This time the humans have discovered a “cure” for mutants. The source is a little boy named Leech (Cameron Bright) who can drain mutants of their powers. It’s manufactured by industrial billionaire Warren Worthington III (Batman Returns’ Michael Murphy) who wants to use it on his winged son Angel (The Punisher’s Ben Foster), who escapes and finds solace at Professor X’s school. Meanwhile Magneto (Ian McKellan) is not taking the cure lightly and builds an army of mutants to take down Worthington’s lab located on Alcatraz. While this chain of events is set in motion, Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) has been resurrected in the form of her deadly alter ego Dark Phoenix and with some prodding from Magneto vaporizes not one but TWO beloved X-Men before joining Magneto’s Brotherhood. The remaining X-Men Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Storm (Halle Berry), Iceman (Shaun Ashmore), Shadowcat (Ellen Page), Colossus (Daniel Cudmore), along with the big blue furred diplomat Beast (wonderfully played by Kelsey Grammer) band together for the final showdown on Alcatraz.
While many die hard X fans will cry foul about the loosely adapted “Dark Phoenix Saga” and lack of comics continuity, the film actually gets the core of the story right. In the comics, Jean was in outer space and destroyed whole worlds with her powers. In the film she kills her lover Cyclops (James Marsden) and her mentor Professor X (Patrick Stewart). They are her world. And her battle with Wolverine in the end is great, as is their final exchange: Jean: “You would die for them?” Wolverine: “No, I’d die for you.” (What did you really expect the Shi’ar to show up?)
The special effects are easily the best of the series. The scene where Magneto moves the Golden Gate Bridge to lead his forces onto Alcatraz was pretty incredible. More incredible is the groundbreaking effects in the “20 years ago” prologue where CGI was used to dramatically de-age Stewart and McKellan 20 years. It works eerily well and actually the novelty doesn’t affect the mood of the scene. (Can you imagine all the over the hill movie stars who are chomping at the bit to use this technology?)
While Singer mooted the more fantastic elements of the X-Men to ground it in the real world, Ratner is more than happy to give the fans what they want. The Danger Room, Sentinels (albeit briefly), Angel, Iceman turning into ice, The Fastball Special, and most importantly Dark Phoenix are all here and jammed packed into 100 minutes. (The notable exception: Gambit.) Rabid fans will also get pissed at the wholesale slaughter of mutants, both “cured” and killed. (I guess anyone whose contract was up after Part 3.) And while Cyclops’ death smacks of hard feelings from Marsden’s defection to Singer’s Superman Returns, Marsden delivers easily his best performance and makes his screen time count. Besides, there’s little touches here and there to let you know they could be potentially be resurrected if needed. (Spock came back after all.) I mean it’s not the first time a cherished comic character got bumped off (ahem… The Joker), and I don’t think anyone batted an eye when Sabertooth and Toad got whacked in Part 1 anyway.
The supporting characters get their deserved screen time which shows Storm becoming an active leader of the group. I always thought Berry was a little grating as Storm but she’s surprisingly grown into the role decently and actually has something to do in this one, not to mention her bad ass fight with Calisto (Dania Ramirez). Iceman’s love triangle with Shadowcat and Rogue (Anna Paquin) was handled just right and made Rogue’s ultimate choice seem reasonable. (Out of all the mutants to take the cure, she seems most justified as she can’t have any human contact.) Speaking of being cured, Mystique (Rebecca Romijn minus the Stamos) gets hers too, but like Cyclops, her time on screen counts and at least we finally get to see her naked without all that blue make-up on!
Of the new characters, Juggernaut (Vinnie Jones) is easily the coolest. His battle with Wolverine in the Grey house is great but the scene where he chases Shadowcat is classic. In order to make a great fight scene work in an X-Men movie, you need opponents with either similar (X2’s Wolverine vs. Deathstrike) or contrasting powers (the equally fun Iceman vs. Pyro fight in X3), and since Shadowcat can walk through walls and Juggernaut can SMASH through walls, well it’s a match made in heaven. And who can forget Juggs crowd pleasing line, “Do you know who I am? I’m the Juggernaut bitch!,” that’s destined to become an instant catchphrase. Beast is just as he should be, noble and intellectual, but can kick major ass when the time comes. Angel’s arc (no pun intended) is wrapped up a little too soon, but is a serviceable means to connect the cure plotline to the rest of the story.
Fan favorite Wolverine kinda gets the short end of the stick as he pretty much has to play daddy to the mostly teenage X-Men. He does get two good action scenes, one in the woods and one in a throwaway fight with a guy who keeps regenerating arms as fast as Wolvie can cut them off. (Don’t worry, he doesn’t get killed or cured, there’s a Wolverine spin-off movie in the works.)
It doesn’t quite match the last two flicks, but the cure storyline is intriguing and the brief glimpses of Phoenix’s ultimate destructive force are well done and the last 20 minute mutant massacre melee is worth the price of admission.
Ratner was originally going to direct Superman Returns and Singer was initially going to direct this, but they somehow flip flopped films. How would Singer had done things? Who knows? But Ratner delivers the goods and brings the trilogy to a fitting end.