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Posts Tagged ‘Patrick Stewart’

Seven films in fourteen years is a pretty impressive workrate, and one thing you can’t accuse the makers of the X-Men movies of is laziness. There has been an X-Men film out more often than not in recent summers, which suggests that this is a franchise with a solid audience. Not bad given the original X-Men was, by blockbuster standards, a cautiously low-budget offering (largely because the studio had taken a massive bath on Fight Club the previous year).

The director of the first two X-movies, Bryan Singer, returns for the latest instalment, the evocatively-titled X-Men: Days of Future Past (well, evocatively-titled if you’re familiar with the classic storylines from the comic series). If you’ve ever seen and enjoyed an X-Men film in the past, then there’s a very good chance you’ll enjoy this one – not least because it’s bound to have your favourite character in it somewhere.

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Days of Future Past opens in a nightmarish near-future – two parts Terminator to one part Matrix – with the remnants of humanity and mutantkind oppressed by robotic enforcers called Sentinels. The last few outposts of resistance are gradually being crushed, despite the best efforts of the defenders. The war has been lost, and all hope with it.

Well, perhaps not quite. A faint glimmer remains, as Professor X (Patrick Stewart) has a cunning plan to prevent the whole crisis from happening in the first place. He intends to project the consciousness of Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back through time to the early 70s. The Sentinels began as a US government mutant control project, and if the project can be shut down at an early enough stage the future can be saved.

Key to this is averting the assassination of military boffin Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) by Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), but to do so Wolverine is going to need the help of the 70s versions of both Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender), each of whom has troubles of their own – Xavier having lost his self-belief following the events of X-Men: First Class, and Magneto being in a maximum security cell under the Pentagon following his arrest for a slightly surprising crime. Still, when you’ve got to get the band back together, you’ve got to get the band back together…

First things first. Post-credit scene? Yes. (It seems to gradually be becoming the norm for all the Marvel comics movies, not just the Marvel Studios ones.) This one sets up X-Men: Apocalypse, due in 2016, but how much you are stirred by it will depend on your familiarity with the comics in the late 80s and after.

The first purpose of any X-Men film is, obviously, to make truckfuls of money for 20th Century Fox, and I suspect this one will do so. Beyond this, one of the main things Singer seems to be looking to do is stitch together the disparate elements of the X-Men franchise – hence, actors from what I suppose we can call the original trilogy (Stewart, Jackman, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry, Shawn Ashmore) appear alongside the ones who appeared – sometimes in the same roles – in First Class (McAvoy, Fassbender, Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult). If you’re really obsessive about the detail, the film doesn’t quite manage to square this particular circle: the major beats of continuity are okay, but there are just too many little details that don’t match up, too many inexplicable resurrections and duplications of characters. Nevertheless, the time-travel storyline is very engaging (one shouldn’t criticise it for ripping off The Terminator too much, given the original comic came out in 1981) and allows the movie to include the best elements from all the previous films.

The results are supremely entertaining. I’ve always been ever-so-slightly lukewarm about most of the X-Men films in past, particularly the two Singer directed, not liking them as much as I wanted to and always feeling that Singer was actively shying away from the more colourful comic book elements of the stories. But this time he really gets it right, drawing on specific comic-book plotlines to conjure up a story that’s about as comic-booky as you can get (superheroes, time-travel, giant robots) with seemingly no reservations at all.

This is one of those rare blockbusters which seems to get virtually everything right – the action is spectacular and superbly staged, but the plot (on its own terms) hangs together almost seamlessly, and the script finds appropriately dramatic material for the many fine actors appearing in those increasingly outlandish (and in Lawrence’s case, unforgiving) costumes and prosthetics. There are a lot of familiar faces and big names in Days of Future Past, and – a few people who just turn up to cameo excepted – all of them get their moment to shine. (That said, it’s somewhat confounding that Anna Paquin, who’s on-screen for literally about two seconds, is sixth-billed in the credits.)

Of the returning stars, it’s again Michael Fassbender who really dominates the film as the younger Magneto – he manages to put Ian McKellen in the shade, which is no mean feat – and there’s something very exciting about seeing him square off against Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, as happens at a couple of points. The film’s big innovation, character-wise, is Quicksilver, played here by Evan Peters. The level of wit and invention in his sequences raises the bar for how this kind of character should be presented, and with another version of Quicksilver due to appear in Avengers: Age of Ultron (basically, for obscure reasons he is covered by both the X-Men and Avengers rights licences), it will be interesting to see how Marvel Studios respond.

Days of Future Past may not succeed in unifying the X-Men continuity, but that’s a moot point, not least because said continuity is substantially rewritten in the course of the film anyway (the joys of time travel plotting). In every other respect, though, this is a film which succeeds magnificently – it’s thrilling, funny, witty, and occasionally moving, with great performances and visuals. Not only is this the best blockbuster of the year so far, but – and I should probably stop saying this – it’s the best X-Men film yet, as well.

 

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From the Hootoo archive. Originally published September 21st 2006: 

Hello again everyone, and welcome to another edition of the film review column that recently lost eight hours and has absolutely no idea where they’ve gone. Yes, 24LAS is now coming to you fairly live from the less desirable end of Tokyo, courtesy of Big Orange Cybercafe (Free Drinks But It’s 3p A Minute) Ltd.

Luckily, they have cinemas in Japan and a striking resemblence they bear to the British kind too: big dark rooms full of seats, mostly facing a screen on which they show films. I tell you, this foreign travel, you learn a thing or two. The main difference as far as I can tell (other than the subtitles) is that the film trailers and drinks adverts are all jumbled together and the anti-piracy warning is really OTT.

Anyway, the latest big movie to hit my local cineplex in Makuhari-Hongo is Brett Ratner’s X Men: The Last Stand, which got overlooked on its UK release (by me, anyway). The title is a subtle clue that this is the third in the X Men series, but the first not to be directed by Bryan Singer (who was off remaking Superman at the time).

Maintaining admirably close continuity with the last installment, the new movie opens with things looking unusually cheery for Marvel’s merry mutants — well, okay, Cyclops is still bummed out about his girlfriend’s rather contrived death, but everyone else is fairly happy.

But then!!! The world is shocked by the news that a cure for mutation has been discovered, capable of turning even the X-Men into normal (albeit unfeasibly attractive and well-styled) people. Magneto (Ian McKellen) is not best pleased about this, but sees it as a means to attract many new followers. The X-Men also have their concerns, but are distracted by the apparent resurrection of their old comrade Jean Grey, something which will have grave consequences for more than one of their number…

This movie has taken a lot of stick, largely I suspect because the received wisdom is that Bryan Singer is an auteur but Brett Ratner is a hack. I can sort of see where that idea comes from, but I really rather enjoyed Last Stand both times I saw it. It may lack some of the darkness of the last installment in particular, but the central allegory survives intact and there’s crash-bang-wallop in spades (something Singer always seems to shy away from).

There are problems, admittedly — the two main plotlines, one based on Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men run, the other on Chris Claremont’s classic Dark Phoenix saga, coil about each other but never actually mesh. There’s a lot of jostling for screentime amongst the various characters. (Angel in particular may as well not have bothered turning up.)

However, it isn’t afraid to dispose of key characters in spectacularly terminal style. There are genuinely shocking moments in Last Stand. And some of the newcomers acquit themselves well, particularly Kelsey Grammer as the Beast. As Juggernaut, Vinnie Jones makes a significant impression (sorry, that should read ‘big dent’).

In the end, this is a cheerful and entertaining blockbuster movie, never less than competently made and acted. Singer fanboys may recoil in horror, but its bright and energetic style is probably more to my taste than that of the first two movies and arguably closer to the tone of the comic books. An undemandingly fun night out, no matter what time zone you’re in.

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From the Hootoo archive. Originally published May 8th 2003: 

Well, it looks like summer is nearly upon us, bringing with it a virtual cavalcade of sequels and superheroes (many with the letter X in their titles). The first of these is, of course, Bryan Singer’s X2 – the sequel to 2000’s X-Men. Superhero sequels actually have a pretty good strike rate (I’m thinking here of the second installments of Superman, Batman and Blade, for starters [I don’t know what the hell I was thinking of vis-a-vis Batman Returns. Sorry – A]), so surely this one isn’t going to be a let down… Certainly they’ve retained the same impressive cast: Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is still the one with the adamantium claws, skeleton, and quiff, Magneto (Gandalf) is still the mutant master of magnetism, Professor X (Patrick Stewart, taking the weight off) is the one whose superpowers are the least drain on the budget, and Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) is still the one with the X-Man codename that the scriptwriters are too embarrassed to use…

Following on reasonably closely from the events of the first film, X2 opens with an attempt on the US President’s life by the imp-like teleporter Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming), a sequence which plays rather like The West Wing on acid. Army scientist Stryker (Brian Cox) uses this as an excuse to crack down on mutant activity, particularly the Xavier School – an institution he has a special and sinister interest in. Meanwhile, still on the scene are Magneto and Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos), who have an agenda of their own…

Possibly due to the bigger budget, this is a slightly different film to the first one: where that essentially had a political subtext, this one is more personally and emotionally based. And, for most of the film, the results are spectacularly impressive, as the story alternates between impressive effects sequences and involving personal revelations to utterly engrossing effect.

I have never hidden the fact that I’m a comics fan, and so my approach to a film like this is inevitably slightly different to that of a purely cinematic feature like, ooh, Terminator 3. Most of the niggling gripes I had with the first film are answered, one way or another – this time round there’s a lot more action and many more X-Men on display, as Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) and Pyro (Aaron Stanford) get beefed-up roles and characters like Colossus, Jubilee, Beast, Shadowcat, and Karma all get cameos or namechecks of various significance. Having said that, Cyclops (James Marsden) is – very nearly unforgivably, given he’s a lynchpin of the comic – reduced to not much more than a supporting character, and there’s still no sign of the Danger Room.

But on its own terms as a film, X2 is highly impressive in nearly every respect. There’s a hugely charismatic performance from Jackman, a funny and sympathetic one from Cumming, and another world-class display of scene-stealing from Ian McKellen – he’s helped a lot by the fact that he gets, in his jail-break, arguably the best set-piece of the film. However, what keeps this from transcending X-Men in every single department is the climax. Where, the first time round, it was concise and simple and pacy, this time round it seems to take up about a quarter of the film’s running time, with half-a-dozen different plot threads and a succession of fights, crises, reversals and revelations. One of these is not only unnecessary and half-baked, but also a wholly underwhelming appropriation of the Dark Phoenix storyline (one of the most famous and best-loved stories from the comic), and thus promises to irk both the hard-core fans and normal people. The result is that the film loses momentum towards the end, which is a real disappointment – but at least it does provide genuine closure in place of a cliffhanger.

Given some of the groundbreaking pyrotechnics we’re promised later this summer (most obviously by the Wachowskis and Ang Lee) it would have been easy for X2 to slip back to being a blockbuster of the second rank. For all that it has its flaws and disappointments, this is an extremely impressive example of the genre, and entertaining from start to finish. Perhaps not the masterpiece that some people were anticipating, but by no means a disappointment: not a truly great movie, but great fun to watch.

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From the Hootoo archive. Originally published January 5th 2003: 

…it’s been a loong road, getting from there to here, it’s been a loong road – Heavens above, what’s this? There’s something a bit weird about the fact that the latest Star Trek movie is still showcasing the Next Generation cast, mainly because in the eight years since they knocked the TV show on the head, over thirteen seasons of Trek of various kinds have been broadcast in the States. Time and the franchise have moved on, but here they are, still plugging away, seemingly coelacanth-like in their staying power.

Until now it’s always been fairly easy to predict whether or not a Trek movie will be any good or not: the rule is that even-numbered entries are on average far superior to their odd-numbered kin. And in case you were wondering or had lost count, Star Trek: Nemesis is the tenth in the series, so on paper at least the omens were good.

Something is rotten in the state of the Romulan Empire and so Baldy, Beardy, Pasty-face, Cornish-pasty-face, Dopey, Bashful and Doc must squeeze back into their uniforms and fire up the warp engines one last time. (Although not before some schmaltzy goings-on at Riker and Troi’s wedding reception, where before you can groan ‘Oh, God, Data’s going to start singing,’ Data starts singing.) Pausing only to collect Data’s disassembled android twin and engage in a wholly superfluous dune-buggy chase, the Enterprise arrives at Romulus to find a coup has occurred and the suspiciously bald and English-sounding Shinzon (Tom Hardy) is now in power. Shinzon professes friendship towards the Federation but it turns out he has a giant magic technobabble ray gun and he’s not afraid to use it. With Data’s duplicate also proving treacherous, it soon becomes apparent that Picard and the gang are facing an attack of the – oh, bother, Lucas got there first, didn’t he?

John (Gladiator) Logan’s script if nothing else hits all the buttons to keep the hard-core Trekkie audience happy. Not that this is necessarily a good thing as Trekkies (like devoted afficionados of most cult TV) are as a rule so reactionary and hidebound as to make members of the average London gentlemen’s club look like pot-smoking libertarians by comparison. So Whoopi Goldberg gets a cameo, as does Wil Wheaton (his is tiny and dialogue-free). Fans of Voyager get an appearance by Kate Mulgrew as Janeway, fans of Enterprise get a teeny-weeny mention of the ‘USS Archer’ (presumably named named after Scott Bakula’s character) and fans of DS9 get… Well, apart from a couple of mentions of the Dominion War they get diddly-squat – Worf is back on the Enterprise, his posting to Kronos as Federation Ambassador forgotten about, along with the Romulan-Federation alliance – all rather irritating to those of us who actually prefer our Trek space-station shaped. Mmm, who was that just complaining about Trekkies being sticks-in-the-mud…?

But beyond all the Trek continuity (and if you’ve stuck with me this far you’re either amazingly tolerant, a member of the Post team, or a Trekkie and no doubt lusting for my blood – whichever, you have my apologies) the script is… mmm, well, it’s very much a latterday Star Trek script in that any subtlety or thematic content is banged on about repeatedly and at great length, which kind of defeats the object of including it in the first place. Including Data’s twin, B4, is arguably a mistake for exactly this reason: apart from counterpointing the ‘evil twin’ theme, attempts to use B4 to provide either comic relief or pathos fail, and his presence undercuts what little impact the climax has. The climax is, by the way, blatantly nicked from The Wrath of Khan but lacks shock value and genuine emotion this time around.

Director Stuart Baird does a pretty good job of making this look like a proper film as opposed to a big-budget TV episode (something Jonathan Frakes, director of the last two, couldn’t quite manage), but he’s hampered by the fact that most of it occurs on starships, and that the last segment is a very, very long battle which gets rather repetitive (some unorthodox tactics from Picard notwithstanding). The only member of the ‘guest cast’ who makes in impression at all is Tom Hardy, who gives a sly and witty performance as the Picard-clone. The great Ron Perlman, who’s virtually made a career out of acting under prosthetics, is almost wholly wasted as Hardy’s henchman – he gets a peculiarly long and involved punch-up with Riker that adds nothing to the plot, but that’s about it. A nearly unrecognisable Dina Meyer also gets one okay scene, but also falls foul of the assumption that the audience is only here to see the regular crew and (maybe) the villain.

The Star Trek movie series has struggled with one major problem this last ten or fifteen years: the existence of the various different Star Trek TV series. As a franchise, the makers of Trek clearly realise that their core audience wants roughly the same thing from whatever outlet they go to, whether that be a TV series, a book, or a movie. The result has been a string of movies that – for the most part – have seemed safe and cosy and predictable and little-more than large-scale TV episodes, and Nemesis is ultimately no exception. There are bigger, better, more cinematic SF and fantasy movies out there these days, and I can’t imagine the appeal of Star Trek: Nemesis extending much beyond the hard-core fanbase it was clearly made for.

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