- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 25, 2006

Making superhero movies means gaining access to literally hundreds of well-told tales. Want to make “Spider-Man 8”? Just flip through stacks of comic books and pick the story line that works best.

For “X-Men: The Last Stand,” director Brett Ratner and company pluck the comic’s Phoenix/resurrection saga as their through line — but that’s not all, and that’s where the new X-film stumbles.

“The Last Stand” introduces a wave of new mutants, revisits the mutant-as-outcast theme and lets the Grim Reaper run roughshod over our heroes.

It should have been a three-hour epic, but because it’s a summer movie, that kind of exposition just won’t do. What’s left is a briskly paced affair with a battle royal that lives up to the hype. But where, oh where is the gravitas director Bryan Singer gave the first two films?

“The Last Stand” begins pretty much where “X2” left off. Cyclops (James Marsden) is mourning the death of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), but otherwise, it’s business as usual at Professor Xavier’s mutant school.

That tranquillity ends when the government announces a cure for the mutant condition. We don’t need a cure, cries Storm (Halle Berry), and even the influence of the newly appointed ambassador for mutant affairs (Kelsey Grammar as the hirsute Beast) can’t squash the cure movement.

That doesn’t sit well with series villain Magneto (Ian McKellen), who summons an army of militant mutants to persuade the world — by force — to abandon the cure.

X-Men leader Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and his students are prepping to battle Magneto’s forces head-on when they learn that Jean Grey has been reborn as the Phoenix. The new, improved Jean is no longer an ally. Her telekinetic powers, once kept under control by Professor X, have morphed into an uncontrollable force that only Magneto embraces.

The remaining X-Men must find a way to thwart Magneto’s army, rein in Phoenix and convince the public at large that mutants deserve the same rights as anyone else.

Exhausted yet?

Mr. Ratner rarely gives us time to rest, even though there aren’t any traditional fight sequences until the film’s final moments.

The director isn’t a visionary like Sam Raimi, whose two “Spider-Man” films showcase his unequaled eye for comic-book razzmatazz. Yet he knows well enough to leave the smaller moments alone. When the Beast interviews a mutant boy whose power is to sap other mutants of theirs, Mr. Grammar looks at his suddenly human hand with a sense of wonder and joy.

The assembled actors do their part to sell this “Stand.” Could a franchise have better friends than Mr. Stewart and Mr. McKellen, who could impart a sense of grandeur to a Burger King commercial? Even Mr. Grammar dispels the groans heard at his casting announcement.

His Beast is measured and warm and later vicious when the final bell tolls. Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine remains The Franchise, a charismatic package of fury and heart who commands our attention even when spouting some of “The Last Stand’s” inane dialogue.

“X-Men: The Final Stand” supposedly is the final chapter in the franchise. The series doesn’t exactly go out on a high note, but it still will be music to the ears of the comic-book faithful.

**1/2

TITLE: “X-Men: The Last Stand”

RATING: PG:13 (A sexual situation, violence and disturbing imagery)

CREDITS: Directed by Brett Ratner. Written by Simon Kinberg and Zak Penn.

RUNNING TIME: 104 minutes

WEB SITE: www.xmenthelaststand.com/

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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