X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

 

X-Men Days of Future PastReleased: May 23, 2014. Directed by: Bryan Singer. Starring: Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender. Runtime: 133 min.

X-Men of the old age and the new age team up in the franchise’s most outstanding and most ambitious film to date. I am ecstatic to report that this film doesn’t disappoint. Simon Kinberg writes the characters into such a sound and absorbing atmosphere that is honestly impossible to resist. He writes the screenplay so well with some phenomenal pacing that never let’s your attention span waver. The story follows Wolverine (Hugh Jackman in a strong outing) as he goes back in time to prevent an occurrence that will create a weapon that could wipe out mutants and humans alike. 

What is perhaps most impressive about Kinberg’s screenplay that he is able to pace the film so well, that it never let’s your attention waver. He is also able to make up for past mistakes. For a time travel film, the plot is easy to follow – and mildly simplistic. That is not to say that it’s nothing short of brilliant, however. This is a true treat for comic book fans and the casual movie-goer because it balances vibrant and intelligent entertainment with great storytelling. It’s fascinating to see James McAvoy and Patrick Stewart give different takes on the character of Charles Xavier in the same film.

It’s such a treat to see Charles Xavier at a time where he didn’t quite know where he was a person. It’s great to see Logan and future Charles guide him, in scenes that are so well-written. The humour hits on every mark, even in dazzling action sequences. There’s a scene-stealer found in Evan Peters’ Quiksilver, who I think might be worth the price of admission alone. Back to James McAvoy: He gives such an interesting and vulnerable performance as Charles Xavier. It reminds us that, as a character, even the most intelligent people can lose their way. I think it adds such a great layer to the character of Charles. It’s also interesting that Charles chooses his legs over his powers. Nicholas Hoult portrays Hank McCoy/Beast, and I thought the creature design for him is stronger than in First Class

Also great is Michael Fassbender as Magneto as a young man. Even when Charles and Magneto are on the same side, Erik is like the mischievous Loki of the X-Men universe. Fassbender is still charming as the character. Jennifer Lawrence brings it as the younger Mystique. She is confident as a character who has also lost their way after parting from Charles, a person in her life who has always tried to guide her. That aspect also gives Charles an appealing layer. Mystique is so interesting this time around, and I am so glad to see the character in the spotlight in these youngster X-Men movies. I always thought her characterization was mildly weak in the original trilogy, and I just feel honoured getting to see her grow as a phenomenal villain that feels extremely easy to relate with. She also looks so much better with shorter hair. The diverse Lawrence is the right actress to tackle the role.

It’s fantastic to see the X-Men franchise back in its right form. Bryan Singer is the man to do that because of his touch in the original franchise. He brings his style to the original characters, and with the help of Matthew Vaughn’s wit, Singer is able to keep the great style that made X-Men: First Class so damn great. It’s also really fun seeing these superhero flicks drop the F-bomb each time. I don’t think this feels completely like a super hero film. It feels like a great action film boasting on-point storytelling that audiences everywhere can enjoy. It’s a great feeling. One reason why the X-Men universe is my favourite amongst comic book movies, is because of its compelling character work.

There’s not one boring character. The villain in this film is mastermind is Doctor Boliver Trask, a mastermind trying to get a weapon project called Centinnels to protect against mutants. He is portrayed by Peter Dinklage, a small man with a booming presence. He plays a smart and effective villain. There’s also never a boring action sequence. By the way, this film features some of the most memorable action sequences put onto screen this year. The opening scene is just crazy good. It’s delightful seeing all of these original characters take the screen again, too. It follows that with a bunch of nifty action sequences that boast phenomenal direction by Singer. 

I cannot wait to see this near-perfect film again. It might leave you with a few questions, but I can’t take any marks off for that. It’s a time-travel film, and sometimes that gets confusing, but I think it handles its concepts with brilliance. The third act only gives you the most questions, but I think they’ll be answered in later films. There’s just one thing that I had to question during the third act: Was there a major league baseball stadium in Washington in 1973? (I learn the team moved to Texas in 1971, so the stadium wasn’t being used for baseball.)

I guess the facts aren’t important, because how the stadium plays into the story is just outstanding. My questioning of that factual error is just me being a logic monster. I was also disappointed by the fact we don’t get to see any more action from Banshee or Azazel from First Class. At least it makes up for it with a lot of great new mutants. The film is visually dazzling and just all-around enjoyable. See it, and see it often. This is the film that demands the most views out of the franchise thus far, for its entertainment value, emotional connectivity, and sheer brilliance. 

Score: 95/100

 

 

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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

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

The Hobbit 2Released: December 13, 2013. Directed by: Peter Jackson. Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage. Runtime: 161 min.

Many thought “The Hobbit” franchise would have peaked with the first chapter, last year’s “An Unexpected Journey,” but that isn’t the case. Some may not find out because this made about $11 million less at the box office in its opening weekend, but box office performance isn’t relevant to the film’s quality. This is a great continuation.

In “An Unexpected Journey,” we left off with the group looking at the Lonely Mountain. The film opens with Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and Thorin (Richard Armitage) discussing how Thorin should take back his homeland. The conversation turns out to be the time where they first discuss the journey. The dwarven company, along with Gandalf and Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) continue their journey to reclaim the Dwarve’s homeland of Erebor from Smaug the Terrible, the flying furnace. Meanwhile they encounter other companies in order to achieve their goal, Bilbo found his “courage” in his encounter with Gollum in the previous film, and they are still being chased by the Orks led by Azog the Defiler.

I think it’s a better film, as well, because it has a better handle on its tone. Last year, some may have been thrown off by its often silly tone; this is a bit more serious. It still has its fair share of comedy, but it isn’t as constant. When it is present, it’s entertaining – and very funny. The adventures of this company is consistent and memorable. A scene where the hobbits are in barrels is directed so well by Peter Jackson. It’s one of the best scenes of the film because it’s so fun, creative and the action is incredible. There’s also a great action scene where they encounter giant spiders that were mentioned in the first installment, and I liked it even more because it made me think of Ronald Weasley say “Can we panic now?” from “Harry Potter 2.” Those are the action scenes I’ll discuss; they’re awesome. Anyway, I also like Peter Jackson knows how to please his fans because there are some familiar characters, here.

Legolas (Orlando Bloom) appears when the dwarves encounter elves and the Elven King Thranduil (Lee Pace). It’s a real treat. He has a lady friend he’s interested in, Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly); and she acquaints mostly with Kili (Aidan Turner). Evangeline Lilly is completely badass here, and even outshines Legolas occasionally. She’s a great actress portraying a great, noble warrior. I think her character is fascinating when she talks about the Elven beliefs, like saying that starlight is precious and brings hope. She is a character full of wonder, and that is something that makes her entrancing. It also makes the viewer feel full of wonder.

Interestingly enough, she is an original creation for this film – because the film makers felt they needed both a red head, and some female badassery. She certainly kicks ass, and one of my favourite visual sights from the film is the way her auburn hair looks in the sunshine. That’s poetry, folks, am I right? It’s cool that original characters get made for Tolkien’s universe. I love the world J.R.R. Tolkien has created, with all of its mythology, even if some names might be difficult to pronounce or remember.

Anyway, it is also nice to see some dwarves get more chances to shine, and they’re not just another number to the company – we’re actually starting to care about them. So the main dwarves, meaning the ones that get the spotlight shone on the most, are Thorin, Balin and Kili. Thorin seems to be warming up a bit, but he hasn’t lost sight of that badassery. Balin is the voice of reason, which I enjoy. I noticed that Ori (Adam Brown), a dwarf who had a lot of funny lines in the first film, wasn’t used very much in this; another testament that the filmmakers are trying to improve the tone, and try to give everyone a good time whilst watching the film. I’m sure this will be loved by many, because it has good comedy and it’s a fantastic adventure film.

Bilbo has found his bravery within the One ring, but he is evidently changing. (It’s funny to see that men are sometimes obsessed with jewellery, too. Haha!) Martin Freeman is a hysterical source of comedy in occasions where he doesn’t exactly know what to next. It’s simple but effective, and that is a favoured type of comedy. I love Freeman as Bilbo, because he is a little man with much care but a whole lot of bravery that cannot be measured. Gandalf went out on his own in this film when they split up at a forest, which was a bit disappointing to me. The film was switching between the main company, to Gandalf. It is nice that Gandalf isn’t the one saving the day all the time, so Bilbo gets some chances to do so, but it also takes away some of the great presence.

One presence that makes up for that is the villainous Smaug, and oh boy, is he worth the wait. Benedict Cumberbatch uses motion capture animation for his movements, and he moves graciously. He is a scary dragon, and he is a chilling villain. What a beautiful CGI-creature he is, too. The visuals are phenomenal, like the first, as is the New Zealand scenery. I really enjoyed the darker scenery, too, when characters had to go through caves. I guess the only thing left to say is bring on the next film, because I need to see how it ends. Maybe I’ll just go buy the original book that is, what, 75 years old now? Yeah. There’s an idea. I will read the book, but I will still eagerly await the film, because I love Peter Jackson’s direction of these tales.

Score85/100

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

The Hobbit -  An Unexpected JourneyThe Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Release Date: December 14, 2012

Director: Peter Jackson

Stars: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage

Runtime: 169 min

Tagline: From the smallest beginnings come the greatest legends

A curious Hobbit of The Shire, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) is confronted by the magnificent wizard, Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen), who wonders if Bilbo would enjoy going on a great adventure. The quest is to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor from the fearsome dragon Smaug. Bilbo soon joins Gandalf and thirteen dwarves, led by the legendary warrior Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Amitage). They must gander through Middle Earth, fighting the likes of Goblins, Orks, and many other creatures. Their mission is to get to the East where the Lonely Mountain is, but the Goblins and Orks are close on their tail. Bilbo learns how to muster up enough courage that he didn’t even know he had, with a little help from the creature Gollum (Andy Serkis).

Mostly everyone knows that Peter Jackson (director of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy) is a fairly innovative director. This time, he shows his innovative side by being the first person to film using 48 frames per second (f.p.s.). While it is an admirable experiment, it is mostly a needless one. The visuals have the tendency to get very distracting, even though the screen is very clear. However, the visuals are nonetheless beautiful and usually not that bothersome as other critics might say. It might deserve a second watch in a 2D regular 24 f.p.s. screening.

Everyone also knows that his features are usually lengthy (like The LOTR Trilogy, or his remake [more like new film altogether] of King Kong). He gives us another awesome, but long, adventure back to Middle Earth. He writes it with help from three other writers, including the also legendary Guillermo del Toro (writer/director of Pan’s Labyrinth) and it is adapted from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. All the writers express that they are not afraid to insert some silliness and foolishness into a great Middle Earth fantasy story. However, they insert some jokes so relentlessly, that you may forget that any of the story is intended to be serious. Usually, though, it isn’t bad – and you just can’t help but laugh and have a good time. Especially when the great Gollum shows up. There’s an exuberant amount of comedic dialogue inserted in that specific riddle scene shared between Gollum and Bilbo, but it also makes for one of the greatest scenes in the film. This time around, some of the more talky scenes are the best; while the action sequences are simply visually stunning and intense, but the material we’ve seen before outweighs the new and fresh content.

I am unsure of how faitful the writing is to its source material, but the fun that the cast and writers had making the film is definitely present. The writing is very smart; and the introduction of Old Bilbo putting his journey into writing for Frodo is a perfect touch for any fan of the adventures of Middle Earth. The antagonists (like the Pale Ork or the nasty looking Great Goblin) are also fine and the backstories for some characters and the plot lines are great.

There is never a dull moment in this feature, but there are some scenes that could have been so not over-the-top. When Bilbo, Gandalf, and company, visit the land of Rivendell, the introduction of Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) is just too over-dramatic. Sure, she’s beautiful as anything, but it didn’t have to be over-done like that. Also, when Saruman (Christopher Lee) does his brief cameo, the audience (those who have seen Lord of the Rings) will feel a certain loathing because we know what this character will do in sixty years. Often enough, the problem with prequels is we know some good characters will turn evil (like Saruman) or we know some will survive. SPOILER ALERT IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE LORD OF THE RINGS Like we do with Bilbo and Gandalf. END OF SPOILERS. It may take away from the suspense, but it’s all about knowing how they survive. The reappearance of certain characters (like Galadriel, Elrond, Gollum, Frodo) will be a treat for any fan of Tolkien’s magnificent universe. However, it’s a little difficult to get emotionally-invested with the new characters like we did the first time we saw the older characters.

There are just too many dwarves to keep an eye on. Thorin Oakenshield, the leader; Ori, the one with the slingshot; Balin, the charming elderly one; and Bombur, the chubby eater, are the ones that really stand out. If any dwarves decease, the viewer may feel sad for a minute, but it’ll soon wear off because there are many others. All share the same traits, and it feels as if the writers took traits from Gimli and Legolas (some dwarves are archers) and lent them to the new dwarves. The majority feel, unfortunately, expendable. They are just a little too alike, or don’t say much. Bilbo is both a new character, and an old one. Those who have seen Lord of the Rings are familiar with the older version of him. Now, we are introduced to the young Bilbo, before he learned all the life lessons or even left The Shire. He is great, and the fact we get to watch him grow is a scrumptious treat. Martin Freeman is the perfect actor to play him, as is the casting of the dwarves.

The first installment of a new Middle Earth trilogy is much like The Fellowship of the Ring; not a lot happens. They only complete a small amount of the journey, and upcoming antagonists and ones that are going to appear again in the series are established. However, please don’t forget that the story will all come together in the end of the trilogy. For what it is, it is a great experience, and there are enough action scenes to probably keep you satisfied. Though, some of those said action scenes are a little familiar. Am I complaining, though? Not particularly, because it’s still fun.

As a stand-alone feature, this is an awesome adventure-fantasy film. Compared to the likes of The Lord of the Rings, it is simply satisfying and usually visually stunning. Some of it is familiar, the visuals are distracting, and the dwarves are a little too alike. However, there is never a dull moment – even when one moment is over-dramatic. The cinematography, the visuals, the writing and the performances are stellar. The silliness is very enjoyable, especially the scene shared between Bilbo and Gollum (and Precious, of course). Simply put, this is the beginnings of a fine, new Middle Earth trilogy.

75/100