Tag Archives: Quicksilver

X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)

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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.

Movie Review: Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

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The Avengers was an ambitious experiment that surprisingly succeeded despite the naysayers and the weight of expectations. The idea that you could create an ensemble superhero feature by taking a bunch of characters with their own franchises was risky, but thanks to the genius of Joss Whedon it turned out to be one of best superhero films of all time.

And so I was excited about the inevitable sequel, Avengers: Age of Ultron, but I was also wary of unreasonable expectations. After all, what else could they do to improve on what was essentially a near-perfect formula?

As it turns out, not a whole lot. Joss Whedon tried a few new things and did all he could lift the bar again on the coolness and wow factors, though when you boil it down, Avengers 2 is basically the same movie as its predecessor. For a lot of people, that’s good enough.

You have the same superstar cast with a few notable new additions, some fresh faces and some familiar faces from existing franchises (I won’t spoil it, but suffice it to say there were will be surprises unless you’ve been following the production closely). You have eye-popping special effects that turn the screen into a beautiful and coordinated mess of flying bodies, projectiles and explosions. You have an intelligent villain who controls an army of fairly useless robots and appears to have a bunch of mysterious schemes, but all he really wants to do is what all supervillains want to do: destroy Earth. And of course tensions will flare between our heroes and all will seem bleak, but in the end they realise — yet again — that unity is their greatest strength.

Running alongside this proven formula is all the stuff the comic book geeks want. Most of it will likely go right over he heads of regular viewers, but from what I understand there were plenty of well-placed leads into other characters and comics in the Marvel universe that set up the future direction of the franchise as a whole (you can read up on all that in your spare time if you can be bothered).

Despite not doing a whole lot different, Avengers 2 is still an entertaining blast fans of the first film will no doubt enjoy. Whedon finds creative ways to pit different members of the Avengers against each other and show off cool new powers and gadgets, while also giving existing characters opportunities to develop and evolve. Much of it is fairly shallow but I suppose it’s better than not trying at all.

The action itself is also varied and clever so that it’s not just a rehash or imitation of what has been done before. As usual, it’s all heavily reliant on CGI, though it’s done seamlessly enough that it allows you to be immersed in the action. I wouldn’t go as far as to say it’s an upgrade from the original, but it’s at least different enough so you realise you’re not watching the same film.

The cast is of course spectacular, with Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye (also known as the shittier members of the Avengers) getting upgraded roles to get equal screen time — at least — with the main leads of Robert Downey Jr, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo and Chris Evans. Of the four, it felt like only Chris Evans did not display noticeable signs of character fatigue. Downey Jr, in particular, simply looks like he’s fed up with playing the same character over and over, and he’s pretty much said as much interviews about the future of Iron Man.

The two new characters introduced are Soviet twins the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor Johnson) — who coincidentally played wife and husband in Godzilla last year. The former has mind control powers and what appears to be a similar power to The Force, while the latter has the ability to move extremely fast. Both were kind of disappointing, to be honest, partly because of the strained Russian accents and partly because they don’t get much time to develop, especially Quicksilver, who pales in comparison to the version of the character in X-Men: Days of Future Past played by Evan Peters.

The titular villain, Ultron, voiced by James Spader, received a lot of attention throughout the production but ultimately wasn’t as impressive as I thought he would be. He’s formidable and intelligent, much like Loki was in The Avengers, but he didn’t add as much to the table as I had wanted. Spader’s voice is great, but never did I feel like he was truly capable of defeating the Avengers.

On the whole, Avengers: Age of Ultron isn’t as fun as The Avengers, but Joss Whedon fuels it with just enough enthusiasm and excitement for me to rate the experience as on par with its predecessor. As a piece of popcorn entertainment there’s not much I can complain about. He took the “why fix it if it ain’t broke” approach, upped the ante on the action and special effects, took the characters to the next level in their natural progressions, added some faces he knew fans would like to see, created new branches for future storylines, and even threw in a few nice little surprises.  It is of course not as fresh as the original, and it’s also not as funny, though all things considered the film takes the Avengers formula about as far as it can go. From here, it’s clear that Marvel has even bigger things planned for the future, and while the Avengers could very well return in future films, their presence and involvement will have to be very different to what it has been.

4 stars out of 5

PS: There’s a short mid-credits scene this time, but don’t bother sticking around until the end because there’s nothing there.

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

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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.