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X-Men: Days of Future Past

The “X-Men” movie franchise has had a bumpy ride. It started off strong, but then stumbled with “X-Men: The Last Stand” in 2006 before hitting its lowest point with “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” in 2009. It has been on a steady upward swing ever since and once again found its footing with 2011’s “X-Men: First Class.” But the newest film, “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” is on a whole other level. This is easily the best “X-Men” movie to date, a wildly entertaining, perfectly acted, visually stunning comic book movie that reaches levels few other comic book movies have. The buzz so far this year has been all about the latest “Captain America,” but after sitting through this, don’t be surprised if you find yourself wondering what all the fuss was about.

In the early 70s, a doctor by the name of Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) had a grand plan. Due to what he saw as an inherent danger to the human species by mutants, he proposed the creation of robots called sentinels that could sniff out mutants and exterminate them. The plan was initially turned down, but after his death by the hands of Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), the government moved forward with it by utilizing Mystique’s DNA, which allowed these sentinels to adapt to the powers being used against them. Now, nearly all mutants, as well as regular humans who have the dormant mutant gene in them, have been wiped out. Only a select few remain, including Professor X (Patrick Stewart), Magneto (Ian McKellen) and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman). One of the remaining mutants, Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page), has the ability to transport someone’s consciousness to the past, allowing them to alter history to their liking. The process can be damaging to one’s brain the further back in time one goes, but luckily, Wolverine has regenerative abilities and volunteers to take up the task. With time running out, he is transported back to 1973 to try to convince the younger Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and Professor X (James McAvoy) to help him stop Mystique from killing Trask and, thus, ending the mutant/human war before it begins.

It sounds complicated what with the constant back and forth and jet-setting narrative that jumps from New York City to Moscow to China to Vietnam to Paris to Washington, DC and back again, but it never is. “Days of Future Past” is a brilliantly constructed film, a cohesive whole in every way. Not once does it hit a narrative lull or forget to follow up on side stories. It takes dozens of characters, from both the past and present, and juggles them all flawlessly, with characters disappearing only after their narrative usefulness has concluded. No single character is included as fan service, but rather because they are necessary to tell the story at hand.

The beauty of it is that “Days of Future Past” never sacrifices story for spectacle. Everything that makes the X-Men characters great is intact here, including the overall themes of tolerance, acceptance and doing right to others despite the wrong they may do to you. In today’s world of rampant homophobia and other forms of bigotry, the X-Men have never been more relevant and “Days of Future Past” benefits from a setting where such bigotry was more commonplace and where America had just been on the losing end of an unpopular war. Because of the latter, the call to war against the mutants seems less like a necessity than it does a need to retain political legitimacy, to show the people of America that the country is still powerful. Despite its historical setting, the film works today by highlighting increased political tension that leads to unrest, a tension that exists today and seems to only be getting worse.

Even if you took away the terrific story and thought provoking themes, “X-Men: Days of Future Past” would be a mesmerizing film, thanks to some of the most mind-blowing superhero action ever put to screen. In particular, one scene focusing on Quicksilver (Evan Peters) is guaranteed to be one of the best, most exciting and funniest moments you’ll see all year. From the moment the film begins, a high bar is set with its action, but instead of dropping off until the slam-bang finale as many films do, it actually gets better as it goes on. Aside from some needless 3D effects, the visuals are astounding and really bring these scenes, and the overall world, to life. Director Bryan Singer, coming off of a two film slump with “Valkyrie” and “Jack and the Giant Slayer,” has never been better. The things he manages to pull off and the control he shows over what would in lesser hands be a cluttered mess makes this his single most impressive endeavor to date.

“X-Men: Days of Future Past” is a special movie. Even those who are finding themselves diagnosed with superhero fatigue after the onslaught of films we’ve been given over the last few years will find their interest reinvigorated after this. Singer does with this what Joss Whedon tried to do with “The Avengers,” but failed: he skillfully juggles each character, giving each important player just enough screen time to make them narratively relevant, and creates a meaningful story amidst the insane action. You could even argue that whereas each of the Avengers were primarily off doing their own things in that film (Iron Man flying around the buildings, Thor fighting his brother on top of one, Captain America fighting baddies on the ground, etc.), the X-Men use their powers in tandem, as a singular group fighting a common enemy, not as multiple heroes spread across a large area, which gives them more of a dynamic in the otherwise hectic action scenes.

“X-Men: Days of Future Past” sets a new standard for superhero movies. It reaches about as close to perfection as is possible and is guaranteed to be one of the best of the year. X-Men fan or not, you’re going to want to see this one.

X-Men: Days of Future Past receives 5/5


Jack the Giant Slayer

One question kept lingering in my mind as I watched Jack the Giant Slayer: how do the giants procreate? Aside from some physical abnormalities, they’re basically big people who sleep, eat and produce all the bodily fluids one would expect, yet they’re all male. Where are the women in this land of the clouds? Without them, do they reproduce asexually? If so, where are the (comparatively) little ones? If they aren’t able to procreate, are they immortal? Normally, a lack of answers would bother my obsessive compulsive brain, but in this case, they gave me something to think about while I was otherwise bored out of my mind. Jack the Giant Slayer is a lackluster production all around that features thin characters stuck in an even thinner story that stumbles along boorishly, never really building all that much excitement despite its titular promise of giant slaying.

Nicholas Hoult, who was so good in last month’s Warm Bodies, plays Jack. He’s a poor farm boy whose father told him stories of a mystical land full of giants when he was younger, which gave him hope to one day go on a grand adventure. Little did he know, however, that those stories were actually true and his adventure was going to mimic the stories he loved so much as a child. After making a deal with a monk, he finds himself in possession of some magical beans, one of which sprouts a giant beanstalk that soars to the sky and above the clouds. Unfortunately, this beanstalk takes his home with it, with the kingdom’s princess, Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson), inside. He, along with the king’s men, Elmont (Ewan McGregor), Roderick (Stanley Tucci) and Crawe (Eddie Marsan), begins his ascent to rescue her.

It’s not unreasonable to expect a fantasy tale to have an imagination. Thinking outside the box is paramount to the genre’s success, but Jack the Giant Slayer is as bland as they come. This fantasy world in the clouds is severely lacking in the fantastical elements to make it come alive, aside from the actual giants, of course. The land is virtually no different than the one beneath them at the bottom of the beanstalk. There are grassy knolls, waterfalls, small ponds, forests and little else. Much of the film’s supposed appeal comes from the exploration of this land in the moments leading up to the confrontation, but, despite an abundance of CGI, there’s nothing particularly interesting to see.

More startling than its lack of imagination, however, is a narrative that is stretched so thin that it feels like two movies in one. After about an hour or so of wandering around and a moment or two of heroism, the film comes to a conclusion that one might expect the first part of a multi-part franchise to have. But then it starts again. It almost feels like the filmmakers shot the first half of the film, realized it wasn’t long enough to be justified as a feature length movie and expanded the story with the more action packed part two. Even more surprising is that when the film actually ends, it sets itself up for an actual sequel that could be set in modern day.

But making a sequel to an idea that wasn’t particularly interesting to begin with seems unlikely. Jack the Giant Slayer won’t be heavily panned, however. Some will see the charm in it, mostly due to a script that is a lot goofier than the trailers have led us to believe, complete with groan inducing puns. “He wouldn’t spill the beans,” one character says while trying to extract information on their whereabouts from that aforementioned monk. Although this goofiness will appeal to some, it’s a pandering type of goofiness, one that’s trying to trick viewers into thinking it’s amusing while simultaneously hiding its lackluster story. When you tack on a useless 3D that creates constant double vision and even further darkens some already visually dark scenes, as most films in the format do, you have something that simply doesn’t work. Director Bryan Singer is a talented guy who, unfortunately, seems to take more flack these days for the underrated Superman Returns than praise for his knockout X-Men movies and The Usual Suspects, but he failed to bring Jack to life.

Jack the Giant Slayer receives 1.5/5