Tuesday, May 27, 2014

X-Men: Days of Future Past

Days of Future Past is/was one of the great storylines in all of X-Men comics history. Considering how The Dark Phoenix Saga was absolutely butchered by the third entry in the X-Men movie series, I was more than a little worried about how this would turn out, even with the return of Bryan Singer to the director’s chair after the hack Brett Ratner ruined X-Men 3, and the well-meaning but boring and uninspired direction by Matthew Vaughn in X-Men: First Class. But Singer proves again that he’s the right filmmaker for this franchise. Even the returning First Class cast all do superior work as actors under Singer’s direction, and the epic time travelling tale of Days of Future Past is handled remarkably well, especially considering the sheer number of characters Singer must juggle.

Naturally, there are many changes that were made in the transition to the big screen. Most people probably want to see Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine be the one to go back in time, though I would’ve loved if it was Ellen Page’s Kitty Pryde who went back, as it is in the comics. She’s fantastic and infinitely watchable in her small role in these movies. But as Wolverine is sent back in time to the 1970’s to help stop the development of mutant killing machines known as Sentinels, it makes sense that his healing ability aids in the torturous journey back. Singer wisely shoots many things like the paranoid 70’s thrillers from Sydney Pollack or Alan J. Pakula, but he’s never indebted to them or too reverent as he was to the original Superman movie when he made Superman Returns back in ’06 (the reason he didn’t direct X-Men 3). Many of the actors get their room to shine, especially Michael Fassbender as the young Magneto. But as a comics nerd growing up, it’s just awesome to see Bishop and Colossus and all my childhood favorites on screen, even if the only new characters to get any significant time are Peter Dinklage as Sentinel designer Bollivar Trask and a really fun few minutes with the lightning fast Quicksilver, who they even hint at is Magento’s illegitimate son (as he is in the comics).

But really I think the star of this movie is Bryan Singer. The way he juggles the future and past storylines, giving everyone at least a few moments to shine (although honestly, couldn’t every movie use more Ian McKellan, even movies he’s not in?) and unleashing some truly spectacular action sequences, the jail break and the raising of the stadium being the most impressive. But also the relentless attacks from the future Sentinels and letting us not be confused even though there are characters throwing around teleportation portals as both escapes and ingenious attack measures. Singer masterfully holds all the puppet strings in place and delivers what is, I think, without a doubt the best movie of the X-Men franchise.

The Amazing Spiderman 2

The Amazing Spiderman 2 continues on the previous entries habit of getting Spiderman absolutely right. Though grounded in reality, the world is a little over-the-top, the one liners are occasionally too much and make Peter Parker seem like an arrogant young kid (which he is), but the action is fantastic and the villains have a way of having some pathos that they don’t always do in other superhero universes. Emma Stone deserves special mention as making her Gwen Stacy the model on which all “girlfriend in a superhero movie” roles should be, as she’s smarter than Peter (Andrew Garfield, fantastic again) and bails him out at least as many times as he saves her. A damsel in distress she is not. Ultimately, The Amazing Spiderman 2 has too many villains, too many throwaway moments (or moments that should’ve been thrown away), and is a little too long. Still, it was a blast and worthy of standing alongside Spiderman 2, the only great entry in the Tobey Maguire/Sam Raimi movies.

With, by the end of the movie, having 3 villains, it becomes too much. But Paul Giamatti is hamming it up with a ridiculous Russian accent that made me smile in his 5 minutes or so of screen time as Rhino. Dane DeHaan does some nice work as Harry Osborn, spoiled little rich kid who finds out he’s dying from a genetic disease and has to go about finding out how to stop the disease. Eventually he becomes the Green Goblin, one of Spiderman’s most iconic foes. It’s too bad that he’s ridiculous to look at and listen to once the villainous transformation takes place, but he does get a game changer of a villainous deed that is handled as well as anything has any moment in any comic book movie yet. The main villain of the piece, the one I wish had had more screen time, is Jamie Foxx’s terrific obsessive fan turned dangerous enemy, Electro. I liked the consequences shown for when a villain is able to have the almost God-like ability to control electricity. Imagine New York City completely blacking out because of this uncontainable and uncontrollable lust for electricity that Electro has. This movie imagines those type of consequences.

Andrew Garfield, who I first noticed in his extraordinary work in Terry Gilliam’s extraordinary movie The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, is simply a perfect fit for this role. Even at 30, he still is passable as a high school senior and college freshman. He plays Peter wrestling the demons of what it means to be Spiderman and whether he’s actually ultimately doing good or bad for the city. He shows the physical toll being a superhero would take on your body and mind. But he also plays the humor and the light heartedness of Spiderman as well. And the chemistry that he and real life love Emma Stone have is what really carries the movie’s core along. I can’t wait to see where director Marc Webb goes with the series from here.