Tag Archives: Days of Future Past

X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)

xmen_apocalypse_ver18_xlg

X-Men: Apocalypse is Fox’s answer to Warner Bros’ Batman v Superman and Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War. Like those blockbusters, it’s also an action- and effects-packed event film stacked with superheroes, stars and extremely high stakes. I loved First Class and Days of Future Past, the first two films in the McAvoy-Fassbender reboot, and so I was really looking forward to Apocalypse, with the brilliant Oscar Isaac as the titular mutant villain with powers unlike anything we’ve seen before.

But for whatever reason, the hype surrounding Apocalpyse just prior to its release has been surprisingly subdued. It might be that audiences are finally starting to suffer from superhero fatigue, or perhaps it’s the lukewarm early reviews it has received from some critics. There are claims that it’s boring, underwhelming and lacks logic, and I’ve even come across accusations of Jennifer Lawrence phoning it in with her performance as shapeshifter Mystique.

Well, I have no idea what all these critics are talking about, because I just watched it and thought it was awesome. I don’t know if it’s because of lowered expectations, but Apocalypse was nearly everything I had hoped it would be. Amazing cast, solid action, just enough drama and humour, and a fantastic villain worthy of the film’s title. It’s almost as though I watched a different version of the movie.

The plot is of course very simple. Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), possibly the most badass mutant in history, awakes from his slumber in the 1980s and decides to…er…bring about the apocalypse on Earth. But first he goes about landing his Four Horsemen, and you’ll know who they are if you’ve seen the posters and/or trailer. I know what you’re thinking — why would someone as powerful as Apocalpyse even need minions? The film doesn’t spell it out, but I thought the reason was obvious.

Who can stop him? The X-Men, of course. Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) is now running his school for gifted kids like it’s Hogwarts, with Hank McCoy, aka Beast (Nicholas Hoult), by his side. Meanwhile, Mystique, kind of a hero among mutants since the events of Days of Future Past, is still out there doing her thing, while antihero Erik Lennsher, aka Magneto (Michael Fassbender), has moved on with his life.

The film also introduces (in some cases re-introduces) us to younger versions of familiar names, like Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Angel (Ben Hardy) and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee). Also returning to reprise their roles are Rose Byrne as Moira MacTaggert and Evan Peters as Quicksilver. Additionally, there’s a nice little extended cameo that’s unfortunately been spoiled by the final trailer.

First of all, I want to discuss the character  of Apocalypse. Yes, he is cliched in that he’s an all-powerful villain hell bent on destroying the world for some reason. But honestly, with a name like that, what else could he have been without diverting too far from the comics? If you accept that the constraints of the character are unavoidable, everything else about him is awesome.

For all the negativity of when the photos of Apocalpyse were “leaked” more than a year ago, I thought he actually looked pretty good for a blue skinned villain. I’m glad they went the prosthetics route rather than CGI, giving him a sense of realism the character badly needed. The voice, added and modified in post-production, is also really cool (it’s hard to explain, just have to listen for yourself).

Apocalpyse’s assortment of powers is also impressive, and we at least get to know why he is as powerful as he is. I think the film gets it right in terms of just how powerful and invincible he is. He needs to be powerful enough to be intimidating and more formidable than anything we’ve seen in the past, but not so omnipotent that it becomes silly or ridiculous in the sense that the good guys still have to be able to stop him somehow in the end.

And what really elevates Apocalypse above just another cliched villain is the marvellous performance of Oscar Isaac. Despite being covered head to toe in heavy make-up and prosthetics, he carries the character with the right amount of menace, persuasiveness and god-like mentality. I’m sure the character would have been much less convincing without an actor of Isaac’s calibre and gravitas.

As for the other performances, first prize goes to Assbender. This dude always brings it, and once again he makes Magneto the most interesting character in the X-Men universe. He was bending asses left and right like he was bending metal. As with other X-Men films, it’s an ensemble cast with no real main lead, but in this one Magneto provides the emotional core in the same way Mystique did in Days of Future Past. His counterpart, McAvoy, also brought it as Professor X, and I was glad to see him contribute to some of the lighter moments of the movie, especially in his interactions with Rose Byrne. And I also found no fault with Jennifer Lawrence whatsoever. Sure, she’s not going to be winning any Oscars as Mystique, but I really couldn’t tell why her performance justified complaint. She wasn’t even in her blue makeup very much in this one. Take away her flatter delivery on a couple of the cheesier lines and she’s as good as she’s always been in this franchise.

Kudos to the kids who play the younger versions of Cyclops, Jean Grey and Nightcrawler too. Cyclops has always drawn the short straw in these X-Men movies, so it’s good to finally see him get a bit of an origins story and a much-needed personality. I’ve always thought of Tye Sheridan as a potential star, and hopefully he can continue as the future leader of the X-Men if they continue to make further entries in this franchise. Sophie Turner has a pivotal role as Jean Grey and she seems to have brought that Sansa Stark vulnerability and hidden strength along with her to this role. Kodi Smit-McPhee is also a standout, making Nightcrawler one of the most likable characters in the movie.

The one who steals the show again is Evan Peter’s Quicksilver, who has another fantastic super-speed sequence and delivers the best comic relief in the same way that Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) did in Civil War. Speaking of Civil WarApocalypse also does a similarly good job of spreading the love between the characters so that everyone gets enough screen time and their own chance to shine. Ensemble movies like these are like giant puzzles with lots of moving pieces, and director Bryan Singer nails the complex task impressively.

Having said that, Apocalypse is by no means a perfect movie. While Apocalypse may have reasonable motives for his actions, it’s not as apparent with his Four Horsemen. Other than Magneto, their reasons for following a villain determined to destroy the world are rather weak, especially Psylocke (Olivia Munn), who looks great in her skimpy outfit but doesn’t get to do a whole lot to develop her character. In fact, we have almost no idea who she is or what she’s about.

The action sequences as a whole are fine, though I felt the fight scenes could have been a little more creative. Nonetheless, it’s still better than what we got in Batman v Superman. The climatic battle at the end is long and well-executed. While it’s not in the same league as Civil War’s “airport scene”, it does make good use of the characters and their respective powers. Unfortunately, I did find all the destruction a little numbing and lacking in spectacle. If you’ve seen the planet get annihilated once, you seen it thousand times, and in this regard Apocalypse does not offer any new intrigue or perspective. One reason could be because we hardly even see any humans in the movie. Although we’re talking about the end of the whole world, the stakes appear to only involve the mutants, and all the human deaths (and there are a lot of them) aren’t made to feel like they matter at all.

The special effects are generally good enough, though there are some moments — particular the wide angle shots of landscapes from afar — look too CGI-ish. I also wasn’t a fan of the video-game quality of the opening sequence.

I also thought the movie had a good dose of comedy — many tongue-in-cheek and self-referential — notwithstanding some very heavy scenes, but I felt some of the transitions between the different tones could have been smoother.

Lastly, the 144-minute running time is long, but the storytelling is tight enough to not make the film drag. Could it have been shorter? Of course. But it’s not a huge problem because the pacing is sound and the narrative isn’t all over the place like that other superhero movie released earlier this year (cough, BvS, cough).

In all, X-Men: Apocalypse is a really enjoyable and satisfying experience that should set the blueprint for Marvel’s Infinity Wars in that it will also be about a bunch of superheroes with different powers teaming up to take on a single supervillain (ie, Thanos). I’ll have to watch First Class and Days of Future Past again, but at the moment I would rank Apocalypse just behind those two, which from memory had stronger plots, more of a “wow” factor and the advantage of freshness. However, in the scheme of all X-Men movies (there are nine if you include Deadpool and two Wolverine movies), Apocalypse is definitely in the top 5 for me, possibly even higher.

4 stars out of 5

PS: There is a post-credits scene, but without any knowledge of the comics it doesn’t really mean anything to me.

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

xmen

X-Men: Days of Future Past, my second-most anticipated film of 2014, has done the impossible by living up to the loftiest of expectations.

I was sceptical at first when I heard that they were making this film, an ambitious attempt to combine the old X-Men franchise (X-Men, X2 and The Last Stand) with the new, younger reboot of X-Men: First Class, while also not forgetting about the two spin-off Wolverine films. It was potentially more difficult than The Avengers, as it not only features characters across different sub-franchises but also adds the wrinkle of time travel to the mix.

But I had forgotten one thing about this seventh X-Men film: Bryan Singer, the director of the original X-Men and X2, was back at the helm, and anyone who could managed to handle multi-layered complexity of The Usual Suspects should not be underestimated. And sure enough, Singer delivers, giving us arguably the best one yet.

What makes Days of Future Past so fantastic is what made it seem appealing on paper — bringing together all our favourite characters, past and present. There’s the old and young Professor X (Patrick Stewart and James McAvoy), the old and young Magneto (Ian McKellen and Michael Fassbender), a young Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), and a young Beast (Nicholas Hoult), together with the familiar faces of Storm (Halle Berry), Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page), Iceman Shawn Ashmore) and Colossus (Daniel Cudmore). The only guy who didn’t have to worry about all the ageing was of course the ageless Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), who once again takes centre stage as the face of the franchise.

The genius of the film is making all of these bits and pieces fit together, given it is virtually impossible to give everyone sufficient screen time and worthy stuff to do. The solution turned out to be quite simple, with the story writers (Simon Kinberg, Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman, with Kinberg penning the screenplay) going for what made the most sense. That is, tailor the story to focus on a handful of the franchise’s most popular characters and Hollywood’s hottest actors of the moment, and allow them to drive the time travel narrative. At the same time, the lesser characters are not forgotten either, though they are limited to key supporting roles and timely cameos. A bit of fresh blood is also injected with the introduction of a few new characters, most notably Chinese superstar Fan Bingbing as portal opening mutant Blink, to liven things up and appeal to the international market.

The result is a fairly straightforward and surprisingly unconvoluted storyline about a dystopian future ruled by unstoppable mutant-killing robots called Sentinels, who have just about wiped out all of humanity. To save the world, Professor X and Magneto come together in China and get Kitty Pryde to use her powers to send the consciousness of Wolverine — the only one whose body and mind can withstand the rigours of distant time travel — back into the body of his younger self to change the course of history. This task involves convincing mortal enemies, the young Professor X — who has become a shell of his former self and is being looked after by a young Beast — and the young Magneto — who is in a high security cell after assassinating a historical figure — to work together and stop the young shapeshifter Mystique from killing Boliva Trask (Peter Dinklage from Game of Thrones), and thereby setting off the Sentinel program.

So in one fell swoop the plot manages to combine the thespians playing the old and young Professor X and Magneto (Stewart, McAvoy, McKellen and Fassbender); make Wolverine (Jackman), the face of the X-Men and its most beloved mutant, the film’s central character; substantially elevate the status and screen time of Hollywood’s “it” girl, Lawrence, as well her rising star beau in real life, Hoult; and introduce a new human character in the shape of the award-winning and super-duper awesome Dinklage. Instead of overwhelming audiences by splitting time and subplots between a whole bunch of characters, the story is driven by these eight brilliant core actors (and six characters) — and it’s all by design.

One supporting character who nearly stole the show for me was Quicksilver (Evan Peters, seen recently in American Horror Story), the lightning speed teenage mutant whom the X-Men seek to help them bust Magneto out of prison. He’s a fabulous character, both in terms of his abilities and his demeanour, and owns the most impressive set-piece sequence in the entire film when we see what the world feels like for him when he moves at top speed. It’s great to know he’ll be back in the 2016 sequel, X-Men: Apocalypse (and make sure you stay for the post-credits scene right at the end for a sneak preview!).

So Days of Future Past is a lot of fun, even though it appears to take itself quite seriously (albeit with the occasional joke or one-liner). It’s a really clever film, not just for the way it brings the characters together through the time travel concept, but also in the way it redefines history through mutant interference, from the Cuban Missile Crisis and the JFK assassination to the Vietnam War. The action sequences and are also executed well, allowing each of the mutants to show off their powers in eye-popping fashion, but without feeling we’re just watching a bunch of special effects. It’s amazing what good actors and adept choreography can do.

The final product is an intelligent, satisfying, well-acted and thoroughly entertaining X-Men flick that is epic in scope but stays under control by limiting the focus to the franchise’s most marketable stars and characters. There are plenty of nods and winks to the earlier entries in the series and the cameos will make loyal fans very happy, but even if you are a first-timer to the franchise the plot is unconfusing enough to be easily followed. The 132-minute running time is only a tad long, and there are perhaps one or two brief lulls along the way, but on the whole there isn’t much to complain about Days of Future Past. 

4.25 stars out of 5!

PS: Interestingly, the character of Quicksilver (a different version of him) will also appear in the next Avengers movie, but he will be played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson of Kick-Ass and Godzilla fame.

My 15 Most Anticipated Movies of 2014!

While I am still a fair distance from completing my “worst of” and “best of” lists for 2013, I am already getting very very excited about the movies that are going to hit our screens in 2014. This year promises to be an epic one in terms of big screen blockbusters, much-anticipated sequels and remakes, high-profile projects of top directors and some intriguing fresh stuff. I’m excited.

Without further ado, these are my 15 most anticipated movies of 2014, ranked in descending order. Stick around after the list for an even longer list of movies that missed the cut (that I really want to and will probably see anyway) and more!

15. Jupiter Ascending

jupiter

The Wachowskis (The MatrixCloud Atlas) always tackle big, ambitious projects, which is why I am really looking forward to their next one, Jupiter Ascending, about a universe where humans are at the bottom of the evolutionary ladder. It stars Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum and Sean Bean, who will almost certainly die in it.

14. The Amazing Spider-Man 2

amazing spider-man-2 poster

The second installment in the Spiderman reboot should be better than the first, which I felt was a little too similar to the Sam Raimi/Tobey Maguire one from just a few years ago. I do like Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone as the leads more, and this time the villains are played by favourites Jamie Foxx (Electro) and Paul Giamattie (The Rhino). Also good to see the kid from Chronicle (Dane Dehaan) score the Harry Osborne role. The trailer looks awesome too.

13.Captain America: The Winter Soldier

sebastian-stan-bucky-barnes-sm

Even though I had anticipated it to be lame, I ended up really enjoyed the first Captain America, and I think the sequel, set after the events in The Avengers, has the potential to be even better with an old buddy coming back as the enemy and the addition of screen legend Robert Redford. I think it will dovetail nicely into The Avengers sequel and provide more grit and emotional impact than its predecessor. Despite all of this, I wouldn’t have put it in my top 15 had I had seen the trailer, which blew me away.

12. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1

mockingjay

No trailer out yet but if the first two films in The Hunger Games trilogy are anything to go by, then the first half of the finale, Mockingjay, promises to be one heck of an ending. I must admit, this was close to missing the list because I had already read the book and I’m still peeved that it has it been split into two parts for greedy reasons. And the second reason makes me concerned that there could be a lot of fillers and not a lot of action. Still, I am really looking forward to it. Besides, anything with Jennifer Lawrence in it makes this list.

11. The Hobbit: There and Back Again

gandalf

After about 100 hours of on-screen drama and action, Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit will finally conclude, and I don’t doubt that it will be awesome. Admittedly, some people have been disappointed with the first two installments, but I remain highly intrigued as to how Jackson will continue to expand the LOTR universe and bestow upon us the final chapter, which is where all the action is — at least in the book — anyway.

10. Edge of Tomorrow

edge_of_tom

Tom Cruise may be certifiably insane, but he still knows how to pick good roles in blockbuster movies. Edge of Tomorrow is pretty much Independence Day meets Groundhog Day/Source Code — a soldier fighting against aliens is caught in a time loop of his last day. It could be bad, but it could also be spectacular, and my guess is leaning to the latter. Check out the trailer and try to tune out the annoying music.

9. Godzilla

godzilla2014_poster2

I know, I know, Godzilla has been done a gazillion times and the last time Hollywood gave it a go in 1998 it was widely panned. But there is cause for optimism this time because it is directed by Gareth Edwards, maker of the critically acclaimed Monsters from 2010, and stars Kick-Ass himself, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, as well as Heisenberg, Bryan Cranston. And after a slew of successful monster movies in recent years such as Cloverfield and Pacific Rim, it may be that Hollywood has finally figured out how to tackle the iconic beast.

8. Transcendence

transcendence

The premise is a bit iffy — a terminally ill scientist downloads his body into a computer — but because it stars Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Kata Mara, Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy and Paul Bettany I’m very interested in seeing how Transcendence pans out. At the very least it should be a visually stunning film as it is directed by Wally Pfister, cinematographer of Inception and The Dark Knight. If they approach it intelligently it has the potential to be this year’s Inception or a stylish cult classic.

7. Non-Stop

Non-Stop-Liam-Neeson

It’s no secret that I think Taken is one of the best action flicks of all time, which is why I am sooooo looking forward to Non-Stop, which may have a lame title but reunites Liam Neeson and director Jaume Collet-Serra. In short, this is shaping up to be Taken on a plane (and all the passengers are Maggie Grace), and while I doubt it can re-capture the magic of Taken it should still be a white-knuckle adrenaline ride that promises to feature a lot of serious ass-kicking.

6. Robocop

robocop-2-behind-the-scenes-joel-kinnaman-01

I’ve been hearing about the Robocop remake forever, and this year it’s finally hitting our screens. The original is a classic and one of the films I loved as a kid, and reports claim that this will be a clever reboot that is fresh while paying homage to its predecessor at the same time. And of course it will have spectacular special effects and tremendous action sequences. The trailer definitely raises the expectations.

5. Exodus

exodus-christian-bale

Director Ridley Scott, Christian Bale, Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul, Sigourney Weaver and Joel Edgerton. There’s no trailer yet and not a lot of information about it, but Exodus is gearing up to be one epic “interpretation” of the exodus of jews from Egypt as led by Moses. Batman, by the way, is Moses! I’m not exactly sure what to expect from this but I am definitely intrigued because the names attached to the film indicate that it should be totally excellent.

4. Interstellar

interstellar-2014_teaser-trailer

Anything Christopher Nolan makes, I watch. And how’s this for a synopsis: “A group of explorers make use of a newly discovered wormhole to surpass the limitations on human space travel and conquer the vast distances involved in an interstellar voyage.” Oh, and the film stars Anne Hathaway, Matthew McConaughey, Jessica Chastain and Michael Caine. ‘Nuff said. Could be the movie of the year.

3. Gone Girl

gonegirl

One of the best books I read last year was Gillian Flynn’s psychological thriller Gone Girl, which promptly made me go out and read her other two books, Dark Places and Sharp Objects. I was interested when I heard about a film adaptation and exploded with excitement when I heard David Fincher was directing it. Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck, believe it or not, seem like excellent casting choices too. Done right, this story about a housewife who disappears and leaves her husband as the prime suspect could leave my jaw on the floor just like the book did.

2. X-Men: Days of Future Past

xmen

I’ve been a fan of all the X-Men movies and thought the “young version” with Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy (X-Men: First Class) was the best one yet. This one promises to blow all of them away. It’s an extremely difficult and ambitious project to include pretty much all the characters from the old and new franchises — yes, that includes Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry, Ellen Page and everyone else — but if director Bryan Singer can pull off the time travel concept it has the potential to be the best superhero movie EVER.

1. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

dawn

Of all the films coming out this year, there is one I want to see more than any other — and it’s not even close! After the mindblowing awesomeness of Rise of the Planet of the Apes — which was surprisingly my favourite film of 2011 — can you blame me? There’s no James Franco this time but Andy Serkis’s Caesar still is, and he’s joined by the likes of Gary Oldman, Kerry Russell, Kodi Smit-McPhee and Jason Clarke. With improving special effects, the apes are looking better than ever, and the action appears ready to take off from the get-go. I can’t wait!

Read on to see the 21 movies that missed the cut.

Continue reading My 15 Most Anticipated Movies of 2014!

Movie Review: The Wolverine (2013) (2D)

wolverine-poster

Oh cinema, how I have missed thou!

Feels good to be back at the movies after a lengthy hiatus of three weeks. For my triumphant return, I chose The Wolverine, the highly anticipated “sequel” to 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine but chronologically speaking it’s the film that comes immediately after 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand (the third film in the original trilogy).

The Wolverine received a lot of hype in Australia because a significant portion of the film was shot there, including at Sydney Olympic Park, Darling Harbour, Parramatta and Cockle Bay. And of course, Hugh Jackman had hyped it up more by admitting disappointment with X-Men Origins: Wolverine but boasting that The Wolverine had gotten it right as the type of Wolverine film he had wanted to make all along.

To be honest, I thought X-Men Origins: Wolverine was not as bad as it was made out to be — flawed but perfectly adequate. On the other hand, while The Wolverine is definitely a better film, I’m not sure it quite succeeded in living up to Jackman’s promise. It’s a more personal Wolverine film with more pain, emotions and depth, and the action is more varied and exciting — but at the same time it didn’t captivate me like the best X-Men films (such as 2011’s X-Men: First Class — review here) and was dragged down by a sluggish middle act.

The story for this film was apparently provided by one of the most popular arcs from the Wolverine comics. Our hero is battling demons from his relationship with his one true love, Jean Grey (a role reprised by Famke Janssen), and is living a meaningless existence until he runs into Yukio (Rila Fukushima), a mysterious Japanese sword-wielder who is on a mission to bring him to Japan to meet a dying man from his past. The dying dude happens to be a head of one of the largest companies in the world, and the Wolverine becomes caught up in the complex Japanese world of family politics, ninjas and yakuza henchmen (naturally, there are some obvious Japanese cliches littered throughout the film, but I don’t think any of them come across as culturally offensive). Oh, and of course a few mutants here and there.

There are some spectacular action sequences in this film thanks to the unique Japanese setting. One of my favourites takes place on a speeding Shinkansen (bullet train), and another involves the Wolverine taking on a whole clan of ninja assassins. There are a couple of others I can’t mention because of spoilers.

The film is driven by the performance of Hugh Jackman, who proves for the sixth time that he was born for the role. It’s not just the muscular, veiny appearance — you can actually sense the passion he has poured into the character in every movement on the screen. In the realm of movie superheroes, Jackman will rank right up there with Christopher Reeve and Robert Downey Jr as actors who fit their “costumes” better than anyone else.

The supporting cast is also surprisingly good. Apart from the aforementioned Rila Fukushima, there is newcomer Tao Okamoto (a svelte Japanese model), The Last Samurai actor Hiroyuki Sanada, Will Yun Lee (yeah Sleeping Dogs!) and Russian actress Svetlana Khodchenkova. None are exactly household names but there are no weak links as all hold their own in key roles.

On the whole, I enjoyed The Wolverine but was a little disappointed it wasn’t the superhero masterpiece I had hoped for. It’s a film I think hardcore Wolverine and comic fans will love for the attention to detail and truthfulness to the source material, but casual fans might struggle to remember or understand the convoluted backstory and appreciate the ties to rest of the X-Men universe.

3.5 stars out of 5

PS: Remember to stick around for a mid-credits scene that gives us a sneak peek into the next instalment of the X-Men franchise, next year’s X-Men: Days of Future Past, which is already shaping up to be one of the most epic superhero movies ever by combining all prequels and sequels and everything in between from the X-Men universe.

PPS: The film was directed by James Mangold (Walk the Line, 3:10 to Yuma). He does a decent job, but I wonder how the film might have turned out had it not been turned down by Guillermo del Toro and Darren Aronofsky.