McKellen enlivens every scene in which he appears.

 There's a lot of plot packed into the film which would take pages to recount. The highlights
are that Jean Grey is resurrected but as her evil alter ego Phoenix who wreaks havoc with
her mind. She still has a thing for Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) but he has to decide whether or
not he can save her from herself.

 A lot of emphasis has shifted to the younger generation (who presumably would
carry on the stories in the next episodes in the series). Good guy Iceman (Shawn Ashmore)
and villain Pyro (Aaron Stanford) have returned. Newcomers include Dania Ramirez as
Callisto, Vinnie Jones as Juggernaut and Eric Dane as Multiple Man on Magneto's team,
while Ben Foster makes a couple of appearances as Angel, Ellen Page assumes the
role of Kitty Pryde and Cameron Bright is cast as Jimmy, a kid who holds the secret of the
cure. Good actors like Josef Sommer (as the president), Bill Duke (as one of his advisers),
Michael Murphy (as a wealthy industrialist behind the cure), Shoreh Agdashloo (as a doctor
working on the cure) and Olivia Williams as a physician sympathetic to the mutants are
reduced to bit players.

 Ratner manages to keep the action moving and stages a few impressive set pieces,
including one that involves the Golden Gate Bridge. There are moments when the
emotional underpinnings of the first movie shine through -- as in a scene involving Rogue
and Wolverine -- but for the most part, they are few and far between.

 The film does include some surprises, and I would suggest sitting through the
seemingly interminable credits for a final twist.

 X-MEN: THE LAST STAND hums along at a brisk pace and should appeal to fans
of the series. It manages to wrap up some stories while leaving others open for future
films.


                    Rating:                   C+
                    MPAA rating:        PG-13 for intense sequences of action violence,
                                                                some sexual content and language
                    Running time:        104 mins.


                                  Viewed at the AMC Loews E-Walk 13
X-Men: The Last Stand
©  2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.