X-Men: The Last Stand

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      Starring Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry, Hugh Jackman, and Famke Janssen. Rated PG.

      Even at its most ponderous and effects-heavy, the X-Men series has a certain substance that most comic-book spinoffs lack. The characters certainly connect with basic Zeitgeist issues about conformity and the risk of standing out””as addressed through much different means in The Incredibles, Sky High, and, most darkly, V for Vendetta.

      That last-named item is the most overtly political of the batch, although there is considerable social commentary amidst the X-Men in general and especially during The Last Stand””or maybe we should call it The Third Stand, because the B.C.–shot franchise appears far from finished. (Serious fans must wade through the long closing credits for a 30-second tag that will put a twist on what you've just seen.)

      Under the assured, if sometimes chilly, direction of Brett Ratner, from a script by Simon Kinberg and Zak Penn (who also worked on the substandard Fantastic Four), the story here is built on different notions of loss. After the demise of Jean (Famke Janssen) and her gravity-defying powers, Scott (James Marsden) has gone into a tailspin and hirsute Logan, aka Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), has become even more callous to his work””if you can call shish kebabing people on your retractable nails a real vocation. Both hear female murmurings from the deep, however, and there's an eventual return of Jean, or someone resembling her, with even more destructive powers, not to mention an extra-sexy way of walking.

      With the U.S. government in cahoots with a large pharmaceutical company in San Francisco””based on Alcatraz Island, no less””that has discovered a boy with unique genetic powers (Vancouver's Cameron Bright), there's a plan afoot to “cure”  all mutants (insert favourite analogy here). This leads to a war between violent radicals led by slick villain Magneto (Ian McKellen) and moderates under the tutelage of Patrick Stewart's Professor Xavier over how to respond to human chicanery.

      As with most social democrats, the latter group is riven with its own divisions, as represented by the toxic Rogue (Anna Paquin), who has a really hard time getting close to people. New to the series is Toronto's Ellen Page as Kitty Pryde, who can walk through walls, and Ben Foster as Angel, the bewinged son of the big-pharm honcho (Michael Murphy).

      In the coming standoff, Jean becomes a linchpin between opposing groups and the battle gets taken to the burbs, where she does a number on her parents' house that even Debbie Travis couldn't put right. I started wondering if our surviving superheroes might, in fact, consider going into the home-reno business. Hell, they wouldn't even need tools.