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Thursday, May 25, 2006 08:07 am

To be or not to be

X-Men heroes head down the road to self-parody

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The best thing about the X-Men movies is that although the action gets young viewers into the theater, the moral issues they tackle keep older fans engaged, giving the films a degree of gravitas that separates them from other action epics. X-Men: The Last Stand continues this trend. Its characters struggle to define themselves — a struggle all viewers can relate to. Unfortunately, the script from Simon Kinberg and Zak Penn and the heavy-handed direction from Brett Ratner fail to live up to the potential of this theme. In the latest installment of the series, a serum has been developed to suppress the mutant gene and turn the subject into a normal human being. This sends shockwaves throughout the mutant community, and as Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart), leader of the X-Men, takes a wait-and-see approach, his rival Magneto (Ian McKellen) takes a more proactive stance. As he recruits as many mutants as he can to his Brotherhood to fight this threat to their very being, he sends an ally, shape-shifter Mystique (Rebecca Romijn) to track down the source of this cure. Meanwhile, the unexpected resurrection of the telekinetic Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) has vast repercussions for Xavier and his followers Cyclops, Wolverine, and Storm, (James Marsden, Hugh Jackman, and Halle Berry). Some amazing changes have occurred in their former teammate: She has become more powerful and uncontrollable, able to destroy everything in her path with her mind. The existence of the serum forces each character to wonder who he or she truly is and what his or her purpose might be. Is Rogue (Anna Paquin) better off as a human being or as a mutant who cannot touch anyone else for fear of killing him? Is the other part of Jean Grey’s personality, the malevolent Phoenix, her true self? And will the secretary of mutant affairs, the incredibly blue and agile Hank McCoy (Kelsey Grammer), be seduced into assuming a more appealing human appearance or stay in his mutant skin? Each of these unique individuals gets a glimpse of or entertains the notion of what it would be like to be “normal” in a world that has treated mutants as outcasts. Some see this as an opportunity they feel compelled to accept; others look upon it as a betrayal of their true selves. Despite a compelling and intriguing premise, the script falls flat during the film’s final act, marrying clumsy action sequences to this moral question and undermining them as a result. Although the action setpieces are well-done, particularly an extended fight sequence in Jean Grey’s home that seamlessly combines three separate conflicts into one, a certain degree of choppiness prevents the film from really having any impact. To be sure, the film is not without its surprises, as more than one key player dies and others are irrevocably changed, but brief moments of campiness point to where this series is headed if it is to continue. The X-Men films have always been a potent mixture of action, sermonizing, and fun, but an ever-so-subtle shift in tone here indicates that these heroes are headed down the road to self-parody.

Also in theaters. . .
An American Haunting [PG-13] Documented as the first death of a human caused by a spirit, the story of a 19th century Tennessee family and the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of their daughter. ShowPlace West
The Da Vinci Code [PG-13] The suspenseful tale of a death in the Louvre and a symbolic conundrum linked to the Priory of Sion, a mysterious group holding a deep secret that could shake the foundation of modern day Christianity. ShowPlace West, ShowPlace East
Just My Luck [PG-13] Ashley, a Manhattan mover and shaker, flip flops fortunes with an ill-fated young man after a kiss. She’s no longer lady lucky. ShowPlace East
Mission Impossible 3 [PG-13] With his team reassembled, spy Ethan Hunt steps out of retirement to stop the evil deeds of Owen Davian, a devious weapons supplier. ShowPlace West, Route 66 Drive-In
Over the Hedge [PG] RJ, a fast-talking shady raccoon, persuades the community of rodents living on the outskirts of suburbia to take a chance and enter the wonderful world of scavenging food from humans. Parkway Pointe, ShowPlace East
Poseidon [PG-13] A remake of the maritime adventure flick about a sinking ocean liner and the passengers stranded on board. ShowPlace West, ShowPlace East, Route 66 Drive-In
R.V. [PG] The Munro family try their luck at an old-fashioned family camping trip to the Rockies, but a group of cracked campers beat them to the punch. ShowPlace West, ShowPlace East, Route 66 Drive-In
See No Evil [R] A group of criminal teens are sent to clean a decrepit hotel only to find they are trespassing on the territory of a reclusive serial killer. ShowPlace West
Stick It [PG-13] Rebellious Haley leaves her life of trouble after a clash with the police to return to a prim and polished existence as a top gymnast with the celebrated coach, Burt Vickerman (Jeff Bridges). ShowPlace West
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