Rabid fanboys, prepared to be stunned, because Brett Ratner—he of the witless Rush Hour, excruciating Red Dragon, and offensive After the Sunset—does not, with X-Men: The Last Stand, completely sully your beloved mutants-versus-the-world franchise. Such puny praise, however, comes accompanied with a colossal qualifier: this third and, if its title is to be believed (it shouldn’t), final entry in the Marvel comics-based series is nonetheless an underdeveloped, underwhelming, and decidedly unextraordinary flameout. Brought on to helm the project after the departure of Bryan Singer, Ratner acquits himself decently as a hired gun, his bland stewardship competently proficient even as it largely fails—save for a majestic image of an uprooted, in-transit Golden Gate Bridge crashing onto Alcatraz Island, mutant villain Magneto (Ian McKellen) hovering just about its surface—to replicate the sense of geeky pop mythos and epic grandeur that characterized trilogy high watermark X2: X-Men United.
Unfortunately, whereas Ratner adequately manages his plethora of special effects sequences (including, finally, a few featuring team-based combat), Simon Kinberg and Zak Penn’s script is an overstuffed muddle, full of barely sketched plot threads, inane dialogue for its three sentence-maximum conversations, and numerous new superhuman characters who either get no backstory (Kelsey Grammer’s blue statesman Beast; Dania Ramirez’s speedy Callisto), scant screen time (Ben Foster’s winged Angel), or both (Vinnie Jones’s ill-conceived Juggernaut; Eric Dane’s Multiple Man). To compensate for the fact that their dual-strand story—about a weaponized “cure” for the mutant gene embedded in the DNA of a boy (Cameron Bright, looking like a THX 1138 reject), as well as telekinetic Jean Grey’s (Famke Janssen) resurrection as the malevolent Phoenix—provides no resonant interpersonal drama, Kinberg and Penn attempt to arouse emotional engagement by cheaply killing off essential characters. It’s a transparently manipulative tactic almost as clumsily handled as the narrative’s allegorical concerns, which aren’t simply confined to the series’s trademark civil and gay rights movement metaphors, but now also involve facile, ridiculous Osama bin Laden, stem cell/eugenics, and abortion clinic protest imagery.
Issues of inclusion, intolerance, self-acceptance, and self-actualization are superficially trotted out to eat up time between both the flashy, frantic set pieces (scored with bombast by John Powell) as well as countless Marvel aficionados-directed references (there’s the Danger Room! There’s Scottish geneticist Moira MacTaggart!), the film eventually proving far more concerned with CG extravagance and big melodramatic moments full of grave soundbite-ready pronouncements than affecting relationships, thrilling conflict resolution, or a sense that the hectic proceedings are of any great consequence. Even if his animalistic Wolverine is reduced to a handful of tame one-liners, studly poses, and swift slayings, Hugh Jackman proves far more capable of transcending his goofy hairstyle than Halle Berry, unwisely given more to do this time around as dull weather woman Storm. Yet X-Men: The Last Stand is ultimately a dreary species of empty pomp and circumstance, far too similar to many of its summer movie brethren—and disappointingly dissimilar from its superior predecessors—in that, in its single-minded preference for spectacle over substance, it seems to have been put together primarily with its theatrical trailer in mind.