The good news is that, given that it was directed by Brett Ratner, X-Men: The Last Stand is not nearly as bad as it could have been. The bad news is that the latest installment in the X-Men franchise is directed by Brett Ratner (Red Dragon, Family Man), a filmmaker of such questionable talent that the fact the movie is even mildly entertaining seems like a cinematic miracle.
When last we saw our intrepid mutant heroes, they were dealing with growing anti-mutant sentiment and mourning the death of team member Jean Grey (Famke Janssen). Team leader Cyclops (James Marsden) is despondent over losing Jean, the love of his life, which leaves Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), also grieving Jean's loss, to step up as a role model to the younger mutants. Meanwhile, it turns out that a pharmaceutical company has developed a "cure" that can reverse the mutant process. This doesn't sit well with Magneto (Ian McKellen), who leads his army of evil mutants in a war against humanity, resulting in a climactic showdown on Alcatraz Island that even includes a resurrected Jean, who has a serious evil side.
The problems with X-Men: The Last Stand are numerous. First and foremost, there is an everything-and-the-kitchen-sink screenplay that crams too much story and too many characters into a brief running time. There are huge leaps in logic, characters that go undeveloped, and subplots discarded in the hope that we might not notice because we're so excited to see Wolverine go on a slice-'n'-dice killing rampage. But there are a few too many plot holes, a few too many poorly developed concepts and a few too many superfluous characters to be overlooked.
The weakness of the script not withstanding, X3's Achilles' heel is Ratner's impotent direction—his lack of style and finesse only enhance the screenplay's shortcomings. With films of this nature, the action sequences are directed by what is known as the second unit director. There is a distinct and glaring difference between the fast-paced action (handled by second unit directors Simon Crane and Conrad Palmisano), and the flat, lifeless direction Ratner provides in the nonaction sequences. Bryan Singer, the director of the first two X-Men films, was able to give a poetic grace and emotional depth to dramatic scenes that lived, breathed and co-existed alongside the kinetic, effects-heavy action. Singer was an artist working with multiple mediums on a complex canvas of images. Ratner is painting by numbers and finding it impossible to stay inside the lines.
Despite being the weakest film in the franchise, X-Men: The Last Stand is the best of the big-budget fare so far this summer, outshining films like Mission: Impossible III and The Da Vinci Code. But to be the least stinky in a season of odoriferous schlock is a dubious distinction at best.
Opens Friday, May 26. Pioneer Place, St. Johns Twin, Lloyd Cinema, Eastport, Division Street, Oak Grove, Cedar Hills, Cornelius, Hilltop, Sandy, Sherwood, Wilsonville, Cinema 99, Cinetopia, City Center, Vancouver Plaza.