REVIEW: LOGAN (2017)

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LOGAN (2017)

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This dark comic book thriller takes place in the future where the mutants are all but gone and “The Wolverine” Logan (Hugh Jackman) keeps a low profile as a limo driver and takes care of an Alzheimer’s afflicted Professor X (Patrick Stewart), who is in hiding in Mexico. Logan, who is now aging and losing his ability to heal due to his own ailments, is contacted by a woman (Elizabeth Rodriguez) begging him to take a little girl named Laura (Dafne Keen) to a safe haven in South Dakota…a safe haven for mutants. Soon Logan finds Laura is very much like him and now he, the girl and The Professor are in a race across country for their lives as the sinister forces that created Laura want her back.

Flick is intensely directed by James Mangold from a script by he, Michael Green and Scott Frank and finally gives fans the R-rated Wolverine adventure they have been craving. The violence reaches horror film levels as does the intensity, though Mangold gives the proceedings some nice emotional depth amidst the carnage. The film is smaller and more intimate in scale, giving this tale room for some strong character development, especially as our beloved heroes are both aging and ailing and no longer who they used to be. This also allows for some nice moments between Logan and Xavier, as well as, time for Wolverine to reluctantly bond with Laura, as the two have a lot in common. There is still plenty of bone breaking and skull splitting action as Logan gets into numerous battles with the villainous Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) and his army of well armed henchmen, including genetically created mutant X-24 (also Hugh Jackman). The battles are quite vicious and gory, especially when Laura enters the fray and she may be more a true Wolverine than Logan at this point. The fact than the film has a strong emotional core makes these scenes even more effective and gives weight to all the violence and keeps us engaged during the character driven moments in-between. A very intense and well done final chapter in Wolverine’s legacy and finally the solo film we have been hoping for.

The film is said to be Jackman’s farewell to a character he has played on screen for almost two decades and he really gives it his all. Jackman was always good at giving Logan that cynical but noble edge and here he adds in a weariness from age and pain as Logan’s abilities are fading due to the long-term effects of the adamantium in his body. He gives The Wolverine a strong emotional center as we see the character succumbing to age and illness, yet still not completely accepting he’s not the hero he used to be. If this is truly his last appearance with his claws, he gives the character a strong send-off with one of his best performances. Same could be said of Stewart as the ailing Charles Xavier. Stewart presents him as sadly feeble, yet still strong of heart and quick of wit. Professor X is endearing as always and it effects us as we watch him dealing with an illness that ravages the part of himself he cherishes most. It is also a fitting farewell to a character he has played as long as Jackman has played Logan, if this is his last time in the role. Dafne Keen makes quite an impression as Wolverine “mini-me” Laura (also referred to by the Transigen bad guys as X-23). She is genetically linked to our hero and is quite the chip off the old block. Keen gives quite the performance as a little girl with amazing abilities and who is quite as much a powder keg as her genetic father. As for our villains, first up is Boyd Holbrook as lead bad guy Donald Pierce. He is threatening and condescending and Holbrook makes the metal-armed thug very unlikable as he should be. There is also Richard E. Grant as Dr. Zander Rice, the man who not only created the new mutants, but had a hand in eliminating the others. He’s more of a generic evil scientist, but works within the context of the story. Rounding out is Stephen Merchant as Caliban, one of the remaining mutants who cares for Charles Xavier and has the ability to track other mutants. Merchant makes a likable character caught in the middle, unfortunately, of Transigens plans for Laura. A good cast helping the director deliver a strong story.

Finally a Wolverine solo film we can sink our claws into. Logan was intense, vicious and yet had emotional depth and solid performances from the cast. It is a fitting farewell to Jackman’s portrayal of Wolverine and Stewart’s Charles Xavier, as well as, an entertaining and very adult superhero flick that pushes the boundary of it’s R-rating. Highly recommended.

-MonsterZero NJ

  3 and 1/2 adamantium bullets.

 

 

 

 

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REVIEW: X-MEN: APOCALYPSE (2016)

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X-MEN: APOCALYPSE (2016)

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While X-Men: Apocalypse is not the worst of this series, it may be the dullest. The film opens in ancient Egypt where a powerful being, En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac) is about to transfer his consciousness into another body when he is betrayed and buried beneath the ruins of a great pyramid. We then cut to 1983 where he is dug up by a cult of mutant worshipers and set free to resume his plan of…you guessed it…world destruction and domination. Now Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and rebel hero Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) must somehow stop the first and most powerful mutant with only a group of young students and CIA agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) at their sides. Worse still, En Sabah Nur has gathered a strike force of his own, Magneto (Michael Fassbender), Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Angel (Ben Hardy) and Psylocke (Olivia Munn) and only needs one more piece to carry out his apocalyptic plan…Charles Xavier.

As this is the fourth X-Men flick directed by Bryan Singer and written by Simon Kinberg, co-written with Singer, Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris, we see a series in definite need of new creative blood. The story is just another powerful villain looking to annihilate mankind yarn, directed very by-the-numbers by Singer. Gone is the cleverness from his first two flicks, as well as, the energy and the fun. The film plods along for 144 minutes, taking itself way too seriously and we only see a spark of life in the last few moments, when the young members of the team must step up against a god-like being…though a god-like being that never really impresses or exudes much menace. And that is another big problem with this flick, En Sabah Nur…or Apocalypse…is a boring villain. He is never frightening, nor do we ever truly feel the power he is supposed to have. He’s just some blue guy who wants to rule the world…yawn. Even his sidekicks, including the usually impressive Magneto, are given little to do, but stand glowering behind him, till the climactic battle and even then only Olivia Munn’s Psylocke shows a little promise, despite being as underused as the rest of them. Add to that a detour into William Stryker’s (Josh Helman) lair, which serves no purpose other than to give a certain familiar face a cameo and adds at least twenty minutes to an already overlong flick. Remove the sequence entirely and it would have no bearing on the story. Even Stan Lee’s usually amusing cameo is dull, though at least we get to meet his real-life wife.

There are some positive points. There is some solid action and the FX are spectacular, even though the whole city destruction thing has been done to death in recent superhero flicks. Evan Peters has another movie stealing scene as Quicksilver and should get his own movie at this point. Mystique’s graduation to team leader works well and Lawrence again shines in the role, as does Sophie Turner as a young Jean Grey, who has a bit of a scene stealing moment of her own in the final conflict. One of the few moments to show some life and have impact. Newton Thomas Sigel returns with some crisp cinematography and John Ottoman from X2 and Days Of Future Past again scores the soundtrack…of which also contains some cool 80s tunes.

The film has a big cast and the recent regulars like McAvoy, Fassbender, Hoult, Byrne and Lawrence all perform their roles well and we wish they were given something more challenging to do. Oscar Isaac is sadly underwhelming as En Sabah Nur/Apocalypse. He just doesn’t project any power or malice, as the supposedly first and most powerful mutant. It is almost as if he was phoning in the part. Evan Peters is once again amusing as the smart-ass Quicksilver and thankfully he has a bigger role. Sophie Turner is good as young Jean Grey and in her big scene evokes the kind of power Isaac could have used to make his villain memorable. As for the rest of the newbies, Jodi Smit McPhee is fun as Nightcrawler, Tye Sheridan is fine as the new Cyclops, Ben Hardy is given very little to do as Angel, so it is hard to really comment on his performance, Alexandra Shipp shows potential for Storm and Olivia Munn, as mentioned previously, makes an impression as Psylocke, even if she is underused.

What can be said? It’s not an outright bad movie like Last Stand, but even that had some fun stuff in it. While this is a better made and written film, it is also a very drab, uninvolving and overlong one. At least Last Stand had the decency to be less than two hours long. Our main bad guy is heaps of dull and his world destroying plot is heaps of been-there-done-that. On a plus note, the FX are as well rendered, the action is well staged and the recast favorites work well enough, with Sophie Turner standing out. There are a few good new characters such as Olivia Munn’s villainous Psylocke and another fun sequence with the scene stealing Quicksilver. A ho-hum entry in a series which has too many interesting characters to run out of gas quite yet.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 sexy but underused Psylocke’s.

x men apocalypse rating

 

 

 

 

 

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: X-MEN and X2: X-MEN UNITED

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With X-Men: Days Of Future Past having just opened, I thought it would be fun to look back at the first two flicks that started this comic book-based film series, one that is still ongoing…

 

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X-MEN  (2000)

I never read the X-Men comics though, I am familiar with some of the characters but, as far as the mythos, I take the films for what they are and rate them as movies and not in comparison with the story-lines from the comics.

The first film opens with a scene set in a concentration camp during WWII of a young boy who shows extraordinary power when separated from his mother. Decades later it is revealed that beings with special abilities of all kinds, dubbed mutants, have evolved among us and some government officials, especially a Senator Kelly (Bruce Davison), are proposing to make mutant registration a law. Fighting against this form of discrimination are two factions. One, Dr. Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) a powerful telepath who wants nothing but, peace between human and mutant alike, and the other, Erik Lehnsherr (Ian McKellen), also known as Magneto, a man who has the power to manipulate metal and feels that humans are inferiors who are meant to be ruled and dominated, not trusted. Magneto was the boy we saw in the opening scene and his experience in a concentration camp is what paints his refusal to trust humans ever again. Magneto and his fellow mutants Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos), Toad (Ray Park) and the massive Sabertooth (Tyler Mane) have hatched a plan to turn a group of world leaders into mutants themselves at a crucial summit at Ellis Island. Xavier and his own team of mutants, Storm (Halle Berry), Cyclops (James Marsden) and Dr. Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) have been trying to stop Magneto and his plans of conquest and with the arrival of the rebellious and quick-tempered mystery man Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and the power absorbing Rogue (Anna Paquin), the odds may have shifted… but, in who’s favor?… as one of these new recruits may be crucial to Lehnsherr’s success.

Director Bryan Singer not only creates a fun superhero flick from David Hayter’s screenplay but, adds some very nice dramatic intensity and emotional resonance along with the underlying themes about tolerance and respecting each other for who we are. He gives the film a more down-to-earth look and setting, choosing to present a more grounded approach as how such a story might transpire if it occurred in the modern world and not a more comic book-style fantasy world. And it works very well integrating some fantastic characters into a real world setting and makes these characters very human and identifiable despite their unique powers. Singer takes his material very seriously and let’s it’s moments of unobtrusive humor come from the witty dialog and script and the talent of his cast to deliver those lines and moments. And it’s blend of intensity and subtle wit is what really makes this work so well. Add to it a very fitting score from Michael Kamen and some crisp cinematography by Newton Thomas Sigel and you have a superhero flick that ranks among the best.

As for the cast. Singer has a really good collection of actors to work with from veterans Stewart and McKellen who bring nobilty and strength to the roles of Xavier and Magneto respectively. Powerful men from two opposite views who are both friends and opponents at the same time, which creates a very intriguing dynamic on screen. Jackman, in my opinion, makes a great Wolverine, giving him a sort of super-powered Snake Plissken vibe that makes the character very cool and endearing. And despite his harsh exterior, Jackman gives him a soul that peeks through enough to give the character some dimensionality. Rounding out are Berry, Paquin, Janssen and Marsden all giving some nice personality to their heroes as Romijn-Stamos, Park and Tyler Mane create worthy adversaries giving weight to their villainous turns. A good cast having a good time with their characters and it helps make this film work all the more better.

I really enjoy this flick, it has a bit smaller scale then some of the superhero epics that have followed but, that works in it’s favor by introducing a few of the more popular characters and letting us get to know them before steadily expanding the universe in future installments. It has a solid cast, a lot of action and some well executed SPFX but, also some emotional depth and nice character development too. Thus making it solid popcorn entertainment with a more substantial center. Like having a fine meal and a delicious dessert at the same time.

3 and 1/2 X-Men.

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X2 ONE SHEET A • Art Machine Job#5263 • Version A •  02/28/03

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X2: X-MEN UNITED (2003)

With Magneto (Ian McKellen) behind plastic bars the humans feel safer until an attack on The President Of The U.S. by a teleporting mutant named Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming) provokes drastic measures allowing mutant hating Black Ops operative William Striker (Brian Cox) to receive permission to raid Prof. Xavier’s (Patrick Stewart) school. But, Striker’s plans run deeper and has a far more sinister goal in regards to the world’s mutants. With Xavier in Striker’s clutches, it’s now up to Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) and the rest of the X-Men to stop Striker and rescue Xavier before he succeeds in wiping out all mutant kind but, to do so they may have to join forces with their greatest foes… Magneto and Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos)… and it’s a good bet Magneto has his own agenda. Can they succeed with serpents in their own den?

Singer returned to the director’s chair for the sequel and working with a script by Michael (Trick R Treat) Dougherty, Dan Harris and David Hayter, from a story by Singer, Hayter and Zak Penn, ups the ante with more action, more mutants but, without sacrificing the depth and characterization he brought first time around. We not only get the dynamic of  foes having to work uneasily together against a common enemy but, we learn more about Logan/Wolverine’s past and watch as the human/mutant relationship is crumbled even further. Our heros not only fight to save themselves here but, their place in the world and how it views them. There is a lot at stake as they battle an enemy who seeks to see them destroyed but, will oddly employ mutant against mutant to get his goal accomplished. It makes for an interesting dynamic and furthers the X-Men cinematic universe without cluttering it up. We get some interesting new characters and get to know the familiar ones a little better. Sigel returns as cinematographer and John Ottman provides a suitable score to the action and drama.

The cast who return all fit into their roles nicely again with McKellen especially having a good time with his second go round as Magneto. We get to see a bit more of what makes them tick, as some try to come to terms with who they are and others who are comfortable with themselves, face change and adversity. We meet a few more mutants such as Cumming’s religious German mutant Nightcrawler and he makes for an interesting and eccentric character. We get teens Shawn Ashmore as Iceman, a kind hearted young man who takes a liking to Paquin’s Rogue and the rebellious Pyro played by Aaron Stanford. On the side of evil, Cox makes a strong villain with his slimy and hateful Striker and the villainous Lady Deathstrike is played with an ice cold exterior yet, a definite lethality by the beautiful Kelly Hu. And there are also some some fun mutant cameos peppered throughout. Again, Singer makes good use of a good cast. Even those with minimal screen time are used well in the screen time they have.

With his second X-Men flick Bryan Singer gives us both sequel and equal as we have a film that once again gives us a healthy dose of superhero action and a good story as well. It’s a fun movie that finds our heroes challenged by not only their villain but, some by the choices they have to make and a world that is ever increasingly hostile towards them. Another strong superhero treat from Bryan SInger and a nice step forward for this series that stumbled somewhat when Singer left and didn’t really regain it’s footing till the delightful First Class.

3 and 1/2 X-Men.

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REVIEW: X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (2014)

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X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (2014)

I really liked X-Men: First Class, it was a great way to reboot a series that had stumbled a bit and put together a really solid cast in both familiar and new roles. I was actually a little disappointed when I heard Matthew Vaughn had passed on the next installment, but remained hopeful upon hearing original franchise director Bryan Singer would return to the director’s chair. But sadly all the fun and energy that Vaughn gave his retro entry and even the spark and intensity Singer gave his first two films is, for the most part, lacking in this overlong and somewhat tedious entry that takes until it’s final act to really get going and by then it’s too little too late.

The complicated Terminator-ish story takes place in a bleak and war-torn future where mutants and any human who may have the potential to give birth to a mutation, have been hunted down and almost completely destroyed by the ruling power and their army of robot Sentinels which detect the mutant gene and eliminate those with it. But there is a slight hope. Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellan) have devised a plan to used Kitty Pryde’s (Ellen Page) power to send Logan’s (Hugh Jackman) consciousness back to his pre-adamantium body in 1973 to contact their younger selves (James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender) and try to get them to work together and stop Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from murdering the Sentinel’s inventor Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) and setting in motion events that will lead to the war that has ravaged the Earth and caused so many deaths. But at this point in history Xavier and Magneto are not allies and Mystique has gone rogue and Logan may only have hours to change the course of time before their time in the future is up… did you get all that?

Obviously, the film has a very complicated story that involves time travel which, always sets up it own set of difficulties, but considering that the film avoids being a mess, is more of a plus. The problem here is not the story details or the logistics of time travel and changing the course of history, but the deadpan tone with which the usually competent Singer directs this affair. Gone is the energy and fun of the first two X-Men films he directed and instead is a very by-the-numbers presentation of what should have been a fun and suspenseful tale. There are a few entertaining bits like Quicksilver’s (Evan Peters) speedy and clever way of getting our heroes out of a jam, but the film really has no spark until it reaches it’s climactic act and then we get a bit more of the movie we wanted to see, but it takes over 90 minutes of mostly ho-hum sequences to get there…sequences that should have been very tense and exciting but aren’t. The pace is also slow for a superhero film even one with a plot of such dire importance as this. And maybe that’s it. Singer just seems to take this story just a little too seriously and we rarely get those little witty character moments that made the previous film’s so fun. The camaraderie between the characters just isn’t there. Maybe it’s Simon Kinberg’s script based on a story by Kinberg, Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn that simply was too bleak and left out a lot of the fun. Either way X-Men:DOFP just really lacks something till the final scenes and, to be honest, wasn’t very involving till then. I was never bored, but was never fully drawn in. For the most part I was along for the ride, but never really interested in where it was going… and I should have been.

Again Singer works with a very large and familiar cast, but unlike his previous X-Men adventures, the cast here seem to be going through the motions from Stewart to Lawrence to Jackman to McKellen and most of his principles. There is no real passion or energy in their performances despite having all played their roles before save Dinklage. They all seem like they are just performing by the numbers with the only person really giving his role some pop is the young Peters with his smart aleck Quicksilver and sadly his screen-time is limited. Even the usually excellent Fassbender seems like he’d rather be somewhere else. There are plentiful mutant cameos, some familiar and some new, but few of them really resonate other then the amusement of seeing that familiar face or someone intriguing and new. And the new characters, aside from Quicksilver, are really given very little attention, certainly not enough to endear to us to them. Is it possible that these actors have tired of their roles?

It’s not all bad. It is tedious though I never actually got to the point of being bored. The film really did pick up in the last half hour for a pretty decent finale in Washington D.C. that interweaves with the battle raging in the future, though it certainly can’t hold a candle to the Washington D.C. set finale of the Captain America sequel The Winter Soldier and could have had a little more suspense and intensity. The FX are top notch and the scale of the film seems fairly large especially when the action finally starts. Newton Thomas Sigel is back doing the cinematography though, since the film is set in the 70s, I did miss the retro look of John Mathieson’s cinematography on First Class. And maybe that is what one of the problems is, that the film is set in the 70s, but never really felt like it… like, say American Hustle did. John Ottman returns to score from X2 and also did the film editing…busy man…and his score is adequate but a bit uninspired.

So, overall, X-Men: Days Of Future Past may not be an outright disappointment, but it is a letdown and certainly could have been much livelier considering the importance of what was transpiring. Maybe the whole back in time to fix the future thing has run it’s course, or maybe Singer’s time away from Xavier and company has dulled his passion for the material…or maybe it’s still too familiar to elicit a stronger passion. Either way, it’s not the worst X-Men movie, but far from the best. Also stars Nicholas Hoult as Beast/Hank McCoy.

2 and 1/2 X-Men.

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