X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST REVIEW

To prevent a horrible, destructive future, the X-Men must travel back in time to fix the mistakes of the past. Ironically, not only is this the basic outline of X-Men: Days of Future Past, it’s the reality of the X-Men franchise exemplified by this movie. By applying a massive scale time travel story, Fox and director Bryan Singer have made a bold play to undo many of the bumps and bruises the X-Men movies have hit along the way. While the odds are usually in favor of things becoming a messy, “reach exceeds their grasp” event, Singer and company do everyone a service by keeping their franchise building in check and delivering a tight and terrific standalone film that doesn’t miss a step.

In a future where mutants are near extinction and constantly hunted by unstoppable killer robots called Sentinels, the remaining X-Men, consisting of Kitty Pride (Ellen Page), Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellan), hatch a plan to keep this horrible outcome from ever happening. By having Kitty send Wolverine’s consciousness back to 1973 (as one does), he can then bring together a team of X-Men to stop the rogue shapeshifter Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from assassinating the creator of the deadly robots (Peter Dinklage) and setting things into motion. But it won’t be a walk in the park as the young Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) has all but given up on hope for mutantkind after the events of X-Men: First Class, and Magneto, better known as Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender), well, he’s still going to end up pulling some dickish antics.

Sound like a lot to process? It is but watching the movie you’d never know. The plethora of characters and separate story arcs are handled with a level of care that makes a certain recent superhero flick look shamed. Everything clicks together in a beautiful, coherent way that lets everyone shine and keeps the interest up throughout.

DOFP has so many good things going for it but the thing that stands out is how contained the story is. Yes, there’s more than a few instances of world building and sequel-setup by the end, but the main story can stand alone without relying on a “continued next time” scenario. Even those who haven’t seen all the X-Men movies should be able to pick up on things fairly quickly and above all, enjoy them. Behold the power of a well-planned story with heart.

Based off the Chris Claremont comic arc of the same name, DOFP capitalizes on the prospect of combining old favorites and new in a way that makes sense. Stewart and McKellan comfortably step back into a franchise that had all but written them out (as do a few other faces that would be criminal to spoil), while Jackman gets to apply his classic role this time as a sort of mentor to a forlorn Xavier.

But it’s the returning First Class members who carry the show. Xavier’s journey from lost to found is a highly compelling route for a character who normally is the most composed person in the room and McAvoy sells it. While blunt, the subplot about him throwing his gifts away via a big scary needle in the arm shows that this character probably can’t get any lower. But hey, this X-Men, the overlord of obvious metaphors. Fassbender’s cool, debonair disposition as Magneto continues to make his take on the character a constant center of attention. The bromance these two characters share is continued in a most satisfying way as they both hit forks in the road that will pit them against each other, despite their mutual admiration.

With X-Men and X2 director Bryan Singer back at the helm and First Class director Matthew Vaughn helping out on story, DOFP takes things one step further beyond the finale of the most recent film in actually feeling like an X-Men movie. Classic characters assembling in a pivotal storyline as stadiums fall from the sky and the future hangs in the balance are some things that show that the franchise is upping the ante and refining everything it can. The action is great and the character interplay has never been better.

However, nothing shows more promise for the series’ direction going forward than what the filmmakers have done with Evan Peters’ Quicksilver. Originally assumed to be a throwaway inclusion appease character rights technicalities (Disney also has plans to utilize the character in next year’s Avengers sequel), the entire sequence featuring the character is like a whole new ballgame. Peters’ presence is an unexpected jolt of lightning as the character elevates the entire sequence he’s involved into a high-octane funny-fest that showcases a good dose of blockbuster fun. Every second of this amazing scene shows that this character was indeed bought in with a purpose: amusement, among other things.

Admittedly, continuity sticklers are going to have a hard time with the film, as the creative team have all but thrown out a strict timeline. At least one previous film is totally ignored in the timeline, as are several technicalities that may be worth a head scratching. But that’s ok because the filmmakers have now reached the point of realizing that continuity won’t be an issue as long as you deliver a great film.

DOFP only rarely suffers from slack pacing in an otherwise taught plot and has only a few instances of sub-par visual effects that have plagued the series on and off. What really would have been welcome (and may be the case for next time — who knows?) is a more vibrant color palette that embraces the comic book origins. Not that things need to go full tilt on the saturation but a more refined color scheme on a comic book movie like this could do wonders.

Looking to the past to cater to the future can be a wise choice. It certainly was for this franchise going forward. X-Men: First Class set up a possible direction going forward and Days of Future Past jumped all over it. The X-Men renaissance is upon us at last.

8.5/10

Advertisements

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 VILLAIN BREAKDOWN


So, a subtle dig, a plot device and a cartoon walk into a Spider-Man movie...

After its second week in domestic theaters, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was already labelled as a failure. With waning intake and less than stellar reviews (ASM 2‘s 54 percent on Rotten Tomatoes is a little upsetting compared to Spider-Man 3‘s 63), the movie is still making a pretty dull splash. 
Which is a shame because, despite its obvious problems (and there are several), the film still manages to be a lot of fun and delivers the most entertaining Spider-Man sequences yet.
While most of my issues came with story and studio involvement, it’s come to my attention that many people are singling out the villains of the piece and making some dreaded comparisons to Raimi’s final Spider-Man film (not ok, guys).
Full disclaimer: I do not think the villains of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 are perfect — far from it. However, in looking at how recent Marvel Studios films have been handling their villains, or even the most recent Spider-Man films, it seems wrong to glide over the more admirable decisions made with the characters.

Electro

Everybody’s favorite punching bag. So many Schumacher name-drops with this one it hurts.

From the moment it was announced Electro would be the main villain of this sequel, it was a little confusing, seeing how Electro was never known for his amazing depth. Essentially never progressing beyond a bank robber bestowed with electrical powers,  the sky was the limit in creating a character around Electro. What they went with was derided but why is a tad conceited.

The one Schumacher reference that is acceptable is in the one-liners Jamie Foxx is given. “It’s my birthday, time to light my candles” is a true blast from the past to superhero movies of yesteryear. Like, before they thought they had to write realistic dialogue, yesteryear.

The rest of the anger is geared towards the Riddler-esque origin story that draws so many comparisons. There’s a bunch more to be said on this later, but for now, let’s just point out that so many facets of Electro’s origin and motivation make an effort to differentiate themselves from former Spidey villains. He’s not an ambitious scientist who acted as a father figure to Peter Parker — he doesn’t even know Peter Parker. He’s just a poor shlub with a raging inferiority complex who had a hell of a day, got extraordinary power and decided to take it out on others because of his mistreatment. Say what you will, but at least it’s believable.

Electro is a truly cinematic villain. Even though the character is on the back-burner for a good chunk of the film, Webb finds some truly awe-inspiring ways to have him occupy the screen. More than one sequence in the third act was jaw-dropping in the sheer scope of this character’s imposing power.

The real fun in this character’s core is when you start looking at him in a way that breaks the fourth wall, specifically in relation to “hardcore” Spider-Man fans. Max Dillion/Electro, in many ways, can be taken as a dig against a poisonous faction of the Spider-Man fanbase that works against the good of the character. After Spider-Man comes in contact with Max Dillon by saving his life, Dillon becomes obsessed with the hero, believing they are best friends. When things go wrong for the downtrodden geek, Max is finally given some power to shape his life. Problem is, we soon see he’s not the most sound person out there and decides that if he can’t be the most important person to Spider-Man, the world can’t have Spider-Man.

Fandom is a very tumultuous thing that is fraught with emotions and entitlement. The sad thing is that, while certainly exaggerated, Webb and company may have tapped into some of the more unattractive aspects of Spider-Man fans than they probably intended with Electro. Like many others, fans of Spider-Man have showcased some awfully frustrating behavior since this series started. Some have their own unwavering expectations of the character and do not react well to any minor changes. Worse is the feeling that there shouldn’t be any more Spider-Man unless it’s their Spider-Man. Like a “patriot” who doesn’t recognize their country, there are indeed fans who work against their own beloved franchise being produced. What better way to frame this damaging idea than having the supervillain be a proponent of it?

Keep in mind, this is total rambling from someone who thinks way too much about this stuff, but it’s a layer of context that can give you more appreciation of a scorned blue guy shooting lightning at a dude in spandex.

Green Goblin

It’s not the most popular opinion but the Green Goblin is one character I think was due for a redo. Yes, it’s a lot to keep track of now, with ASM 2‘s iteration being the third screen Goblin in 12 years, but the original Spider-Man‘s portrayal wasn’t done justice and Harry in Spider-Man 3 wasn’t any sort of recognizable Goblin at all.
So was this the Goblin we’ve been waiting for? Well, let’s just say they’re getting there…
Everything about this Goblin should be right. His look is perfectly gnarly and Dane DeHaan plays Harry with a charming creepiness that sets up his fall into villainy from the start. They’ve got two of the biggies down with the right look and a great actor to play him. Now if only there was a good reason for him to be in the movie.
There’s good stuff going on with the Green Goblin but the only reason he’s in the movie is so that we can have the ending that was foretold to happen eventually. And what a hard-hitting, heartbreaking ending it is. The set up was nice but the payoff felt obligatory. For a monumental villain like GG, it feels like it needed to be more. The fact that he goes down like a punk after a two-minute fight didn’t help matters any.
The redeeming factor to all this is the promise that DeHaan’s Goblin will have a presence in the upcoming movies, assuring us this isn’t a one-and-done for the Goblin. Like I said, they’re getting there.

Rhino


For as cheesy and over the top Alexiskspow8geb / Paul Giamatti is as the Rhino, I must say that, of the three, this is probably the best utilized villain in the movie. Rhino, more so than Electro, has never been a font of depth. As a perpetual tank Spider-Man goes up against time and time again, Rhino doesn’t hold a lot of water as a main antagonist. However, as a bookend to the movie, he works pretty well. A thwarted thug given a mech suit at the end is a good through-line to begin and wrap the movie and show where Spidey’s at. He’s the one villain that is used for the appropriate amount of time and that shows a little hope for the franchise’s future villainy. 

GODZILLA REVIEW

Do you hear that? That far off rumble is a mega-million dollar hit approaching, dripping with anticipation and assumed dead. Yes, Godzilla has been busy selling Snickers and Taco Bell for the past decade but the King of Monsters hasn’t had much screen time as of late – until now. Gareth Edwards’ take on Toho’s classic film creature comes at a time where big is the new norm and the only option is to up the ante. Godzilla is the very definition of a massive summer movie, with a scope unmatched by most. But in blowing things up to epic proportions, everything else (namely the human element) feels awfully small.
After a tragic nuclear accident 15 years earlier, Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) has moved on, living with his wife and son and working as a bomb diffuser for the military. But his nuclear scientist father, Joe (Bryan Cranston), is convinced the events of that fateful day were no accident. After investigating the nearby Japanese town, the pair discovers that something monstrous has been hidden. With this new creature wreaking havoc across the globe, humanity’s only hope may have arrived in the form of an ancient alpha male, recently awakened to show everyone who’s boss.
In bringing Godzilla back, Edwards plays coy for much of the film, saving the reveal of the big boy himself for much later. In place of showcasing early on, Godzilla plays up a strong sense of dread and unchecked disaster; unseen forces are revealed only after the terror of the unknown sinks in.  The mood of Godzilla is key and the filmmakers have found just the right mix of dour and exciting to make a Godzilla flick that feels modern and classic.
Seeing the enormous beast in action on the appropriately large IMAX screen is a cinematic match made in heaven as Godzilla’s sheer force is totally realized. It’s everything surrounding this that keeps the movie from ascending.Godzilla is a monster movie that is viewed from the people on the ground. Problem is, the people on the ground are boring and joyless. Taylor-Johnson is mostly a cardboard catalyst for action and Ken Watanabe’s Dr. Serizawa and his associate (Sally Hawkins) are mainly there to look awestruck and give the necessary exposition. Only Cranston turns in truly charismatic work—despite being severely under utilized. Many characters are meant to be throwbacks to the original archetypes of the series, but they are archetypes and not much more. The lack of character is compensated well enough in the film’s first half, as Edwards’ slow-build approach and the desire for answers are in full swing. It’s only once the monsters start taking center stage that you begin to realize that the most uninteresting part is getting in the way.
Exciting as monster-on-monster beat downs may be (and they certainly have their charm here), the film has a frustrating rhythm that makes the final hour of the film feel monotonous: humans try to get something done in the midst of a monster attack. The idea itself may sound cool but without escalation and something special for each sequence, it all seems like it’s going through the motions.
The film pulls more than one bait and switch, just as the audience thinks it’s getting the goods and then has to wait longer. It’s an interesting tactic, but one that doesn’t pay off because of the underwhelming mixture of human and monster; more than once the unsatisfied feeling “is this it?” overtakes the viewer.
With a sequel already in motion, Godzilla has made a colossal comeback. It’s now apparent that the King of Monsters has found the right tone and scale to connect with audiences; the next major battle for this franchise will be finding good characters and blending them in the right way.
7/10

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 REVIEW

What is and what should be — it’s a concept that resonates with Spider-Man movies in general. There’s always some terrific aspect to them that keeps us coming back and more than one flaw that keeps them from being great movies.

Watching The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is like observing a ripped up Mona Lisa or a Debussy piece with breaks every three minutes. The pieces are right in front of you like a shattered mirror and you can see the greatness lying in the work as a whole but things don’t pull themselves together to reach that point.

Spidey’s second outing has so many great moments to it that it’s impossible to dismiss as a failure. In fact it’s the best portrayal of Spider-Man on screen ever and a complete blast of a summer blockbuster. But with a little retooling here and there, it could have been the best Spider-Man movie ever and, to boot, a terrific film.

Picking up shortly after movie one, Peter Parker is loving being Spider-Man but can’t quite get over that promise he made to Captain Stacey to keep Gwen out of it. Overcome with guilt, he decides its best to call it off. But we all know they’re too cute to not be together, so cue the will they, won’t they routine. In the meantime, Peter’s old friend Harry Osborn returns under a desperate new purpose, secrets about Peter’s dad emerge and an uber Spidey fan has a bad day and becomes a dangerous menace.

As stated, the Spider-Man we see here is a true joy. Marc Webb brings to life the high-octane fun of being Spider-Man with eye-popping web swinging scenes, wise cracks and and a vibrant, color-saturated aesthetic that ditches the more grounded look of the previous film and embraces the hyper-real aspects of the material. Every scene, from the opening truck chase, the Times Square showdown and a profound scene of Spidey confronting an omnipresent Electro manipulating the electricity in a blacked out building had me saying “this is what watching a Spider-Man movie is supposed to be like.”

While the film ditches the grounded look of movie one (a worthwhile choice), the grounded, relatable characters of this new Spider-Man universe remain in full force. Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker is as endearing and brilliantly watchable as his costumed counter-part, something that can’t be said for the Raimi’s trilogy’s star. He is funny, touching, adorable, wounded, smart and capable all in one.

The terrific thing about the character of Peter Parker in Webb’s series is that he has, well, character. He is a quick-witted scientist who has some actual traits and skills outside his powers (specifically his problem solving when it comes to his malfunctioning web shooters and his experiments to make them more electricity-proof).

Likewise, Emma Stone is completely charming as Gwen Stacey. With her we have a female character who has goals and ambitions outside of just domestic instincts and is just as brilliant and capable as her male counterpart. No wonder Garfield and Stone’s chemistry on screen is so palpable. As much as I would re-watch the action scenes of ASM 2, I would just as easily revisit the “ground rules” scene between Peter and Gwen. While their back and forth over being together may become tiresome quickly due to its inevitable conclusion, the story they share on screen is the meaty heart of the film and a touching, adorable heart at that.

With great casting and chemistry, ASM 2 shows us that you don’t need a shoehorned love triangle to make a blockbuster’s romance angle work spectacularly.

Taking another sizable detour away from previous Spider-Man movies is the music of the film. Some may find the music by Hans Zimmer and his super group (consisting of Johnny Marr and Mr. “Happy” himself, Pharrell Williams) too new age but for me it only helped the overall aesthetic. Maybe it’s just that I grew up with the rockin’ ’90s guitars of the Spider-Man animated series or the wild tunes of The Spectacular Spider-Man, but Zimmer understands the youthful, reckless sound that better fits the wall crawler. The only aspect that was unnecessary was the choice to use whispered lyrics in Electro’s theme, which just became redundant for the character’s overall motivations.

But like so any big films these days, the script by Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci was not solidified enough. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 suffers from more of the same fragmented, heavy-handed Hollywood script writing that goes through rewrite after rewrite. Many have said that the film is overstuffed with villains, ala Spider-Man 3. It’s true that the film has one too many plates spinning but it’s not due to the antagonist’s influence: it’s due to all the Peter Parker dilemmas that are going on.

Between Gwen, Harry, Electro and the truth about Pete’s dad, there isn’t enough time to devote to any one storyline to make it truly satisfying. Wrapping up Richard Parker’s storyline just came off as obligatory and could away with truncating the whole thing to two scenes to stop drawing so much attention toward such an uninteresting area (including choosing a better opening for the film). Meanwhile, if Gwen and Peter had stopped playing cat and mouse, it would leave more room open to spend more needed time developing another area.  

The Amazing Spider-Man 2‘s villains never reach the point of apathetic embarrassment that 4/5 Marvel movies do, but we still could have used more time with them. Jamie Foxx’s Max Dillon has an interesting enough backstory and Foxx works well with the material but Electro exits the picture for a good chunk of the story to make room for Harry Osborn and his plight.

In an interesting move, we pick up Harry’s story at a point where he is already a bit of a sick puppy (literally). It helps to start off having Harry in a desperate place to buy into his pre-determined transformation into the Green Goblin, but his arc still ends up feeling rushed. Worst of all, the Green Goblin himself ends up being little more than a plot contrivance so that the filmmakers could deliver the ending they wanted (and a complete punk plot contrivance, at that). Thank god for Dane DeHaan’s natural charisma in the role. He manages to be both charming and creepy in that slimy sort of way. Seeing him in future Spider-Man movies will be nothing but a benefit to the series.

(In case you’re wondering, fuck the Rhino. He was utilized as much as he needed to be, but yeesh, some of his material near the end is cringe-worthy.)

But what an ending we got. In a complete gut-punch, Marc Webb gets ballsy and pulls the rug out from under us. The last 15 minutes (apart from the one groan-tastic area of the film) are a thing of beauty and do really redeem the entire film that set it up.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 could have been a near-perfect film, but instead it is just a fun one. No, it is the fun one. The action of the film is infectious and gorgeous to witness and the performances by Garfield, Stone and DeHaan are excellent. Obvious story failings aside, the thrilling positives are enough to justify admission price. IMAX 3D is an absolute must (just be wary if you’re afraid of heights). While not a masterpiece, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has its heart in the right place and, with the right guidance, can hopefully pull it’s tangled web together for next time.

7/10