X-Men: The Last Stand
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X-Men: The Last Stand

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Growing up as did so many, loving comic books, it is only natural that I look forward to film adaptations of my old favorites. Pretty much at the top of that list was always the X-Men from the Marvel Comic Group. Here were stories of young people in possession of amazing powers. Abilities like turning into ice, flying with huge wings or shooting powerful beams of their eyes all seemed great to have. In the third installment of the X-Men film trilogy the darker side of mutant powers is explored. All is not great for these teenagers and young adults. Even though they have these abilities their lives are basically a mess. This film may be the weakest of the three films but it does take a look at some social issues in the guise of science fiction.

As the film opens Scott Summers/Cyclops (James Marsden) is in morning over the loss of his fiancée Dr. Jean Grey (Famke Janssen). He returns to the site where she sacrificed her life to save the X-Men only to find Jean is still alive but now she is now Phoenix, an almost all powerful mutant. The reunion is not what Scott would have hoped for as Phoenix manifests her darker, deadlier abilities. Meanwhile back in the United States the government has given increased authority to the Department of Mutant Affairs. The department is headed by Dr. Hank McCoy (Kelsey Grammer), who himself is a mutant known as the Beast. McCoy is also a former student and colleague of the head of the X-Men Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart). Professor X runs a school for ‘special’ mutant children. The conflict between Professor X and his one time friend and current foe Eric Lensherr (Ian McKellen) is coming to a head. Lensherr is better known as the powerful mutant rebel Magneto, a man able to control magnetic force. He believes that mutants are the natural successor to the human race and is destined to replace us. Charles feels that the two species can live in peace. The tenuous balance of powerful is shifted when a young boy, Jimmy is discovered. It turns out that he is a mutant called Leech. His ability allows him to negate the power of any mutant near by. A pharmaceutical company in California uses the boy to create a serum to ‘cure’ any mutant instantly. The owner of the company, Warren Worthington II (Michael Murphy) has a vested interest in such a cure. His son Warrant the third (Ben Foster) is a mutant called Angel with beautiful huge wings that allows him to fly. The operational command of the X-Men now falls to two senior members of the team, Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) a hairy man with indestructible claws and Ororo Munroe/Storm (Halle Berry) a young woman who can control the weather. They assemble a new team of X-Men from the teenaged members of the Xavier School. They have to stop Magneto who has added to his band of mutants with a group of inner city mutants. They are bent on stopping the distribution of the mutant cure.

The film’s weakest aspect is due to its being a transition story. This is the end of the main trilogy with the characters we have all come to know and the beginning of a possible new direction of the franchise with all new, younger mutants to amaze us. There are just too many back stories here; too many new characters are introduced. This makes the story cluttered instead of focusing on the emotional arcs of the main characters. As with the previous two installments the best part is the morality play that is at the heart of the film. The main question is concerned with the question of whether morality is ridged. If it is who gets to set the parameters of a society’s moral values. A corollary to this is whether being different is something that requires a cure in order to conform to the main population. The mutant cure is a reflection of some groups that feel they can cure things like homosexuality. Must an individual have to accept such a cure to live within a society? For a mutant like Rogue (Anna Paquin) whose touch is deadly, a cure represents what she sees as the only hope for a normal life. She cannot kiss her boyfriend Bobby Drake/Iceman (Shawn Ashmore), all normal physical contact is denied the couple. She is also afraid she will loose him to Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page), a cute teen who just happens to be able to walk through solid matter. One of the most powerfully emotional scenes comes when Magneto first confronts the mutant street gang. They tattoo themselves as a means to display to the world their mutant pride. When the gang’s leader asks Magneto if he is so proud of his mutant status where his tattoo is, Magneto pulls back his sleeve to reveal numbers tattooed on his arm, a remnant of the Nazi concentration camp. He declares that no needle will ever touch his flesh again. He has seen the darkest manifestation of a society that demands purity and conformity.

Those who want to see an action film instead of a moral message will not be disappointed. The action is stepped up several notches from the previous two films. One of the best special effects sequences I have seen in years comes when Magneto uses his mastery over magnetism to lift and move the Golden Gate Bridge. With all the teenagers with powers there is plenty of chances for amazing special effects. I remember many of the characters from my comic book infatuated youth so seeing these was like revisiting an old friend.

The cast may have been greatly expanded but at least the old regulars maintain their standards. Patrick Stewart as always is great as Professor X. He is a talented actor who really sells his role. He plays Charles as a man caught in the middle of a struggle where he can empathize with both sides. He knows what drives his friend Magneto is real and his friend experiences in Nazi Germany have colored his view of the world. Ian McKellen is perhaps one of the most versatile actors of his generation. He doesn’t play Magneto as a pure villain. He is a man who has seen the worse that mankind has experience and now he sees a dangerous potential for history to repeat itself. Hugh Jackman is, of course, the perfect action hero. Ruggedly handsome he can appeal to both genders in the audience. He continues his role as the mysterious and deadly Logan, a man with great power who is denied any knowledge of his past. Reprising her role as Storm, Halle Berry is much more powerful and self confident here. She is a great role model for young girls as a woman who is expected to step up to a position of authority in a time of crisis. Rebecca Romijn is also more dangerous than ever as the shape shifting Mystique. She also as enough screen time clad only in some blue paint to make the guys in the audience very happy.

20th Century Fox once again scores a solid hit with the DVD release of the film. They have three variation to offer, Pan & Scan, widescreen and collectable. Just on general principle lets forget about the full screen version. When it comes to deciding on whether to get the collectable edition go for it. The retail price difference is only a few dollars more and if you can afford it this edition is well worth it. The two widescreen editions have a fantastic 2.35:1 video. The transfer is close to reference quality. The color palette is splendid. The contrast is perfect. The Dolby 5.1 audio will rock your living room. The sub woofer booms out with the battle scenes. As for extras no fan will be disappointed. All variations have a commentary track with director Brett Ratner, and writers Zak Penn and Simon Kinberg. Ratner does discuss some of the work required to take over a famous and successful franchise such as this. There is also a producer’s commentary track featuring Avi Arad, Lauren Shulder Donner and Ralph Winter. Three alternate endings are provided so you can choose how you want the story to end. With the collections edition you also get special edition Stan Lee comic and three of Stan-the-Man’s favorite comics. While the film is not as strong emotionally as the previous two it does bring the saga to an end while leaving potential for more X-Men antics in the future.

Posted 9/11/06

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