X-Men: First Class (2011) – Movie Review

xmen first class

After two disappointing instalments, X-Men fans needed some heroes themselves, people who could revitalise the series and luckily, we got that with the director of the first two films and the man who was originally picked to direct X-Men: The Last Stand. The Bryan Singer/Matthew Vaughn combo was able to give the series the kick it needed, making a fun and action-packed film.

In 1962, the privileged Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) has graduated from Oxford University with a PhD in Genetics and has a very close relationship with his adopted sister, Raven (Jennifer Lawrence). On the other side of the coin is Erik Lehnsherr (the always awesome Michael Fassbender), a Holocaust surviving, hunting Nazis around the world, overall badass. Both are recruited by CIA agent Moira MacTarget (Rose Byrne) to help stop the Hellfire Club, lead by Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) and his group of powerful mutants; Emma Frost (January Jones), Azazel (Jason Flemyng), and Riptide (Alex Gonzalez). As the Hellfire Club manipulates the United States and the Soviet Union towards nuclear war, Charles and Erik go on their own recruiting drive to train mutants for their team, including Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult), Alex Summers (Lucas Till), and Angel Salvadore (Zoe Kravitz).

From what should have been a disaster of a film, Vaughn pulled it out of the bag and made a really fun summer blockbuster. Compared to Singer’s whose X-Men movies were dark, in both story and style, Vaughn made his X-Men film a lighter and more colourful film, with a strong mix of drama and comedy, very much like Spider-man and Iron Man. Because of the quick production time some of the CGI is a bit ropey, but Vaughn proves himself a talented director with a great visual style, from his montages that interject comic book visuals to his action scenes. Vaughn ensures that there is plenty of mutant versus mutant action and just like in the Singer films, mutants use their powers logically. Some of the comedy is predictable, but still funny and the action scenes were tense, unlike Brett Ratner’s approach in X-Men: The Last Stand who broke up action sequences with humour.

The plot itself is very similar to the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies, since it comes down to an outside force trying to start a war for their own ends. Continuing with the Bond film there is a certain feel in the early part of the film with Erik’s global travelling and the scene with Moira in bra and panties, which was very much like something from a Bond or even Austin Powers movie.

X-Men: First Class is a film that focuses on characters and relationships, a strength of any good action film, or as I see it, an X-Men film with action in it. There are strong ideologies being formed with Shaw taking the place of Magneto in this world. There are also ideas about how government circles and intelligence agencies would react to the discovery of a new breed of humanity. The Nazi Scientist was very much like the Emperor in Star Wars, pretty much saying “let the anger consume you”.

What X-Men: First Class needed in order to be successful was a strong chemistry between McAvoy and Fassbender, which we got. They have a yin and yang relationship as they share a goal but have two different ways about how to achieve it, yet you can still believe they are friends. Many of the supporting cast members were strong, Bacon is of course, intelligent and powerful with a sinister Southern accent and capably assisted by the beautiful January Jones. Some of the characters were sidelined, but I am sure they will be developed in the sequel.

As a fanboy, I could make a list of things the filmmakers got wrong from the comics and continuity with the first three films, but it was so well made as a stand-alone movie it doesn’t really matter. Really, it’s just as much a reboot as it is a prequel. There are also plenty of cameos that will keep fans happy. X-Men: First Class is the best X-Men film since X2: X-Men United.

 

4 out of 5 stars

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X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) – Movie Review

xmen days of future past

I love time travel science fiction; however, I’m wary of sequels based in traveling to the past in order to wash away problems created in previous films. The storytellers need to have a strong sense of purpose, some stylish originality, and a good amount of self-awareness in order to pull it off (think Abrams brilliant “Star Trek” reboot). Luckily, Singer has nailed it with X-Men: Days of Future Past. Granted, it teeters on convolution and an over-abundance of comic-lore, but the story plays out gracefully and the characters are a blast. Add impeccable sound design and some top-notch sci-fi action, X-Men:DOFP is a tight and fun superhero romp. X-Men:DOFP follows Wolverine, sent to the past by old Magneto and Professor X to meet up with young Magneto, Professor X and other X-Men in the 1970s, in order to stop an event that sets a course for world war which destroys all mutants and much of civilization itself. Confused? Don’t worry, the Inception-like levels of plot are better focused within the film, and the emphasis is more on the socio-political themes of the first two X-Men: equality, weaponry, freedom. On top of this, the period pieces look outstanding, and the performances are great, especially Fassbender, Dinklage, and Jackman, who is a Godsend as Wolverine. The ultimate selling point here is the action, which while a bit overly violent for its rating, is stellar, especially with some truly unique use of bullet-time slow motion. This helps us overlook the silly and unnecessary over-explanation and exposition spewing. With strong direction, impressive visuals, and taut enthusiasm, X-Men:DOFP is the best X-Men yet.

 

4 out of 5 stars

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Deadpool 2 (2018) – Movie Review

deadpool 2

We couldn’t help but ask “why?” when the sequel was announced, even though we knew the answer was money. There was little hope in improving on the first DEADPOOL (2016), and since that film’s director, Tim Miller, was tied up with upcoming projects for X-Men and Terminator, there was understandable concern that changing the recipe could result in huge disappointment. While it may not be an improvement on the first, only those with unrealistic expectations are likely to be disappointed … the rest of us will spend most of two hours laughing and enjoying the spectacle.

Director David Leitch exploded onto the scene with last year’s surprise action hit ATOMIC BLONDE, and his stuntman experience is once again on display with even more frenzied action and fight sequences this time out. As you might expect, there is no easing into the comedy routine here. The Opening Credits are laugh out loud funny and the only thing better may be the closing credits sequence, which is an instant classic.

No punchlines will be spoiled here, and it’s an obvious statement, but clearly no topic or subject, or at least very few, are off-limits. Targets of barbs include LinkedIn, YENTL, FROZEN, Fox & Friends, and well, the list goes on and on. You’ll likely miss 20 percent of the dialogue whilst laughing. The “Merc with a Mouth” breaks the 4th wall in atypical fashion – blurring the line through dialogue incorporated into the story. The self-awareness is comical in its own right.

Some familiar faces are back. Wade’s main squeeze Vanessa (Marina Baccarin) kicks off the “kids” discussion (Yikes!) and the couple seems to have settled into cohabitant bliss – never a good sign in a superhero movie. TJ Miller (despite his recent headlines) is back running Sister Margaret’s Bar, though his minimal presence is noted. Also back is Colossus (voiced by Stefan Kapicic), and his expanded role finds him turning Deadpool into an X-Men trainee at Professor Xavier’s School for the gifted. This occurs after tragedy strikes and we are introduced to some new players. Julian Dennison (so good in HUNT FOR THE WILDERBEAST) plays FireFist, and of course, the arrival of Cable (Josh Brolin) shows us what happens when a time-travelling Terminator type is out for revenge.

Snarking, mocking and irreverence remain in full force throughout, but if you happen to pay attention to the story, you’ll notice a (not-so) subtle transition taking place. The renegade superhero shifts from loner to team player, and even picks up some life lessons along the way – mostly related to loss and collaboration. Deadpool even forms his own team called X-Force, and one of the more interesting members is Domino (Zazie Beetz), whose superpower is luck (yep). We do get a surprise cameo, and there’s even a shot of Deadpool with no pants … and it’s markedly unsexy. The music selections are inspired, however, if you are unsure whether this movie is for you … it probably isn’t.

 

4 out of 5 stars

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X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) – Movie Review

xmen apocalypse

In 2000, Bryan Singer shook Hollywood with X-Men: a blockbuster that dared to take comic book superheroes seriously and intelligently. Now, in 2016, he bequeaths us X- Men: Apocalypse – the most dire sabotage to the genre’s longevity and credibility we’ve seen since…well, X-Men Origins: Wolverine (and, amazingly, just as excruciating). My theory? Singer has consciously treated his fourth X-Men as a piece of holistic, self-reflexive, self-loathing performance art. You wanted an Apocalypse? You got one, all right.

You’d expect the film’s critical lambasting proceeding the airtight Days of Future Past to be hyperbole. But no – X-Men: Apocalypse really is THAT intolerable. Many have pointed to the film’s Return of the Jedi “the third one is always the worst” quip turned horribly ironic prophecy for the First Class trilogy. But what if this wasn’t just a smarmy, overconfident boast backfiring hilariously? What if the film is literally cheerfully prophesying its own awfulness?

Screenwriter Simon Kinberg (whose ongoing employment after penning both X-Men 3 AND 2015’s Fantastic Four speaks to a deep, virulent masochism on Fox’s part) meticulously collects Every. Single. One. of the superhero genre’s most loathed tropes, and rubs them in audience faces to such a nauseating extreme I felt a rash breaking out over my corneas. Oodles of stilted, snoozy exposition, and uber-serious self-important melodramatic posturing? Check. Risible, shoehorned-in love scenes? Yup (“I’m on a beach” is in danger of becoming the new “Martha” or “Brutasha” of boneheaded superhero movie maneuvers). A plot that careens from subplot to subplot like a drunken mosquito, each only in service in the interests of (sigh) universe building, yet still unreasonably stagnant and draggy? Oh yes. A climactic blow-out so bloated with incompetent, aimless CGI it nearly outdoes Hulk’s murky mess of a lake battle that then devolves into a literal, beat-by-beat remake of Fant4stic’s mortifying, rushed final boss battle? Oh COME ON. This is beyond surgical, histrionically poor filmmaking. This is Fox watching the world burn.

You can practically taste Singer’s desperation to ape as many iconic X-tropes as possible for fear that he won’t get another chance, including clumsily reintroducing his original roster, but it only makes the film more contemptuous. At one point the plot gets – literally – hijacked just to devote the film’s middle third to an extraneous William Stryker/Weapon X Hugh Jackman cameo. And yes, in spite of the material’s almost unquenchable coolness, it’s a dud too. Singer can’t even be bothered to keep up the campy, pop-art political subtext of the last two X-outings, despite the almost irresistibly spoofable Reagan administration. But, lest you find his film insufficiently profound, he has a peeved Magneto…um…destroy Auschwitz. Um. Wow. I’ll just let the seismic tastelessness of that sink in, and scuttle on.

Surely, you plead, there’s solace to be found in our beloved cast of lovable mutants? Not so. Most of the movie alternates between the cast of actor-props practicing their constipation stares as they feign telekinetically moving/dissolving things. By the final third, the main attraction is Jennifer “Speechsnoring” Lawrence, Rose Bryne, and Sophie Turner attempting to aggressively under-act one another (Turner wins; we have an actual contender for ‘worst blockbuster performance ever documented’. Just remembering her gives me a headache). Tye Sheridan’s Cyclops matches them in petulant overacting, and is just as hatable for it.

It almost defies belief seeing the X-Men’s single most formidable foe squandered to such an outstanding degree. Poor, poor Oscar Isaac. It’s offensive enough leaving Apocalypse bereft of any context or explanation for his powers, resurrection technology, or world-destroying motivation, but he’s so swaddled in mountains of torpid Power Rangers prosthetics, and given nothing to do but whisper and stand with his arms outstretched, we nearly forget about him while he’s still on screen in front of us. As he innocuously and politely assembles Alexandra Shipp, Ben Hardy, and Olivia Munn’s human action figures to stagnate around a desert with him (for HOURS.), CGI farts swirl around his visibly slight frame signifying his (unseen) menace. Shameful is far too feeble a word for this travesty.

The rest of the cast phone it in with furious nonchalance. Michael Fassbender in particular, doesn’t bother hiding his contempt at how often he stands around vacuously, stuck with a pathos subplot so strained he – literally – bellows at God. James McAvoy is on inappropriately but hysterically fine comedic form for the first third of the film before being reigned in as a googly-eyed morality platitude slot machine. We get glimmers of charisma from Evan Peters’ delightfully snarky Quicksilver (and yes, he gets another slow-mo scene. Satisfied?) and Kodi Smit-McPhee’s bashfully goofy Nightcrawler (even if 13 years of FX improvements make him and his ‘bamfing’ look even less credible than Alan Cumming in 2003). Naturally, Kinberg is clueless on how to use either to anywhere close to their full potential, sidelining both and saddling Quicksilver with a motivation so cumbersome you can feel Peters rolling his eyes as the words tumble sheepishly out of his mouth. Recognizable side characters like Tómas Lemarquis’ sassy Caliban intrigue, but are virtual nonentities.

Still doubt Singer’s willful self-destruction? Dig this: the earlier X-Men movies fiercely advocated for education and tolerance, employing violence only to stave off hate- crimes. Apocalypse ends with Lawrence’s MystiKatniss droning on the virtues of militarism Above All Else. Here is the death of Xavier’s dream – so dismal that the only worthwhile embers are lazy callbacks to moments done better in other Bryan Singer X-Men films (McAvoy and Fassbender virtually shed tears of embarrassment reenacting dialogue exchanges from X-Men 1). If this is the rejigged time-stream after Days of Future Past, they may as well ship Wolverine even further back in time to put the whole sodden franchise out of its misery.

 

3 out of 5 stars

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Deadpool (2016) – Movie Review

deadpool

Wanna know what reading a Deadpool comic is like? It’s like waking up pants-less, ferociously hung over, and covered in a variety of cuts, bruises, and condiments, but then getting to eat a big stack of pancakes off the back of the hooker still sleeping next to you. Or, it infects your brain enough that those are the sort of similes you’re liable to cough up. And yet, for the reigning king of contemporary nerd humour, who plays like a cross between Kick-Ass and a Canadian Guardians of the Galaxy (smaller- scale and more belligerent), it’s been surprisingly agonizing bringing everyone’s favourite chimichanga-chomping Merc with the Mouth to the big screen in his own film. Thankfully, Fox’s common sense was tingling. So, fans: think long and hard (snicker) about the uncompromising, mostly amoral, full-on bonkers Deadpool movie you’d lacerate any limb for. Your wishes have finally been granted.

Debut director Tim Miller manages the impossible: a film quintessentially built on fan- service that doesn’t suck. It’s appropriate that Deadpool has borrowed DMX as his theme tune (at least until the George Michael kicks in), because this crudely charitable spirit ebbs throughout the flick. Want some deliciously profane, sex and hyper-violence-stuffed whimsy, replete with a Guardians-calibre hilariously on-point soundtrack, and the comic’s fourth wall-shattering snark integrated in a way that’s actually funny? How about daring to dream even bigger: a big studio production that mercilessly pokes fun at its skittish budget cuts, the former cinematic bungling of the titular antihero, and even the requisite Hugh Jackman appearance in every X-Men spin off – even the magical (jizzing) unicorn of a superhero origin story without waiting an hour for the lead to appear in costume. Want all of that? Wade gon’ give it to ya.

But don’t make the mistake of dismissing the film as a feature-length meme: Miller is savvy enough to understand there’s more to Deadpool than quips and dismemberment. Sure, the plot is about as flimsy and insubstantial as anything, but, like a messier, crunchier Guardians, that’s not the point. The point lies in the emotional and character beats. Like most of cinema’s funniest, Deadpool’s psychotic humour roots in real pain, and Miller doesn’t shy away, lingering on the physical and emotional pain of Wilson’s cancer and his multifaceted torture in attempting to cure it through forcible scientific mutation to a genuinely uncomfortable extent, to ensure that neither plays as gratuitous.

But lest you be feeling goth enough to slink off to the premiere of Blade III, the film’s real surprise is yet in store. For all the gleeful irony of its Valentine’s Day release, Deadpool is a surprisingly heartfelt, hilarious and tragic romance at its core. Yes, really. Only the most ‘Pool-schooled readers would recognize that peeling away the irreverence, pancakes, and phallic samurai swords reveals a hugely self-conscious, sentimental sap within, but Miller is clearly one of the initiated. Appropriately, some of the film’s most charming, hilarious, and devastating scenes involve Wilson daring to let his guard down enough to fall in love, and, like a reddit-rattling Phantom of the Opera, too crushingly ashamed to reconnect after his superpowered facelift leaves him looking like, as T.J. Miller’s Weasel puts it, “an avocado had sex with an older avocado”. This is about as profound as the character ever really gets, but there’s poignancy and pathos to be gleaned from Wilson’s grubby fumbling at sentiment, and Miller and Reynolds nail it here.

But don’t worry – we’re still miles away from the doom ‘n gloom of the average contemporary superhero austerity, and their generic ‘all the CGI sets crumble’ climaxes. Sure, Deadpool being pared down to three action sequences does draw attention to its comparatively tiny budget, but in this age of bloated superhero excess, seeing fights kept this lean is a godsend in itself, even if it weren’t clinched by a not-so-subtle hysterical recurring gag justifying their sparsity. Still, we’re hardly left wanting: the fights are short, snappy, creatively ultra-violent (“count the bullets” being the most meta and thrilling), and stylish as hell, just as they should be, while fellow X- folk Colossus (flawlessly animated and finally Russian; a hilariously po-faced foil) and Brianna Hildebrand’s amiably sulky Negasonic Teenage Warhead allow for some buddy banter and help keep the action beats bumping all the while.

There’s no secret that Deadpool is the Ryan Reynolds show though, and his burning passion for the character fuels a now career-defining performance. Imbued with the divine gift to make even the crudest riffing gleam with cheery, sparky charisma, Reynolds nails each beat of wacky humour, springy physicality and seething, volcanic rage and hurt so effortlessly there’s the uncanny feeling of him dripping ink from being lifted off the pages of a comic. Despite having to combat a disappointingly under-written part, Morena Baccarin matches Reynolds in adorable damaged snappiness, steering just shy of sultry, manic-pixie-dream-girl stereotype by keeping the right amount of crazy in her eyes. T.J. Miller is consistently hilarious and uncompromisingly unsentimental as Wilson’s buddy Weasel, while Ed Skrein as “that British villain” brings enough pompous, brawny sadism to make his Francis-ahem- Ajax only feel slightly generic. The under-used Leslie Uggams is perfectly salty as Deadpool’s crusty roommate Blind Al (not an abductee here…), making a recurring IKEA joke surprisingly sweet. Meanwhile, keep your eyes peeled for half of Vancouver in the background.

I’d waste time with more adjectives, but you get the idea, and can use a thesaurus as well as me. Basically, Miller and Reynolds have delivered the most cathartically satisfying cinematic Deadpool imaginable, sure to capture the hearts or slice off the heads of diehards or inductees alike.

 

5 out of 5 stars

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Logan (2017) – Movie Review

logan

“Nature made me a freak. Man made me a weapon. And God made it last too long.” Logan (Hugh Jackman)

God is allowing us to enjoy the last in the X-Men /Wolverine cycle with Hugh Jackman having endured 17 years of pumping up to give adolescent males a reason to get up for the demands of an unforgiving world. However, this film, Logan, is not all blood and guts—it presents an aging hero coming to terms with the natural degeneration of his greatness and his legacy.

It’s really all about how these mutants, who clearly represent the fringes of society with odd residents marginalized by the homogeneity of the world. Inevitability hangs over this substantial hero saga, especially an iteration that suggests what even super heroes long for— immortality through lineage or enduring philosophy.

As the founder of the mutant school, Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), tells it to Wolverine: “This is what life looks like: people love each other. You should take a moment . . . .” The film is suffused with a sense of the importance of family, not just Logan and his daughter, Laura (Dafne Keen), but also the new generation of mutants who must band together to survive.

The heroism turns on love rather than technology. The love is familial, in this case Logan discovering his daughter then sacrificing his safety to escort her to Eden, a place with other child mutants, who must hide from the dark forces bent on using them as soldiers. Although such bonding is the stuff of cliché, this film makes the growing love and sacrifice believable.

In the end, the search has been to discover what it’s like to live and love normally. Albeit briefly. Amidst the sturm and drang of violent, bloody super hero films, and this one has as much violence as any other, the discovery of homely love is the greatest adventure of all.

 

10 out of 10 stars

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X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) – Movie Review

wolverine origins

The problem with making a film about the origin of the mutant super-hero Wolverine is that he was never meant to have an origin. He was created as a throwaway character for an issue of The Incredible Hulk, then got picked up as a supporting character for the revamping of the X-Men. No one really thought he was important enough to have his own origin, but he became one of the most popular comic book characters of the last 30 years. That led to a series of attempts to graft a powerful and moving beginning onto a character that was only intended to be a badass with a cool gimmick. But instead of a simple but profound start like “Strange visitor from another planet” or “With great power comes great responsibility”, Wolverine got an origin that became increasingly convoluted and overwrought as more and more was added to it over time. That’s reflected in this movie, which actually crams at least three distinct origin tales into 107 minutes. Throw in the traditional “summer movie” boatload of explosions, gunfire and combat and there’s not much room left for a good story.

I mean, you know that scene where someone kneels over the body of a dead loved one and screams “Nooooooooo!” to the heavens? This movie has two scenes like that. It has a shot of Wolverine walking into the camera as a huge explosion goes off behind him. There’s a character who is clearly established as being a mass murderer, but then the film suddenly decides that being a mass murderer isn’t that big a deal. Not to mention that this is the first time I’ve ever seen a movie that literally stops to explain its own ending 15 minutes before it actually happens.

All that said, this isn’t a bad film. The action sequences are all pretty good, the acting is better than you usually get for this sort of thing and while the story is kind of a mess, it makes enough sense that you’re not left sitting in the theater thinking that every character in the movie is an idiot.

In fact, this is the rare action movie where the acting is probably the best thing about it. Ryan Reynolds and Kevin Durand are legitimately funny as mutants Deadpool and The Blob. Hugh Jackman is brilliant as usual. Danny Huston as William Stryker and Liev Schreiber and Sabretooth give probably the best performances of the film. It’s not always easy to play a younger version of a character already portrayed by a fine actor, but Huston makes Stryker just similar enough to the man from X-Men 2 and is able to give him a little more depth. Schreiber brings real emotion and a sense of legitimacy his furry mutant. His Sabretooth isn’t just a prop for Wolverine’s story, but a living, breathing character in his own right.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine tells a story that was never meant to be told. It doesn’t do it very well, but that it can do it at all without being a total disaster is something of an achievement. This movie doesn’t have a personal element that ever rises above the cliché and it has none of the broader moral or societal points that were found in the X-trilogy itself. This is just a big, dumb, fun “summer movie” and I suppose there’s nothing wrong with that.

 

6 out of 10 stars

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