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X Men: The Last Stand (12A)

Director Bryan Singer, who helmed the first two X Men films, jumped ship during pre-production on the third to sort out the troubled new Superman film. While he was concerned with the Man of Steel, Brett Ratner took charge of the men and women of steel, fur, ice and fire that make up the mutant X Men.

The change is noticeable. With a storyline that centres on a cure that gives the mutants a chance of a normal, powerless life, the third instalment promises to continue Singer's affecting take on individualism, tolerance and prejudice.

Unfortunately, Ratner, who shot to fame with the Rush Hour franchise starring Jackie Chan, is not a director noted for his depth.

The whole tone of the film has become infantile. It's not just the school-age mutants who accompany favourites Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and Storm (Halle Berry) on their missions, it's the loss of danger, rebelliousness and character among the team under the orders of Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart). When they team up, they resemble Thunderbirds now, rallying each other with cheesy aphorisms and back slaps.

Ironically for a film all about the trials of not fitting in, the final instalment chooses to take a cure which makes it like all the action movies that preceded it.

A Ratner injection has turned a groundbreaking franchise into a generic blockbuster.

Developments are mostly cosmetic. Storm sports a new feathered hair cut and Jean Gray (Famke Janssen), who sacrificed her life in the last episode, returns as her potentially world-threatening alter-ego Dark Phoenix, with new red hair. It's never explained where she's been, but wherever it is they've got plenty of henna. After giving former flame Cyclops (James Marsden) a kiss he'll never forget, Gray joins the renegade mutants under Magneto (Ian McKellen) who are set on destroying the source of the cure. Xavier's outnumbered troops are more state-friendly and now include in their number the Secretary of Mutant Affairs or, as he is also known, Beast (Frasier's Kelsey Grammar unrecognisable under a suit of blue fur).

The cast-of-thousands battles and the scale of this third film necessitate a move away from the character focus of the first two films. It's a diseconomy of scale that affected the later instalments of the Matrix franchise too.

The earlier movies' attempts to develop back story and empathy for the characters are here reduced to cheesy, puddle-deep wordplay based on the character's powers. Xavier admonishes the admantium-skeletoned Wolverine that not everyone heals as fast' as he does and Storm is lectured with you more than anyone should know how quick the weather can change'.

The absence of Singer can be felt in the performances too. Jackman was very good in the first two films and brought a snarling, defensive quality to Wolverine. Here he seems to have remembered little of his character beyond the vertiginous frown.

Berry seems to be making every effort to get the Academy to ask for its Oscar back. Her film choices have been full of clunkers since 2002's Monster's Ball and here, despite Storm playing a larger than usual part, she is truly awful. Her speech at Xavier's funeral is so lifeless there must have been some concern among the mourners that they'd buried the wrong person.

This film may prove a similar death knell for the X Men franchise.


2:48pm Monday 22nd May 2006

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