First of all, the big question: did Brett Ratner ruin the X-Men?
But, briefly, let me just say that there's not a whole lot to ruin there. These are not classic films, they're big, loud comic-book fun. None of the X-films has come close to having the resonance of a Spider-Man 2, but they've both been entertaining and X2 especially strong.
X3 definitely lacks the steady hand of Bryan Singer, and at times the actors seem lost without him. Early stretches of the film are stilted, and the world of the mutants, at school and at large is not as graceful as in X2. It's a bit like difference between Prisoner of Azkaban and Goblet of Fire. With a better director, you just buy the world a bit more, that's all.
Also, certain scenes lose their emotional impact in the quick flow of the film. There is a lot to get to, granted, but couldn't we have spent more time with Jean and Scott and their moment at Alkalai Lake? Cyclops is dispatched with quickly, like he was in X2, and Rogue gets the same treatment. The love triangle between Kitty Pryde, Bobby Drake, and her never even gets off the ground, but at least it's not a point the film dwells on. We get just enough, and then we're off.
What Ratner does have in his corner is a fun script. Taking its story genesis from Joss Whedon's Astonishing X-Men, X3 focuses on a potential 'cure' for the mutant gene. But where the film really excels is past the talking heads (which there are thankfully few of), and into its breathlessly paced battle scenes. This, finally, is what I thought an X-Men film should be six years ago when the first film came out. Balls-to-the-wall mutant madness. All-out battles with all our heroes using their respective powers to their full advantage. Even the adorable little Shadowcat gets to kick some ass.
What truly saves the early parts of the film is the wicked glee that Ian McKellan has with his Magneto. There are very few actors that are more fun to watch than Sir Ian. He makes consistently interesting choices, and all of his scenes have the impact that you wish the rest of the film would. It also helps that McKellan is not an actor that leans on his director to bring out his performances: his vision of the character is what carries the day.
This is certainly the X-film in which Wolverine steps forward from the pack (jockeying for that spin-off are we, Fox?). The films have always featured Logan heavily, but here he is their last, best hope when Jean goes bad. Not because he's ruthless, but because he loves her.
That said, Logan's way too cutesy in the beginning, I'll give Harry Knowles that much. But goddamn Harry, did they kick you out of a screening or something? They did a perfectly good job with the Dark Phoenix material, and you know it.
The filmmakers obviously have deep respect for the source material. They stay true to the spirit of Dark Phoenix, even if they have to change the nature of her powers to coincide with the film's more Earth-bound reality. I love the explanation that Jean's psychic powers are a mutation of her unconscious mind. I'll even go this far: I like that explanation more than the 'Phoenix Force' of the comics.
Another thing I enjoyed is the continuing narrative, not only with Jean but with the X-kids. Seeing their evolution from students to full fledged leather-clad X-Men was a trip, and I loved the showdown with Pyro and Iceman, even if the effects once Bobby went into his ice-body were cheesy. This film, for all its weaknesses, was a hell of a lot of fun.
X3:The Last Stand: B