Regeneration “‘X’

Posted on 25 May 2006 at 9:02pm

Action-packed “‘Last Stand’ won’t disappoint, but queer/mutant metaphor sends wrong message



join the brotherhood AND FIGHT: Magneto (McKellen, right) and his Evil Mutants wage battle over a mutations

Returning to the brevity of the first film in the series (“X2″ was half an hour longer), “X-Men: The Last Stand” also has the complexity and nonstop action of the second, making it great entertainment.

You needn’t be X-obsessive to follow the plot, but a passing acquaintance with The Story So Far will be helpful. “The Last Stand” opens with two flashbacks: one involving an old character, Jean Gray; and the other introducing a new one, Warren Worthington III then an adolescent trying to hide the wings growing out of his back from his father (Michael Murphy), a pharmaceutical mogul.

Then we plunge into “the not too distant future,” where things are pretty good for the fresh-faced students and faculty at Professor Charles Xavier’s (Patrick Stewart) School for Gifted Children (i.e., mutants). Xavier’s former friend turned enemy, Magneto (Ian McKellen), is in exile, assembling a ragtag band of mutant followers, and an ostensibly mutant-friendly President (Josef Sommer) has appointed a mutant, Dr. Hank McCoy/Beast (Kelsey Grammer in blue fur), as Secretary of Mutant Affairs.

Speaking of mutant affairs, Scott/Cyclops (James Marsden) is distraught over the death of Jean Grey/Phoenix (Famke Janssen), which will prove to be temporary. And Bobby Drake/Iceman (Shawn Ashmore), frustrated because it’s not safe to touch Marie/Rogue (Anna Paquin), is drifting toward Kitty Pryde/Shadowcat (Ellen Page).

The real plot begins when Worthington Sr.’s drug company produces a “cure” that can turn mutants into ordinary human beings. Although it’s supposed to be voluntary, the government has developed guns to fire the cure into mutants who refuse to change.

X’s people remain passive and optimistic, although one of them goes in search of the “cure,” and Storm (Halle Berry) questions, “What kind of coward would take it just to fit in?”

Meanwhile Magneto’s forces become ever more militant, protesting the very idea of a cure and generally acting up.

“Will you join my brotherhood and fight,” he asks, “or wait for the inevitable genocide?”

Here is where I have a political problem with “X3.” It could even be the reason gay director Bryan Singer bowed out and Brett Ratner stepped in. The X-Men have always been metaphors for any oppressed minority, and the coming-out scene in “X2″ made it clear that gays and lesbians were being referenced specifically.

“The Last Stand” furthers that line of thinking. To have the mutants opposing the cure be cast as villainous sends the wrong message.

It’s hard to root for the X-ers, who would sit by and be eliminated if Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) didn’t want to save Jean Gray, her telekinesis out of control, from wreaking havoc on behalf of Magneto. That cure-pushing government forces are wiped out in the ensuing battle is incidental, not part of the X-plan.

If it’s wrong to take away what makes mutants unique kind of like changing one’s skin color, sexual orientation or belief systems to make them conform to society. The characters fighting the cure should be the good guys, not the bad guys. Even if they don’t exactly take the high road.

The amazing cast also includes Shohreh Aghdashloo, R. Lee Ermey, Anthony Heald and Cameron Bright. It’s an embarrassment of riches, some best known for this series but many stars on their own. The screenplay efficiently sets up the plot, letting most characters’ powers speak for themselves and often using only their human names.

McKellen, who provided the only levity in “The Da Vinci Code,” is in Olivier mode here, bringing Shakespearean intensity to a movie that has enough elements of fun. Aside from all the battles and the powers brought to bear therein, the effects highlight comes when Magneto takes the Golden Gate Bridge to Alcatraz literally.

Considering how outrageous some of them are, the effects often seem more organic than those of many other recent films of the genre.

X-MEN: THE LAST STAND B
Director: Brett Ratner
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart
Opens May 26 in wide release.
1hr., 44 min. PG-13

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, May 26, 2006.

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