The Wolverine (2013)

The wolverineReleased: July 26, 2013. Directed by: James Mangold. Starring: Hugh Jackman, Will Yun Lee, Tao Okamoto. Runtime: 126 min.

The Wolverine has a stronger story than Wolverine’s first solo outing in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but still not a fully compelling one. It just doesn’t seem like a fun film can be made for the most popular character of the X-Men. A problem of this film is that it really doesn’t feel like an X-Men film until it really gets into the story – the story and the Japan location gives it such a different atmosphere than the other films. It opens with Logan having a dream of saving a man from the World War II bombing in Nagasaki. Then, he’s sort-of just a woodsman living his life out in a cave in Canada. He’s still really shaken up about what he had to do Jean in X-Men: The Last Stand. The person whose life Logan saved all those years ago, a man named Yashida, requests Logan’s company to thank him for saving his life and he also wants to give him a gift. Once there, he is embroiled in a conflict involving Japanese mafia, and must confront his own demons. 

Logan is given an extra layer of vulnerability, which is a sometimes nice aspect for other characters – but for such a badass character, he’s just boring with this layer. I think this is a more realistic and grittier attempt than the first Wolverine. At times this feels more like a swordfighting/kung-fu movie with mutants than a true X-Men film. It surely keeps the X-Men franchise on a decent path to keep the general narrative going for the franchise, but sometimes there’s so little going on that this just gets boring. A solid finale and a dazzling bullet train sequence caught my attention, but that was about it. An archer brings some fun to the film, as Mangold directs some nifty set pieces with (and without) the archer. The villain of the film, a woman whose poisonous power of a viper snake reminded me of Poison Ivy. Overall, this is an okay film with prominent themes of greed and it features a strong score. The action’s just a bit too spaced out to be anything truly compelling.

The performances are all pretty okay. I liked Janssen’s brief performance as Jean. Yukio (a well-cast Rila Fukoshima) is a cool character, as she has the power to see how people will die. I think it’s a poignant characterization, since she’ll see how all of her loved ones will die. I liked Jackman’s chemistry with Tao Okamoto as Mariko, Yashida’s granddaughter. The films have some decent aspects, as this surely has stronger visuals than the first Wolverine. 

Score: 60/100

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X-Men: First Class (2011)

X-Men FirReleased: June 3, 2011. Directed by: Matthew Vaughn. Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence. Runtime: 132 min.

X-Men: First Class opens with what opened the original X-Men, but Matthew Vaughn adds his own stylish direction to it and extends the story. It introduces what motivates Erik Leshnerr (a.k.a. Magneto) and the main villain – Sebastian Shaw, portrayed by Kevin Bacon – from the get go. How Erik delves into her powers is through pain and anger, it’s shown through a heartbreaking sequence, mostly for Erik. I like it when a film gets right into the narrative. I think it compels from the opening scene – and it’s nice to see how Charles Xavier was good friends with Raven Darkholme (Mystique). 

The film then skips to 1962 after staying in 1944 for the opening fifteen minutes. The plot concerns Shaw, who is attempting to start World War 3 in 1962. Charles Xavier, and Leshnerr, team up with the CIA to stop the villains, and they recruit a few cool heroes in the process. I had only heard of Beast of the ones they recruit, but their powers are cool. I especially like Banshee’s (Caleb Landry Jones) sense of humour. Havoc (Lucas Till) is a bit of a total dick at times. The sequence where Xavier shows them how to control their powers is engaging and fun. Matthew Vaughn’s style and the excellent camerawork gives the film an extra fun layer, and engages one’s attention even more. 

I think setting this origins story in a very cool age is a smart choice, and Vaughn depicts the style of the age really well. It’s a sort-of Cold War/Cuban Missile Crisis film, and it seems to set up an imaginative way of how the Cuban Missile Crisis was started in this universe.The film’s also visually compelling. Prior to Days of Future Past, this is the franchise’s most engaging narrative thus far. It’s great to experience the chemistry shared between James McAvoy as Charles Xavier and Michael Fassbender as Erik Leshnerr. Some of their clashes in opinions are heartbreaking, but necessary.

The two share a great scene together where Charles shows Erik to find out how to use his power – finding a balance between rage and serenity. What he does to show him how to do it is mesmerizing and emotionally charged. I seriously think it’s some of the strongest acting of the franchise shown in that simple scene. James McAvoy brings charm to his role, and a calm attitude; while Fassbender gives a sometimes chilling performance as Magneto. My favourite characterization for the film is for Mystique/Raven. She’s still coping with fitting in, as she has to use half of her concentration to stay beautiful all the time. It seems like a real struggle; because other mutants can hide and blend in easier than her and Hank McCoy, who has feet that are like an extra pair of hands. Nicholas Hoult (as McCoy) and Lawrence share strong scenes together. What Magneto says at one point about Mystique is thought-provoking: “How can society accept you, if you can’t accept yourself?” 

The only boring characterizations are for the CIA characters, largely Oliver Platt’s Man in Black Suit. Rose Byrne’s Moira gets decent characterization, but apparently humans are boring. I think Kevin Bacon is good as the big baddie Sebastian Shaw. He’s critical to Erik’s development. I like his power, but it’s also very lame when he can just flick someone and send them flying, because he absorbs so much energy. (He receives weird visuals at times, but weird in a good way.) At times, he is brilliant and super cool – and the introduction to his power is one of my favourite scenes. My favourite baddie in this film is Azazel – he is so cool. There’s a baddie called Riptide who is boring because I just saw him as a male Storm, and he doesn’t get an ounce of characterization. He’s dressed in a suit and he looks cool, but I don’t remember him having any dialogue other than nodding in agreement. At one point, I thought he might be an angel and Azazel a devil, and they might act those little dudes who show up on someone’s shoulder in a moral dilemma. Geddit? January Jones is awesome as Emma Frost.

One thing is certain: Matthew Vaughn handles his characters as well as Bryan Singer, and lightyears better than Brett Ratner or Gavin Hood. With the film’s great sense of humour and engaging atmosphere, Vaughn directs the franchise back to greatness – and helps re-invent it with a compelling story, too. There’s an endless amount of great sequences, even ones that aren’t primarily action-packed. This is my favourite film of the franchise and it features a great pace and a strong finish. The dazzling film has a musical score that complements the feature well, and it also has some great visual effects. At one point, the visual effects are mesmerizing discovery. They’re sometimes out-of-this world. I am just left astounded by the atmosphere Vaughn is able to create. This is how you make an origins story. 

Score: 90/100

June 6-8 Box Office Predictions: ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ to top ‘Edge of Tomorrow’

The Fault in Our StarsEdge of TomorrowThere are two big new releases for the box office this weekend. One is Edge of Tomorrow, a sci-fi action vehicle starring Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt. The other is a romantic drama The Fault in Our Stars, based on the acclaimed novel of the same name by John Green.

I’ll start with Edge of Tomorrow. With last year’s Oblivion, Cruise proved he can be a mild box office draw, expressed through the film’s solid $37 million debut. Personally, I think this premise looks more intriguing, and it looks like it has a fun sense of humour. I also love that electronic music in the background of the trailer. The tune got stuck in my head quickly. I think this film adds some appeal with comedic and dramatic actress Emily Blunt in her first attempt at the science fiction genre. What is more appealing is that this looks like an easier plot to follow than Source Code and even the sometimes baffling Oblivion. I see this making $32.8 million this weekend. The reason I’m not going up to $35 million is because last year’s Elysium showed that science fiction could muster disappointing numbers, as it only had an opening weekend of $29.8 million.

The Fault in Our Stars also looks good. It stars Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort. To me, it looks like A Walk to Remember, hold the extreme cheesiness. Pre-ticket sales for this film suggest that it’s out-pacing The Vow and Safe Haven. Probably because of fans of the novel, and the star power of Woodley. I haven’t read the book, and I’m trying to decide if I want to before I see the film. I’m predicting this as the winner this weekend at $43 million.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)

X-Men Origins WolverineReleased: May 1, 2009. Directed by: Gavin Hood. Starring: Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber, Danny Huston. Runtime: 107 min.

While a seasoned fan of the X-Men franchise will surely be disappointed by this film, I’m think a casual fan could be entertained. This is a popcorn flick more concerned with just giving its audience a mildly entertaining 107 minutes. Obviously, this is a prequel that follows the origins story of Wolverine, and while future Wolverine won’t know the answers to his past, at least we as audience members get answers. That’s one of the reasons that this film is partly a delight. Though, his transformation scene to be inserted with an adamantium exoskeleton feels nowhere near as raw as it did previewed in X2

By the way, Logan had a much less cool set of bone claws before he got his awesome ones. I’m not being picky because if I had a set of any sort-of claws, I’d be pleased. There’s a cool scene where we learn why Wolverine is called that. His relationship with Kayla Silverfox (portrayed by a great newcomer Lynn Collins) is nice, as they share a great chemistry. We learn that Wolverine was born roughly around 1838 in the Northwest Territories of Canada. That’s pretty awesome, isn’t it? We also see him go through a bunch of wars in a decently directed sequence by Gavin Hood. 

Logan’s brother is a guy named Victor Creed (played leeringly by Liev Schreiber), who’s Sabretooth. He has the fingernails of a bag lady. But, since Creed is obviously Sabretooth, it really doesn’t explain why he didn’t recognize Wolverine in the original X-Men. Hey, what can I say, I’m a fan of logic. Victor obviously has rage issues and is trigger happy, and is uninspiredly cruel. It gets explained later in the film, but his rampage of violence against his old team is just a bit strange at first to base a story around. Victor’s readiness for violence makes this feel all a little clichéd. 

The timeline of the film isn’t that enjoyable because you can never really tell where it’s set without doing research, since Logan doesn’t age. I assume the film is set in the late 1970s or early 1980s because I learn that the last war in the montage was the Vietnam war. But does that really make sense when Stryker looks like 25 in another movie in the franchise? My point: The film is awful at establishing a strong time period. 

I like the mutants that are on the team that Logan was on. One cool one is Bradley (Dominic Monaghan), who is a telekinetic. He has a really cool scene at a carnival. Will.i.am is also good as a teleporter. Stryker gets a cool characterization, and we can see that he’s always been a dick. Though, Cox is an infinitely better Stryker than Danny Huston. There are some awesome action sequences (notably Logan fighting a helicopter), but there are also a lot of silly comedic attempts, and just silly occurrences in general. Take for instance: An idiotic fight that’s started by a trucker who wouldn’t get off the road to let Logan pass. Logan confronts him about it, and in a very short dialogue exchange, the guy takes a swing at him even though Logan asks nicely. It’s ridiculous. There are some strong attempts at comedy, though, which hit. This is only sporadic. 

The characters are boring. Especially Victor, who’s just a boring psychopath. You have to question why he uninspiredly hates his brother so much, just for walking out on the mercenary group. When Logan and him meet again, they fight – and you know it’s a brawl in Canada when there are a whole bunch of logs nearby. Logan has an idiotic tension with Agent Zero, shown when Zero shoots Logan’s cigar in a hideous and artificial visual. I learn that there was an early copy of the film leaked online, and I’m almost convinced I watched that copy – because the visuals are absolutely hideous at times. They look partly unfinished and unconvincing. Since I am not sure if I watched the good visuals of the film, I won’t take marks off for that. Well, as many marks. Because, crap, the film looks so ugly at times. The poor visuals make this look like a crappy video game. The lackluster storytelling doesn’t help, either. Nor does the god-awful editing, the quick edits just suck. At times, this isn’t fun to watch because of it. Kevin Durand’s character is hideous when he’s a CGI-assisted fatty.

It’s not that great when Agent Zero’s powers are never explained, because he just seems like an assassin who’s good with a gun and has impossibly cool acrobatic ability. I mean, how could one gain so much momentum to do a twenty foot backflip just catching guns? The film’s worst misfortune is featuring Gambit, an awesome mutant who deserves so much better than this. What’s unrealistic in the direction is how many times people are stabbed, and how there’s hardly any blood throughout. The occasional poignant occurrence rings true, but they’re just that – occasional. This is popcorn-munching, illogical fun. Take it or leave it, really. The finale is a bit fun, but if characterization is your favourite part about the franchise, you won’t get any of it this time around.

Score: 55/100

X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)

X-Men Last StandReleased: May 26, 2006. Directed by: Brett Ratner. Starring: Hugh Jackman, Famke Janssen, Halle Berry. Runtime: 104 min. 

I guess all mutants getting along was nice when it lasted. This time Charles Xavier’s (Patrick Stewart) X-Men face off against Magneto’s (Ian McKellen) Brotherhood. Stewart’s limited screen time helps prove that a presence will still be felt throughout the flick. In this film, a cure is introduced for mutants everywhere. Is mutation something that really needs to be cured? Do mutants really need to conform to what everyone else looks like? Is it cowardice if they choose to take the cure? This time, it touches on the idea that some mutants might benefit from the cure. This is basically in Rogue, who might benefit from it because if she holds onto someone too long, she could kill them. I learn that she is contributes a lot more in the comic books, when she’s felt sidelined to me in the films – at least in terms of battle. I think that’s awesomely touched on more intelligently with Mystique’s characterization in 2011’s X-Men: First Class.

This film just doesn’t feel as smart as the first two films. Heck, it’s still fun – but there are a lot of frustrating occurrences, mainly because some are so unnecessary. Something this film is missing is Bryan Singer’s direction. He just brought such an intelligent style to it, and it just feels like it’s lacking. This time Brett Ratner directs the film, and it’s a bit of an odd choice. Prior to this he directed the Rush Hour franchise and the Hannibal Lecter flick Red Dragon. It was a cool attempt, but it’s only successful to some avail. The fighting for freedom just feels a bit too clichèd this time around under Ratner’s eye. 

Like the Rush Hour flicks show, his style of direction just feels a bit familiar, and not quite a memorable style you could recognize a single director for. Though, he does direct a phenomenal prison escape sequence and kudos to the cinematography department during it. The actors bring humour to the film, per usual, it just isn’t as strong because the story gets dark at times. The film handles heartbreaking aspects of characterization well to some degree, just not perfectly like the last two films. It does handle being a blockbuster pretty well, though, because this is all really fun. 

It’s cool how Jean is a new sort-of character this time around, found in her alter-ego Phoenix, who is much more aggressive and angry than the regular Jean. Professor X wants to contain it in a series of psychological barriers, while Magneto wants to let her out of her cage. What happens with that is an intense sequence. Janssen gives her most interesting performance of the franchise thus far. In Wolverine and her relationship, Hugh Jackman brings some power to his performance. 

There are some good other mutants. It seems that the Beast, a political representative for mutants, is replacing the blue good guy (Nightcrawler in the last film) this time around. I love Ben Foster as the Angel, even though I would have loved to see more from the character. Callisto (Dania Ramirez) on the villains side is a really cool villain, because she’s like a walking, talking Cerebro. She can sense when mutants are near, and also know their power level. There’s a sort-of porcupine blowfish villain named Kid Omega who’s kind-of fun. He’s portrayed by Ken Leung, and I think I subconsciously assumed he was a villain when I saw him on TV’s Lost because I recognized him from this villainous role. As a villain, Pyro (Aaron Stanford) is a bit of a bland idiot. I thought he was a lot more fun as an antagonizing hero. 

I think the title indicates that there might be a few losses from all ends. I think there’s a minor problem when the opening simulation fighting sequence is the same amount of fun as the finale, but that might be because it’s lacking a few fun characters who would be helpful. The finale should just stand out in memory more, as far as I’m concerned. Don’t get me wrong, I like the finale and I like the film, but it’s just disappointingly not as character-driven as the previous two films.

Score: 65/100

X2: X-Men United (2003)

X2 ; X-Men UnitedReleased: May 2, 2003. Directed by: Bryan Singer. Starring: Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry. Runtime: 134 min.

Featuring one of the most impressive and compelling opening sequences of the franchise, X2: X-Men United just gets better from there. What a cool way to introduce the Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming), too. It sets up the plot well, as Nightcrawler’s attempted assassination on the President gives William Stryker (Brian Cox) an excuse to infiltrate Xavier’s school to detain and question mutants to get answers. The plot’s smart; and it’s great how Stryker holds a key to Logan’s past. Cerebro, Professor Xavier’s (Patrick Stewart) way to track humans, is introduced as a plot point more-so than the previous installment. This plot device is also a deadly weapon in ways.

William Stryker is an interesting villain played well by Brian Cox. I love the fact that mutants team up to beat Stryker. They set aside differences to unite, thus the title. It’s an enjoyable chemistry with everyone, and I think the characterization for Jean (Famke Janssen’s character) is stronger this time around. I think the relationship with Jean and Logan is great. I like James Mardsen, but some of his reactions near the end are god-awful, in a sort-of hilariously bad way. He’s just a bit over-the-top at the end. 

This film’s visuals are impressive. The cinematography is also beautiful, especially when they’re in the Canadian Rockies. There are a few AWESOME action sequences which make the film really entertaining. The action scenes that are my personal favourites are when the military folks infiltrate Xavier’s school, the opening sequence, and the encounter at Bobby’s house is also awesome. 

I think the third act drags a bit, but it gets back on pace in the great finale. Hugh Jackman has a grounded performance at times, which is nice. I like how this film gives him the first truly raw characterization about his past. Some new mutants are awesome, especially Lady Deathstrike (Kelly Hu), a great opponent for Wolverine. (I really like some poignancy in select moments in their battle.) A mutant named Jason has always creeped me out. His powers and the illusions he can cast give the third act such a dark tone. That’s an aspect of the film that I’ve never been able to bite onto. Still, this is a strong outing that is better than its predecessor.

Score77/100

X-Men (2000)

MV5BMTYxMTEzNTgzM15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMjg1MzAwMQ@@._V1_SY317_CR11,0,214,317_AL_Released: July 14, 2000. Directed by: Bryan Singer. Starring: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen. Runtime: 104 min.

Bryan Singer brings some great direction to the first film in the X-Men franchise. He directs some action scenes with a great intensity. Opening with a great scene for the character of Magneto (the film’s main antagonist), the film grasps attention from the opening frames with some poignant characterization. The film is set in a world full of mutants, humans with superhuman abilities. The mutant gene is the key to our evolution. A prominent theme in the X-Men films is war.

The war is between the humans and the mutants, because mutants will be met with fear, hostility and aggression. Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) believes that humans and mutants can live together in harmony, while the film’s antagonist, Magneto (Ian McKellen) believes that mutants are the future, and not humans. There are very real themes of discrimination brought about in this film, and I think McKellen can take to the character of Magneto (also known as Erik Leshner) so well because he’s a well-known homosexual advocate, and he can channel his love for the minority (mutants in this case) in his performance. The character is also the perfect mindset to portray that humans are scared of what they don’t understand.

A political character in the film, Senator Kelly (Bruce Davis) believes that mutants should have to register, so they can know who they are. He believes that mutants with dangerous abilities could be weapons, which could be unsettling, especially in a school environment. This is a popcorn flick that also has great characterization and a cool, different way that America was supposed to be a land of tolerance, but is not. I think that’s why I enjoy these X-Men films so much, because they bring real world issues and portray them in such a great and unique narrative. I think it’s cool that young mutants can come to Xavier Academy and experience other people other people with powers, and feel like they’re not alone.

Another way this film is strong is that there are memorable action scenes, and this is only sporadically boring. When the action shows up, it’s great – and the finale is memorable. This film sets the tone for the whole franchise, as most deal with the conflict between humans and mutants (excluding Wolverine’s individual outings). Something else that makes this great is the funny banter between characters and the chemistry between them all. Hugh Jackman’s chemistry with Famke Janssen is good this time around, but I really like the chemistry between Jackman (who portrays Wolverine) and Anna Paquin as Rogue.

Wolverine’s powers is a set of retractable claws made of adamantium (which is also what his exoskeleton is made of), and the ability to heal. I like his character, as he is looking for answers about his past, since he has a sort-of amnesia. He has a great introduction. Rogue has an interesting set of powers – whenever she touches someone, she literally takes the life out of them. This mutation is a bit more unfortunate, and it makes her feel even more segregated. She’s the poster child for mutants who want to feel like they belong. She receives great poignancy and development as a character. It makes her someone who is terrified to hurt those who she loves.

Other characters are great, too. Jean is good, even though I like her characterization better in the first sequel. Storm is great, even though her African accent is kind-of annoying – and it’s funny how she doesn’t use it in the second film. As a villain, I think Sabretooth is pretty good. I don’t think Toad is a good villain. He has three lines, and he’s just useless. The mutation is strange, and he’s just silly – especially when he does a little leprechaun dance approaching Storm, and it seems like he’s trying to be menacing but it’s just awful. Mystique, a mutant who can take the shape of anyone she desires, is one of my favourite villains. She’s portrayed by Rebecca Romijn, which adds a lot of sex appeal to the role. She’s great. Whenever she comes on-screen, there’s a cool little tune in the score. The score, great visual effects and funny banter between the cast makes this a memorable super-hero flick.

Score: 70/100