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.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

December 16, 2013 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Ian McKellan, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage
Directed by: Peter Jackson (“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”)
Written by: Peter Jackson (“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”), Fran Walsh (“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”), Philippa Boyens (“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”) and Guillermo del Toro (“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”)

With three “Lord of the Rings” films that have a total running time of over nine hours, Peter Jackson has the tendency to be a long-winded filmmaker. Of course, with the three “Rings” movies, Jackson was also adapting three separate novels into three separate movies, spanning an epic tale. But with J.R.R. Tolkein’s “Rings” prequel “The Hobbit,” Jackson made the decision to stretch one 300-page book into three films. With the first of the new series, “An Unexpected Journey,” opening last year, Jackson turned in an overlong, plodding and decidedly juvenile entry to the “Lord of the Rings” franchise. Looking to improve, the Oscar-winning director returns with the second chapter, “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.”

“The Desolation of Smaug” follows Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellan) and a band of dwarves on a quest to reclaim their Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor. When they reach their destination, a dangerous dragon named Smaug is awaiting them.

One of the most notable details of “The Desolation of Smaug” is the inclusion of the “Rings” trilogy favorite Legolas played by Orlando Bloom. Though he is nowhere in the actual “Hobbit” novel, the character injects a little bit of life into “The Hobbit” film series, adding to the most interesting fight sequences of the film. Though many of the scenes are occasionally goofy and overlong, one particular sequence involving Legolas that takes place on a river is among the best scenes in the film. Though Legolas is at least an entertaining character, he isn’t necessarily interesting, which is a problem throughout “The Desolation of Smaug.” There is a certain sense of separation from every character, not giving the audience any room or reason to become attached. Relationships such as the one with brand new elf character Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and a dwarf are forced. Even the film’s protagonist Bilbo is relatively quiet and unmemorable.

“The Desolation of Smaug” also suffers from serious pacing and length problems. The first section of the film is filled with long conversations that are difficult to follow and keep attention, which is an odd choice when opening a film. Casual fans to the franchise might be well served to take a short refresher course on the events of “An Unexpected Journey” to avoid being a little lost. Beyond that, the film occasionally stretches itself too thin making it easy for interest to dwindle.

In a pleasant turn, the tone of “The Desolation of Smaug” is more serious and adult, a far cry beyond the silly songs and humor seen in the first. Still, “The Desolation of Smaug” remains a flat and dull entry into the “Lord of the Rings” franchise. Perhaps Jackson can turn in a final entry on par with the original trilogy, but with two subpar attempts and an outstretched narrative, he has miles to travel.