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Movie Review: X-Men: The Last Stand

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One thing I’ve always liked (the one thing?) about Michael Bay (Pearl Harbor) is his willingness to own up to the consequences of his oversized vision. He realizes that if he wants to dream of collapsing buildings, car chases, and asteroids hurtling into New York City, then he’s also going to have to confront massive property damage and the loss of innocent life. It’s not much, but to a certain extent, I admire a director who’s willing to dispense with hollow assurances that no one was hurt and let a little vengeance into his adolescent God-fantasy.

In X-Men: The Last Stand, director Brett Ratner takes a page out of Bay’s playbook and weaves an apocalyptic tapestry unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. He imagines an epic showdown between Professor Xavier’s (Patrick Stewart) X-Men and Magneto’s (Ian McKellen) rogue resistance mutants. For this to be “realistic,” there must be casualties and Ratner’s up to the task. The arbitrary fervor with which he rips apart the X-Men film universe by dispatching beloved characters right and left (and a veritable platoon of soldiers guilty of nothing more than being in the wrong place at the wrong time) is breathtaking.

The film begins with the resurrection of Dr. Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) who died saving the lives of her comrades at the end of the last film. She’s returned as the Dark Phoenix with an unbelievable power that poses a danger to herself, the X-Men, and the world. Meanwhile, an outfit called Worthington Labs has created a “cure” for mutants from the DNA of a character called Leech (Cameron Bright) who has the power to neutralize other mutants’ powers. Magneto uses this as an excuse to wage war upon the species homo sapiens, but of course he’s opposed by Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and company. And thus the stage is set.

Like the other X-Men films, The Last Stand touches upon a garden variety of issues of the day. Genetic engineering (and stem-cell research, perhaps), terrorism, and affirmative action all make cameo appearances. Unlike the franchise’s two previous films (which were directed by Bryan Singer), though, this installment never pauses to consider the implications of its potential timeliness. Instead, it rushes forward at a breakneck speed that is mindless, but also exhilarating.

X-Men aficionados might disagree. This brisk pace is almost entirely without relief and the film scarcely pauses even when someone shuffles off this mortal coil. In one instance, a good fifteen minutes of screen time elapses before we even know for sure that a character is gone. Ratner has sacrificed pathos for momentum. This might upset fans as he’s deprived them of a chance to say goodbye to their favorite characters. He’s also created a film that is curiously affectless, considering the number of death scenes it contains.

Beginning as he does with a resurrection, it’s clear that Ratner is not necessarily playing for keeps, a suspicion confirmed by one scene in which a character gets their powers back and another following the credits in which one more character comes back to life. Still, while the game lasts, it seems like anything can happen, which is not necessarily true in the highly formulaic realm of the summer blockbuster.

X-Men: The Last Stand isn’t terribly smart. Far too often it broaches an interesting subject only to drop it before it even begins to develop. Dialogue is largely replaced by insipid one-liners (“Not everyone heals as fast as you, Logan.”), and there’s just a hint of misogynism in the threat that Jean Grey poses and in the fickleness of Mystique (Rebecca Romijn).

But it is fast, fun, and unpredictable — qualities that have been lacking in the season’s movies thus far. While it will disappoint those with higher expectations for the franchise, I think it will please most everyone else. X-Men: The Last Stand is a fine example of the Movie-As-An-Amusement-Park-Ride (whatever that’s worth to you), and I can think of worse excuses to sit in the air conditioning for a while.

“X-Men: The Last Stand” 2006 United States, Brett Ratner.

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