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With X-Men: The Last Stand, The X-Men franchise reaches the point where most assumed it would start: It's a big, dumb, fun summer blockbuster. The first two films in the series, X-Men and X2: X-Men United, were unexpectedly smart-with intriguing characters wrapped in engrossing plots and a judicious use of special effects. Bryan Singer, director of the first two films (he left the series to direct Superman Returns), simultaneously satisfied comic book fans and a broader, non-geek audience.
But with director Brett Ratner (Red Dragon, the Rush Hour movies) at the helm, the series sinks into overblown, special-effects-laden silliness. This X-Men (rated PG-13) also boosts the sexual content and bad language, making the film less appropriate for the teenage boys to whom it primarily caters.
Though not nearly as smart, The Last Stand provides a modestly diverting 104 minutes of summer blockbuster entertainment. Built around the premise that the superheroes (and villains) are "mutants," the X-Men are gifted with special powers based on their unique genetic mutations. This time around, a "cure" for the mutant gene has been discovered. Though the mutant antidote is being offered as a voluntary treatment, the drug is also in the hands of the government.
Magneto (Ian McKellan), the de facto commander of all evil mutants, uses the threat, real or imagined, of forced drug administration to foment rebellion. Wheelchair-bound professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) continues to lead the responsible, law-abiding mutants and once again does battle with his old friend and nemesis.
Some previous characters return (Wolverine, Storm, Rogue), some new mutants are introduced (Beast, Angel, Juggernaut), but most everyone gets buried under the action and ludicrous plotting. Mr. Singer was deft at encouraging the suspension of disbelief with just enough logic to keep the audience wrapped up in the story. Mr. Ratner seems less interested in such trivialities, and the mutant battles seem like a violent game of "rock, paper, scissors," where the rules regularly change to serve the needs of the plot.