How many mutants does it take to lay a franchise to rest?
The answer in “X-Men: The Last Stand,” it seems, is all of them, the film mustering battalions of mutants as the comic-book freaks of nature engage in an epic battle of individuality against conformity.
Premiering Monday at the Cannes Film Festival in advance of its worldwide theatrical release late this week, the third “X-Men” flick generally is expected to be the last ensemble mutant gathering, though spinoffs for some characters are in the works.
“If I was a betting man, I would bet this is the last ‘X-Men,”’ said Hugh Jackman, who returns as Wolverine, the mysterious mutant with metal claws and the ability to heal almost instantly. “I’ve heard from fairly high up that this is to be the last of the three, though Halle Berry thinks I’m naive.”
Along with Jackman and Berry, who plays weather-controlling mutant Storm, the whole gang is back, including Patrick Stewart as mind-reading patriarch Professor X, Ian McKellen as metal-master Magneto, Rebecca Romijn as shape-shifter Mystique, James Marsden as the fiery-eyed Cyclops and Anna Paquin as lifeforce-draining Rogue.
Famke Janssen, whose supertelepath Jean Grey seemingly died in the last “X-Men” movie, returns with a dual personality, her extraordinary psychic abilities unleashed and turned to evil as Magneto assembles an army of malevolent mutants to destroy a “cure” that has been found for mutancy.
Joining the cast is Kelsey Grammer as the blue-hued behemoth politician Beast.
Based on the Marvel Comics series created by Stan Lee in the 1960s, the “X-Men” movies tone down the camp and gaudy costumes of the comic books, bringing greater realism to their far-out stories of alienation and fellowship among outcasts with special powers.
Comic-book adaptations often boast classy casts (Academy Award winners Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman in “Superman,” two-time Oscar winners Michael Caine in “Batman Begins” and Kevin Spacey in next month’s “Superman Returns”).
Yet no comic action franchise ever has had a lineup such as that of “X-Men,” which features two Oscar winners (Berry for “Monster’s Ball” and Paquin for “The Piano”), a Tony winner (Jackman for “The Boy From Oz”), a four-time Emmy winner (Grammer for “Frasier”) and two classically trained Shakespearean stage stars (McKellen and Stewart).
“It’s the best cast in a comic-book film ever,” said Brett Ratner, who took over as director of “X-Men: The Last Stand” after Bryan Singer, the filmmaker behind the franchise’s first two chapters, moved on to do “Superman Returns.”
“I’m working with Shakespearean actors. When these two guys, Ian and Patrick, are in the room together, the walls are vibrating, their voices are so powerful.”
Berry, who followed her acclaimed performance in “Monster’s Ball” with the action bomb “Catwoman,” said she is constantly asked what an Oscar-winning actress is doing in comic-book flicks. She said she would not let the Oscar dictate her choices or keep her from having fun on screen.
“I want to keep living my life and having my career operate in the same exact way and not let the pressure of that award sit on my shoulders,” Berry said.
While Ratner and many of the cast figure the saga of the “X-Men” at large is over, the mutant world is filled with characters ripe for spinoffs. There have been rumblings of a film about the early lives of colleagues-turned-rivals Magneto and Professor X, and Jackman is developing a Wolverine prequel that would explore how the character came to be a tormented lone wolf.
“Wolverine, you don’t know how old he is, because he regenerates. He might be a hundred years old, so we have a lot of room to move there,” Jackman said. “The purpose in doing the movie is to do justice to that character that has been depicted in the comics for 40 years. I still think there’s a definitive movie to be made about this character.”