Mutant ber Allies

X-Men: The Last Stand

Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Halle Berry, and Hugh Jackman star in a film written by Zak Penn and Simon Kinberg and directed by Brett Ratner.

Reviewed by D.J. Palladino

It’s now clear that the best thing about the X-Men movies is their grand unifying theme and the exquisitely intricate ways the plot examines it. Now, don’t laugh. From the first film’s opening on young Magneto being dragged into a Nazi death camp to this film’s small-scale, nearly apocalyptic ending, the scripts looked unblinkingly at capital-p Power and its tolerance of offbeat others — or, as in the case of some of the more prickly mutants, the toleration of their own offbeat powers.

In this film, a believable cure forces the major players to rancorous side-choosing, with an ambitious president of the Untied States making a surprising show of potency in a pitched battle most of us thought would be waged solely between Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart, smooth and benign) and his uncanny X-Men versus Magneto’s (hirsute and wicked Ian McKellen) thuggy mutant separatists.

“They say they have the cure,” intoned Magneto. “And I say we are the cure.” The best, most unexpected development of the “democracy versus will to power” conflict is how it works out inside the brain of two female protagonists, and if I said whom you would call me a spoiler. It’s a surprisingly non-sexist superhero world, too.

The second best aspect of X-Men is the roundness of its characterizations, richly built on paradox, like all great poems. Sometimes, though, the line between roundness and stupid contradictions gets crossed sloppily. Magneto, for instance, is so malicious one second and yet adorably noble two beats later. But paradoxes inform the story, too. Life, death, teamwork, and loose cannonry are but a few choice morsels of unresolved dilemmas in brisk competition here. Hey, this ridiculous superhero book’s a lot like life.

Please don’t let the comic fans dissuade you from seeing this film. (Just read the letters to the editor in any four-color mag if you want to meet head-in-butt critics.) It’s not as good as the last two films, maybe, and newcomer Brett Ratner sometimes forgets to dazzle us. But it’s choice escapist fare, nonetheless. You know, big explosions, titanic mayhem, and special effects that make you think.

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