Since 2000, the X-Men adapted movie franchise has swayed back and forth in my opinion from good to barely watchable. Some of it is age, for both the films, and me but mostly it's just been a series bogged down by bland writing, forgettable performances, and recycled storylines. In 2016, with some much needed fresh blood, Deadpool revived my waning interest in all things X-Men. Following up with this year’s James Mangold directed Logan was yet another break from the core X-Men franchise films. Concentrating on the aspect of “one last ride” with the wayward mutant character was designed to get us in the seats, along with a promised Hard-R rating. It turns out, that after two Wolverine focused films, that didn’t quite work, James Mangold has finally presented the character as he was meant to be after all these years.

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Review: Pan

pan-movie-poster-hugh-jackman-660x330 In Pan, we have another prequel/origin story of a classic character that absolutely nobody asked for and nobody needed; nothing but another special-effects display that fails to deliver anything meaningful in regards to the plot. For a film focusing on a character that has the ability to fly, Pan’s inability to get off the ground is actually astounding.

The story kicks off with Peter (Levi Miller) being left at an orphanage by his mother. Several years later, the nasty nun who runs said orphanage ends up selling the children as a labor force for Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman), who’s pirates arrive in the middle of the night to scoop all of the boys up. They’re taken to Neverland, where they are forced to mine for fairy dust – also known as “pixim” – for Blackbeard’s use.

Peter meets James Hook (Garrett Hedlund) in the mines, and the two eventually escape after Blackbeard discovers Peter’s ability to fly. Blackbeard had previously hunted the fairies to extinction in a war and following his victory was told of a prophecy regarding the son of the fairy prince and a human woman; the boy would have the ability to fly and would lead the way towards Blackbeard’s downfall and death. As Peter is the only kid in Neverland with the power of flight, obviously he’s the subject of this prophecy.

After James and Peter escape, they make their way through the wilderness and discover a tribe of natives led by Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara). The tribe had fought alongside the fairies in the war and believe that Peter will help them defeat Blackbeard, so they help him fight. More Neverland shenanigans happen, Peter fights Blackbeard (spoiler alert: he wins), and they fly off in the Jolly Roger – a happy ending for everyone.

When I first saw the trailer for this, I was pretty excited – the effects definitely looked good, and I’ve always been a big Hugh Jackman fan, so I had hopes that Pan would be something worth watching. Unfortunately for everyone, it’s not. What this film really has going for it is its visuals. It’s genuinely really fun to look at; the screening I attended was in 3D, and I am generally not a fan of 3D (because I hate wearing glasses on top of my glasses), but I actually thought the effect brought out the environment a lot.

Unfortunately, that’s about where the fun ends. The story is so generic – the canned “chosen one” storyline has been done so many times, and it’s entirely predictable from start to finish. There’s nothing in the plot that can’t be seen coming, and the performances of most of the actors fall flat as well. The only person who inflected any sort of personality into his character was Jackman, who made an interesting Blackbeard. As the primary antagonist of the film, he was able to be, at times, terrifying, but balanced that out with some genuinely comedic moments. It was the most dynamic performance from anyone in the cast, and it marked some high points in the film.

Everyone else, though, was super flat. Hedlund, as Hook, probably could have inflected a little bit more craziness into his role. We all know what eventually happens to Hook – he has his hand eaten by a crocodile and becomes Peter’s nemesis – but there’s really no foreshadowing of that happening in the film. In fact, the two become the best of pals by the end of it. It would have been nice to see hints of instability with that character, or anything regarding what his ultimate fate is, or anything regarding a rivalry between him and Peter, but nope. We get him freaking out about crocodiles, but the crocs are also enormous, so anyone would have had the same reaction.

Levi Miller as Peter was okay, but not great. His range of emotions was also somewhat limited. What was supposed to be the most important part of the film – the emotional climax where he meets the spirit of his mother – ends up just being flat and boring. I was not moved. It seemed that he was still on the same note he was at the rest of the film, and I couldn’t get on board with it.

There are a few reasons why I didn’t like Rooney Mara in this film and her performance is only one of them. Like many others, she’s flat. Basically emotionless. There are points to the Tiger Lily story arc that are clearly meant to be emotional, but she just doesn’t hit them. It’s really amazing how flat most of the main cast is, and Mara wasn’t an exception.

So let’s move on to the biggest topic that surrounded this film during its development, which is the fact that Mara, a white woman, was cast to play Tiger Lily, who has traditionally been a Native American character in the most popular adaptations of the Peter Pan story – it’s how author J.M. Barrie envisioned the role. It’s hardly the first time this has happened (the blonde Sondra Lee notably played her in the 1954 musical) but you’d think that people would know better by know. Or, at least, you’d hope. But the pale-as-can-be Mara instead takes over the role in Pan, and not only is she not very good, but the depiction of the Piccaninny Tribe is borderline offensive.

Director Joe Wright had defended the casting of Mara as Tiger Lily by saying that the tribe wouldn’t be based on Native American imagery and would instead be “very international and multi-racial.” But instead of going full-out colorful neon rave tribe (I was expecting something similar to MGMT’s video to “Electric Feel”), he kind of half-assed it. You still see plenty of traditional Native American imagery and patterns in the clothing and architecture of the tribe, including some feather headdresses and war paint. It also looked as though most of the tribe were people of color – so the tribe itself had a diverse cast, but apparently needed a white person to lead them.

The fact that the 2014 production of Peter Pan Live got this aspect nailed down in the best and least-offensive way possible – by casting a person of actual Cherokee descent in the Tiger Lily role and by changing the song “Ugg-a-Wugg” to something a little less racist – but a big-budget film such as Pan stumbled through it is just astounding. They could have done better, and they chose not to. And that’s no longer acceptable.

In fact, there’s really nobody non-white in the main cast – Miller, Jackman, Hedlund and Mara are all white. The supporting character of Smee, however, features Adeel Akhtar in the role, meaning they changed a traditionally white character to a person of color. I’d be okay with this if not for the fact that Mr. Smee has always been somewhat of a worm and a liar who is most invested in keeping himself alive; meaning, of course, that the person of color most seen in Pan ends up being the person who betrays Peter to Blackbeard to save his own skin. I’d go further into that, but there are probably plenty of hot takes already online on it, so take it as you will.

Ultimately, with a canned plotline and flat performances, Pan is completely skippable. If you’re truly interested in the Peter Pan mythos and origin, you can go back and read the books that have existed for about a century that already took care of that story. Even the special effects and fairy dust weren’t enough to make Pan worth watching.

[easyreview title= "Review of Pan" cat1title="Carrie's Rating" cat1detail="Overall Review" cat1rating="2.0" overall= false]

Review: The Wolverine

The WolverineBack in 2009 we received in my opinion one of the poorest written, character bloated, and frankly insulting big budget comic book movies to date. Playing on the love of the Wolverine character, Fox Studios decided it could just throw anything at the fanbase and make it stick. Thankfully fans and critics alike rejected X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Four long years later, Fox makes another attempt at capturing the essence of the popular Marvel hero. The James Mangold directed sequel picks up years after the events of X-Men 3 where we find our titular hero in a self induced exile. Roaming around with an overgrown beard and a severe chip on his shoulder, Logan AKA Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), lives in the forest and interacts with other humans as little as possible. Haunted by visions of the ghost of former X-Men teammate Jean Grey, Logan has promised her and himself that he would shy away from violence. Unsurprisingly, this lasts about 10 minutes into the movie before he is forced to act when he witnesses some moral injustice. During his falling off of the non-violence wagon Logan meets a woman from Tokyo named Yukio (Rila Fukushima).

Yukio tells Logan that she knows who he really is and that her employer would like to see him in Tokyo. Her employer is a former acquaintance named Ichirō Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi). Yashida has been in Logan's debt after being saved during the bombing of Nagasaki in World War 2. Wanting to finally repay the favor, Yashida offers to take Logan's immortality, which he sees as a burden on Logan, and let him finally die. At the request of Yashida, Logan finds himself asked to protect Yashida's granddaughter, Mariko (Tao Okamoto) as one last favor for an old friend.

During a funeral, Logan is attacked by the Yakuza (Japanese organized crime syndicate), who attempt to kidnap Mariko. The sequence of the fight is quick paced and closely shot. While I don't care for close shot action it wasn't horrible here. I think its a lazy choice and I wish the method would go out of style really fast. Outside of that the scene was shot wonderfully. There is an expertly shot bullet train scene soon after that I thoroughly enjoyed. This for me was the highlight of the film. The movie up until this point works well. Feeling more like an old school Japanese mobster film more so than a big dumb summer movie throwaway.

The film then has a very distinct drop off that was rather bothersome to me. In the final act it seemed as if everyone was rushing to tack on a superhero element. As a fan of superhero movies I don't have a problem with ridiculous moments of guys flying around in spandex with capes. However, tone matters. The Wolverine up until the finally third of the movie was vastly different tonally. This was jarring and really made the final showdown less impactful. Had the tone been consistent I think I would have enjoyed it more. Originally, Darren Aronofsky was to direct The Wolverine, but later left the project. Its very clear to me that Aronofsky's vision for the infamous Japanese saga remained looming over the project long after his departure. Mangold attempted to make an Aronofsky type film, but fell short. Not being able to make the moments between the great action set pieces interesting was a fault that can't be overlooked. Logan and Mariko's relationship was put front and center at times but really failed to be that interesting. I sadly cared more about Logan and the ghost of Jean Grey's oddball interactions more.

While not nearly as bad as X-Men Origins: Wolverine, this movie made a valiant attempt at presenting a character that surprisingly is far more complicated than Hollywood seems to admit. Hugh Jackman at this point is Logan/Wolverine, and embodies the character whole heartedly. He brings a sense of familiarity to the role with this being his 6th time playing him. Rila Fukushima works well as a caricature of an anime character. She does great work in playing as the sidekick of Wolverine. Tao Okamoto is a pitch perfect Mariko from the original comics. Quiet and deliberate in her actions and exuding a stereotypical level of Japanese conservatism. The movie is a step in the right direction for Fox Studios who is trying to rebrand themselves and keep up with the Disney owned Marvel franchises. The Wolverine is a surprisingly interesting film and will surely cause debate in the fanboy community. A slow burning Japanese gangster film with a decent superhero pay off in the end. Go see The Wolverine.

[easyreview title= "Review of The Wolverine" cat1title="Jay's Rating" cat1detail="Overall Review" cat1rating="3.5" overall= false]