X-Men: The Last Stand

That’s right, Brett Ratner didn’t screw it up! That may come as a shock to his numerous detractors, but I personally never had a problem with him. As I’ve stated often, there’s nothing wrong with a director deciding to just have fun making fun movies. His work has been uneven, but I had a feeling that given a good script, inspired crew and capable cast, he might stumble into making a great flick one of these days. Not to diminish his accomplishment, but Ratner was also lucky to come into this with two films’ worth of back-story and character development (not to mention decades of comic book continuity) behind it. Those have never been the Rat’s strength, and here he basically only has to tie together all the things that were set up before.

X-Men introduced us to the universe, where mutants are feared by humans and struggle to be accepted, either through peaceful ways encouraged by Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and his School for Gifted Youngsters, or by any means necessary as instigated by Magneto (Ian McKellen) and his Brotherhood of Mutants. In X-Men United, the two camps had to side together against a common threat. Now in “The Last Stand”, they have to take a, well, last stand. As a pharmaceutical company and the government announce the creation of a cure for the mutant X gene, the different characters must choose between the possibility of eradicating their identity to fit in, or to embrace who they are and destroy that “cure” and whoever gets in their way.

It’s impossible not to notice the gay subtext here, more boldly implied than ever even though Bryan Singer isn’t at the helm anymore. The whole plot revolves around the question of whether being a mutant is a disease that should be cured, as some believe about homosexuality. And the third act kicks in with Magneto and his twink Pyro (Aaron Stanford) leading a Pride march in, get this, San Francisco! “We’re here, we’re mutants, get used to it!”

As if that wasn’t enough incendiary material for one film, “The Last Stand” also tackles Chris Claremont’s Dark Phoenix Saga, arguably the best comic book story arc ever written. I won’t spoil it for those who aren’t already familiar with it, but it basically has to do with Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) turning into a “purely instinctual being, all desire and joy… and rage”. Ratner nails all that surprisingly well, not only the spectacular FX-heavy mayhem Grey’s unleashed powers cause but also the heartbreaking majesty of it – her final moment is downright operatic.

The returning players all get to shine, from Stewart, McKellen, Stanford and Janssen to the always badass Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, Rebecca Romijn as the dangerously sexy Mystique, Daniel Cudmore‘s Colossus (who finally gets to kick ass), Anna Paquin‘s Rogue, Shawn Ashmore‘s Iceman and even Halle Berry, still miscast as Storm but faring better than before. Unfortunately, Nightcrawler’s unexplainably disappeared (BAMF!) and Cyclops is barely in the movie, but that probably has to do with James Marsden leaving with Singer to do “Superman Returns”.

Anyway, there are so many exciting newcomers that you can’t really complain. Kelsey Grammer plays Secretary of Mutant Affairs / blue furball Beast with wonderful Sideshow Bobesque superiority, Ellen Page is delicious as Kitty Pryde, virtual girlfriend to a generation of geek boys (including Rivers Cuomo if you go by his In the Garage lyrics), and Vinnie Jones dominates the screen and gets the film’s best line: “Don’t you know who I am? I’M THE JUGGERNAUT, BITCH!” The film also features tons of other new mutants including Angel, Multiple Man, Callisto, Psylocke, Quill, Arclight and Leech, who’s played by Cameron Bright, the go-to child actor for creepy supernatural kids (see also: “Godsend”, “Birth”, “Ultraviolet”), Dr. Moira MacTaggert (played by the lovely Olivia Williams), the Danger Room (with a nod to Days of Future Past)… And ’80s action movie icon Bill Duke, too!

“X-Men: The Last Stand” wears its title well, as at least half the movie is a series of epic confrontations between the aforementioned people: mutant vs. human, mutant vs. mutant, mutant vs. … goddess. And this isn’t a clean war either, more than a few characters are either “cured” or killed. Major characters. “X-Men: The Last Stand” is all that and more. It perfectly completes and extends the first two films and confirms this franchise’s place in the pantheon of all-time great Hollywood trilogies. Sure, like with the Terminator movies, it’s kind of a shame that the original filmmaker didn’t get to direct the final instalment but in both cases, it ultimately doesn’t matter because that third movie is so damn good. Well done, Mr. Ratner.