'X-Men: The Last Stand'
Kicking the plot off is an interesting idea: Since the events of the last movie, humans and mutants have achieved an uneasy detente and acceptance of difference has increased, but into this environment comes the startling news that a cure for mutancy has been found. A simple shot can eliminate all signs of abnormality. Naturally, there's a split in the mutant community. Among Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and his X-Men, there's extreme caution, but pockets of interest -- Poor Rogue (Anna Paquin), watching her intimacy-starved boyfriend Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) gravitate toward spunky Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page), is particularly intrigued. But Magneto (Ian McKellen, ever the master of making an underwritten role seem full), a Holocaust survivor who feels the cure smacks of eugenics and potential genocide, leads his Brotherhood against the idea. The Brotherhood is better mobilized, because the X-Men are in a minor crisis -- thought dead, Jean Grey (Famke Jansen) is back, but something's potentially wrong.
As its title indicates, "The Last Stand" smacks of series finality. It gives little away to say that there are deaths aplenty and not just among the evil mutants. But rather than positioning this third film as a meaningful tribute to the characters viewers have embraced in the first two, the script by Zak Penn and Simon Kinberg needs to add a bevy of additional characters from the Marvel comic, somewhat satisfying a few fans, but diluting the 104-minute film for people who actually want to care. More screentime is given to Kelsey Grammer's intellectual, but powerful Beast, Ben Foster's reluctant winged Angel and Vinnie Jones' muscle-bound Juggernaut. Magneto's Brotherhood has at least a half-dozen new recognizable mutants all, intriguingly, played by minority actors, something that a smarter filmmaking team might have woven into the subtext -- the Brotherhood's allure to people who have been doubly and triply disenfranchised is contrasted with the X-Men, whose ability to assimilate is decidedly less hampered. Given how little Hugh Jackman's Wolverine and Halle Berry's Storm have to do through most of the movie, the focus never feels right.
The movie is bright and flat and every shot seems perfectly centered, representing Ratner's ongoing desire to get the least imaginative visuals of cinematographer Dante Spinotti's career. With much of the film's budget going into the climactic assault on a laboratory on Alcatraz, the effects in the first half of the movie are decidedly frugal and well below the standards established by the first two films. Among the people I've discussed the movie with, reactions have been mixed regarding the CGI centerpiece, Magneto's trickery with the Golden Gate Bridge, I've heard some praise, but I kept waiting for the money shot, a single frame that defined Ratner's approach. Instead, some flashy images went by and the movie ended, leaving room for a sequel, but no real necessity.
In describing the film's imagery and effects, it's best to use an allusion direct from the text: If Singer approached the first two movies as a mutant himself -- empathizing with every outcast, prodding at every subtext, with off-kilter camera angles and shaded cinematography to match -- Ratner directs as one cured.