I've been a fan of X-Men back when they restarted the comic series at the supposed issue #1 with Jim Lee. This was of course a cruel publicity stunt, as the X-Men had a long history prior to that comic, but it gave kids like me the feeling that I was at the beginning of something special. The X-Men movies evoke the same feeling of witnessing a mythology in the making.
Essentially, mutants are the next evolution of humanity. Their powers run from the straightforward (Cyclops shoots rays out of his eyes) to the extreme (Storm can control the weather, Professor Xavier is the most powerful psychic on the planet). Unsurprisingly, the rest of us normal folks are not okay with this and struggle to deal with the burgeoning social, economic, and political issues that arise when a percentage of the population can blow up government buildings by sneezing.
In X-Men: The Last Stand, the wheelchair bound Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stuart) leads a school of students dedicated to teaching and refining their powers. He also runs what amounts to an anti-terrorist organization of super mutants. They're job is to protect mutant interests, stop other mutants from running amok, and save the world. The group included Jean Grey (the delicious Famke Janssen), her lover Scott Summers AKA Cyclops (James Marsden), Ororo Munroe AKA Storm (Halle Berry, a little less wooden this time around but not much), and Logan AKA Wolverine (Hugh Jackman, for the ladies) who needs no introduction. With the supposed death of Jean and the disappearance of Cyclops, it's up to Storm and Wolverine to lead a new farm team of mutants into battle. These newbies include fresh-faced Marie AKA Rogue (Anna Paquin) who can drain powers, Kitty Pride AKA Shadowcat (Ellen Page) who can phase through walls, Peter Rasputin AKA Colossus (the hulking Daniel Cudmore) who can transform himself into living steel, and Marie's boyfriend Bobby Drake AKA Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) who can…well, you can probably guess.
On the other side of the spectrum are the terrorists themselves, the Brotherhood of Mutants, led by the charismatic Eric Lensherr AKA Magneto (Ian McKellen, whose very presence elevates the film to high art), master of magnetism. His minions include shape shifting Raven Darkholme AKA Mystique (Rebecca Romjin) and ex-Xavier student John Allerdyce AKA Pyro (Aaron Stanford). New recruits to the Brotherhood include Callisto (Dania Ramirez), Cain Marko AKA Juggernaut (Vinnie Jones), Multiple Man (Eric Dane), and a bunch of other mutants known as the Morlocks…at least, that's what they're called in the comics.
The two opposing mutant groups are galvanized by the discovery of a "cure" by the Worthington foundation for mutations. This anti-mutant serum removes all superpowers, making mutants normal people. Some people see this cure as salvation, like Rogue, who cannot touch anyone for long without killing them. Others see it as a deadly threat to their rights to exist, especially after Magneto discovers that human agents carry weapons loaded with the serum in lieu of bullets. Straddling the world of politics and mutant rights is Dr. Hank McCoy AKA Beast (Kelsey Grammer) and long-time friend of Xavier.
At the same time, the supposedly deceased Jean Grey has returned and is more powerful than ever. Taking on the persona of Phoenix, she slowly tears up the terrain and the people who love her, eventually falling in with Magneto's Brotherhood. Phoenix becomes Magneto's secret weapon in an attack on the Worthington facility in Alcatraz. Yes, that Alcatraz. Since the serum is created from a single mutant named Jimmy AKA Leech (Cameron Bright), eliminating the boy will effectively stop the program.
What ensues is a brute force battle over the San Francisco Bridge as the Brotherhood of Mutants, Xavier's School for the Gifted, and the military (armed with plastic weapons this go round against Magneto's powers; see, humans CAN learn!) duke it out.
The good news is that this is the most geeky of the X-Men films, less interested in the mutants making sense for and more concerned with mutants showing off their powers. Thus we get to see the Fastball Special: Colossus picks up Wolverine and hurls him at opponents. We finally have Beast doing what he does best, quoting scholarly literature as he beats bad guys up with his feet. And Storm stops futzing around and electrocutes people. Wolverine smokes cigars and acts like a tough guy. There's even the tease of a Sentinel fight.
The Last Stand isn't without a sense of humor. A terrified mother, witnessing mutant powers in full swing, locks the doors on her car. Wolverine, faced with a bad guy who keeps regenerating, finally kicks him in the groin. And Juggernaut quotes the Internet (fans will know what I'm talking about).
The bad news is that The Last Stand is essentially two movies collapsed into one. Phoenix's resurrection and the anti-mutant serum seem to have nothing to do with each other. Phoenix's presence is unnecessary, and when she finally unleashes her full destructive might, it seems anticlimactic. Stewart and McKellen aside, the other actors struggle with their lines, especially Berry and Janssen.
It feels like this third installment of the trilogy was forced to wrap-up the details of the second film, but midway in production went through a change in leadership so that the new director put his own spin on the movie, creating a schizophrenic quality. Oh wait, that's exactly what happened! Bryan Singer was originally helming this film, and Brett Ratner took over in his stead. It shows.
X-Men's not a deep film, though its premise could be applied to everything from the war on terror to racism to gay rights. Instead, it opts to be a comic book movie, no more or less than the comic itself: lots of superpowers, a lot of brawling, and snippy asides. If anything, this third movie is truer to the comics than the first two. If you need further proof, stay through the end of the credits.