"The whole world‚s gone to hell,‰ understates Hugh Jackman‚s Wolverine in the finale of the X-Men trilogy, directed with blunt efficiency by Rush Hour‚s Brett Ratner. Taking over for the more cerebral Bryan Singer, Ratner is unable to maintain the emotional intensity that has made this series so deeply epic. But he sure knows how to put on a show.

In the first two X-Men films, Singer raised devastating, increasingly timely questions for his audience to consider: Is morality truly absolute? If so, who has the right to define it? Ratner has his own queries, and they follow along these lines: How many special effects experts will it take to lift the Golden Gate Bridge and redirect it toward Alcatraz? And do we have the budget to blow up the entire planet?

Though he makes a good-faith effort, the answer is no, since every major player in the series has returned, no doubt putting a crimp on finances. Facing off for one last time are mutant leaders Magneto (Ian McKellen) and Xavier (Patrick Stewart), enemies united only in their horror at a new antidote that has been developed to eliminate genetic mutation.

Xavier, who advocates peace among species, is also concerned about another threat: the recently resurrected telepath Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), whose powers have become too great for her to control. If Magneto can harness her cosmic energy, mutants will retain their superiority over humans forever. But before he can rule Earth, he‚ll have to conquer Xavier‚s heroic X-Men.

Which, as it turns out, is no small feat, though their numbers have dwindled. With Jean on the wrong side, Wolverine and Storm (Halle Berry) are in charge, leading a younger generation that includes Iceman (Shawn Ashmore), Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) and an increasingly reluctant Rogue (Anna Paquin), who finds herself tempted to accept the „cure‰ for her mutation.

Also on board for the first time are Kelsey Grammer‚s blue-haired Beast and Ben Foster‚s white-winged Angel.

Few of the characters are given much in the way of development, and the new additions get particularly short shrift. The only real standout is an impossibly charismatic Jackman, who manages to keep his dignity even when rattling off a stream of ridiculous action-movie quips.

As always, little time is wasted on exposition, so it‚s a good idea to watch the first two films before you see this one.

But see it you should: Explosive, adrenaline-fueled fun, The Last Stand is likely to be the best popcorn movie of the summer ˆ unless it‚s unseated next month by Singer‚s Superman Returns.

Grade: B+