X-Men: Apocalypse

May 27, 2016 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Oscar Isaac
Directed by: Bryan Singer (“X-Men: Days of Future Past,” “X2”)
Written by: Simon Kinberg (“X-Men: Days of Future Past,” “Fantastic Four”)

When we last left the X-Men movie franchise proper, Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine – forever the series’ MVP – had traveled back in time in “Days of Future Past” to undo some stuff that had been done in both the movie’s universe and the real world. “DoFP” brought together the differing timelines and actors, erased little-loved entries like “X-Men: The Last Stand” and “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” and absolutely destroyed any sense of a coherent timeline, which “Deadpool” took a jab at earlier this year. The longest-running comic book movie series was reinvigorated and, 16 years after we first met the cinematic mutants, most of them are back (played by younger actors) in “X-Men: Apocalypse.”

This time around, Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and his team of mutants, including Hank McCoy (Nicolas Hoult), Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) and Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan), are pitted against the first and most powerful mutant ever, Apocalypse (Oscar Issac). After being buried under a pyramid for 5,000 years, Apocalypse is awakened in part by the bumbling of CIA agent Moira Mactaggert (Rose Byrne) that allows sunlight to activate his golden power pyramid, or something. Anyway, Apocalypse gathers his four horsemen, including Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Angel (Ben Hardy), Psylocke (Olivia Munn) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) to rid the world of humanity and rule whoever is left. Also in the mix is Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) and her crusade to free persecuted mutants around the world, pulling Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) from the clutches of an underground fighting ring. Oh, and don’t forget returning fan-favorite Quicksilver (Evan Peters) and an extended cameo featuring a berserk, metal-clawed hero we’re all too familiar with.

With so many new (well, new-ish) characters to introduce alongside the old ones, director Bryan Singer often leaves the narrative momentum of “X-Men: Apocalypse” standing around and waiting while different cast members are dropped in on. Fassbender’s time as a Magneto/Erik gone straight with a wife and young daughter is the most compelling plot line in the movie, but Singer and screenwriter Kinberg keep yanking us away to check in on boring stuff like Xavier and McCoy visiting Mactaggert at the CIA to remind us of a long-forgotten plotline that had Charles erase Moira’s memory at the end of “X-Men: First Class.” In another bright spot, Evan Peter’s Quicksilver gets a stand-out slow-motion sequence in the movie, this time set to the Eurythmic’s “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” along with some more screen time. But Lawrence’s plot line feels tacked on and unnecessary, the result of the producers trying to come up with something interesting for the megastar who they signed to a contract before her fame went supernova.

And for a being with god-like power, Isaac’s Apocalypse sure does a lot of pointless dicking around in his quest to take over the world, perched atop a pyramid for what seems like 20 minutes making a new helmet for Magneto out of sand while the plot spins around to everyone else in the cast. Even what should have been a quick cameo by the so-called Weapon X drags on minutes too long, and, like the rest of the movie, ends up feeling like nothing more than table-setting for whatever is next. Fox had righted the X-franchise ship, so let’s hope this crummy mutation doesn’t affect the series again.

X-Men: Days of Future Past

May 23, 2014 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Jennifer Lawrence, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender
Directed by: Bryan Singer (“X-Men,” “X2: X-Men United”)
Written by: Simon Kinburg (“X-Men: The Last Stand,” “Sherlock Holmes”)

In this golden age of comic book movies, the X-Men franchise is the unlikely elder statesman. Bill Clinton was still president when the first film hit theaters in 2000, for crying out loud, and since then we’ve had two different sets of Spider-Man movies, three different versions of the Hulk, and we’re working on our second go-round with both Batman and Superman. And the X-movies, with their often blatant disregard for continuity with one another, fly in the face of the clockwork-precision the current slate of Avengers-based blockbusters Marvel and Disney are pumping out. It’s no secret that Hugh Jackman’s Logan/Wolverine is the glue that holds everything together, anchoring the everything from the best (“X2”) and worst (“X-Men Origins: Wolverine”) in the series with his definitive take on the most popular X-Man. “X-Men: Days of Future Past” is no different, only this time it shrewdly sends the mutant MVP back through time to undo some of the franchise’s most glaring missteps in an adventure that ranks among the series’ strongest.

Opening in a dystopian future — and weirdly, seeming to shrug off the post-credits sequence of “The Wolverine” — “Days of Future Past” finds Logan, Professor X (Patrick Stewart), Magneto (Ian McKellan), and a small group of X-Men fighting for their lives against shape-shifting killer robots known as Sentinels. Originally meant to hunt down mutants, the Sentinels’ programming changed to include taking out mutant-sympathizing humans as well. In an effort to end the war before it begins, Professor X hatches a plan with Kitty Pride (Ellen Page) to send Logan’s consciousness back through time into his younger body. His goal is to unite the younger Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lesherr (Michael Fassbender) to stop Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) from assassinating Sentinel creator Dr. Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), an event that set humankind on a mission to eradicate mutants from the world.

Returning to the franchise for the first time since “X2,” director Bryan Singer seems to have one goal in mind: clean up the mess the series has become. Singer and screenwriter Simon Kinburg rely heavily on the audience being familiar with  most of the events in “X-Men,” “X2,” “X-Men: The Last Stand,” “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” and the prequel “X-Men: First Class” (again, oddly, the superior “The Wolverine” is largely ignored), and the duo make a massive effort to smash all of that into a timeline that makes sense within itself (spoiler: it never does). Thinking about it too much can make your head hurt, and thankfully the film is exciting enough that you don’t need to worry about it. At this point Jackman IS Wolverine, and his performance is as badass and funny as ever. The “First Class” cast, led by Lawrence, McAvoy, Fassbender and Nicholas Hoult (as Hank McCoy/Beast) all shine as well. “Days of Future Past” ultimately serves as a giant reset button and with Singer back at the helm, the future of the franchise seems brighter than ever.

Valkyrie

December 11, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Tom Cruise, Kenneth Branagh, Tom Wilkinson
Directed by: Bryan Singer (“Superman Returns”)
Written by: Christopher McQuarrie (“The Usual Suspects”) and Nathan Alexander (debut)

Tom Cruise has been on some major public relations detail over the last year. When the release of United Artists’ first film under his watchful eye “Lions for Lambs” didn’t do as well at the box office last year as the studio would have liked, Cruise probably realized his stock had plummeted into uncharted territory.

What happened next?

Cruise joined the cast of “Tropic Thunder” to lighten things up (and was hilarious), zipped his lips about anything having to do with Scientology, and admitted that some of the philosophical messages carelessly blurted from his mouth were, to say the least, arrogant.

Now, with “Valkyrie,” the second film under his United Artists umbrella, Cruise is attempting to reintroduce himself to an audience on a clean slate. While it still might be a hard sell to his most diehard haters, Cruise has made a fairly entertaining thriller worthy of look especially from history buffs. The film follows one of the many assassination attempts on Nazi leader Adolf Hilter during WWII.

Cruise plays Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, a German solider who has been recruited by his peers to help assemble a team to overthrow Hilter’s government. While the plan itself may take a while to understand completely – they want to use one of Hilter’s own military procedures against him – screenwriters Christopher McQuarrie and Nathan Alexander write the accounts with such precision, it’s easy to get back on track if you’ve lost your way for a few moments.

The real challenge for director Bryan Singer (“X-Men”) is to drive the suspense throughout the film even when the audience (unless they failed World History class) knows the end result. Singer succeeds not because he has his head wrapped around the material entirely, but because he pushes the story forward the way he should: as a suitable action thriller with political undertones and not vice versa. You might know how the story ends, but it’s still intriguing to watch it all unfold.

Forget whether or not Cruise is using the correct accent (isn’t it funny that if he did use a German accent we’d be hearing from the same critics how fake the accent sounds?), the man can still command a screen. He, along with actors Kenneth Branagh and Bill Nighy, do a fine job making us empathize for the “good-guy” Nazis and have us still keep our distance. Singer also does a great job by never over-vilifying the soldiers in the Third Reich we actually want to see dead. The whole thing plays out like a football game on Sunday afternoon between two teams you don’t like. You really don’t have anything invested in the players, but it’ll be entertaining to watch them compete…at least until halftime.