Sunday, May 25, 2014

X-Men: Days of Future Past review

To declare myself as an X-Men fan would be an understatement. During my early years I used to read a lot of comic books, specially from the X-Men galore. So I might be the number one Pakistani fan of the franchise - might be.

(X-Men comics logo. Source: cartoonfatness.wikia.com)

  X-Men: The Animated Series furthered the need for a Hollywood adaption of the comics series. The 1992 cartoon animation was superb. They directly took the elements of the comics, whilst of course censoring some parts in order for younger viewers to watch the show. In 2009, IGN rated it as the 13th greatest animated show of all time in their Top 100 list.
  The first X-Men film was released in 2000. I have seen it more than a dozen of times. It paved the way for future Marvel-based releases such as the original Spider-Man trilogy and Daredevil. Bryan Singer was signed on to direct the movie in 1996. But the release dates kept being pushed back. Also, Singer originally wanted Russell Crowe to play the lead role but his salary demands were too high. The same story repeated with the offer to Mel Gibson in 1997. In the end, Hugh Jackman was cast and he was an unknown actor at that time.

(Left: Hugh Jackman (aged 31) portraying Wolverine in X-Men. Right: Hugh Jackman aged 44 in Days of Future Past. Source: geeksaresexy.net)

  This led to Hugh Jackman successfully entering the Hollywood limelight. As Fox was already paying Patrick Stewart (Professor X) and Ian McKellen (Magneto) humongous salaries, they could afford a third expensive thespian. Hugh Jackman has gone on to portray Wolverine 7 times on screen, as well as the latest installment Day of Future Past.
  Before going to the grand review of the 7th X-Men film, I'd like to give a short review on the array's previous showcases. The following are arranged from top to bottom according to my preference of the best flicks:

  1. X2: X-Men United (2003) - 87% (Rotten Tomatoes), 3.5/4 (Box Office 101).
  2. The Wolverine (2013) - 69%, 3.5/4.
  3. X-Men (2000) - 82%, 3/4.
  4. X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) - 38%, 3/4.
  5. X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) - 58%, 2.5/4.
  6. X-Men: First Class (2011) - 87%, 2/4.
  The above are categorized according to my ratings. I have watched X2 35 times and never been bored once. The Wolverine really brought out the original comic-book story of Wolverine entering Japan. I was surprised that X-Men: First class was appreciated by critics and fans alike. But I still consider it to the lowest-rated in the list. This is simply due to the fact that 2000's X-Men was a blockbuster and mind-blower. First Class was just made for teenagers. And Wolverine's absence in it was deeply felt (Hugh Jackman's cameo doesn't count).
  Even after all these years, X2 has not had a solid competitor except for 2013's The Wolverine. The rest of the movies fail in story-telling. This is primarily due to the non-involvement of Bryan Singer who directed the first couple of majestic superhero features.
  Bryan Singers is arguably one of my favorite film-makers of all time. He is also known for directing The Usual Suspects, Superman Returns and Valkyrie - all critical successes. The worst decision Singer made was directing Superman Returns instead of The Last Stand. He should have finished the last of the original trilogy before moving on to another project. Alas, Superman Returns flopped badly whilst The Last Stand, released a month prior, was a mega-commercial success.

(X-Men: Days of Future Past poster. Source: Wikipedia.)


Now for X-Men: Days of Future Past. This marks Bryan Singer's official return as director to the franchise. I am sure if Matthew Vaughn (X-Men: First Class) had directed this, it would only have been half as great. Still, Vaughn acted as a producer. Singer had previously worked as a producer on Vaughn's film.
  The film is based on the 1981 comics storyline of the same name. It was written by Chris Claremont and John Byrne. It is considered one of the best comic books of the X-Men universe and my own personal favorite. Simon Kinberg adapted the comic book brilliantly, although it's an 80% accurate depiction of the original.

(Director Bryan Singer. Source: Wikipedia)

  The late critic Roger Ebert stated that X2 was a superb film due to Singer's ability to handle so many characters in one outing. So it came as no surprise when the number of figures was doubled in Days of Future Past. The latter movie had almost all of the mutants in the X-Men universe, especially those in the comic book. 
  Steven Soderbergh is also known for handling many characters (as seen in the Oceans trilogy). But he cannot even come close to Singer's brilliant. My other most-favorite  directors are Christopher Nolan, John Carpenter, Wes Craven and Sam Raimi. But Singer tops the list.
  Days of Future Past starts with incredible action scenes. By the first five minutes of the movie, I knew that this would be the ultimate X-Men feature. The mutant costumes in the future are astounding. And do pay homage to initial storyline. The movie does get slow in the middle, but only due to the heart-pounding action that follows. There are many new X-Men characters introduced who were not part of the previous parts: Bishop (played by Omar Sy), Warpath (Booboo Stewart), Blink (Fan Bingbing), Sunspot (Adam Canto), and Quicksilver played by Evan Peters (played the part to precision I might add).
  These mutants were very prominent in the comic-book specially Bishop. And all the actors portraying them gave justice to their roles. Old mutants, and the actors who played them, also return: Iceman (Shawn Ashmore), Shadowcat (Ellen Page), Storm (Halle Berry), and Colossus played by Daniel Cudmore.
  I was so excited to see these characters and actors back. I have always despised the cast of First Class except for Michael Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence. The rest were tedious. But in Days of Future Past, I was proved wrong about the acting prowess of James McAvoy (Wanted, X-Men: First Class). As a younger, depressed Professor Xavier he really made my spine tingle with fascination. I still criticize his acting ability in First Class, but he was second-best in enactment only to Hugh Jackman.
  When I initially saw the trailer of Days of Future Past, I knew the producers would not want the franchise to move forward without Wolverine in the installment. The character has had two superhit stand-alone films so the producers knew height of Wolverine's popularity. The X-Men franchise is openly nothing without Wolverine. He is the most berserk of all anti-heroes. And Jackman has portrayed him seven times, and will again in the next installment titled X-Men: Apocalypse.
  Three mutants have supreme screentime: Wolverine, Professor X and Magneto. All are given enough space to perform. The plot follows Wolverine being sent back in time by Shadowcat in order to secure the future. The dystopian world shown in the future is magnificent in design. The sets were excellent. And the quality of the past in comparison of the future is rendered perfectly. Wolverine wakes up in 1973, 50 years back in time. He must convince the younger Professor X and Magneto to work together, and stop the onset of the Sentinels. The Sentinels are the prime antagonists of the comic-book series. They are giant robots who enslave/kill all the mutants on earth. In the movie, they are illustrated as to provoke fear in the audience, and they do it so well. The Sentinels (both past and future) were terrifying and kudos to the design team. 
  The film shows primarily two timelines continuously: past and future, hence its strange title. Bryan Singers also adds humor to the mix which is led by the funny antics of Quicksilver. And the movie is sad, funny, adventurous, and mainly fun at all times.

(Days of Future Past alternate poster. Source: graffitiwithpunctuation.net)



  If there were any cons to point out those would be insignificant. I only detected one disadvantage, and that was that the many confusions of the previous installments were not fully explained here, as Singer had promised to the fans. Still, with the approval rate of 95% of spectators on Rotten Tomatoes, and also mine, the plot-holes are forgiven. Also, it was not Singer's fault that were errors as he had only directed the foremost couple of ventures.
  Days of Future Past has one element of a superhero that many do not: suspense. It is unpredictable in every scene. And the ending is incredible. One quality I noticed is that of the screenplay. Bolivar Trask (played by Game of Thrones star Peter Dinklage) represents a Capitalist leader. He wishes to capture/annihilate all mutants in the world through his Sentinel program. Magneto is clearly a Fascist as he believes mutants are above all humans. And Professor Xavier is a Socialist who wants equal rights to both parties.
  This discrete political theme is what makes DoFP such a different superhero movie. It has many heroes, like The Avengers, but there is so much meaning and depth in the venture. It has robots and futuristic technology like many sci-fi films, yet they all lead to a bigger picture. It has comedy and this is reminiscent of the early Star Wars trilogy that mixed action and satire so profoundly.
  DoFP begins where First Class failed. It is a more of a mature movie than FC ever was. First Class was as I mentioned before a teenager flick. DoFP discusses on many issues of the society. If one race is superior in strength to the other, does it mean it has the right to dominate mankind? Does genetics play a grandiose role in promoting survival of the fittest? So many questions are asked in the 123-min running time.
  In conclusion, DoFP is not an X-Men movie, it is the X-Men movie. It is the ultimate mutant motion-picture. It is the return of Bryan Singer and cements his position as the true X-Men film-maker. In 2016, we will see the sequel to DoFP that takes place in the 80s called X-Men: Apocalypse. This will be followed by the third Wolverine moving-picture in 2017. Both sequels will feature Jackman as Wolverine again, and rightfully so. I cannot imagine anyone honoring the role better.
  Apocalypse is the most powerful mutant in the X-Men universe. He is 5,000 years old and is immortal. With Singer directing I can already imagine it being another critical and commercial hit. But it will be hard to surpass DoFP in both directing and writing as it is so perfect.
  DoFP is written by Simon Kinberg also known for Sherlock Holmes and Elysium. With those credits, it was easy to forecast the cinematic greatness of DoFP. He is also attached to work on the sequel and will hopefully work on the screenplay again. DoFP is based on a story by Kinberg, Matthew Vaughn (director/co-writer of First Class) and Jane Goldman (also co-writer of First Class), and the storyline takes its title and influence from the Marvel storyline created by Chris Claremont and John Byrne.
  As of May 25, 2014 DoFP has achieved a massive opening of $261m worldwide on a budget of $200 million. This is a total of only two days including the Thursday late-night showings' bulk. The film will likely end its theatrical status with $800m to 1 billion dollars at the international box office. This evidently paves the way for the potentiality of the upcoming installments.
  Also, be sure to watch the post-credits scene. Like in all Marvel adaptations, there is one, and the spectacle is awe-inspiring.

IMDb: 8.7/10.
Rotten Tomatoes: 91%.
BO101: 4/4.

Godzilla: A Mon-Star Review

If Godzilla is the King of Monsters, then Godzilla (2014) is its rightful throne. This is the third Hollywood-based Godzilla film with the preceding ones releasing in 1956 and 1998 respectively. Originally, the Godzilla film franchise started with Godzilla (1954). It was directed by Japanese directorial legend Ishiro Honda. The universal critical and commercial success of the formerly-mentioned film led to the American versions, and also 28 films that were produced by Japan.

( The 1998 Godzilla movie poster. Source: Wikipedia)


  But these 28 films did not use CGI as seen in the 1998 and 2014 Americanized productions. Instead, they used costumes and props, even into the late 20th and early 21st century.
  The foremost Godzilla was inspired by the 1952 re-release of the 1933 King Kong feature. Now, reviewing Godzilla (2014) as separate from the 1998 version will be expansive. To put their comparison into simple terms: Godzilla (1998) made a bit over $379m worldwide off a massive budget of $130 million. But the producers wanted it to earn a lot more (they wanted it to beat Jurassic Park: The Lost World's $618.6m international revenue, which was released a year prior). And as you can clearly picture, it did not even come close. 
  Not only that, but the super negative reception from critics and fans of both American and Japanese nationality held off all plans for the forthcoming couple of sequels. The film currently has 25% on Rotten Tomatoes, with a 28% approval rate from the audiences on that website. As I have also seen the movie, I can honestly say that it was an epic fail.

(The 2014 Godzilla poster. Source: Wikipedia)

  Let's move on to this year's blockbuster. Godzilla is clearly 10 times better than its 1998 counterpart. But it also has its flaws. But I will start with the pros. The special effects in this film is top-class. The graphical design of Godzilla and the other monsters is indisputable. I have never seen better computer imagery of such caliber not even in Peter Jackson's King Kong (2005). 
  Katy Perry claimed that she was louder than a lion and we could hear her Roar. But the first scene of Godzilla's ROAR! really shook spectators in their seats. I watched the movie in IMAX 3-D with friends and believe me that cinematic sequence was unimaginably deafening.  
  The plot: Godzilla is awaken to fight off two fiendish creatures approximately identical to his stature. And the fate of human existence is put to the test. 
  So therein lie the cons of the movie. The first hour of the 123-mins feature is primarily rumbles and shakes of the ground coupled by bad weather. The actors in the movie are extremely dull. Aaron Taylor-Johnson is the main protagonist but his demeanor makes one wish to sleep in the first half. Ken Watanabe, a great actor, plays his role as a Japanese scientist monotonously. Elizabeth Olsen seems oblivious to everything going on around her. And even the audience might have been more aware of the surroundings in the movie than her.
  Yet there is a light in the darkness: Bryan Cranston. The Breaking Bad star does not get a lot of screen-time. Still, he manages to play his role tremendously well. Without him, all the acting would have been left to despair. His antics as a depressed scientist and the showcase of his Godzilla obsession was fantastic. 

(Bryan Cranston as seen in Godzilla. Source: businessinsider.com)

  What was so critically acceptable about Jurassic Park (1993)?. It has a 93% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Why? Because it was able to merge interesting characters with colossal monsters. It had equally comic parts as well as terrifying shots. This is what directors have been trying to do with disaster films ever since Spielberg's classic rendition of the genre.
  Godzilla does succeed in disturbing audiences with its spine-chilling atmosphere of desolation. Though the film would have gained much more critically if it were not so dark.. There are almost no funny sequences in the movie. It is like the world had already been devastated from the onset of the flick. I personally felt that the movie needed a more substantial ending.
  Also, we don't see much of the fight between Godzilla and the other monsters. Just American soldiers' heroic yet stupid schemes to eliminate Godzilla when he is clearly not killing humans intentionally. So with bad performances from all the actors except Cranston, a thin plot that could have been more unpredictable, and a lackluster finish,  Godzilla is a feature with a median rating.
  Godzilla is directed by Gareth Edwards and written by Max Borenstein, with a screen story by David Callaham. It has made $229.6m globally as of May 23, 2014 with a budget of $160 million. It will likely end its theatrical run between $600m and $800m.
  When asked I always declare that Godzilla is not a must-watch movie, but it is a movie worth watching in the cinema. Furthermore, worth the watch in IMAX (3-D or 2-D, it doesn't matter), or normal 3-D. So that you get the totality of the humongous size of Godzilla, and the other monsters.

IMDb: 7.3/10.
Rotten Tomatoes: 73%.
BO101: 2.5/4.