In the opening flashback scene of "X-Men: The Last Stand," a young Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen) recruit Jean Grey, a powerful telepath and telekenetic, to join their burgeoning school for mutants.
Mutants, of course, are individuals with uncanny powers who can run through walls, change the weather on a whim, fire laser beams from their eyes, read minds and transmute their skin into impenetrable organic steel.
Xavier, leader of the X-Men, promises to teach Grey to "control her power, before it begins to control her." And over the film's next hour-and-a-half, Grey — resurrected after her apparent demise at the end of "X2" and now the world's most powerful mutant — struggles to reconcile the boiling rage inside her head.
Will she put to rest her demons? Or will Grey (Famke Janssen) embrace her evil side — known, for some reason, as the Phoenix — and possibly kill her friends and fellow X-Men?
More importantly, will mutant- and human-kind overcome their mutual fear and distrust?
These questions lie at the heart of the third (and apparently final) installment of the X-Men film franchise, "X-Men: The Last Stand." Chronicling the internal struggles of Grey and the other X-Men, the plot is based on Chris Claremont's classic X-Men comic book story arc "The Dark Phoenix Saga" and Joss Whedon's 2004 comic story about a mutant "cure" that turns the mutant populace against itself.
The film is highly entertaining. Its whiz-bang special effects are sure to leave even the most cynical film snob astonished:
Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) slashes plenty of evil mutants with his adamantium claws; Storm (Halle Berry) sparks audience cheers every time she fries her enemies with lightning bolts; and the blue-furred Beast (Kelsey Grammer) has an amazing fight sequence, complete with gravity-defying dropkicks, punches and acrobatics.
Not every effect is as effective. Beast, also known as Dr. Hank McCoy, the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Mutant Affairs, appears fake, as does Angel (Ben Foster), a mutant with feathery wings that allow him to fly.
The dialogue is a bit wooden (think a few steps up from "The Phantom Menace") and a couple of the film's emotional scenes are more likely to draw eye-rolling than tears.
The film also fails to fully convey the shock the audience should feel when three of its major characters are killed and another three lose their mutant powers.
But the film's crackling action scenes more than compensate for its drawbacks. When Magneto crumples a convoy of military vehicles, wielding his magnetic powers like an orchestra conductor, the audience forgets all about a lame argument in the previous scene between Storm and Wolverine.
The film succeeds. It's accessible to moviegoers with little knowledge of the X-Men's 40-year history in comic books. And it includes plenty of hat tips to hard-core comic book nerds — there are two "fastball specials" and Beast utters his famous catch phrase.
It may not be quite as thrilling as the previous two X-Men films (both directed by Bryan Singer), but director Brett Ratner does an admirable job with the X-franchise's third, and perhaps final, act.