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Thursday, May 25, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

X-Men: "Last" is the least

Seattle Times movie critic

Let us pause to consider a world in which Ian McKellen is in every movie. It would be a lovely place, full of moments when McKellen raises an eyebrow with the precision of a Swiss watch, or purrs out a line with the kind of aristocratic understatement that American actors never quite pull off, or cackles with perfectly calibrated but ever-so-slightly shadowed glee. At the moment, we may be as close as we'll ever get to McKellenWorld: At the multiplexes, he's currently saving "The Da Vinci Code" from tedium, while simultaneously holding the uneven but enjoyable "X-Men: The Last Stand" in the palm of his hand.

Directed by Brett Ratner, this is the third (and supposedly final) installment in the "X-Men" series, based on the Marvel comic books. It's the most populated of the three, with numerous new characters: blue-furred geneticist Dr. Hank McCoy (Kelsey Grammer), winged mutant Angel (Ben Foster), teen Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) for whom walls and floors pose no barrier, oversized Juggernaut (Vinnie Jones) whom you'd definitely want on your side in a fight, and Callisto (Dania Ramirez) who, um, has a lot of tattoos. Toss in the sizeable original cast (minus, alas, Alan Cumming's mysterious Nightcrawler, who has apparently returned whence he came), and you've got a crowded X-world — too crowded, perhaps, for one movie.

Movie review

Showtimes and trailer 2.5 stars

"X-Men: The Last Stand," with Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Famke Janssen, Anna Paquin, Kelsey Grammer, Rebecca Romijn, James Marsden, Shawn Ashmore, Aaron Stanford, Vinnie Jones, Ben Foster, Ellen Page, Dania Ramirez. Directed by Brett Ratner, from a screenplay by Simon Kinberg and Zak Penn. 104 minutes. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action violence, some sexual content and language. Opening tonight at midnight at several theaters.

The first two X-movies, both terrific, presented an unlikely blend: comic-book action combined with serious drama, played by actors seemingly more likely to declaim Shakespeare than wield superpowers. And that gave the franchise its kick — the fun of seeing McKellen's Magneto face off with nemesis Charles Xavier, played by Patrick Stewart (who can match McKellen nuance for nuance), or the heartbreak of whispery Rogue (Anna Paquin) realizing that her powers make it impossible for her to find intimacy or love, or the not-quite-subtle metaphor behind the story, about how the world treats those who are different in some way, urging them to hide their "mutancy" and be like everyone else.

Ratner's movie, though, seems to give more emphasis to action than to character. Its 104 minutes seems unnaturally short, and several stories — particularly Rogue's — seem truncated. (Why does Olivia Williams' character get only one line?) The unlikely but sweet friendship between Rogue and alpha X-Man Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), a backbone of the first movie, is barely touched upon, and the loss of two major characters before the movie is half over feels jarring.

Perhaps they're not gone for good — in the X-world, things are unpredictable. Consider the fate of Jean Grey, who at the end of "X2" was presumed dead under a lake. Nope; turns out she was just lying in a cocoon of telekinetic energy (hmm, how comfortable could that be?) and now she's back, new and improved and a tad Sissy-Spacek-in-"Carrie"-ish. "The Last Stand" has several main plotlines; one of which is Jean's rebirth. Elsewhere, a cure for mutancy is announced, Magneto's powers expand, a mutant child (Cameron Bright) needs rescuing, and two love triangles complicate things at Professor Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters.

Ratner has a sure hand with the action sequences (particularly a splendid one involving the Golden Gate Bridge), less so with the quieter moments and occasionally awkward dialogue. But the cast, particularly McKellen, swoops in and saves the film, as superheroes are meant to do. "The Last Stand," though the weakest in the franchise, is often a kick to watch; you keep wanting more of these characters. Just listen to Magneto in the final battle scene: "In chess," he silkily intones, watching the front lines march to their doom, "the pawns go first."

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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