X3 stands tall

June 1, 2006, midnight | By Isaac Arnsdorf | 14 years, 4 months ago

Trilogy closes with satisfying finale

America's favorite mutants are back in the third chapter of X-Men's Hollywood run, "X-Men: The Last Stand," a film which delivers all the action, suspense, intrigue and cleverness that propelled the first two films. This time, Professor Xavier's leather-suited X-Men try to avert crisis as the development of a "cure" for mutation threatens to spark a war between humans and Magneto's hostile army of mutant emo punks and basement kids.

Yes, stuff blows up and catches on fire. Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) even slices something here and there. But underneath the flashy special effects and computer graphics, the real merit of "X3" (and the whole trilogy) is in its script. The witty dialogue and cleverly crafted motifs were a welcome relief from the trite and bland screenplays of other recent action flicks (can anyone say "Star Wars: Episode III"?). But alas, there's always such a thing as too much of a good thing, and eventually the dialogue begins to sound like a string of overemphasized one-liners. Still, no sooner have some of the most memorable lines been uttered than one can almost hear the over-eager middle-schoolers imitating them for weeks to come.

Perhaps the trilogy's greatest feat is adapting a fringe market to mainstream audiences, making comic book plotlines believable and comic book characters multidimensional. "X3" doesn't match the depth of the previous films in exploring the motivations and psyches of its heroes, which might confuse viewers who haven't seen the others. Wolverine returns as the troubled tough guy, with all the internal struggle and strife. Magneto (Ian McKellen) is one of the all-time best super-villains — capable, even, of drawing sympathy in his best moments. His friendship with Xavier and distrust for humans make him more complicated than pure evil. As a Holocaust survivor, Magneto's forewarnings of a mutant genocide are particularly convincing.

Not all the performances measure up. Halle Berry, who returns as Storm once more, blows over, and Rogue (Anna Pacquin) is reluctantly consigned to irrelevance. But the two most anticipated acquisitions are also the weakest. In a series that endeavored to banish yellow spandex and other comic book throwbacks in order to craft a hip new image, Beast (Kelsey Grammer) comes as a surprise. A very furry, very blue and yet very mannerly gorilla in a power suit, the character appears completely out of place and utterly ridiculous. The second newcomer, Angel (Ben Foster), hyped in trailers and previews, is surprisingly peripheral and underdeveloped.

With Beast the only notable exception, the movie manages to make a far-fetched premise seem plausible, and the movie operates under a suspension of disbelief that is only shattered when, ironically, the events become a little too real. When the impending war between mutants and humans finally dawns, the audience hardly knows whose side its on, and the political overtones become eerily troubling. Is it still too soon after 9/11 to see mutant acts of terror destroy prominent landmarks, or to watch Magneto deliver a bin Laden-esque televised threat? And when that war begins and soldiers are promptly depicted exchanging their metal equipment for an instantly prepared and endless supply of new plastic guns, are viewers supposed to be impressed by (or proud of) the apparent vitality of the American military-industrial machine?

While the political implications detract from the light entertainment value, take the film at face value and it should be easy enough to enjoy as an action-packed superhero thriller.

"X-Men: The Last Stand" (104 minutes) at area theatres is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action violence, some sexual content and language.

Isaac Arnsdorf. <span style='display: none;'>Isaac Arnsdorf is a perfectionistic grammar nerd with no sense of humor. According to co-editor Allie O'Hora, "he enjoys listening to rhythmless, atonal 'music' and reading the encyclopedia." He sleeps with the Manifesto under his pillow.</span> More »

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