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?

The Wolverine (PG-13)

9 Stars

First, a caveat.

I’m a huge fan of the X-Men franchise, Marvel Comics, and superhero movies in general. I rarely dislike them. Wolverine is one of my particular favorites.

On top of all that Hugh Jackman’s my favorite actor. You might naturally assume I’d enjoy The Wolverine. However, I’d like to think I have high expectations.

That being said, to temper this stipulation, I heard negative reviews prior to seeing the film, so perhaps my expectation level was considerably below the norm.

I find The Wolverine immensely enjoyable. The plot is well-written, and according to Rotten Tomatoes, stays true to the comics in a satisfactory way for the fan-boy audience. There is more than one villain; each with their own compelling motivation.

The action is spectacular, the cinematography’s a couple notches above average and the story involves some questions of moral ambiguity. Just barely breaching the two-hour mark, it toes the line between too long and too short. I don’t think I need much more, but by no means is it a clock-watcher.

There are the usual pitfalls that come along with superhero movies today: A couple hokey character interactions, several moments are distracting in predictability, but overall, I think it’s a very solid film.

Now, this section contains spoilers, so reader beware.

Let’s begin with what works, which coincidentally starts at the film’s open.

The opening scene is a dream within a dream: Something I’ve never experienced here in four-dimensional reality. It makes for good filmmaking, though.

Scientifically speaking, I’m skeptical of Wolverine’s ability to protect the Japanese kid from harm, but damn it’s cool to think how he suffers through the pain of the blast. It’s heroic, and I like how Yukio’s father reinterprets his experience into stories of the “magic man” who would protect her at night.

I also enjoy the interactions between Wolvey and the bear. The filmmakers are clearly trying to move things in a more artistic direction, attempting to draw more meaningful connections from the story of a tragic superhero.

The fights are nothing short of exceptional. Not only the ninja capture of Wolverine, but also the action between him and the yakuza thugs atop the bullet train. It makes the turn from “good enough” to “spectacular” when he out smarts the last thug rather than resorting to brute force.

Both villains are great, but I can use a bit more face time with Viper. Aside from her intriguing mutation, I’m unfamiliar with the actress (Svetlana Khodchenkova) and I think she’s convincingly sinister. The green suit, noxious breath and strawberry blonde hair are a helluva combo.

Apropos of Viper, here are some things that don’t work so well. Her mutation is complicated and only mentioned once, so I’m unclear on her part in the grander evil scheme until conversing post-credits.

Another downside includes an occasional wink of poor editing, and the dying bear is very clearly animatronic at one point. Early on, some hunters are firing guns outside a supermarket, and the cliché scene reeked of “troublemaking.”

In my notes, I write down that “upright chopsticks are reminiscent of incest at a funeral,” but think I hear her wrong. I believe the word is “incense,” which is quite dissimilar.

On an unrelated note, I appreciate the tormented visions of Jean Grey but can’t help thinking there are sources of greater guilt in his history.

Finally, I could have slapped my buddy in the face at the exact moment Mariko’s husband did the same to her.

All that being said, be you a biased or unbiased viewer, The Wolverine is a fantastic movie. Easily worth the five dollars to catch the flick on demand and I would have paid double to see it in the theater.