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Apocalypse on Alcatraz

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Although the title, X-Men: The Last Stand, and even several of its discussions and incidents promise some finality --- perhaps even an end to this dreary series --- the X-Men, in the noble tradition of popular film, will probably, alas, continue their struggle to fight evil, defend mutants and mutation, and rummage around in their own souls, a tall order for any comic book or movie. Playing virtually around the clock at a theater near everyone, the new picture maintains pretty much the same formulas of character and action that set the whole mechanism in motion and that, judging by the box office reports, apparently also attract large audiences.

The confused plot involves the usual succession of battles pitting the good mutants against the bad ones, the X-Men of Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) against the minions of Magneto (Ian McKellen). Complicating the confrontations is the federal administration, which even includes a Secretary for Mutant Affairs, Hank McCoy a.k.a. Beast (Kelsey Grammer), a burly, furry fellow blue as a Pict. The government is funding a research project to create a substance that will reverse mutant DNA and therefore cancel out all mutations. In a reflection of recent controversies, the government's actions throw the nation's mutants into turmoil --- some elect to submit to injections and become "normal," while others resist the loss of both their powers and their identity.

The movie attempts to deal with all the adolescent angst that makes Marvel comics so popular among teenagers, showing painful love affairs among the X-folks, their ambivalence about their isolation from normality, their victimization by ordinary society, a few tasteful moments of mutant sex, and considerable whining, weeping, and deep thinking. Several of the group, full of doubts and qualms, temporarily abandon Xavier's school for gifted young people before experiencing a change of heart and returning to their companions to fight the good fight. One of them, Phoenix (Famke Janssen), the most gifted of them all, however, rejects the X-Men and joins Magneto's Brotherhood, leading a massive mutant assault on the government laboratories on AlcatrazIsland to destroy the antidote to mutation and wipe out all of Xavier's people and, of course, achieve the usual world domination.

The resulting battle between Magneto's forces and a half-dozen X-Men provides the spectacular and appropriately apocalyptic climax of the film, the last stand indeed. The two groups of opponents exchange taunts and gag lines while deploying their various powers --- reading minds, shooting fireballs, freezing the immediate landscape, creating nasty weather conditions, blasting through solid obstacles, and so forth (though the comic books somehow continue the narrative, the weaponry grows tiresomely repetitive).

At the beginning of that grand conflict, the picture lovingly creates its greatest special effect, a prodigious feat of telekinesis (a favorite technique throughout), Magneto's movement of the Golden GateBridge, packed with traffic, to another location, so that it reaches from San Francisco to AlcatrazIsland. After that remarkable relocation, even the furious battle, despite all its explosions and stunts, comes to seem something of an anticlimax.

Despite the presence of such respected performers as Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, nobody in the large, star-studded cast performs with any particular distinction, even after the experience of two previous movies. Hugh Jackman, who plays Wolverine, the nearest thing to a protagonist among the crowded ensemble, frowns fiercely and looks very mean indeed while extruding his steel claws and slashing a number of enemies; in a somewhat quieter moment, he also exchanges a few hot kisses with Phoenix before she departs and starts blowing people up with her telekinetic abilities.

The most entertaining moments in the whole movie involve the inadvertent comedy of the Cabinet meetings, where all the secretaries take things very seriously and the president speaks about the mutant problem. Oddly, he raises the subject of the Department of Homeland Security and, as a good liberal, stresses his commitment to mutants and the Department of Mutant Affairs. He praises the deeply indigo Beast for his great work and announces his promotion to a higher and more responsible position; at that point, at least one person in the theater was hoping he would look him in the eye, pat him on the shoulder, and say, "Heck of a job, Bluey."

X-Men: The Last Stand (PG-13), directed by Brett Ratner, is now playing at Culver Ridge 16, Pittsford Cinemas, Henrietta 18, Webster 12, Tinseltown, Greece Ridge 12, and Eastview 13.

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