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 of pure spectacle.
Screenwriter Zak Penn (X-2) does a commendable job of allotting meaningful screentime 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 manicured 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 bloodied himself by chopping off the wings that grow from his back.
Although Angel’s limited bookend presence in the film seems scant considering the visual appeal of a winged man able to fly, Angel determines a crisis decision regarding the mutant cure that carries larger implications for the story.
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 X-2. 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 most immediately the man in front of her who loves her.
X-Men: The Last Stand is a comic book movie that crams in a stunning number of characters while still managing to map out significant emotional underpinnings. It’s a blow-out 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 in the context of grand battles. Even for audiences unfamiliar with the comic books, or the previous two movies, it still stands up as a great popcorn movie. MTW