Friday, September 29, 2006

X-Men: The Last Stand (Oklahoma Gazette)

Oklahoma Film Critics Circle

Since it has just re-emerged, this time on DVD, “X-Men: The Last Stand” gets revived here as well.

If you read movie reviews other than mine—and I see no reason why you’d want to—you undoubtedly became familiar with the lament that Bryan Singer, the director of the first two X-Men films, was sorely missed at the helm of this one. Singer flew the coop to rescue “Superman Returns,” which he did fitfully. Or didn’t, fitfully, depending on your tolerance for heavy-handed Christ symbolism.

Anyway, control of X-3 was assumed by Brett Ratner, of “Rush Hour” and “Red Dragon.”

Is he as good a director as Singer? No. In this case, does that matter? No. This is a comic book movie. Yes, it’s a bit more serious than many, and more solemn than most, but its appeal is still in its sound and fury, in its visuals and in that “gee whiz” factor, and those qualities are found here in plenty.

This time out, the tension between mutants and humans reaches the breaking point with the creation of a “cure” for the mutant X-gene, derived from a mutant boy (the everlastingly creepy Cameron Bright). Charismatic evil genius Magneto (Ian McKellen) leads a band of militants who want to destroy the boy so no more of the serum can be produced.

It’s a new American Civil War, and I have to admit that were I a mutant I would join with Magneto.

Be that as it may, the peacenik mutant side of the conflict is led by Prof. Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who is supported by the good guys from the previous two films—Wolverine and Storm primarily (Hugh Jackman and Halle Berry), joined by a blue-furred escapee from a Disney animated musical called Beast (Kelsey Grammer).

Personal problems arise for our heroes when Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), who died in part two, returns from oblivion as The Phoenix--pissed off, a little crazy, and more powerful than a speeding locomotive. Hold it. Save that reference for “Superman Returns.”

Several of these characters, especially Storm and Jean, play more significant roles in the plot than they did last time, but it’s still John Bruno’s FX team that carries the film. Some of the visuals are stunning, especially an admittedly silly sequence in which Magneto, whose power is the ability to move metal with his mind, scoots the Golden Gate Bridge in order to make a walkway to Alcatraz. I particularly liked the way Famke Janssen was back lit, with her hair blowing wildly. It looks a little like the cover of a comic book, but why shouldn’t it?

Simon Kinberg’s and Zak Penn’s script pulls some real surprises out of its hat, but they’re not surprising because what happens is implausible, but just because it’s stuff you don’t expect to find in light weight summer blockbusters based on this kind of material. “Fantastic Four” this ain’t.

I’ve never been a big Marvel comics fan so I can’t tell you whether or not the X-Men film trilogy, of which this is a good conclusion, is true to its source material, but I can tell you that “X-Men: The Last Stand” is a full bore, plow-pulling visual treat with just enough honest characterization to interest adults and more than enough yowza to keep the geeks clued to their seats.

Okay, my summer-movie-loving friends—“X-Men: The Last Stand” was the official kick-off to the season. M:I:3 lacked that certain something that satisfies all the way to a second viewing, as did “Poseidon.” “The Da Vinci Code” is a Ron Howard movie—say no more.

X-3 rocks. It’s not Aerosmith or AC/DC, but it isn’t Taylor Hicks either.

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