Neither the exhilarating franchise sign-off that Bryan Singer would have likely delivered, nor the deformed mess that banshee-like ’net boys have been wailing was the only feasible outcome after Fox handed the reins to “comic-book Anti-Christ” (his words) Brett Ratner. X Men: The Last Stand is merely that all-too-common modern film phenomenon – the plodding blockbuster, or plod-buster, which spikes out of its three-star flatline during some solid bang-wallop set-pieces and an emotionally wrenching face-off, which goes down as the series’ spine-tingling highlight.
A perfunctory prologue reveals all our favourites back in the X-fold. Wolverine’s still puffing on cigars; Storm’s still moving clouds, but has developed a new spinning-through-air trick; Professor X and Magneto get creepy digital facelifts for a plot-laying flashback and – oh look – Jean Grey didn’t die in a watery grave. (She’s back with redder hair, an itchy temper and terrifying telepathic omnipotence.) A few new faces are clawing for mutant show-off time, too, including Kelsey Grammer’s Beast (blue, furry, reads upside-down), Vinnie Jones’ Juggernaut (huge, padded, relishes crap one-liners) and Ben Foster’s Angel (winged, self-loathing, pretty much surplus to requirements).
No stranger to generic studio tentpoles (Rush Hour 1 & 2, Red Dragon), Ratner is like a pig in shit during any sequence involving landmarks or vehicles hurtling through the air, including Magneto’s motorway ambush of a reinforced mutant paddywagon. But most of the time, his approach is akin to having someone waving their hands in your face while shouting at the top of their lungs. Yes, X3 is fast, furious and distracting. But we’ve seen the wizard behind the curtain, and Ratner’s handling of the franchise’s provocative, relevant elements is workmanlike at best. Feel the boredom seep in as he’s forced to let his characters talk. Sense the panic as he muddles his way through the high-stakes issues (Rogue’s inner turmoil is signposted, literally, by an advert that reads, “Mutant Cure Shots Available Here”).
It’s a shame, because Simon Kinberg and Zak Penn have delivered a script that snatches the baton from X2 to dive deep into the comics’ mythology. With plenty of shocks in store for trilogy stalwarts, it’s a gift of a screenplay that lives up to the portentous title. Best of all is Famke Janssen’s electrifying return as the Phoenix. Playing the super-freaky mind-control goddess like GoldenEye’s Xenia Onatopp’s all-powerful psycho sister, her scenes – particularly that one with the house – crackle with energy and tragedy. If only the rest of X3 had followed suit.