The third installment of the X-Men series, X-Man: The Last Stand, may be the most adult of the trilogy thus far, and for that Brett Ratner gets a nod. But it's also one of the most divergent from the original, and for that he gets a scowl. So as a fan of the X-Men comics, I'm disappointed. As a film buff, I'm pleased. This evens out to a general sense of "Eh" for the experience overall.
This film hinges on several plot devices that originate in the comics, but are taken either completely out of context, or simply used deliberately incorrectly (such as Juggernaut being a mutant... he is not). For the film itself, these devices work well together, and give us a plot that it at once singular and all-encompassing. The writers (who, strangely enough, are not listed on the film's IMDB page) have woven a good story, a story with elements of victory and tragedy, and they've actually gotten a few of the characters more right than in the first two, while completely bastardizing others.
The film follows, as always, the King, Charles Xavier and knights of the round table, known as the X-Men. This time, however, someone has found a way to neutralize their "Excalibur" and are calling is a "cure." Of course, the good guys try to talk it through, and the bad guys decide to try violence, and a conflict ensues as it always does in such tales. This time, however, the writers have treated the story a bit more realistically (if a comic book movie can be said to be at all realistic) and there are consequences in this one, dire consequences that have a drastic effect on everyone associated with the narrative on both sides. This story is the most engrossing, the most emotional of the three, and also the darkest as a result. This sits well with me, as I prefer stories not wrapped in the "everything's going to be just fine" myth, especially when the X-Men stories are, at their core, stories of slavery, bias, and prejudice, and as we've seen in the real world, thing aren't "fine" for everyone yet.
The actors and actresses are all good in their roles, that's stayed constant throughout the trilogy. There is no one performance that stands out as really awful, but there are a couple that stand out as really good. Ian McKellen once again turns in a spot-on performance as Magneto, proving once and for all that he really is a villain in all the ways that count. He's single-minded to a fault, and only at the very end perceives that there might have been any possibility of error in his thinking, as good villains usually do. Hugh Jackman has, once and for all, won me over. He's now got Wolverine down so well, I can't imagine anyone else playing him, and I'm looking forward to the rumored prequel featuring his character as the lead. And Kelsey Grammer continues to surprise me. Just when I think he's a one-trick pony, he pulls off yet another nuanced performance that makes me reconsider him. With him in the role as Beast, I thought it would end up being Frasier Crane in blue fur, but I was wrong. Grammer's Beast is his own character, and watching him when he gets more... uncivilized was a lot of fun.
There are also several bit-part actors that stand out. Shawn Ashmore as Iceman is really starting to come into his own, and his role is picking up a little resonance in the mythos. Ellen Page got Kitty Pryde dead-on as far as personality, and I hope we'll be seeing more of her. And Ben Foster's Angel worked well, although I'd have liked to see more of his character in the film than was there. On the villain side, Aaron Stanford's Pyro is maturing nicely into a legitimate villain in his own right. Rebecca Romijn turns in another amazing performance as Mystique, especially in her 2nd-to-last scene. And Vinnie Jones made a wonderful Juggernaut. He's another one I'd have liked to see more of in the film than I did.
As for the technical end of the film, the effects were very good. There was no time that sticks out in my memory that yelled "HEY, I'M COMPUTER GRAPHICS," and that's a good thing. The editing was tight, the cinematography was acceptable, and the sound effects were very immersive. The soundtrack seemed a bit heavy-handed at times, but until I listen to it without the film going on over it I won't be able to render final judgment on that. And Ratner did a good job directing the cast through their roles, I definitely got the feeling he worked hard to get the film to where it was, and he did a much better job than I expected him to do.
I'll admit, I went into the film with low expectations. I thought of the guy who directed Rush Hour 2 directing X3, and I cringed. But he pulled it off. So I'm forced to try to summarize the film and "grade" it, and I'm of two minds. The comic book fan in me says C-, the movie buff in me says B+, so I'll pick a spot in between.
I give this film a B-. It's worth seeing for the thrill alone, but it's not the best comic book movie ever made. It's not even in the top-5. I'm sure it'll do well at the box office, and I hope it does. If it does well enough, we'll get more movies, and with more movies comes more hope we'll get another really good one. I thought this one would be it. I'll just keep hoping. Superman Returns comes next, and Ghost Rider's coming out in February of '07. Keep hoping.