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: X-Men: Apocalypse

xmenapocalypseimax The 2016 follow-up to the critical darling, X-Men: Days of Future Past, had a large hill to climb. Coming off the back of the most ambitious film in the franchise’s history (16 years as of this movie) set the bar incredibly high for the new(er) cast of super powered beings and director Bryan Singer. Sadly, the movie is a massive step back after Fox’s Deadpool film and more significantly the aforementioned X-Men: Days of Future Past (DOFP).

Picking up ten years after DOFP, we find the mutants under the watchful eye of Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) at his school in upstate New York. Things are all relatively safe and sound and back to as normal as one’s life could be as a mutant. However, across the world in Egypt an ancient mutant named En Sabah Nur/Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) lays in stasis after narrowly escaping death thousands of years prior. We are given a well-done introduction to Apocalypse during his reign in ancient Egypt. We get glimpses of his four disciples and their powers. Outside of some very mediocre to poor CGI, this scene worked well to give Apocalypse the sliver of background he needed to more forward. We jump back to present day (the 1980s) were we spend a large amount of time catching up and introducing all the key players in this story. The film comes in at 2 hours and 24 minutes, but 1 hour and 20 minutes is spent on just catching us up and recruiting mutants. Frankly, the first half of this movie is absolutely boring sans a few usual bright spots. Per usual, Magneto’s (Michael Fassbender) personal story is the most interesting to watch. We find him hiding in another country trying to live out his days under a new name with a new family. Eventually circumstances bring him back into the world we know him best to inhabit. While we are on the subject of recruiting and catching up, Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) is now seen as a hero to mutants around the world. For some unexplained reason she takes it upon herself to rescue mutants when she sees fit to do so. It’s rather arbitrary but for the sake of plot it’s shoehorned in.

While the X-Men are all coming together in one place, with new additions to Charles’ school such as classic X-Men like Cyclops (Tye Sheriden), Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), and Jubilee, we get interspersed moments with Apocalypse as he forms his four horsemen crew. Apocalypse recruits Storm, Angel, Psylocke (Olivia Munn), and eventually a troubled Magneto. The four new villains are like lap dogs to their master and rarely have much in the way of a thought or dialogue. There are a lot of characters to juggle and director Bryan Singer is often praised for his ability to do so. Praise no more; characters that have been pumped up in the trailers barely get two lines of dialogue throughout the entire film. The ones that do have a chance to utter anything during their scenes are worthless as the dialogue is so poorly written. Cheesy moments that should find themselves in the dustbin of history are splattered across the scene and in sincerity. “Wreak havoc!!!!” is an order that is barked to the mutant named Havok, and no it’s not said for laughs. The movie is riddled with these goofy turns of phrase and moments that you should find in some X-men fan fiction but not in a script for a Hollywood film with a $234 million dollar budget. One of the most frustrating moments in this movie is Singer’s use of Quicksilver (Evan Peters). There is nothing new here, and frankly this is far worse than we saw the character before. It has to be one of the most cringe worthy scenes in a comic book movie it quite a while. This is the X-Men franchise’s “MARTHA!!!!” moment.

In the end, Oscar Isaac’s Apocalypse does not do much more than yell platitudes, give a few pep talks, and look mildly menacing. From a narrative perspective this is a bloated boring mess. From a nerd perspective, I can’t believe this is what they thought would be a good follow up to X-Men: Days of Future Past. While the stakes are supposed to be world ending, they instead come off as just a joke. Last but certainly not least, nothing about Wolverine’s involvement made the movie better or worse. It’s just a shoehorned in fan service scene that won’t change the tone or execution of the film. Once again, the third movie in an X-Men series is the worst. Congrats, Bryan Singer you got a chance to ruin the third movie this time instead of Brett Ratner.

[easyreview title= "Review of X-Men: Apocalypse" cat1title="Jay Rating" cat1detail="Overall Review" cat1rating="1.5" overall= false]

Review: Deadpool

deadpool_web4-750x500 Deadpool is the first mainstream comic book movie to be rated R since 1998’s Blade starring Wesley Snipes. Since that time, the subgenre of films has been largely PG-13 and has enjoyed massive financial and some critical success. Enter, Tim Miller’s new entry into the genre, Deadpool, starring Ryan Reynolds who has been the properties biggest advocate since he played a version of the character in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Miller alongside Reynolds, with the help of writers Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese have created one of the best comic adaptation in recent memory.

Sometimes complex themes and storytelling are needed to give a movie weight and depth. In the case of Deadpool, its simplicity is what makes it work so well. The story revolves around a wisecracking former special forces mercenary, Wade Wilson, who after meeting the love of his life is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Wilson then undergoes treatment to cure his cancer, but things go sideways and he becomes the anti-hero known as Deadpool. That’s the long and short of it, but how our “hero” comes about and what he does once he is fully realized is why you should pay your money to see it. The movie begins in the middle with Wilson already Deadpool and then we get flashbacks filling in his story. The flashbacks do a great job establishing his love affair with Vanessa Carlysle (Morena Baccarin), and why she is a driving force force Wilson throughout the film.

The simplistic story works extremely well at a tight 108 minutes, but what really seals the deal is the comedy. Ryan Reynolds was born to play the role of Wade Wilson/Deadpool. It feels like the ‘merc with a mouth’ coming alive directly from the comic book pages. This is clearly Reynolds passion project and he absolutely shines. It makes you wonder if some of the dialogue wasn’t largely improvised as it fits Reynold’s comedic style perfectly. Writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick’s work on the gruesome, yet hilarious, Zombieland is a fantastic fit for what Deadpool needs to be. A movie with action, comedy, brutality, and a bit of heart to make it an absolute must see this year. Deadpool breaks February's curse of terrible films and set up an inexpensive franchise that Fox can count on in the future.

[easyreview title= "Review of Deadpool" cat1title="Jay's Rating" cat1detail="Overall Review" cat1rating="5.0" overall= false]


One last note that has less to do with my feelings on the film itself, but what it might represent going forward:

Fox has been struggling to gain true massive traction in the comic movie subgenre with disastrous releases like Fantastic Four as of late. However, they seem to be gaining in popularity again with X-Men: First Class and X-Men: Days of Future Past. While I am not personally a huge fan of those movies I will admit that they are competently shot and acted. Deadpool creates a problem in the X-Men movie universe in my opinion. Up until now, Fox has made largely early 2000s style comic book movies with fairly small action set pieces and largely forgettable stories. However, in 2016 they have themselves a true runaway hit, but that might not be such a good thing for them. Deadpool doesn’t just push the envelope with its R rating, but rather in its style. It’s clear that director Tim Miller has been paying close attention to the Marvel Cinematic Universe films in the creation of his movie. Deadpool feels more like a Marvel made film than anything Fox has ever done. There seems to be a level of stubbornness from director Bryan Singer and writer Simon Kinberg to make fun X-Men films, but instead make introspective heavier ones. Frankly, I think they fail at that aspect as well. However, the audience’s response to Deadpool and its style might force a direction change at the studio, more than they anticipated. I hope that it does happen, because frankly, the X-Men universe could use the shot in the arm that is Deadpool’s style. They don’t need to be R rated or crude to work better, they just need to be lighter, fun, and truer to the original characters from the book. Tim Miller, Ryan Reynolds, Paul Wernick, and Rhett Reese made the best X-Men universe film in 16 years bar none.

Review: X-Men: Days of Future Past

DaysOfFuturePast Of all of the X-Men films so far, “Days of Future Past” is easily one of the best. But it’s not as though that’s difficult to do. The romp through the early 1970s is thoroughly entertaining, and if you’re a long-time X-Men fan it’s worth a trip to the theater, but it’s hardly a great film. The film starts in the near-future, where Sentinels have all but wiped out the general populace from the planet. We see a few mutants – Warpath, Blink, Colossus, among others – stave off the Sentinels while Kitty Pryde sends Bishop’s consciousness back in time to warn the rest of them of the threat. How she does this is not actually ever explained. In every iteration of Shadowcat, she’s really only been able to phase through solid objects. This whole glowing-white-light garbage coming out of her hands that allows her to transport someone’s consciousness has never been one of her powers, and the movie never bothers taking the five seconds to explain it. You’d think that one of the other mutants that’s known her forever would have said something, but no. That doesn’t happen.

Anyway, Xavier, Magneto, Wolverine and Storm show up at the place where the rest of the mutants are holed up and decide that the only way to end the Sentinel threat is to erase them from the history books. And the only way to do that would be to send Wolverine’s consciousness back 50 years to 1973 to stop certain events from unfolding. So that’s what they do. Wolverine wakes up in his only-slightly-less-grizzled body in 1973, you see a nice shot of his naked ass, and then he’s on his way.

I’m going to gloss over the rest of the plot because it’s mostly muddled garbage and hardly anything is explained with enough detail to follow. Xavier of the 70s is on drugs (developed by Beast) because he “lost everything” after the events of “First Class,” and these drugs help him walk, but no one explains how these drugs help him walk beyond a “spinal treatment.” I’m not a doctor, but I’m pretty sure that’s not how paralyzed people walk again… and if it is, why wouldn’t Beast sell them to the public? Wouldn’t that be a huge medical breakthrough? And speaking of Beast, he’s basically a furry blue Hulk now. He created drugs to “control his powers” but never bothered to say why he needed to control them (beyond his actor’s desire to not be in a makeup chair for eight hours a day). If I recall correctly, Beast came to terms with his furry blue self during “First Class.” So why did they decide to erase that bit of character development? Ugh.

After convincing Xavier and Beast to go along with his plans, Wolverine seeks Magneto, who is being held underneath the Pentagon because he killed JFK. They recruit Quicksilver, who looks about as stupid as we all thought he would look. Bulky jacket, goggles, the works. He looks awful, especially compared to the glimpse we got of the character in the Cap 2 stinger. Anyway, he does his whole running-while-looking-stupid thing, gets Magneto out of the Pentagon, and then, thankfully, we never see him again. The important characters leave in a jet and Quicksilver goes back to being a petty thief, and I was totally cool with that. Quicksilver’s scenes were entertaining, but at times I wasn’t sure if I was laughing because I was supposed to, or if I was laughing at how bad it all looked.

The band of merry mutants – Wolverine, Xavier, Magneto and Beast – try to stop Mystique from killing Bolivar Trask and setting in motion the events that would leave to the not-so-fantastic future. Magneto’s interpretation of “We need to stop Mystique” apparently is “I have to kill Mystique,” because apparently Magneto is an idiot. All Trask needs is her body in order to create the Sentinels. So why would Magneto kill her instead of stop her?? Didn’t make any sense.

Anyway, they chase Mystique all around the world and eventually end up back in DC. President Nixon unveils the Sentinels after being convinced by Trask that they’re the only option to stop the perceived mutant threat. But of course, things go totally awry, because Magneto is a douchebag. That’s basically the entire plot right there – bad things happen because Magneto is a douche. But they stop him, save the future, etc. Movie over.

The actors in the film are all great, but they’re all much better talent than their parts and the writing allows them to be. I love Jennifer Lawrence, but her performance as Mystique was totally flat. Peter Dinklage was pretty good as Trask, but the film never bothered explaining any of his motivations for creating the Sentinels or why he hates mutants, so he’s a totally stale character. Michael Fassbender is really the only actor who shines in this film.

As far as the action goes, it’s pretty… meh. There’s really no “wow” moment in this film. The closest thing we got was when Magneto lifts RFK Stadium’s seating bowl out of the ground and then slam it down.

Speaking of this scene, I had a few issues with it. Mainly, the film takes place in 1973. The Washington Senators left town two years before, and yet the stadium in the film was in baseball configuration – and not only that, but there was a grounds crew member there lining the diamond for a game! There were a pair of exhibition games hosted at RFK stadium in 1972, but according to my research, there wasn’t a single damn baseball game played at RFK stadium in 1973. So that entire goddamn scene is factually incorrect.

Despite having entertaining moments throughout the film, a muddled plot, poor writing, and a lack of truly impressive action leave me wanting more from “Days of Future Past.” Hopefully, having pushed the reset button on the franchise with this, the next one will be much better.

[easyreview title= "Review of X-Men: Days of Future Past" cat1title="Carrie's Rating" cat1detail="Overall Review" cat1rating="3.0" 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]