X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) / Action-Fantasy
aka X-Men 3
aka X3

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence, some sexual content, and language
Running Time: 104 min.

Cast: Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Famke Janssen, Halle Berry, Kelsey Grammer, Shawn Ashmore, Anna Paquin, Rebecca Romijn, Aaron Stanford, James Marsden, Ellen Page, Vinnie Jones, Ben Foster, Dania Ramirez, Michael Murphy, Josef Sommer, Cameron Bright, Bill Duke, Daniel Cudmore, Eric Dane, Kea Wong, Olivia Williams, Stan Lee (cameo), Chris Claremont (cameo)
Director: Brett Ratner
Screenplay: Simon Kinberg, Zak Penn
Review published May 29, 2006

This is the third installment of the X-Men series, continuing the storylines developed since the first X-Men and the show-stopping finale which culminated in the death of Jean Grey (Janssen, Hide and Seek) in X2.  Jean Grey does make a comeback here, although she isn't feeling quite herself these days, as it appears that her darker side, which had been held dormant thanks to the help of Prof. Xavier (Stewart, Star Trek: Nemesis), has now emerged from the traumatic events of saving the X-Men collective bacon.  So far gone is she that she ostensibly kills off her beloved Cyclops (Marsden, Interstate 60), then proceeds to wreak havoc on the X-Men compound before going into cahoots with evil mastermind Magneto himself.  Magneto (McKellen, The Da Vinci Code) sees Grey, now dubbed Phoenix due to her newfound destructive penchant, as his trump card in his ultimate war against homo sapiens, who have now developed a "cure" for the mutant gene. 

Given the mass exodus of behind-the-scenes talent and tumultuous mid-production changes, it's a bit of a small miracle that the third installment in this lucrative franchise, X-Men: The Last Stand, would end up being as good as it is.  Bryan Singer, director of the first two films, left to direct Superman Returns, only for the project to finally be directed by one of Superman Returns originally slated directors, Brett Ratner.  Although Ratner is generally considered a more lightweight director than Singer, mostly known for the mediocre but popular action-comedies Rush Hour and Rush Hour 2, he also directed a more serious franchise film in Red Dragon, to mostly successful results, so there was still some reason to hope. 

I'm happy to report that Ratner does a commendable job keeping this extremely difficult third entry together, especially given the sheer gravity and scope of the multi-textured story, as well as the lofty expectations among the fans to deliver the goods after the critically acclaimed, X2: X-Men United.  While the battle will rage on indefinitely as to which of the X-Men movies is the best, I suspect the second entry will claim the honors for some time, although my personal pick is for this one, despite the middling reviews by many mainstream critics.  Why?  Simply put, it actually captures the enormous magnitude of the mutant vs. human war in ways the first two films never quite were able to. While the fate of the world always has hanged in the balance throughout, this time, it is definitely presented in a magnificent way onscreen. 

If there is one thing that I wish could have been better, it would have been to have beefed up the film about another 20-30 minutes in order to get a better sense of pacing.  While the film does hold together fairly well, and the emotional element is still quite present, most of the momentum in terms of the characterizations come from the first two films.  The balance is shifted a bit too far in the action and explosions direction, and while those scenes are a glory to behold, there is a sense of profundity and underlying importance that seems to have been excised out in order to accommodate more of a fever pitch. At only 1 hour and 44 minutes, which is about a half hour less than X2's running length, there definitely was an opportunity to deliver much more in terms of giving the magnificent action scenes more weight and drama.  That another dozen or so new mutants are introduced here and vie for precious screen time, while eating into that which rightfully belongs to the characters we do care about, doesn't help matters in the slightest.

Even though the opportunity for a truly great X-Men movie is never quite realized, there are some great moments that make The Last Stand more than worthy of the price of admission for all fans of the series.  While the marketing department behind the film would have you believe this is the final film in the X-Men trilogy, they've left several doors wide open for possible sequels and spin-offs, and given the box office returns seen already at the time of this writing, it's impossible to believe we won't see a return sometime very soon in some form or fashion for our beloved mutant heroes.  Let's face it -- they wouldn't introduce so many new, needless characters if they weren't planning on using them more prominently in the future, right?  While the battle will rage on as to whether fan-boys prefer this one over the first two films in the series, one thing isn't much in dispute -- this is by far the best third film in any superhero franchise to date (eclipsed later by The Dark Knight Rises).

-- Followed by The Wolverine.

 Qwipster's rating:

2006, 2013 Vince Leo