Brett Ratner

With its third instalment, the X-Men franchise becomes just that — a formula that can be farmed out to a director-for-hire (in this case, Rush Hour’s Brett Ratner), with cast and road map already plotted, in order to create a piece of popcorn entertainment worthy of its first two efforts. Luckily for Ratner — a workmanlike handyman with little vision of his own — he’s following in the footsteps of Bryan Singer, who laid the groundwork brilliantly. This third effort mirrors themes taking place in the Marvel Comic universe — heroic vs. personal responsibility issues, parallels to historical persecution — with some large, effects-driven action pieces. Two big stories are tackled in The Last Stand: the American government’s development of a mutant "cure” and the death (at the end of X-2) and resurrection (as Phoenix) of powerful mutant Jean Grey (Famke Janssen). With newly crowned gay icon Ian McKellen authoring radical mutant leader Magneto, parallels between mutant persecution and (pick one) the Holocaust, racism and gay bashing are nodded to but not explored — this is a summer action movie, after all. Mostly, it’s about the swelling ranks of mutant cast members (Kelsey Grammer’s blue Beast is new, while Aaron Stanford’s fiery Pyro gets more screen time) and huge-scale special effects moments — a battle for control at Jean Grey’s house and Magneto’s last stand at Alcatraz are particularly great. Wise DVD consumers will immediately recognise, through a complete lack of on-set documentation, that this single-disc issue is merely a shot across the consumer bow before the inevitable pre-Christmas arrival of at least a two-disc Special Edition, if not an even bigger three-film box set down the road. But even so, this single-disc isn’t worthless — a handful of deleted scenes reveal three different endings (not to the film so much as alternate resolutions to individual mutant issues, including Rogue’s "to cure or not to cure?” dilemma). The only other features are two separate commentaries, one by the director and screenwriters and the other by the producing team — if you’re willing to sit through those, you’re a bigger geek than I. (Fox)