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She’s baaaack: Janssen in X-Men: The Last Stand.

Out on a High Note

 

By Shawn Stone

X-Men: The Last Stand

Directed by Brett Ratner

Let us now praise X-Men, the movie franchise, for being exactly what it was: A generally well-made, successful series of comic-book movies. The filmmakers behind the trio of films—a number of writers and producers, but principally Bryan Singer, who directed the first two intallments—cast well, plotted carefully and delivered the right balance of outsized violence, “big” ideas and pulpy emotions to make for perfect summer entertainment. They created a framework so sturdy, not even Brett Ratner—the director who teamed Charlie Sheen with Chris Tucker and fucked up a Hannibal Lecter movie, for heaven’s sake—could break it; the Ratner-directed X-Men: The Last Stand is an explosion of big-budgeted fun. We should all be sorry to see these X-Men go away.

In case you have forgotten, the X-Men are a merry band of mutants with bad-cool superpowers in a world frightened to death of mutants. It’s a typical Marvel Comics universe, in which the relationship between the superheroes and the regular folks is complicated and angst-ridden; there are no good guys and no bad guys. Sure, Magneto (Ian McKellen) can move anything made of metal and wants to exterminate the human race, but he’s too charming to really hate. At the same time, nice superhero Storm (Halle Berry), who can change the weather at will, is too whiny to warm up too. Somewhere in between are the cranky Wolverine (Hugh Jackman, again doing his best Where Eagles Dare-era Clint Eastwood impersonation), electro-girl Rogue (Anna Paquin, again with the train-wreck hair), Beast (a blue-furred Kelsey Grammer), shape- shifting bad girl Mystique (Rebecca Romijn, nearly naked again) and walk-through-walls teenager Kitty (Ellen Page).

Oh, and Dr. Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) didn’t really die at the end of the last movie. She isn’t exactly Jean Grey anymore, either; she’s become the unstoppable Phoenix, destroyer of worlds. Another way to think of Phoenix is as the ultimate girlfriend from hell. Janssen is very, very good in the role.

This time, a pharmaceutical company sets off a war between mutants and humans (and mutants vs. mutants) by inventing a “cure” for the mutant “x” gene. Rogue is attracted to the cure for an obvious reason: Electro-girl can’t touch another person without killing them, including, of course, her boyfriend. Most of the mutants are unhappy about it; Magneto uses it as a reason to go to war again on the humans.

As others have repeatedly noted, this plot can be seen as a metaphor for social battles over everything from “curing” homosexuality to aborting disabled fetuses. The film takes a predictable middle-ground position; like even the best comic books, it raises questions bigger than the form is capable of adequately dealing with.

This doesn’t matter, though, because the story is full of interesting plot twists and reversals. The ante is upped, too; as it is the self-described “last film” in the trilogy, the makers of X-Men: The Last Stand weren’t afraid to kill off major characters or drastically change others. The film features genuine surprises in a way other sci-fi flicks—like the newer Star Wars movies—failed to deliver.

As noted, it’s sad to see these particular X-Men go away. (In particular, one must single out Ian McKellen for his tasteful scenery chewing as Magneto. Imagine what Anthony Hopkins, for example, would have done with the role.) It would be equally disappointing to see them come back in a fourth film, however. The series has ended well. Let it rest in peace.

 


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