X-Men: Days of Future Past

This week, we’ll take a look at the newest installment in the X-Men series, X-Men: Days of Future Past. Directed by Bryan Singer, it stars Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, and Jennifer Lawrence. It is rated PG-13 for intense sci-fi violence and action, some suggestive material, brief nudity and language.

In 2023, the world is in ruins, plagued by dangerous mutant-hunting robots called Sentinels. These robots, hunting down both mutants and the humans that aid them, have the ability to adapt and counter all mutant powers, leaving Charles Xavier (Stewart),  Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (McKellen), and the rest of the X-Men powerless. Logan/Wolverine (Jackman), is sent back into the past 50 years, to prevent Mystique (Lawrence) from triggering a series of events that lead to the creation of Sentinels. Logan must then find and convince young Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and young Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) to aid him in his quest.

9 out of 10

As I’ve established, I love superhero movies. The X-Men series, however, has always disappointed me. X2 and X-Men were both solid, but nothing to write home about. The Last Stand and the two Wolverine movies were a mess. X-Men: First Class was the first time I thoroughly enjoyed an X-Men film. Regardless, tt seemed like X-Men: Days of Future Past was destined to fail. It was a sequel that featured time travel. That never seems to work out well. Yet somehow, Bryan Singer pulled a rabbit out of his hat and produced the best film this series has seen.

The best thing about the movie is unarguably the scene that features Quicksilver. American Horror Story star Evan Peters was a perfect fit, portraying Quicksilver with a cocky, lovable charisma. The scene where he is running around a room, changing the deflection of all the bullets and messing around with the slow moving scene around him sets the tone for the rest of the movie. Charismatic, action packed, and pure fun. The movie carries this tone, but does not lack in the serious, dramatic moments that make it so great. Singer manages to find the balance between the hilarity and tension that allows you to take the comic book movie seriously while also having fun doing it.

quicksilver

The inclusion of seemingly millions of different mutants was pretty cool as well. The beginning featured present day Kitty Pryde, Iceman and Storm, while flashing back to the classic Beast, Magneto, and Professor X, all regulated by the consistency of Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine. In the same way First Class introduced various mutants, Days of Future Past brought many new mutants into the picture, while also bringing back many from the old movies, including Kitty Pryde, Iceman, Storm, with cameos from Rogue, Cyclops, and Jean Gray. Its a lot of fun to see all these different mutants to some extent, and Days of Future Past did a really good job of preventing it from getting muddled and excessive. WIth so many mutants, you gotta be able to control how you use them, and Days of Future Past did so.

The movie did a great job of controlling its plot as well. Somehow, I was able to see past the confusion that time travel presents. The movie had a very distinct narration that allowed the audience to understand what was happening. There are some questionable questionable details (JFK’s a mutant??) and some unexplained plot points (what ever happened to Havok), but overall, I could very clearly understand what was happening (at least compared to other time travel movies). The intriguing plot, mixed with engaging, fun action sequences, a very clear and balanced tone, stellar overall performances from the entire cast, and a noticeable lack of Halle Berry (jokes), push Days of Future Past into the upper echelon of superhero movies.

In the end, there are a lot of questions. Some that were left unanswered, some that have set up the future series, and some that I’m still trying to rack my head around. Though the abundance of questions is slightly irritating, they lead to  many possibilities for future films. The X-Men series has essentially been granted the ability to start fresh without actually eliminating the events of the first few movies. Singer got rid of all the messy continuity issues with a simple flick of the wrist. The future, especially X-Men: Apocalypse, is looking really bright.
~Vig

9.5 out of 10

I love the X-Men. I love Wolverine. Love Professor X. And even (Despite my better judgement) Cyclops (Who happens to be my fave, yes).

What I don’t totally love is the X-Men movies.

Let me be clear, I love a good amount of them. A handful of them. Two of them. It breaks down as follows:

X-Men: Good. I like it. They got the characters spot on (Especially Wolverine, Magneto and Xavier). Its tough to say what I don’t enjoy about it but I think it comes down to this: it has less fuel than its tank can hold (In my eyes, you could say this about most of the films). X-Men is a pretty multifaceted series with a lot of ideas but this film kept it simple. Simple worked fine, though.

X2: Boom. Here’s the full tank. Ranks right up there with Spiderman 2 as one of the best pre-Dark Knight superhero endeavors. This one isn’t a step up from the first, its a goddang leap and then some. Cool and compact, this one was strong enough to carry all of the weighty ideas X-Men’s got.

X-Men 3: This one did not. Last Stand isn’t unwatchable, it’s just disappointing. It deflated the whole franchise. It siphoned 75% of the gas from that aforementioned metaphor-tank of our’s. And it’s mainly not disappointing because its bad at setting up all of the usual conflicts, it’s bad because it does but it just can’t deliver.

X-Men: First Class: This is the first X-Men movie I ever saw. Ho-lee God. I went because I saw historical figures and superheroes together in one film and I got all of that and so, so much more greatness. My brother and I (Two first X-Meners) were actually debating mutant politics at dinner after the showing. Need I say more?

So where does this one rank? Right up there with First Class.

Yeah, usually there’s a lot of buildup to a lukewarm or negative assessment in these things but, no joke, this was one of the most enjoyable movies I’ve seen in three years or so and is definitely among the top superhero movies of the decade. Let’s review.

Wolverine has to go to the past to save the future mutants from extermination (Inter-franchise crossover, ahoy!) so he rounds up Prof. X and Beast and springs Magneto (Why? It’s loosely explained but Fassbender’s performance lets me buy it) with the help of a beautifully played Quicksilver. Nevermind that that past sentence alone could carry a two hour movie, that’s just the premise.

magneto

What follows, I can assure you, is pure X-Men, unleaded. This movie doesn’t dilute any of the serious topics with cheesy throwaways but it doesn’t lose any of its fun. It moves pretty briskly but never stops building up. And seeing these characters from two different era interact is every bit as rewarding as the Disney Marvel characters crossover in The Avengers.

No single character carries the movie because, mainly, there is no one under focus. Sure, we follow Wolverine but you’d be surprised how much focus isn’t on him,as much as we love him. It’s on the X-Men, plain and simple. Moreover, it’s on the mutants.

By the end, the continuity’s messed up but the mutants are all together and (With Apocalypse coming) I really wouldn’t have it any other way.
~Zach

IMDB: 8.1
Metacritic: 74
Rotten Tomatoes: 92%

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The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug

This week, we’ll be looking at the newest sequence in The Hobbit series, the Desolation of Smaug. The Lord of The Rings trilogy is perhaps the greatest trilogy of all time, so the hype for The Hobbit, both the first one and this new one, has been pretty substantial. Starring Martin Freeman, Ian McKellan, and Benedict Cumberbatch, Desolation of Smaug is rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy violence.

The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug continues the journey of Bilbo Baggins (Freeman), Gandalf (McKellan) and the gang of dwarves after successfully crossing through the Misty Mountains on their way to reclaim the dwarves’ treasure from the Lonely Mountain, guarded by the dangerous fire breathing dragon, Smaug (Cumberbatch). However, the quest becomes a lot more challenging for Bilbo and the gang once Gandalf leaves to fight a greater evil that threatens the safety of humanity as they know it. Without their powerful friend, Bilbo must help Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) lead the dwarves through the forest of Mirkwood, past the dangerous elves, and into the Lonely Mountain to recover the treasure that rightfully belongs to the Dwarf Kingdom. Obviously, Bilbo faces many challenges along the way, in the form of his own will and other creatures in the world of Middle Earth.

8.5 out of 10

Like pretty much everyone else in the world, I’m a fan of the Lord of the Rings. Not a LOTR maniac, but a fan. They are tremendously entertaining to watch, due to various things, including the huge world that has been created around itself. Duplicating this, visually and emotionally, was crucial to The Hobbit’s success as a film. Thankfully, Peter Jackson and Co. were able to pull it off.

There are a few major things that contribute to the success of the old series. This includes the aforementioned realism of the world, the fantastic effects, and the well-executed story. Desolation of Smaug was able to touch on all of these, more so than the first film, An Unexpected Journey, but not nearly as much as the original trilogy (Basically, it’s an improvement over the previous film, but not nearly as good as the original Lord of the Rings). The entire universe is still on full display throughout the movie, from the elves to the dragon, all sorts of different creatures are seen, each one of them great in their own individual way. What’s also unique is that each of these characters also have personality, instead of being boring filler characters. This was seen specifically with the dwarves, and how each one is actually interesting. The writers clearly took their time with each character, instead of just throwing them out there.

Next on the agenda are the effects, and not only the visual effects. Those are always a point of emphasis in a Peter Jackson project. It is no different here. My personal favorite part was the dragon Smaug. Using motion capture with Benedict Cumberbatch in order to capture the dragon’s movements was done excellently, and looked great. It looked as realistic as a dragon can possible be. Additionally, the makeup and costumes were phenomenal, as always. With all these different creatures, the costumes and makeup departments are extremely crucial and are a huge part in creating the world. A friend pointed out to me how makeup artists are among the most under-appreciated people in the film industry, and he’s right. Their work is so important and amazing to see in action, especially in a film such as this one.

The last point I want to discuss is the execution of the story. In The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, I felt that one of the main problems is that it took an EXTREMELY long time to get to the point, and was dragging. Desolation of Smaug did fix this problem, but it was assisted by the fact that it hit the ground running, starting off where the first movie left off.

I honestly don’t have too much criticism for the movie. There was a romantic relationship dealing with one of the dwarves, Kili, (Aidan Turner) and one of the elves, Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly). I thought this was initially unnecessary and contributed to the length of the movie, though it was executed well. All the original movies are almost three hours long because they are each based off of a book each, but The Hobbit is one book, so breaking it up into three movies is really just a cash grab. It’s pretty remarkable that they’ve been able to make these movies so long… But also kind of annoying.

Is this The Return of the King? No, no it’s not, but it was still a really entertaining movie. It’s one of those films that is great-but-not-perfect in most categories, so it’s hard to pinpoint criticism. Nonetheless, I was really entertained by Peter Jackson’s masterpiece. Sure, it was a little long, but I can never get enough Bilbo Baggins. I would highly recommend checking this out if you have the opportunity (but please, see the other four films first).
~Vig

9 out of 10

Lord of the Rings is one of the toughest adaptations you can do.

You can take a journey. Throw in some good characters, some great effects, and heck off a lot of tracking shots of New Zealand and still have not quite enough to be equipped to make an honest depiction of it.

But Peter Jackson came as close as any body ever did or will. He built a really stable franchise using the tools above and his own vast knowledge of filmmaking to his advantage. If you ever seen any of the behind the scenes materials for any of Jackson’s films (King Kong, Lovely Bones) his love for the medium he works in is palpable.

What I’m getting at is that The Lord of the Rings franchise was in great hands for a long amount of time until it reached a roadblock with the polarizing Hobbit. In honesty, its not really fair to call it a roadblock since it does have a lot of great elements to it. Ultimately, I think its faults came from a few factors:

New characters. I remember, the week that The Hobbit premiered, Conan O’Brien did a sketch about the long casting list for the movie that described it pretty perfectly. I can’t find a link but I’ll make this the choose-your-own adventure part of the review.

Pacing. This has always been a problem (Even in the source material which tends to get lost in its own world and imagery) but was exacerbated by the rippling problems of undeveloped characters.

Villains (Or lack thereof). Orcs seemed like a bit of a downgrade if we must be brutally honest. They’re entertaining, just not the usual focus that made viewers love the original antagonists of the trilogy so much.

Now let me explain how this movie pretty much took care of all of that.

You can tell that Jackson used An Unexpected Journey as his rough draft. The mark of a good filmmaker is that he or she learns from any mistakes and I will ultimately assumes that that is exactly what Jackson did.

Peter Jackson

Peter Jackson

Maybe its because I love my middle chapters but I felt like this one was briskly paced (Especially compared to Lord of the Rings movies) and had a remote idea on which characters were interesting. We can certainly thank An Unexpected Journey for introducing us to the Dwarf Company in a way that it’s all laid out and ready for us here. The exposition just wasn’t fun while we were in it.

Mostly, however, is its real sense of adventure that harkens way back to what the first movie in the entire franchise had. Its very challenging to suck the viewer into a long ride and keep it perpetually entertaining but this one absolutely did it in a way that kind of made me feel like a kid, watching the entire series over again (And thats the best way possible).

On a final note, I don’t think I like Legolas as much as everybody else but it was good seeing the elves in this. Were they necessary? Nope. Were they a good addition? Absolutely.

Even if you thought the franchise ended at The Hobbit, I strongly suggest you give it a second chance.
~Zach

IMDB: 8.0
Metacritic: 66
Rotten Tomatoes: 75%