X-Men: Days of Future Past (PG-13)

9 Stars

Wouldn’t it be best to change the team name to X-Humans?

I’m kidding, of course.

Want to know what isn’t hysterical?

A ‘loose canon.’

The exact origin of the nautical phrase is uncertain. It’s presumably sailor jargon for a canon breaking free of the rigging keeping it stationary. Imagine one hundred pounds of cast iron rolling about a storm beaten ship deck.

The phrase is overused. But one can understand this reviewer’s hesitation, when associating the live-action depiction of Wolverine with a loose canon.

Ever since Cyclops’s cinematic demise, the clawed crusader’s gone a little soft.

Jackman’s Wolverine is much less of an antihero. He’s more compassionate, no longer a recluse. And wouldn’t you know it – he stars in this film, too.

Despite the saccharine portrayal, I’ll take plenty more sequels with Hugh at the helm, because Days of Future Past is excellent.

What sets the X-Men apart from other comic creations is time travel, success through crafty teamwork and mutant segregation. This movie tackles the entire thematic trio with vigor.

First some notes on the acting, directing and writing. Then the fighting. And finally, a gloriously thought-provoking takeaway.

Before any of that, a warning to spoiler-sensitive readers. Cease your literary digestion and devour DOFP before it vacates the big screen.

James Marsden is excellent as Cyclops in X-Men (2000), and fourteen years later proves he’s still got it.

By the by, after all this talk of ‘getting the gang back together,’ it’s a bit underwhelming with only one scene featuring Cyclops, Rogue or Jean Grey.

All’s forgiven, because DOFP’s greatest achievement is the creation of a ‘narrative reset.’ The denouement (the falling action after the climax) indicates the button’s been depressed, removing any narrative restrictions set by the previous films.

There are too many characters to mention but for hints toward each player’s prominence, check the theatrical poster (not pictured). The relative size of the character’s image to screen time ratio looks exactly to scale.

Ellen Page returns for a particularly great performance as Kitty Pryde. Her only previous appearance is from The Last Stand back in 2006, making her unique amongst the supporting players.

Another reliable favorite from the earlier films, Shawn Ashmore, delivers as Iceman. He’s easy to love and fights quite a bit, too.

Jennifer Lawrence reprises her role as Mystique and doesn’t disappoint. The blue beauty engages in some serious hand-to-hand combat, and it’s consistently thrilling.

She’s an enormous talent. My sister groans every time the young actress’s name is uttered. However, if pressed, even my sister will agree J-Law’s a dynamite thespian.

Perhaps she doesn’t usurp her last performance in American Hustle. But Mystique is one of the more difficult roles. She must remain on the villainous side of morality while conveying a pitiable sense of decency.

There’s a nod to Rebecca Romijn in the movie, as well as a reference I can’t quite figure out. In Shanghai Noon, Owen Wilson quotes James Brown in saying, “I don’t know karate, but I do know ka-razy.”

So when Wolverine says it, I assume it’s a nod to Shanghai Noon. Perhaps others disagree?

Michael Fassbender plays young Magneto, and delivers a fitting performance as one of our best actors working today.

A major personal criticism of earlier X-Men films is the underwhelming action. There are always fight scenes, but oftentimes they’re brief and never elaborate enough. For example, consider the action involving Banshee in First Class, the most recent film from 2011.

To be clearer, consider the two major fights involving Beast. In First Class, Nicholas Hoult doesn’t throw a single punch on-screen during the final brawl on the Cuban beach. Whether or not Hoult lands a blow, his battlefield presence pales in comparison to Kelsey Grammer’s ferocity at Alcatraz in The Last Stand.

DOFP opens with a spectacular fight sequence. Really, it’s one of the best superhero battles ever. But it’s brief, and trumps all other physical conflicts (in terms of quality) occurring later on.

The sentinels are superbly rendered, and the teamwork dynamic is explored throughout various altercations between mutants and robots. Sending Colossus falling through warp holes (in order to achieve maximum velocity) is genius.

My sole request from the X-Men franchise remains the same: A further exploration of collaborative battle tactics. Engage the audience with higher stakes, alternative bits of terrain, contrasting settings, differing elevations, complex character pairings, elaborate face-offs; more tense and intricate ‘continuous action’ sequences that last for minutes, rather than seconds.

Good examples of what I refer to are found in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Avengers and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (but without the teamwork dynamic.)

What’s absent is ultimately inconsequential. I want a final fight scene, one in which the X-Men collaborate to triumph over the ultimate villain. One in which they don’t all die.

I never receive my bejeweled battle, but in retrospect, am pleased with the filmmakers’ decision. Everybody loves a superhero movie that doesn’t fit the mold.

Besides, I’ll trade anything for the narrative reset.

When Magneto informs Charles (James McAvoy) of a misunderstanding (pertaining to J.F.K.’s assassination) a hearty stroke of laughter pierces the canopy of suspended disbelief.

Apparently a fellow moviegoer buys into the whole story leading up, but JFK being assassinated for his mutation is just too silly to remain silent.

That, my friends, is a person looking for a place to laugh.

‘Because everybody’s thinking it, right?’

No, you scoundrel!

Moving right along; Beast’s serum is tough to swallow, but other than the lackluster fighting and Professor X’s whining, here’s my final criticism.

Magneto’s mutation allows him to manipulate metal. This doesn’t include an ability to remotely control or reprogram computerized machinery. Therefore, the process by which he gains their support would be much more complicated than simply imbuing the sentinels with metallic cables.

That’s a major inconsistency, and like the serum, I’m sure it’s necessary to tie up loose narrative threads. For my tastes, it’s not quite tidy enough.

By the way, superhero movies are constantly berated for being male-oriented entertainment.

In DOFP there is one scene involving nudity, and it’s Wolverine from behind.

I’m not complaining.

When the political correctors start to cry out for a more ‘accepting’ team moniker, I’ll remind them of this previous gender imbalance.

How’s that for conclusive?

Breathtaking, isn’t it?

Prisoners (R)

9 Stars

Suspense get you going? Dig thrills, do ya?

This flick’s got plenty of both.

I really enjoyed this film about kidnapping, and encouraged my parents to watch it about a week ago. I moseyed in about two-thirds the way through the film, when Hugh Jackman’s wielding a claw hammer and quivering with fury.

“What the hell are we watching?” my Dad asked from the edge of his seat.

“Yeah I know, it’s great, right!”

Love that sink scene. Think about how the theme of imprisonment relates to each character. How informed each party is, and in turn, the motivations that result.

Just from that little suggestion, you can tell you’re in for a quality picture.

For those who haven’t seen Prisoners: If you like great movies see this film.

Here’s what ‘great’ means. It means ‘great enough.’ If you leave Prisoners feeling genuine hatred, you’re being overly critical.

So check it out, but be careful of the spoilers below.

Hugh Jackman may be the best actor currently working in Hollywood. I’m biased because he’s been my number one favorite since X-Men (2000), but my dude’s quickly climbing the charts. He’s so prolific nowadays.

I’ve seen most his catalogue (except for Australia) and I stand by Swordfish and Van Helsing as great movies. I’ll argue to the death for either. I have no idea why their Rotten Tomatoes percentages are in the twenties. Baffles me, truly.

Anyway, my point is, Hugh Jackman delivers a spectacular performance as Keller Dover in this film. Keller’s a wildly compelling character with complex motivations.

Further acting prowess is displayed by his character’s wife, Gracie Dover, played by Maria Bello, who steers a powerful teary-eyed scene.

Viola Davis plays Nancy Birch, and also carries a tense scene without muttering a word of dialogue. She just delivers a long, dead stare.

Terrence Howard’s not my favorite, but he does a decent enough job here. I suppose I avoid giving him too much credit because I’ve heard some not so nice things about him.

He’s the second actor credited for Iron Man, after R.D.J. himself. And he was replaced by another black actor, Don Cheadle, after demanding too much money for the second installment in the series.

I didn’t even notice until well after 3.

Jake Gyllenhaal as Detective Loki has a wildly compelling discussion with a priest, and ties together the film in a pleasing way. Jake’s rather talented, I feel like I don’t see enough of him.

Detective Loki’s shirt is always buttoned to his chin but he’s never wearing a tie, which drove me nuts until someone pointed out the tattoo on his neck. The only plot hole is the scene in which Gyllenhaal opens the trunks full of snakes. His character isn’t the type to leave the lids ajar, allowing the serpents’ escape.

Before moving on, I must mention that David Dastmalchian delivers as a more capable deranged man than the role he plays in The Dark Knight. He’s a solid actor, and I bet we’ll see more from him in the future.

Lot of powerful gazing goes on in this film. From Viola D.’s deadpan, to the stare-down between Jake and Paul Dano, you get some strong gawks. When Dano signs his release from prison, it gives me the chills.

By the way, P.D.’s phenomenal in this film. So creepy. The dog-walking scene’ll make your spine crawl.

An easily avoidable thought to take away from Prisoners is that Paul Dano’s character is, ultimately, the worst victim of all.

But that’s a reality on which I’d prefer not to dwell.