The X-Men are some of the most highly recognizable fictional characters of today and are arguably the definitive comic book with a greater message. Yeah, Superman and Spider-Man are all about the “great power, great responsibility” stuff, but the X-Men have taken on the task of making a more all-encompassing statement for society with their ever-present theme of tolerance and acceptance.

As such, bringing said characters to life could understandably be a little intimidating, even to the most seasoned and well-trained of actors. Even aside from accurately conveying a message that couldn't be more appropriate presently, there is 43 years' worth of back story and character development that is the indisputable gospel to fans young and old. X-Men: The Last Stand , the third installment in Marvel Comics' mutant film franchise, promises to not let the series' cult following down.

“The audiences care about these characters, and it was important to me to stay true to who they are,” says director Brett Ratner. “My goal was to take what worked in the first two films, but make it more emotional and resolve some character arcs.”

While other super-teams like the Justice League are recognized more for being action-oriented characters, the X-Men have always been defined by strong character interaction and detailed and layered character histories. Says Stan Lee, who created the original characters with Jack Kirby, “I wanted to give the X-Men interesting personalities, and make them empathetic and believable. When we started Marvel, we always tried to get characters that were relatable; they had to seem like real people even though they had incredible powers. We thought that extra depth was important.”

While X-Men: The Last Stand , like its two Bryan Singer-directed predecessors, pulls multiple story elements from throughout the four decades of mythos, this third chapter melds together the X-Men's early history with their most recent adventures. Lee and Kirby's original team of X-Men consisted of Cyclops (played by James Marsden in all three films), Jean Grey/Marvel Girl (Famke Janssen), Iceman (Shawn Ashmore), Angel and Beast. Last Stand sees the original roster completed with Ben Foster and Kelsey Grammer filling the last two roles, respectively.

“It never occurred to me that someday these little stories we were doing could become such magnificent movies,” says Lee.

Chronicling Jean Grey's character-defining journey of becoming host to the cosmic entity of unparalleled power, the Phoenix Force, the plot thread stems from the Phoenix Saga and Dark Phoenix Saga story arcs from the ‘70s. “Jean's saga is the most extreme. Her saga is emotionally resonant, because it involves watching somebody you love start to both implode and explode,” says scriptwriter Simon Kiberg.

With so many intertwining themes, concepts, story lines and relationships, it was important that new cast members be chosen wisely and returning ones step up their game. Says Hugh Jackman, reprising his leading role as Wolverine, “My feeling is if you're going to reprise a role, you want to do it better and take it further. This film allowed me to do that.”

With love triangles aplenty, most notably the culmination of that involving Cyclops, Jean and Wolverine, and a three way war of epic proportions between humans, Magneto's (Ian McKellen) Brotherhood and Xavier's (Patrick Stewart) X-Men, all characters will be faced with decisions. Alliances and friendships will all face the ultimate test as the heroes and villains must choose whom they will stand with.

The X-Men may “fight to protect a world that hates and fears them,” but the cast of Last Stand can rest assured that they'll be met with a significantly warmer greeting.

X-Men: The Last Stand releases in theaters May 26.