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X-Men: The Last Stand (2006): **½

Directed by Brett Ratner

I waffled back and forth between three stars and two-and-a-half stars for quite a while on this film. On the one hand it is not a very good movie. On the other hand I had a surprisingly good time while watching it. Ultimately, since I am writing this review a month (or more) after seeing the film, good taste wins out over a fleeting visceral experience.

Probably my main problem with the movie was the strange decision to saddle it with two plots. The first X-Men movie was about stopping Magneto from using his mutation-causing machine. The second X-Men movie was about stopping Stryker from going through with his plan. This X-Men movie is about dealing with the "mutant cure" (a plotline that was ripped along with the character of Kavita Rao from Joss Whedon's run of writing the "Astonishing X-Men" comic) and also with dealing with Jean Grey's transformation into the Phoenix.

At barely 100 minutes the movie does not have enough space to deal with both of these plots. Surprisingly, it is the Phoenix plot (generally considered to be the best slash most important storyline in the history of the X-Men comics, if not in comics at as a whole) that generally gets shoved to the side in favor of the cure plot.

Also because of the short running time several characters get the shaft. Rogue, who was arguably the most important character in the first X-Men movie and was definitely a main player in X-2, here is relegated to maybe 10-15 minutes of screen time. Colossus, who is important enough to end up being one of the X-Men who helps make the title-mentioned "last stand" has maybe 10-15 lines in the whole film (and is inexplicably is missing his trademark russian accent). The whole Warren Worthington III (Angel) subplot seems entirely under-fleshed, although the opening flashback showing Angel's budding mutation is absolutely horrifying and very effective. Indeed, most all of the emotional aspects of the movie seem to be rushed over in order to try to work in the mechanics of Magneto's plot to deal with the cure and the X-Men's (well, mostly just Wolverine's) plot to stop it.

The plot also has some problems, in that it builds up to a big climax and then doesn't seem to know what to do once it gets there; most of the villains just kinda stand around except for Juggernaut and someone who was supposed to be Callisto (I think) while the X-Men fight the faceless mob of The Brotherhood.

That's another thing: When Magneto forms his Brotherhood he gathers as his closest leutenants several characters whom I didn't recognize (other than Juggernaut and Mutliple-Man). I see from looking through the credits that the super-fast lady was supposed to be Callisto, and there was even Psylocke in there (though damned if I spotted her). But for the most part his posse of mutants are nameless, faceless, basically powerless extras. Seemed a strange choice considering the fabulous and varied characters that could have been chosen from the 40-year history of the franchise.

A lot of people I know have problems with Magneto's "grand entrance" at the beginning of the climax, but I didn't find it any more ridiculous than half of the crap that has happened in the comics over the years. I think, though, that the first to films established a certain believability to the world and this film treated it more as a comic-booky world. I didn't find it too hard to accept, even though I know that Alcatraz is about 500 feet too far away from shore for the whole thing to even work at all...

What I liked about the film was that it surprised me pretty consistently. Even though the overall story arc was not surprising (and I knew before going in what the end of the movie would be even though nobody had told me; it was just obvious to me), there were several moments throughout the film that jolted me and made me think, "Holy crap, they actually did that!" In big-budget blockbusters, especially in sequels, that type of surprise is a rare commodity. Much like the climax of Serenity, it helped to create an atmosphere of "anything is possible and nothing is sacred" that always helps a movie feel more fresh and exciting.

Another thing I really enjoyed was the shocking moral ambiguity of the film. A lot of the characters do a lot of really questionable moral things, and the movie doesn't seem to take sides on a lot of this. It probably isn't on purpose; most likely the filmmakers didn't realize the questionable nature of some of the choices and therefore did not make overt emotional overtones attached to them. But it allowed me to make my own decisions. What do I think about what Wolverine (always a terribly morally ambiguous character) does during the course of the movie? About Xavier's meddlings in Jean's mind? About Beads & Wolverine's decision on how to end the big fight with Magneto? About Rogue's role in the movie? Since the filmmakers didn't seem to notice that there was anything "iffy" going on in a lot of these, I am left to make up my own mind, which I actually greatly appreciated.

Say what you will about Brett Ratner as a director, but this is what I say: Brett Ratner is an entirely competent and unremarkable director. He has no real style of his own, but he is entirely able to direct action scenes and have them be coherent and exciting, something Bryan Singer was entirely unable to do during the first X-Men film. I don't really blame (many) of the failures of this movie on Ratner, but rather on some of the strange choices made in the script. In fact it is probably because of Ratner's facility with action direction that this mish-mash of a movie was enjoyable at all. If they'd had another 20-30 minutes linger on the Phoenix plot and delve more into some of the emotional ramifications of what was going on, then I would definitely recommend this movie. As it stands, though, I can only say that I had a good time while I was watching the movie, but I don't really feel much like watching it again.

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