Tag Archives: x-men

Review: ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’

dfn-xmen_apocalypse_ver18-300The best superhero movie of the year (so far), X-Men: Apocalypse is a reflection of director Bryan Singer’s strength in storytelling.

Based on a screenplay by Simon Kinberg — with story credit to Singer, Kinberg, Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris — X-Men: Apocalypse makes it easy enough to pick up the story threads from the film’s two immediate predecessors in the long-running series. The initial sequence follows on directly from a post-credits scene in X-Men: Days of Future Past, providing an origin story for the titular, all-powerful mutant En Sabah Nur, also known as Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac).

Events then move forward to 1983, ten years after the main thrust of X-Men: Days of Future Past. The primary heroes are introduced: Mystique, aka Raven (Jennifer Lawrence); Professor X, aka Charles Xavier (James McAvoy); and Beast, aka Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult). They are soon joined by neophytes Nightcrawler, aka Kurt Wagner (Kodi Smit-McPhee); Jean Grey (Sophie Turner); Cyclops, aka Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan), as well as the more experienced Quicksilver, aka Peter Maximoff (Evan Peters) and Havok, aka Alex Summers (Lucas Till), the older brother of Cyclops. There’s also the human CIA agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne), who stumbles upon the resurrection of Apocalypse.

The heroes are introduced as Apocalypse gathers his villainous forces. He needs only four: Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Psylocke (Olivia Munn), Angel (Ben Hardy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender). In the decade that has passed since the previous episode, Magneto has attempted to live as a human, moving to Poland, getting married, having a daughter, and taking a job at a steel factory. Things do not work out, however, making him ripe for Apocalypse’s overtures.

On paper, the film to this point sounds rote and mechanical. On screen, however, it is anything but that. Singer is marvelous at creating a universe that makes superheroes feel very human. For the most part, they do not consider their powers to be a positive but a negative, something to set them apart from mankind as objects of ridicule and fear.

The thrust of the current trilogy acknowledges the many reasons the mutants have to be unhappy with the state of affairs on Earth, and with their own place in it. Yet it argues in favor of selfless service, of putting the needs of others ahead of their own. True, Moira is one of only two non-mutants who play any kind of role in the movie, and both are kept in the background.

Yet the shared humanity of the mutants unites them in opposition to Apocalypse. Humans have their faults and cannot always be trusted, but compared to Apocalypse, who is determined to wipe away the vast majority and allow only the strongest to survive to build a new civilization with him as their leader, well, humans don’t seem so bad after all.

Despite its title and overall theme, X-Men: Apocalypse maintains a doggedly optimistic viewpoint, incorporating character-based comic relief to keep things from feeling too oppressive. The film also benefits tremendously from Singer’s ability to direct exciting action sequences that are easy to follow from a visual standpoint and also inform the characters and overall narrative. Every scene has a point to make and a purpose to advance, which keeps the film engaging throughout its running time.

Based on comic book characters as it is, X-Men: Apocalypse exudes an essential simplicity — the good guys must defeat the bad guys — and enhances that to the next level of storytelling with elegance, polish and power. That makes it a compelling and satisfying experience.

The film will open in theaters throughout Dallas/Fort Worth on Friday, May 27.

Review: ‘The Wolverine’ Stands Tall, Thanks to Hugh Jackman

Hugh Jackman and Tao Okamoto in 'The Wolverine' (20th Century Fox)
Hugh Jackman and Tao Okamoto in ‘The Wolverine’ (20th Century Fox)

Hugh Jackman stands tall in the latest addition to the Marvel film universe, which is quite a feat when you consider that the character he plays, a mutant whose skeleton has been reinforced with the indestructible metal adamantium, tops out at 5 foot 3 inches tall in the original comic book series.

But then Jackman, who stretches two inches higher than six feet in real life, has made Logan, aka The Wolverine, his own sort of gruff, cynical, somehow still lovable character in the course of four films in nine years. The last one, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the first stand-alone mutant-powered feature, is widely acknowledged to have gone off the rails and could have threatened the future of the franchise. Just like in the comics, however, movie heroes have an alarming propensity for returning to life against all odds, and so The Wolverine has returned.

The story picks up Logan’s life after the events in X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), when the relationship he had enjoyed with fellow mutant Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) came to a most disagreeable parting of the ways. Logan is still haunted by unhappy memories, not only of his beloved Jean, but also of a terrible day during World War II when he was imprisoned behind enemy lines in Nagasaki, Japan.

On that day, Logan saved the life of a young Japanese soldier named Yashida (Ken Yamamura), who went on to become a wealthy and powerful industrialist (Haruhiko Yamanouchi). Now an old man, Yashida is dying, and so he sends his trusted servant Yukio (Rila Fukushima) to find Logan and deliver him to Japan so as to say goodbye.

Of course, Yashida wants something more from Logan than a solemn farewell, and the plot thickens into a sludgy substance that stubbornly resists easy or quick summary. Eventually, Yashida’s son, granddaughter, and oncologist, as well as a ninja protector, are involved in a power struggle whose consequences are not made terribly clear.

Of these characters, Yashida’s granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto) is key, not least because she develops romantic feelings for Logan when they are forced to go on the run. She and the other Asian cast members, including Hiroyuki Sanada, Brian Tee, and Will Yun Lee, fare well, even though it seems they might have delivered better performances if they weren’t required to speak English so often. Meanwhile, Svetlana Khodchenkova is in over her head as Yashida’s oncologist, who has a secret agenda that reveals her to be a villain without a soul; the actress is unable to bring any menace to her role, which is a serious shortcoming for an antagonist in a superhero movie.

Despite the welcome dramatics from Jackman and Okamoto, especially, The Wolverine is still a superhero movie, which requires multiple action set-pieces. The screenplay, credited to Mark Bomback and Scott Frank, provides a variety of settings, but director James Mangold doesn’t have a great feel for constructing action sequences, shooting and staging them in a rudimentary manner. A duel set on top a speeding bullet train, requiring the participants to jump and leap to avoid being thrown off and/or beheaded, lacks any semblance of reality — we know it’s all taking place inside the computers of talented graphic artists — and so we simply must wait impatiently for it to come to a foreordained conclusion.

It’s an odd thing to say for an action junkie like me, but the best bits in The Wolverine are the ones that come between the fights and the running and the jumping: the scenes between Jackman and Okamoto and between Jackman and Fukushima are particularly strong, and go a long way toward making the movie a pleasant, though not essential, experience on the big screen.

Note: Viewed in 3D on a fine, large, brightly-lit screen at the Cinemark West Plano, I must add that 3D added nothing discernible to the movie. Ticket buyer beware.

The film opens wide across the Metroplex on Friday, July 26.