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Discrimination. Genetic engineering. The Federal government invading private citizens’ privacy. What has made the “X-Men” comic books and their recent adaptations on the big screen (“X-Men,” “X-Men United”) better than the average superhero-action-adventure fare is the way the mythology and backstory of these genetic mutants with supernatural capabilities manages to address serious issues that are spiritually and culturally relevant.

The pursuit of tolerance and truth continues this weekend with the opening of “X-Men: The Last Stand,” the third and (supposedly) final chapter in the film series. In the film, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and the rest of the mutants once again defend humanity against the evil Magneto, even while they themselves are the victims of hatred and bigotry–but this time with a twist. The X-Men are unexpectedly presented with an opportunity to become “normal.”

With the help the latest recruits, The Beast and Angel (one has apelike strength and one has wings), the X-Men face the resurrection of a former teammate turned foe, Jean Grey. Possessed with the cosmic power of the Dark Phoenix, Jean Grey is now a force of evil and destruction. In an attempt to save the world one more time, the X-Men accidentally discover a potential cure that would treat–and ultimately eliminate –genetic mutations. Gone would be the X-Men’s outcast status, but gone, too, would be their superpowers. By morphing into the ordinary, the X-Men realize that world peace may be possible–or not–but their own identity and purpose would be potentially lost forever.

Sound like a lot for a “popcorn” movie to take on? Well, it is. There are truly fascinating moments worthy of discussion in this film, but they are often buried under the onslaught of spectacular special effects. National landmarks are blown-up and fight sequence after fight sequence overshadows the important ideas that are given only sound-byte lip service sporadically throughout the story. There is also a lot of low-brow humor that betrays the charm of Wolverine and some of the other mutants, which was evident in the previous films.

In spite of “The Last Stand’s” shortcomings, I still recommend the film, and I don’t think die-hard “X Men” fans will be too disappointed. Any movie that dares ask you to think about how you can be kinder to others–while you are watching bridges and buildings being blown to bits–beats out that other blockbuster movie about some albino monk beating himself up over a convolated conspiracy any day.

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