X-Men – The Last Stand is (like Mission Impossible III) a thoroughly daft but, in the end, thoroughly enjoyable and persuasive action sequel: narrowly preferable to the franchise's previous outings in that it doesn't take itself especially seriously. This shift from solemnity to popcorn can be credited to X Men 1 and 2 director Bryan Singer bailing out during pre-production in favour of Superman Returns, taking with him scriptwriter David Hayter. This left Zak Penn (who'd worked on the screenplay for X2) and Simon Kinberg to cobble together a whole new story at relatively short notice.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the plot is far from the resulting picture's strongest suit: after a halting first act, a confusing three-way conflict develops between 'good' mutants (led by Patrick Stewart's Professor Xavier); 'bad' mutants (united behind Ian McKellen's Magneto); and the non-mutant section of humanity which has developed a cure for the 'mutancy' (a development which proves wildly controversial among the mutant 'community.') But this is all no more than a perfunctory pretext for a series of increasingly slam-bang action sequences, delivered with a bare-minimum of in-between down-time (hence the comparatively brisk 104-minute running-time, which includes a long credits crawl.)
Director Brett Ratner (Red Dragon, The Family Man, etc) who clearly doesn't have the same personal 'feel' for the material as Singer, keeps the serious subtexts (mutancy as allegory for homsexuality; civil rights of minorities in a multicultural society; appropriate responses to 'terrorism', etc) in the background, and instead goes breathlessly full-tilt down the action-extravaganza route. Though he'll never be mistaken for the most innovative or dazzling film-maker in Hollywood, Ratner is more than sufficiently competent for such material, and once X3 starts gathering momentum (after a midpoint shock that catches everybody off-guard) it proves almost as unstoppable as newcomer mutant Juggernaut, who can run through the thickest of walls and is played, (in one of the year's truly bad performances) by a CGI-enhanced, seven-foot-plus Vinnie Jones.
Juggernaut's special skills are displayed to striking effect in a climax which sees all three opposing forces come together in an almighty scrap on Alcatraz, one which involves perhaps the quickest nightfall in cinema history, and which ultimately revolves around the split personality of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen). Grey was the uber-mutant seemingly killed at the end of X2, but who is here mysteriously reborn as the vengeful, out-of-control 'Phoenix' – thus giving the ever-excellent Janssen much more meat to chew on than in the first two episodes, where she was often criminally sidelined.
The conclusion – and staying around after the very end of those long credits is strongly advised – leaves the way open for an X4 and, despite this episode's title, the movie's box-office returns suggests that the surviving mutants will soon return in some form or other. The most likely option is a feature devoted to Logan aka Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), the series' nominal hero – and one of the areas where the films have diverged most markedly from the original comic-books, where Wolverine is a feisty 5'3" Canadian instead of a swaggeringly brooding 6'3" American.
Wolverine – The Movie (subtitle: Logan's Run?) would, however, perhaps represent an unfortunate development, as one of the joys of the series, and X3 in particular, is the sheer number and range of the dramatis personae: it seems like another one pops up every five minutes or so, showing off yet another bizarre ability. This necessitates skimpy characterisation, but is crucial to the barrelling, anything-goes energy that gives X-Men 3 such a kick: especially when two or more mutants either work together for a shared aim or, even better, their powers come into direct conflict in what are effectively wildly elaborate, high-stakes, rock-the-house versions of 'stone/scissors/paper.'
8th June, 2006
X-MEN – THE LAST STAND : [7/10] : USA 2006 : Brett RATNER : 104 mins (BBFC timing)
seen at Empire cinema (formerly Cineworld), Sunderland, (UK), 5th June 2006 – public show (paid £5.80)