X-Men: The Last Stand (12A)

ANDREW CLARKE The film picks up exactly where number two left off. Things appear to be better than ever for the mutants; but, beneath the surface, trouble is brewing.


While X-Men: The Last Stand is a perfectly acceptable title for this final instalment of the mutant saga, I can't help thinking that considering the body count in this film that X-Men: Armageddon would be even more apt.

The film picks up exactly where number two left off. The X-Men are back at Xavier's School for Gifted Children mourning the loss of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) from the previous film.

On the surface, things appear to be better than ever for the mutants: there is a mutant-tolerant president in office and Dr Hank McCoy, aka The Beast, is installed as director of Mutant Affairs.

But, beneath the surface, trouble is brewing. Intolerance of mutants hasn't gone away and when a scientist develops a cure for this condition the temptation is to administer it to all mutants to make them “normal”.

Magneto (Ian McKellen) uses the situation to bring frightened young mutants over to his side. He says that they have to rise up to protect their right to exist. Patrick Stewart's Charles Xavier, as always, is preaching peace and tolerance.

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With the help of Dr McCoy from the Department of Mutant Affairs he is hoping to broker a deal but the arrival of a reborn Jean Grey aka Phoenix throws everything into confusion - particularly when she turns her back on the X-Men and sides with Magneto.

The X-Men is rightly regarded as the most thoughtful of the various comic book adaptations which have flooded our screens of late - dealing as it does with the issues of morality, tolerance, ethics and the treatment of minority groups.

It presents a fairly grim view of the world, but it is wrapped up in a crowd-pleasing adventure story packed full of special effects.

Brett Ratner takes over the directorial reigns seamlessly from Usual Suspects director Bryan Singer who jumped ship to oversee the return of Superman.

But despite the fact that Singer is no longer on board his fingerprints are all over this dark and at times disturbing story.

This is a film which deserves its 12A rating - the tone is grim throughout the film - there is precious little sunshine to be had for a film shot in California and the sense of foreboding grows with each new revelation in the plot.

It's not a film which under-10s should be taken to without a great deal of thought.

Unlike most Hollywood sequels there are plenty of surprises to be had in this film, most of them are connected with an amazingly high body count which should leave the audience gasping.

Friendships and relationships continue to change and grow until the hand of death reaches out.

The action scenes, as you would expect, are done extraordinarily well and the scene in which Magneto rips the Golden Gate Bridge off its mountings and uses it as a means to travel to the island of Alcatraz is stunning.

A week after his scene stealing in The Da Vinci Code, Ian McKellen is back chewing the scenery with a twinkle in his eye and making off with yet another big blockbuster - can this really be the same actor who appeared with Judi Dench in the minimalist version of Macbeth in 1976?

The only other actor who really gives him a run for his money is Hugh Jackman as the perennially conflicted Wolverine. Doubt and uncertainty is the key element of this film.

All the characters seem confused and unsure of what to do as their world appears to be on the brink of a complete breakdown.

For a while it looks as if the X-Men may even break up. Early on in the film Charles Xavier even speaks to Storm (Halle Berry) about taking over the reins of the school after Scott Summer leaves in order to come to terms with the death of Jean Grey.

Patrick Stewart is a commanding presence as always, but has less to do this time and many of his duties are indeed taken over by Halle Berry's elemental mutant who has a much increased role. Rogue (Anna Paquin) is beset with personal doubts over her relationship with Iceman.

In this instalment we finally get to see how ruthless the lithesome Mystique can be after she is captured by the US government and in turn how callous McKellen's Magneto is when the chips are down.

Kelsey Grammer makes a welcome addition to Xavier's mutant family, but his voice is so distinctive that you can't help but think of his role as Frasier which is a little distracting at times.

Perhaps if they had treated his dialogue then it wouldn't have been such a problem.

But this is just nit-picking - X-Men: The Last Stand is a fitting finale to this intelligent and spectacular story of morality and discrimination.

It has both food for thought and plenty of action and colour for the eyes. You can't say that about many summer blockbusters.

Hugely enjoyable.