Author's note, June 2016: I was much too kind on this one. Few reviews from the first year of this site's lifespan have caused me more subsequent problems than the 2.5/5 I gave this movie - 2/5 would be much closer to the mark, maybe even 1.5/5 if I was feeling especially feisty.

When last we saw the X-Men, they had just starred in one of the best superhero movies ever made. Times have changed.

If nothing else, X-Men: The Last Stand demonstrates yet again that comic franchises don't survive their third entry. Where the blame for this lies is debatable, although director Brett Ratner certainly deserves a portion. Yes, yes, I know it's not fair to compare him to Bryan Singer, they're two different people, et cetera. But Singer had a light and sure touch that made the first two films exciting and good, and Ratner just kind of clumps around. Certainly, he has no ability to control a cast this size (and the cast is huge, a literal army of mutants larger than X2's already bloated dramatis personae), and they start to fade into each other, even with built-in distinguishing marks. And while Singer's themes were never "subtle" (it's about GAY RIGHTS!), they were well expressed and thought through, whereas the latest film knows only that it's about civil rights in some way or another, and you can almost sense the flop sweat when it comes time to make the film about what it's about.

And of course, part of the blame lies with the script by Zak Penn (who has already worked in this series, and should know better) and Simon Kinberg (whose fingerprints are depressingly pretty easy to spot). The film's sin is that it is full of ideas without execution, characters who are put on screen just to be there, and a general ambling tone that suggests there was a checklist of scenes they wanted to get to, without particularly caring how they did so.

This is a shame, because the story is a triumph, maybe the best of the trilogy: a mutant "cure" has been developed, with Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and the X-Men lined up against Magneto (Ian McKellen) and his army of mutant punks (literally, and it's more stupid-looking than anything) as to the appropriate response. Matters are not helped when it becomes clear that the government views this as a weapon, not medicine. Meanwhile, Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) was only mostly dead in X2, and she's gotten a bit too powerful for her own good in the meantime.

In the hands of a good production team, this could have been the most politically engaged film of the series. Instead, it just kind of happens for 104 minutes, and then ends. Along the way, mutants come and show off their powers, and then leave. It really is that perfunctory - there are simply too many mutants for anyone who wasn't fully established in the first two films to make any sort of impression at all, and even then some of the old characters are treated rather shabbily. And Storm, an uninteresting character played by Halle Berry, a bad actress, has been given a considerably larger role than previously, which is good for Berry but bad for the audience.

Mostly, the film just has no stakes. For all that happens, nothing in this movie "takes" the way that the first two did - when X4: The Laster Stand opens, all of the plot of this film will be whisked away in two or three moments of exposition. All summer films are quietly set up for sequels, but rarely is a film so anxious to make sure we understand that fact.

All that said, it's not a miserable experience. It's not even a boring one, like so many of the films I've reviewed lately have been. There are some fine setpieces, and most of the performances are at least servicable (Stewart is finally phoning it in, but McKellen continues to give it his British all, and is thus the most interesting aspect of two consecutive blockbusters; Kelsey Grammer is clearly enjoying himself even if his newly-made character has no function). But it really should have been much better than it was. "Not boring" isn't good enough in the wake of Spider-Man 2 and Batman Begins. Thankfully, Bryan Singer hasn't quit the comic book world, and maybe - please? - he'll be back to play in the Marvel universe before all is said and done.

Reviews in this series
X-Men: The Last Stand (Ratner, 2006)
X-Men Origins: Wolverine (Hood, 2009)
X-Men: First Class (Vaughn, 2011)
The Wolverine (Mangold, 2013)
X-Men: Days of Future Past (Singer, 2014)
Deadpool (Miller, 2016)
X-Men: Apocalypse (Singer, 2016)
Logan (Mangold, 2017)
Deadpool 2 (Leitch, 2018)
Dark Phoenix (Kinberg, 2019)
The New Mutants (Boone, 2020)

Other films in this series, yet to be reviewed
X-Men (Singer, 2000)
X2 (Singer, 2003)