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"X-MEN: THE LAST STAND"
(2006) (Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Action/Adventure: A group of superhero mutants battles other mutants who are upset about a cure that's been developed to turn all of them back into regular humans.
PLOT:
Following the apparent death of mutant superhero Jean Grey (FAMKE JANSSEN) while battling evil mutant Magneto (IAN McKELLEN) and his followers, the surviving X-Men are trying to get on with their lives. That includes headmaster Professor Charles Xavier (PATRICK STEWART) who resumes teaching new students, such as Kitty Pryde (ELLEN PAGE), while Storm (HALLE BERRY) and Wolverine (HUGH JACKMAN) clash over how to train them in simulated battles.

But not everyone is happy, including Cyclops (JAMES MARSDEN), Jean Grey's boyfriend who's still reeling from her demise, while young mutant Rogue (ANNA PAQUIN) is still frustrated that her deadly powers mean she can't even hold hands with her boyfriend and fellow mutant, Bobby (SHAWN ASHMORE).

But there's a greater concern for the world of mutants as Dr. Hank McCoy (KELSEY GRAMMER) of the Department of Mutant Affairs reports that Alcatraz-based Worthington Labs has developed a serum that can turn mutants back into humans. It seems that researcher Warren Worthington II (MICHAEL MURPHY) was so upset that his son, Warren Worthington III (BEN FOSTER), was a winged mutant that he looked for such a cure and found it in the form of young boy Leech (CAMERON BRIGHT) whose very presence nullifies any mutant powers.

Concerned that The President (JOSEF SOMMER) and his assistant Trask (BILL DUKE) will use the cure to rid the world once and for all of every mutant, Magneto and former Xavier student Pyro (AARON STANFORD) free a number of other mutants to help them defeat the cause. Among them is longtime Magneto ally, the shape-shifting Mystique (REBECCA ROMIJN) and the indestructible Juggernaut (VINNIE JONES). As his name would indicate, Multiple Man (ERIC DANE) can create multiple versions of himself, while the speedy Callisto (DANIA RAMIREZ) can track any mutant.

Once he realizes that Jean Grey has risen from the dead with her powerful, inner alter-ego, The Phoenix, making her the most powerful mutant ever, Magneto uses Callisto to find and recruit her. As that band of bad mutants make their way toward Alcatraz to destroy Leech and the cure derived from him, Wolverine and the other mutants set out to stop them.

OUR TAKE: 4.5 out of 10
All sorts of things are said to make the world go round and love may conquer all, but money talks, especially in Hollywood where star salaries and movie budgets routinely enter the eight and nine figure amounts respectively. And since that's especially true for summer blockbuster type films regardless of whether they're sequels or brand new vehicles, many studios opt to stick with the known commodity, especially if it's a proven moneymaker.

Thus, whenever you hear that the latest installment of some such franchise will be the last, you have to take that with a grain of salt. While a conclusion might make sense artistically or logistically (for any number of reasons), it never does financially if the movies are still generating boatloads of cash.

Which is exactly the case with the "X-Men" movies that have grossed some 700 million dollars worldwide from their releases in 2000 and 2003. Such cinematic success automatically breeds offspring (known in these circles as sequels) meaning we now have the purported final installment of the series, "X-Men: The Last Stand."

Considering that a dead character from the last film is brought back to life and those killed in this film aren't necessarily permanently dead (an assumption based on a number of clues and a bunch of common sense), I wouldn't count out a fourth and probably fifth chapter in this series based on the popular Marvel Comics comic book created by the venerable Stan Lee (who naturally makes yet another cameo).

Yet, you may ask, what is left to tell regarding these mutant superheroes after the first two films. Well, there's still plenty of emotional angst and dual feelings of not fitting in and being persecuted because of being different (all the better to draw in the teenage viewers who presumably can sympathize with such feelings). And with plenty of returning characters - including Patrick Stewart and Hugh Jackman -- and the introduction of some new ones - such as Dania Ramirez and the suddenly heavily muscled Vinnie Jones -- there are obviously lots of potential storylines.

But that very myriad of possibilities in the form of so many characters proves to be one of the film's downfalls. As in any film with a large cast, there are going to those who get a decent amount of screen time and those who get shortchanged, and that's all too obvious here.

The characters played by Anna Paquin, Rebecca Romijn and James Marsden are pretty much left on the sidelines, while new ones played by Ben Foster and Cameron Bright (who plays yet another creepy kid character in a plotline that's a bit too similar to the same he played in the awful "Ultraviolet") feel as if most of their scenes were left collecting dust somewhere on the cutting room floor.

Diehard fans of the series probably won't be disappointed as they'll just be happy to see the returning characters and will welcome new (mutant) blood into the gene pool. But for everyone else, this big-budget, superhero melodrama will likely only elicit humdrum responses.

Despite the obvious big budget veneer, the various special effects and action-laden set pieces don't really possess the sort of "wow" factor one expects from these sorts of films. Even a rerouting of the Golden Gate Bridge isn't as impressive or as much fun as it initially seems it will be once you realize what's going to occur.

The same holds true for the "big" finale where a mutant on mutant battle takes place on Alcatraz Island. There's lots of action, but nothing that's terribly impressive, which is all the more disappointing considering the setup leading to that.

You see, the aforementioned dead character -- played by Famke Janssen who's reduced either to playing a sultry minx or an empty vessel with two expressions: demonic rage (noted by the blackened skin and visible veins) or angst-filled stupor -- is noted as being the most powerful mutant ever (a "class 5" -- although we don't know if or how that relates to the same category on the Saffir-Simpson scale).

An earlier scene shows her full power -- when she dispatches another main character (that may get the diehards weepy but will leave everyone else quite indifferent) -- so we expect even bigger fireworks and more mayhem in the finale (since that's how Hollywood usually works).

But while previous director Bryan Singer (who took most of the screenwriters to work on the newest "Superman" installment) may have been able to do something with that, newcomer Brett Ratner (the "Rush Hour" films) and writers Simon Kinberg (who has written a screenplay with "X" in the title -- that being "xXx: State of the Union") and Zak Penn (who concocted the story for "X2") simply drop the ball. Sure, there's plenty of mayhem and even more deaths, but none of it's remotely engaging.

Of course, it doesn't help that the very nature of the beast (that being superhero stories where we now know death doesn't mean forever) lessens its dramatic and emotional impact. Beyond the fact that mortality (and even most wounds for some of the characters) is a moot point, we're constantly removed from the proceedings by any number of questions that keep popping up.

That includes matters such as why Storm (Halle Berry) doesn't just whip up an F5 tornado to dispatch the villains or Jean Grey (in Class 5 mode) simply freeze time, walk in and get what Magneto (the always fun Ian McKellen) wants without all of the ensuing mayhem and "death."

Some may argue that none of that's important since this a big, popcorn munching summer action flick where one's brain can be stowed at the concession stand for some mindless action and mayhem. That's all fine and dandy, but since the film is intent on trying to play off some deeper issues (all the angst, the continued prejudice, and a main plot point here about a serum being developed to "cure" the mutants), it had better deliver the goods in terms of engaging the viewer. Aside from the aficionados, it simply doesn't.

Constantly moving forward but feeling chopped up (mainly regarding the shortchanged characters and their storylines), the film is most notable for the introduction of Kelsey Grammer playing a blue, furry diplomat of sorts. Even in this world of various styled mutants, his stands out like a sore thumb. Then again, maybe that's symbolic of the whole series really stemming from Dr. Frasier Crane having some sort of fantasy or psychotic break after one too many at the counter in a place where people know people are all the same and where everybody knows your name.

The filmmakers and releasing studio will probably have their own cheers for the effect this film will likely having on making their financial world go round, but for everyone else this is a noisy and active but ultimately mediocre experience that probably won't be the last of its kind. "X-Men: The Last Stand" rates as a 4.5 out of 10.




Reviewed May 23, 2006 / Posted May 26, 2006


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