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X-Men 3: Suprisingly Good

I wasn't expecting much from X-Men: The Last Stand. Goofy title. New director (Brett Ratner) regarded as inferior to the old (Superman Returns' Brian Singer). And, in the trailers, lots and lots and lots and lots of characters running around. I was expecting a mess.

Well, it turned out to be a good mess. There were actual moments of subtlety in the first two movies, not so much in this one. Instead what you get is the scope and scale that the first two movies never had. X-Men was all setup. X2: X-Men United was a bigger flick with real personal consequences. X-Men: The Last Stand leaps ahead of the previous movies' abstract threats -- "We've got to stop this special effects whizbangery!" -- to a massive, public, consequential fight between Magneto's terrorists on the one side and, on the other, the X-Men backing up federal troops. Here's the starkest representation yet in the franchise of the classic comic book characters "sworn to protect a world that fears them."

There's a more complex moral issue driving the story, although the dialogue and direction isn't quite up to carrying the load. Halle Berry is finally given a meaty role and does fine; Hugh Jackman continues to rule; Patrick Stewart finally gets to show some shades of gray; Ian McKellen starts out as a villain you can root for (before he starts killing people left and right). And there's, hands down, the best super-hero slugfest ever committed to film. As my friend Mark pointed out, the movies have never been able to pull off the team versus team fight scenes that comic books have done for decades. The previous X-films' fight scenes were largely one-on-one mixups. This one raises the bar for all future super-team movies.

So I can forgive this movie for not being quite as smart as the last two. This time, spectacle really is substantive. It's fun, it's intense, it's worth seeing.


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