Twilight of the Mutants
A major entertainment magazine's cover story pegged to the release of X-Men: The Last Stand beckons readers by promising to reveal the "Secrets of X-Men." Unless those secrets concern the mutant superheroes' fragile states of mind, perhaps culled from sessions on their analysts' couches, the article couldn't be too lengthy.
Judging by this third and purportedly final installment, the X-gene has been tapped out. The studio, Fox, must realize the concept and the technology have been stretched as far as they'll go and be willing to put the franchise to bed, though boffo box-office receipts can alter every equation. Fans will wave goodbye with heavy hearts, though not as heavy as those of the angst-ridden Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Storm (Halle Berry), Rogue (Anna Paquin), Cyclops (James Masden) and Jean Gray (Famke Janssen) -- not to mention the younger, lesser mutants who mope around whining about their outsider status.
X2 (2003) and to a lesser extent X-Men (2000) were dynamic entertainments adapted from Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's Marvel comic by director Bryan Singer. They had multi-layered characters and storylines plus eye-popping effects. While not awful by any means, this swan song is comparable to joint therapy thanks to a trite script better suited to a primetime soap opera like Dawson's Creek. An elegiac tone is appropriate but The Last Stand, helmed by Brett Ratner, takes valedictory soul-searching to the limit, unless we're supposed to reclassify the film as young adult melodrama with pseudo-Wagnerian trappings.
It takes too long to get to the significant action, which feels like an afterthought given all the exposition and internal debate that's come before. The only thing preventing the story from imploding with self-pity is that the panoply of personalities (to use a homo sapien term) is brought to life by such appealing actors. The attempt to add a socially conscious gloss by framing the mutant's existential plight as a battle for civil rights, douses the special effects in more maudlin syrup.
When a cure for mutancy is discovered, Magneto (Ian McKellen) leads a revolt while the followers of his archenemy, civic-minded Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Steward), must decide whether to intervene for the sake of social tranquility. This cure has been developed by a father heartbroken over his son's negative feelings about his mutancy, revealed in a touching scene during which the boy attempts to crudely saw off his wings. Pops happens to run a pharmaceutical company, which sets up shop on Alcatraz Island to immunize all willing mutants with a vaccine derived from a mutant whose power is the ability to neutralize other mutant's powers.
Magneto takes center stage as Malcolm X to Xavier's Martin Luther King. McKellen gets to make full use of his vocal talents -- for instance, when delivering a Bin Laden-like ultimatum on TV -- warning humans that the mutants unwilling to be normalized will take their fight to the streets. They do. To the streets of San Francisco. Given an unexpected leadership vacuum, Wolverine and Storm ponder whether they should swing into action and, if so, how to bring the younger mutants along with them. Harmony is restored but the price is high. The internecine climax on Alcatraz, made possible by a repositioning of the Golden Gate Bridge, is disappointing when considered as an action set piece.
Kelsey Grammer joins the many returning cast-members as Beast, a.k.a. Dr. Henry McCoy, the blue-hued Secretary of Mutant Affairs who can't abide how the government is handling the divided mutant community. It's fun to watch Grammer unleash the animal within and it's certainly a blast watching Rebecca Romijn as Mystique, a denuded mutant who truly goes wild, but not in that order.
Most of the actors are asked to convey feeling using only clenched facial muscles and expressive eyes, particularly Stewart and Janssen. Janssen's pivotal character, Jean Gray, returns from the dead with extraordinary powers and the right idea: obliterate all the mutants. Someone should let them know they don't have much to complain about. Not fitting in is the new conformity.
(Released by 20th Century Fox and rated "PG-13" by MPAA.)