A concerned father bangs on the door of the bathroom, insisting that his son open the door. Inside, his son sobs as he tries frantically to get rid of the evidence that his body is changing in a way he cannot control. It seems he is…growing wings.
Like many comic book stories, the X-Men, mutants with secret powers who are unappreciated and misunderstood by their families, are a superb allegory of adolescence. The X-Men are mutants with special powers that make “normal” humans feel threatened and uneasy. Some humans want to accept the mutants. In this third chapter, there is a U.S. President who has even appointed a mutant to a cabinet position, Secretary of the Department of Mutant Affairs (who coordinates with the Department of Homeland Security, of course). That would be Dr. Hank McCoy, otherwise known as Beast, looks sort of Muppet-y with his blue fur and sounds like Dr. Frasier Crane because he is played by Kelsey Grammer. For once, the students at the school led by Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) can focus on learning to use their powers instead of hiding from the authorities.
But just as a political balance seems possible, with a big blue guy wearing suit and glasses consulting with the President in the Situation Room, technology turns everything upside down, providing ammunition to the separatist mutants led by Magneto (Ian McKellen). That same father from the other side of the bathroom door has discovered a “cure” for mutantism. Should it be offered to the X-Men? Should it be forced on them? Are the mutants “sick” or is it the humans who are now substandard, with the mutants a new normal?
Interestingly, the “cure” itself comes from a mutant (Cameron Bright), whose special power is that he disables any mutant power that comes into contact with him.
The result is a story that is as absorbing as the special effects and stunts. The movie takes on a number of challenging issues, from prejudice and distinctions within the mutant communities to the notion of a “cure” — “Since when do we become a disease?” asks Storm (Halle Berry) — that becomes a weapon to the deeper problems of genocide. Magneto shows the number tattooed on his arm by the Nazis and we know why he will always feel like a rejected outsider. And, as in previous chapters, it has a subtle and complex approach that goes beyond the usual good guy/bad guy divisions.
And once again, we have the pleasures of classically trained actors giving Shakespearean line readings to comic book dialogue (“Will you control that power or let it control you?”) and American actors toss off tough-sounding wisecracks and a few longing glances while a lot of stuff explodes all around them. Once again, the low-key, throwaway effects are as dazzling as the let’s-rip-apart-the-Golden-Gate-Bridge stunners. Hurray for summer movies!
As in the other films, there are so many tantalizing characters that we never get to spend enough time with them, and those unfamiliar with the comics may have a hard time remembering who has what powers (and what friends/romantic involvements/enemies). That contributes to the fast pace and the sense that we are getting a glimpse of a fully realized world. You won’t want this to be the last chapter. And if you stay all the way until the end of the credits, past the caterer’s niece’s special assistant, you might find some reason to hope that this isn’t the last last stand after all.
Parents should know that the movie has a great deal of intense comic book-style action violence, some graphic. Many characters are wounded or killed. There is some strong language (the b-word, etc.) and brief nudity and a sexual situation. A character smokes a cigar. A strength of the story is its literal and metaphorical treatment of diversity.
Families who see this movie should talk about the story’s parallels to some current events (like the division between the Sunni and Shiite Muslims or the Palestinians and the Israelis) and to issues about “cures.” For example, there are debates and lawsuits over the use of cochlear implants to treat deafness. Some syndromes that were considered in need of a cure in the past are now generally considered healthy expressions of inddividual biochemistry or choice. They might like to explore these themes in a short story by Kurt Vonnegut called Harrison Bergeron.
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the first two in the series. They will also enjoy the Harry Potter movies, a funny treatment of some of the same issues for kids in Sky High, and Men in Black.