The Third Cut Is the Darkest

Some things never change: Magneto’s helmet still looks like a plastic Toybiz product. Cyclops is still a limp noodle. Storm’s hair still looks like it got “did” at a roadside barbershop. And Wolverine is still a fucking badass.

Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Despite a preproduction director’s carousel — several were attached to the project after original X-helmer Bryan Singer left for “Superman Returns” — “X3: the Last Stand” manages to keep to its comic-book roots in one of the best finales to any superhero film franchise yet.

Like any recent film adaptation of a comic franchise (let’s forget “Fantastic Four”), “X3” goes gritty with its characters and storyline, where a cure for the mutant gene heralds the apocalypse we all saw coming: humans versus mutants, with the X-Men riding the middle. Although the plot seems pedestrian, director Brett Ratner (of the “Rush Hour” films) and writers Zak Penn and Simon Kinberg don’t shy away from undoing X-Men lore. In the comics, Juggernaut doesn’t have an Austrailian accent, Beast isn’t the U.S. Secretary of Mutant Affairs and Calisto’s powers don’t include super-speed a la the Flash.

Straddling the worlds of Hollywood and comics seems to have confused Ratner, Penn and Kinberg, whose records are less than stellar. Ratner’s best-known films were simple buddy flicks with racial undertones. Kinberg’s credits include Ice Cube vehicle “XXX: State of the Union,” while Penn’s comic-book film resume counts floppers “Elektra” and “Fantastic Four.”

Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

That shaky history comes out in the film, and with lackluster acting stints by Halle Berry and Kelsey Grammar, “X3” falls short of being the perfect comic-book flick. Kinberg and Penn were so unoriginal that they straight jacked plot lines from Joss Whedon’s recent “Astonishing X-Men” comic run. Does Colossus always need to throw Wolverine for him to lay down some Canuck law?

In trying to adopt Marvel’s campy ambience, the dialogue often reverts to gimmicky cliches. The lame lines hit bottom when Beast utters, “My stars and garters.” Oh, how the fanboys squealed at that one.

Kowtowing to the nerd market deflates much of the film, drying out acting that was floated only by Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen and Famke Janssen. The best performances are the sinister ones, led by a deliciously evil Magneto (McKellen), and the film gathers enough of them to drive the message home: dark characters work. The tactic even saves Cyclops (James Marsden), whose unshaven post-wife grief makes the oft-shallow character more endearing than ever.

Cyclops begins the movie mourning the loss of Jean Grey (Janssen) who, after eating a tidal wave in “X2,” is revived as the evil, schizophrenic Phoenix. (In the comics, Phoenix is actually a cosmic force that inhabits Grey’s body and enhances her telekinetic abilities to a point that eventually drives her mad.) Ratner’s attachment to reality within the X world gives Grey a reason to be as wicked possible, allowing Janssen to sink her teeth into the previously flat character.

Aside from acting, the mutant cameos are a fan boy’s wet dream, including Multiple Man, Siren and the subterranean rag-tag Morlocks. The special effects are edge-of-your-seat, and seeing the Golden Gate Bridge hover over the bay toward Alcatraz is pretty astonishing.

The butt-end of the X trilogy ties up most loose ends, albeit leaving space for a Wolverine spin-off. All the faceoffs that should happen occur, including Pyro vs. Iceman, Calisto vs. Storm and (spoiler alert!) Wolverine vs. Grey. The epic ambience of the X multiverse drives the film, which is weighed down only by its awkward split loyalties to both Hollywood and the comics.

But if it isn’t obvious that this review is written by a fan boy himself, here is a simple order than even the casual fan can understand: “X3” is uncanny. ‘Nuff said.