Six years ago, I had hopes that the X-Men series would become the most relevant and emotionally centered of the comic-book-movie franchises. Guided by the thoughtful Bryan Singer, the first two X-films, despite some inevitable summer-flick stumbles, were first-rate of their kind. Singer has since departed the world of mutants to kick-start another comic-book concern — Superman Returns — leaving the reins in the hands of the transparent Brett Ratner, who can copy the style of his betters but has nothing in particular on his mind or in his heart. X-Men: The Last Stand, duly hyped as the final panel in the saga, resolves little and satisfies neither fans nor newcomers. Mainly it’s because the movie has a fatal case of overpopulation: There are simply too many mutants, with too many distinct powers, to allow any one fantastic hero or villain to shine.
Suicidally, X3 attempts to take on two premises that could each fill its own lengthy movie. Premise #1: The government has concocted a “cure” for mutants; some are eager to submit — better living through chemistry — while others, such as the militant mutant Magneto (Ian McKellen), see it as an insult bordering on genocidal. Premise #2: Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), the X-person who died heroically in X2, has returned from her watery grave as a wildly powerful telepath with near-limitless destructive abilities. This second premise, in the comic books, was the basis for a multi-story arc that took many issues to spin properly. On top of all this, scripters Simon Kinberg and Zak Penn treat the film like a mutant two-for-one sale, introducing at least a dozen, all of whom fight in vain for screen time.
The idea of the government trying out a (voluntary) “cure” for genetic deviance is an occasion for more debate and cogitation than the movie has room or space to offer. What was once a slyly subversive gay subtext — mutantphobia equalled homophobia — now becomes a rather plastic conflict that, in any event, never goes much of anywhere. It leads to a spectacularly nonsensical moment when Magneto uses his metal-controlling powers to uproot and move the Golden Gate Bridge over to Alcatraz Island so an army of mutants can march there (can’t he just pack a few planes full of mutants and levitate the planes over there?). X3 never settles for logic where special effects will suffice.
There are charming moments of subtlety, as when the younger Magneto and his former friend Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) visit the young Jean Grey at her home and she idly levitates all the cars parked on the street outside; this is glimpsed out of the window in the background, and it’s about the only time the spectacle takes that literal back seat to the characters. Even the fan favorite and putative star mutant Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is reduced to pining for Jean and being the gruff big brother to the conflicted Rogue (Anna Paquin). Ratner has corralled an excellent cast (Anthony Heald, Bill Duke, Olivia Williams, Michael Murphy, Shohreh Aghdashloo), all of whom do little or nothing. Newly introduced mutants Angel (Ben Foster), Beast (a blue-painted Kelsey Grammer), Juggernaut (Vinnie Jones), and many others get mere scraps. The shape-shifting Mystique (Rebecca Romijn), perhaps the most interesting of the “evil” mutants, is callously brushed aside after a fun scene wherein she gets to show off some of her powers.
Yes, there’s something here to disappoint everyone, except perhaps those who don’t expect something of the same quality as the previous X-films or, God forbid, the original comics. Casual viewers may let the whole insensate mess wash over them, though even on the level of dumb concussive summer entertainment it’s far too busy and hectic to sustain much excitement. Major characters die weightlessly (or do they?), and others lose their powers (or do they?), giving the impression that there will probably be more X-movies. At this point, though, the only reason to make more would be to claim a summer slot that isn’t dominated by Batman, Spider-Man, or Superman. This series once had a point, and a point of view. Now it just has stockholders.