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'X' marks the spotty sequel

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"X-Men: The Last Stand" is billed as the climax of the trilogy but, of course, that will be entirely up to you. If the movie is a big hit - not a certainty in a summer of underperforming blockbusters like "Poseidon" and "Mission: Impossible III" - you can be sure there will be spinoffs like "Wolverine: The Prequel" or "Magneto: The Early Years."

Not being an "X-Men" freak, I'm probably not in the best position to determine whether the franchise deserves another go-round. I enjoyed the first film in the series, tolerated the second - both were directed by Bryan Singer - and had a reasonably good time at the third, which was directed by Brett Ratner ("Rush Hour").

Singer was supposed to direct it, but then - horrors! - he defected to the new "Superman." At one time Ratner was going to direct Superman, so I guess he and Singer have each other to thank for their current predicament. Ratner is a much more by-the-book director than Singer. Things grind to a screeching halt whenever the action slows and the actors expostulate the exposition.

All the usual suspects reappear. Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is still having a bad hair day; Storm (Halle Berry) gets to fly this time; Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) sits enthroned in his wheelchair; Magneto (Ian McKellen) continues to wear that really silly Captain Video helmet; Mystique (Rebecca Romijn) is alluring in metamorphic basic blue. Rogue (Anna Paquin) is still stuck in a rut - she's a touchy-feely girl who can neither touch nor feel without lethal consequence. Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) has come back from the dead a changed - i.e., really, really bad - woman.

A few new faces turn up, among them Juggernaut (footballer Vinnie Jones), a human boulder-in-motion; and Beast (Kelsey Grammer), the big, blue furball hulk who serves the president as secretary of mutant affairs.

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