Surviving the Cure

Those who take their X-Men very, very seriously may not be overjoyed with "X-Men: The Last Stand," the third (and probably not last) installment. Brett ("Rush Hour") Ratner has replaced director Bryan Singer, whose movies had a richer, more burnished look. Singer felt more deeply about these outcast super-human mutants, using them as metaphors for any and all minorities. He savored the subtexts beneath the gaudy Marvel Comics surface, lingering on the teenage angst.

But if "The Last Stand" lacks the gravitas of Singer's sagas, it's also free of their occasional tedium. Ratner's version is friskier, shallower--and more fun. The director zips through this apocalyptic tale in 105 minutes, barely lingering to mourn the early death of Cyclops (James Marsden) at the hands of a resurrected Phoenix (Famke Janssen), whose telekinetic powers now surpass even those of Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen). The latter earns his knighthood by keeping a straight face while wearing a helmet and cape that would have looked cheesy on Flash Gordon.

This time around, the mutants face the insidious threat of a medical "cure" for their mutant gene. Should they assimilate? Power-mad Magneto assumes the government wants to eradicate mutants, and wages war. Opposing him are Wolverine, Storm, Iceman et al., plus some new faces--most intriguingly, the winged, tortured Angel (Ben Foster), whose rich father (Michael Murphy) invented the cure. Angel is such a scene stealer, it's a shame that screenwriters Zak Penn and Simon Kinberg didn't give him more to do. But their script has a streamlined trajectory that the earlier movies lacked. Sillier than the Singer versions, Ratner's movie is also--for this less-than-reverent X-Men fan--more satisfying.

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