There was a ripple of fear in movieland when Bryan Singer, who directed the first two installments of the X-Men franchise, stepped down and was replaced by Brett Ratner. Why? Because Ratner is a hack. He makes bad movies and probably even plays hacky sack with his friends on the weekends. The high points on his CV were the Rush Hour movies, a dreadful—but profitable—duo of films starring Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker.
Happily I can report that the fear was mostly unfounded, and at best should be downgraded to a feeling of only slight discomfort. Ratner has made his best movie yet with X-Men: The Last Stand, but has taken an idea, involving a mutant cure, which could have been the best X-Men story arc so far and turned it into a conventional, but entertaining summer blockbuster.
For the uninitiated, the X-Men movies are set in a world where mutants, genetically gifted beings who a variety of powers, struggle to find a place in a society that, for the most part, rejects them. A school, run by an enigmatic mutant named Professor Xavier—who looks a great deal like Patrick Stewart—is a safe haven for young mutants. They live there and are trained to use their powers for good. The school is also home to the X-Men, a band of superheroes who fight against mutant injustice.
In the new film it is announced that humans have discovered a cure for mutancy. A simple injection that will turn mutants into homo sapiens, taking away whatever their natural power is. Of course this drives the most radical of the mutant, the ex-X-Man Magneto, played by Ian McKellen to stage The Last Stand, a face off between mutants and homo sapiens.
The movie shuns anything more than the most cursory comment on the ethics of the right of people to choose how they want to live or the effects of governmental control vs. freedom of choice. The allusions to Nazi Germany are obvious, but history is rich with examples of oppression that could have been mined here, but Ratner seems to be saying, “Social comment! Leave that for the eggheads.” He is more content to make your eyeballs dance with elaborate special effects and crazy visuals. It’s a shame that the chance to deepen the material by placing it in some sort of social context was ignored. The movie, which could have been memorable, is now merely a good summer blockbuster.
A word of advice to X-Men fanatics: sit through the end credits for a little hint of what is to come in future X-Men installments.
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