While fans have been looking forward to the third - and expectedly last - film in the X-Men series since the spectacular end of the second instalment in 2003, some wondered whether the mutant chronicles' swansong would be more whimper than bang.

Admittedly, the omens were not good. Bryan Singer, the director of the first two movies, opted to make the new 'Superman' instead, with some fans convinced his absence would prove to be the X-Men's undoing. Singer's replacement, Matthew Vaughn, chose to leave the project because it would take him away from his family for too long. And while he had been in contention to direct the first X-Men movie, 'Rush Hour' and 'Red Dragon' director Ratner had some wondering whether he was the man to save the day. But Ratner has done himself proud: what 'X-Men: The Last Stand' lacks in character development it makes up for with the best action of the three movies.

While the first film in the series focussed on the gelling of the mutant superhero team after the arrival of Wolverine (Jackman) and Rogue (Paquin); and the second film concentrated on Wolverine and his history, the third brings the fate of Jean Grey (Janssen) front and centre. Having seemingly died saving her friends at the end of the second film, the awesomely powered Grey returns - a changed woman. As X-Men leader Professor Xavier (Stewart) battles to keep her under some kind of control, his arch rival Magneto (McKellen) wants Grey for his mutant army and battle against a drug company which has developed a 'cure' for the mutant gene. And so the stage is set for one epic showdown between right and wrong.

From the prologue when then friends Professor Xavier and Magneto arrive at the home of a young Jean Grey to the delicious final teaser scene, 'X-Men: The Last Stand' is one of those weld-you-to-the-seat blockbusters that gets better by the minute. Certainly, like the other films, the abundance of characters mean that some feel like cut-outs and Jackman's presence lacks the wow factor of previous instalments, but Ratner makes up for these shortcomings with brilliant set-pieces and an urgency which completely sucks you into the heroes' race against time.

While the previous two films had great finales, it is Ratner's that will be most remembered - a brilliant sequence involving the Golden Gate Bridge and a battle at Alcatraz that not only gives the X-Men their biggest battlefield but also raises the bar for superhero and effects-driven movies in the future. It may be shorter than the second movie, but '...The Last Stand' could've been a half-an-hour longer and still had you wishing for more.

It has been a brilliant trilogy; it would be an awful shame if there wasn't more to come.

Harry Guerin