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» Variety Weblog Review - X-Men: The Last Stand

published on Tuesday, May 23, 2006, 12:05 AM

So? The good definitely outweighs the bad in the climax of the X-Men trilogy. That’s not going to stop a lot of people from criticizing the film for not being directed by Bryan Singer, and this installment, directed by Brett Ratner, does lack the offbeat tone and smooth narrative tricks that smoothed over the more outlandish elements of the X-Men canon. Fortunately, the canon has been established in the previous two films, and the more conventional action approach gives “The Last Stand” a kinetic intensity and grand scale that the previous two films only hinted at.

The plot’s pretty basic: A pharmaceuticals company creates a vaccine that permanently suppresses the X-gene that causes mutation. Some see it as a cure, others as a threat. Xavier’s camp lines up against Magneto’s hard-line stance. The wild card is the resurrection of Jean Grey as a darker, more powerful version of herself, as each side faces off in a massive battle on Alcatraz Island.

As with the previous films, there are plenty of valid criticisms about plot holes, awkward moments, and too many characters and too much plot crammed into a slim 105-minute running time. That they’re all of a slightly different nature than those Singer brought to the table is, in the end, down to nitpicking. (Remember “What happens to a toad?”…)

The best parts of the film are truly exciting. There’s action aplenty and those who thrilled at Wolverine cutting loose against Stryker’s guards in “X2” will have a field day with this installment. There’s not one, but two “fastball specials,” and lots of cool mutant-on-mutant battles. Colossus gets a few scenes and Iceman finally completely ices up. Storm at last is a force to be reckoned with, and she flies, zaps and whips up winds the way she always should have. Ellen Page is terrific as Kitty Pryde and the film makes great use of her powers. The action makes this film feel more like an X-Men comicbook story and certainly will please action junkies as well as those who found the previous films slow.

Characters do get some short shrift, and for more than a few of them it’s death that clears up the clutter. Anna Paquin’s Rogue has a disappointingly minor role in the film. Cyclops, Mystique and a few others have a moment and then are out of the picture. Angel has a great introduction and largely disappears for most of the picture. Kelsey Grammer has more to do as Beast, who turns out extremely well despite the blue makeup and fur. Vinnie Jones as Juggernaut loses something in the translation to film — his helmet being much more dorky up close than the trailers indicate and the loss of his connection to Charles Xavier leaving him without meaningful connection to the story.

The cure plotline and the showdown with Magneto give the picture its backbone and it’s consistent in tone with and builds upon the previous films. The Phoenix plot, however, is the most difficult aspect of the picture, even as its climax provides the most spectacular images of the trilogy. The filmmakers also effectively play with the look of Phoenix, who in the comicbook version was a sort of cosmic force that manifested itself as a giant fiery bird. Here, Phoenix is the ultimate manifestation of Jean’s potential and a product of Xavier’s meddling, her power altering her physical appearance in frighteningly effective ways. Xavier’s role is particularly interesting, as the sympathetic father figure seen the previous films turns to him being more controlling and shrewd – again reflecting various portrayals from the many years of comic books. Without divulging more details, the Phoenix story deviates significantly from the original in a way similar to that of Elektra’s story in 2003’s “Daredevil.” The specifics are not on the surface that different, but the changes alter the story enough to mitigate the emotional impact to a fraction of the original.

This makes the film a more conventional action pic, which will earn it praise from the many who respond to the visceral thrill and criticism from those who enjoy the more cerebral aspects of the previous films or expect a more literal adaptation from the comics.

And that’s what this film is going to come to for a lot of people. The film delivers in action, humor and a lot of very enjoyable character moments. It fails to deliver the sort of intellectual and emotional impact that fans of the original Phoenix comicbook story may expect. It also deviates from comicbook lore and ends up resolving some plotlines in ways that may fans may not care for (Rogue is an obvious example). Again, the good outweighs the bad and the film. Many will defend this legitimately as the best of the trilogy; others will say it’s the weakest link. This is definitely different than the film Bryan Singer would have made, and perhaps that’s the only thing the two camps will be able to agree on while most people will ignore them and have a good time anyway.

For fans, there’s lots of cool little cameos and Easter eggs to watch for. The film’s first scene features cameos from Stan Lee and longtime X-Men comicbook writer Chris Claremont. Mutants making appearances include Callisto, who has a cool throwdown with Storm; Madrox the Multiple Man, a villain here instead of a hero; Dr. Moira MacTaggert; Dr. Kavita Rao, from Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men arc; and Bolivar Trask. And be sure to stay after the credits for a pretty cool tag that goes to show that death is far from permanent where the X-Men are concerned.

Source: weblogs.variety.com

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