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X-MEN 3: THE LAST STAND (article first published : 2006-06-8)

Two directors - Bryan Singer and Matthew Vaughn - were respectively linked to the X-Men project before it fell on Brett Ratner to complete the popular movie trilogy about mutant humans with superpowers.

Ratner's results, after Singer's first two films achieved wide critical and commercial success, have met with mixed reviews, the main argument being that his film is too heavy on action and special effects, flaunts too many characters and skimps on character definition.

All this is true but, some of these issues also comprise the film's strengths, X-Men 3: The Last Stand being the first in the series to finally fully exploit the intriguing characters on parade.

While the first two films were remarkable and hugely enjoyable, and, yes, superior, they were also a tad serious overall. Many fans felt short-changed at too many of those colourful superhumans going to waste by being relegated to the background or given precious little to do.

With the earlier movies having amply set the scene to accentuate the differences between the good mutants, led by wheelchair-bound Xavier (Patrick Stewart), and the bad ones, headed by Magneto (Ian McKellen), it's high time we experienced the big clash between the factions and the vast array of different powers being placed in the spotlight.

The showdown arises after human politicians come up with a pharmaceutical cure for mutants - one jab with this antidote and they will return to be simple homo sapiens.

The trouble is, many mutants are not happy about this discriminatory action. Upset about being labelled as a disease, they assemble, under the command of Magneto, to wage war.

X-Men 3: The Last Stand introduces us to a host of new mutant characters - among them a burly, barely recognisable Kelsey Grammer as a blue Beast and the mutants' political representative. Also of note among the newcomers is the wide-winged Angel (Ben Foster), who could have been given more screen time. He is central to the "mutant cure" plot, his politician father looking to create a serum in response to his son's childhood desire to cut his wings off and be normal.

Also watch for the towering Colossus (Daniel Cudmore) who throws around fellow mutants like baseballs; an amusing Vinnie Jones as the muscle-heavy Juggernaut, who crashes through walls and the taciturn, power-sucking Leech, played by young Cameron Bright, last seen opposite Nicole Kidman in Birth.

All the familiar characters are back, too, among them principals Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Storm (Halle Berry), Cyclops (James Marsden) and sexy Jean Gray (Famke Janssen), who is resurrected form her watery death in the first film, to re-emerge as the enigmatic and super-powerful Dark Phoenix.

The film, set in San Francisco, has some terrific set-pieces, one particularly awesome sequence involving the famous Golden Gate Bridge and another centring on a home makeover with a difference.

Ratner's film adds up to loads of fun. He has neatly sewn up the plot's loose ends and even left the window open for a possible continuation of the series. Billy Suter




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