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Review – X-Men: Apocalypse (12a) [2016]

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Star Rating: 2.5/5

Director:

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • John Ottman – X-Men IIHouse of WaxFantastic 4 I-IIValkyrie, X-Men: Days of Future PastNon-Stop, 20,000 Leagues Under Sea

The Godfather Syndrome is a common problem for film trilogies. When the first film is a good and the second is better, the third film has a hard act to follow. So often, it cannot raise the bar to the required level and, consequently, the film is unsatisfactory. The Godfather trilogy is the most high profile to fall victim to this syndrome (hence the name), but the third film in the Alien franchise and in Sam Raimi’s Spiderman trilogy suffered from the syndrome as well. Sadly, so too does the third film in the X-Men prequel trilogy, Apocalypse.

Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) has awakened and keen to inflict punishment, using his incredible powers, upon the 'decadent, corrupt' world of the 1980s.

Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) has awakened and keen to inflict punishment, using his incredible powers, upon the ‘decadent, corrupt’ world of the 1980s.

X-Men: Apocalypse begins in Ancient Egypt with the creation of the most powerful mutant of all time (played by Oscar Isaac). This mutant is not given a name, but his enemies nickname him Apocalypse. No sooner is Apocalypse created when he is entombed and falls into a coma.

Fast forward to the 1980s and Apocalypse is awoken. He sees the world is full of decadence and corruption. So he decides that he must destroy it in order to make a new and better world. He recruits four (angry) mutants to his cause: Magneto (Michael Fassbender), Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Angel (Ben Hardy) and Psylocke (Olivia Munn), in order to carry out his master plan. Only the X-Men can stop this plan from coming to fruition. But only if they unite.

Apocalypse’s plot is quite dull, unoriginal and unfaithful to what the X-Men prequel trilogy has been about. First Class and Days of Future Past were original and interesting because they were not about good vs evil. Rather, they were about the polar-opposite approaches of Charles Xavier/Professor X and Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto to tackle the problems mutants faced in the world (mirroring the stances of Martin Luthar King and Malcolm X during the American Civil Rights movements of the 1960s). Neither Professor X’s nor Magneto’s approaches were completely right or completely wrong, which was what made First Class and Days of Future Past so fascinating and realistic (for the X-Men world that is). However, Apocalypse goes back on this theme and focusses more on stopping an all-powerful, under-developed and poorly written (and so obviously evil) villain. This is a real shame as director Bryan Singer should have done more to continue the theme of the previous two installments.

Charles Xavier/Professor X (James McAvoy) using his machine to find mutants around the world... and being mentally invaded by Apocalypse.

Charles Xavier/Professor X (James McAvoy) using his machine to find mutants around the world… and being mentally invaded by Apocalypse.

Yet, the near abandonment of the theme running through the first two movies of this trilogy is not the only major problem with Apocalypse’s plot. The storyline is bitty at best and incoherent at worst. As is so often the case in X-Men films, there are many characters with competing storylines. To condense so many storylines into a TV series is a struggle (just look at Game of Thrones). But to do it in a 144-minute film, and to develop the characters as well, is nigh on impossible. As a result, so much in Apocalypse is left under-explained or simply not explained at all: for example why Magneto begins the film in a metal-works factory in Poland (yes, just go with it)? Why, also, does Apocalypse need four assistants to help him execute his grand plan? (One would think these questions are profound enough to warrant answers. But, no, instead Singer spends the time explaining how Professor X went bald and how Storm’s hair turned blonde.)

It is safe to say that Apocalypse’s plot has enough holes to rival Swiss Cheese. However, to some extent one can ignore its many problems and enjoy watching some of our favourite mutants once more. Like in First Class and Days of Future Past, the acting and the dialogue is good. Again, both are a little bit down on the other two movies. But that may be due to viewers becoming accustomed to the high standard of acting set by James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence in particular.

No, the only real surprise in Apocalypse is how much screen time is given to the new members of the cast; notably, Sophie Turner as the young Jean Gray. Turner’s American accent vacillates across the Atlantic during the course of the film and she does not have the screen presence or the charisma (as yet) of the more senior members of the cast. But Turner does a good job with what she is given nevertheless.

The new mutants: young Jean Grey (Sophie Turner, left), Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee, centre) and Cyclops (Tye Sheridan, right) in the thick of the action, trying to stop Apocalypse from carrying his plan to destroy the world.

The new mutants: young Jean Grey (Sophie Turner, left), Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee, centre) and Cyclops (Tye Sheridan, right) in the thick of the action, trying to stop Apocalypse from carrying his plan to destroy the world.

And like with the acting and the dialogue, the action scenes and the special effects are good without being spectacular. Similarly though, audiences have seen what Apocalypse has to offer before (not only in previous X-Men films, but also in other sci-fi and comic-book movies). This, therefore, leaves viewers feeling underwhelmed and yearning for something more interesting to watch.

All-in-all, X-Men: Apocalypse is a disappointing film. The storyline is a muddle, undercooked and a betrayal from what made the previous two films in the trilogy so engaging. With a plot so problematic, it is no surprise that neither the quality of its cast nor the numerous (inconsequential) action sequences can save this third film from being a let-down. Thus, The Godfather Syndrome has struck again and means that the X-Men prequel trilogy has not got the conclusive third chapter that it richly deserved.

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Review – X-Men: Days of Future Past (12a) [2014]

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Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • John Ottman – X-Men II, House of Wax, Fantastic 4 I-II, Valkyrie, Non-Stop, X-Men: Apocalypse

The Batman and X-Men franchises have undergone similar arcs and reboots in relatively recent times. 1997’s Batman & Robin and 2006’s X-Men 3: The Last Stand were so bad that the franchises were torn up and magnificently re-started in the form of 2005’s Batman Begins and 2011’s X-Men: First Class. And just as 2008’s The Dark Knight was a great sequel to Batman Begins, so Bryan Singer’s return to the X-Men franchise with X-Men: Days of Future is a great continuation of First Class.

Storm (Halle Berry), Professor X (Patrick Stewart), Blink (Blingbling Fan), Magneto (Ian McKellen) and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) decide upon their plan of action, whilst watching in horror as the Sentinels attack.

Storm (Halle Berry), Professor X (Patrick Stewart), Blink (Blingbling Fan), Magneto (Ian McKellen) and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) decide upon their plan of action, whilst watching in horror as the Sentinels attack.

X-Men: Days of Future Past is loosely based on the comic-book with the same title. The movie starts in the apocalyptic, present day or the near future. Led by the reunited Charles Xavier/Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (Ian McKellen), the last handful of mutants are trying desperately to hold out against the invincible, changeable Sentinels.

With the situation hopeless, Professor X, via Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page), sends Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back in time to 1973. Professor X’s hope is that Wolverine can persuade a younger, mentally-broken Charles (James McAvoy) to re-establish his friendship with Erik (Michael Fassbender) and stop Dr. Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) from creating the Sentinels.

X-Men: Days of Future Past has an engaging storyline that interlinks the two time-periods within the film nicely, if not without problems for some of the other X-Men films. Indeed, Days of Future Past may come at the expense of some elements of the three original X-Men movies and may even black-out the existence of the two Wolverine spin-offs (but that is probably for the best).

Moreover, Days of Future Past involves itself in crucial events in history, in the same way that First Class did with the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Civil Rights movement in America in the 1960s. Like with its prequel, Days of Future Past does this in a smart and hilarious way. This, combined many in-jokes and phenomenal special effects, makes Days of Future Past very enjoyable to watch.

Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) finds Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (Michael Fassbender), who finds out that she is still furious with him about something that happened off-screen in the past.

Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) finds Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (Michael Fassbender), who finds out that she is still furious with him about something that happened off-screen in the past.

Nevertheless, what makes (First Class and) Days of Future Past so interesting is that it is not about a showdown between Good and Evil; it is about the friendship/rivalry of Professor X and Magneto. These two characters may not have the depth or the darkness of Bruce Wayne in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, but their personalities and differing ideologies make for a refreshing change to the crash, bang, boom nature of other superhero movies like all five Spiderman films, Iron Man III and Captain America II among countless others.

Additionally, the dialogue and acting in the latter two X-Men films is significantly better than in those above-mentioned superhero movies, with the exception of The Dark Knight Trilogy. All the actors in Days of Future Past (old and new) are brilliant without fail. Whether it is Sir Ian McKellen or Michael Fassbender, Magneto is played with the same vigour and damaged personality as in First Class; Jennifer Lawrence is wonderful as the vulnerable Mysterique, whose unhappiness in her own skin has led her to take vengeance against anyone who takes a dislike to mutants; Hugh Jackman once again shows that he owns the Wolverine character; Patrick Stewart and James McAvoy play magnificently as Charles Xavier, although McAvoy undoubtedly has the more demanding parts of the role; and Peter Dinklage is great as Dr. Trask, even if his accent switches from his normal New Jersey accent to Tyrion Lannister’s English accent for no obvious reason.

The above-mentioned characters may dominate Days of Future Past, but they are only a minority of the swollen cast. Consequently, a great many characters are not given much screen time, including new mutants like Blink (Bingbing Fan), Sunspot (Adan Canto) and Warpath (Booboo Stewart). These mutants have a back-story and it would have been good to hear it.

Otherwise, in the eleven years between the end of First Class and the beginning of Days of Future Past (1962-73), viewers are told of many interesting developments that have occurred off-screen. It would have been nice to have been shown these. (Then again, another film in between these two movies would have been needed for that.)

Dr. Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) explaining why he needs to create the Sentinels.

Dr. Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) explaining why he needs to create the Sentinels (which come to look remarkably like the machine-monster Thor fights in Thor I).

And, lastly, the film deviates quite significantly from the same-named comic-book; for example, in the comics, it is Kitty Pryde who goes back in time, not Wolverine. But if comic-book geeks are honest, even they would accept that Kitty Pryde cannot dominate the screen (or hold viewer’s attention) in the same way that Wolverine can. And besides, these alterations should not knock down a film that achieves so much by way of its ambition and is so entertaining.

Over-all, X-Men: Days of Future Past is a really good film. It has its flaws and it would have been nice to learn more about the non-central characters, and to see some of the events that happened off-screen. But, on the whole, Days of Future Past is amusing; it deals well with its two competing time-periods; continues the conflict maturely between Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr; and is a credible sequel to X-Men: First Class. Now all the franchise needs, like with The Dark Knight Trilogy, is a satisfying conclusion in its third instalment, X-Men: Apocalypse.

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Review – The Hunger Games (12a) [2012]

Star Rating: 3/5

Over the last decade, there have been a multitude of reality TV shows/series targeted for children and teenagers. Big Brother, The X Factor and The Apprentice are three such programmes that have gripped the nation, despite becoming sterile in recent years. Based on a similar, yet darker premise, The Hunger Games entertains its audience prior to running for too long.

Katniss (Jeniffer Lawrence) hunting in the woods to find food for her family, wherein she meets her childhood friend, Gale (Liam Hemsworth).

The Hunger Games is based on the book with the same title by Suzanne Collins. It’s based in a dystopian, post-apocalyptic country called Panem, which was once territory in North America. As punishment for a people’s rebellion, each one of the twelve now-impoverished districts has to put forward their boys and girls, between the ages of twelve to eighteen, to compete in a tournament called the Hunger Games. At random, one boy and one girl are chosen to compete in the games, which are watched by thousands throughout the country. The tournament, controlled by a repressive leadership, is a fight to see who will survive. Only one, out of the twenty-four chosen, will return home.

After her younger sister, Primrose (Willow Shields), is picked to compete in the tournament, 16-year-old Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence – Winter’s Bone, X-Men: First Class, X-Men: Days of Future Past) volunteers to take her sister’s place. Katniss has spent years illegally hunting with her friend, Gale (Liam Hemsworth – Knowing, The Last Song, Independence Day II: Resurgence), for food in the woods outside of District 12. Now, taken to the affluent capital for pre-tournament training, along with Peeta (Josh Hutcherson – The Polar Express, The Kids Are Alright, Red Dawn), Katniss must use her skills and learn other arts from her mentors, Haymitch (Woody Harrelson – No Country For Old Men, Friends With Benefits, Seven Psychopaths) and Cinna (Lenny KravitzThe Rugrats Movie, Precious, The Blind Bastard Club), to survive the games.

The plot for the film is quite accurate to the book, despite missing the Avox sub-plot and changing the skin-colour of some of the characters, such as Katniss and Rue (Amandla Stenberg – Texas Killing Fields, Colombiana).

Katniss’s main opponent in the games, Cato (Alexander Ludwig). He is vicious and ruthless.

Nonetheless, The Hunger Games is an interesting movie, not least due to its brutal, Orwellian premise. (Note how down-trodden and miserable the common people are in comparison to the powerful elites.) Moreover, the film offers a refreshing change to the fantasy/science-fiction genre by having an outwardly tough, mentally-strong woman in a combatant role as the lead character (unlike the feeble Bella from the Twilight series).

However, at 142 minutes, The Hunger Games is far too long. A movie needs to be something special to hold its audience for that length of time, and The Hunger Games loses its viewers almost as soon as Katniss enters the tournament. One feels little suspense during the games, and one also feels that Katniss is never in real danger (unlike in Game of Thrones, where one never knows how long any of the characters will live).

Furthermore, the film lacks the violence it deserves. In 2000, a Japanese film with a comparable theme, called Battle Royale, was released. (Suzanne Collins denies being influenced by the movie.) That film acquired an 18-rating, due to the vicious content. But, just as The X-Factor has to adhere to rules so minors can watch it (even if Christina Aguilera and Rihanna stuck two fingers up to those in 2010), director Gary Ross (Pleasantville, Seabiscuit, The Free State of Jones) had to make the violent aspects of The Hunger Games implicit to the movie’s detriment. It makes the film less realistic; and, by merely shaking the camera, Ross makes the fight scenes hard to follow.

Fighting for one’s life in a forest is what the games are about. Yet, Katniss appears remarkably relaxed throughout. One only has to watch Vietnam War films, such as Apocalypse Now and Platoon, to realise soldiers’ edginess whilst in the jungle. Katniss, though, not only sleeps well, she’s even willing to help out others (seemingly unbothered that they could kill her when she’s not looking or asleep). It is astonishing that for someone so mentally hard, she’s unwilling to do what’s necessary to survive.

Despite Katniss’s inherent contradictions, Jennifer Lawrence gives a credible performance as the lead character (who always looks lovely and clean after rolling around in the dirt). Likewise, Donald Sutherland (The Italian Job, The Eagle, Sofia), as the pitiless President Snow; and Woody Harrelson, as the alcoholic mentor, also perform decently. But the rest of the cast, including Josh Hutcherson, as the wimpy Peeta; Stanley Tucci (The Devil Wears Prada, Captain America: The First Avenger, The Company You Keep), as Caesar Flickerman, the daft-smiling hand of the president; and Alexander Ludwig (The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising), as Cato, Katniss’s nasty and fierce opponent in the games, give pathetic, one-dimensional displays.

Katniss, looking much like Tulisa Contostavlos, in tightly-fitted leather, training before the games with Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). She and him are receiving advice from Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) on how to beat Cato and his gang.

It is a shame that most of the actors give poor performances. The movie has been put together nicely, James Howard (Love And Other Drugs, The Tourist, Snow White And The Huntsman) has composed a respectable score, and the special effects are brilliant. Panem’s capital has been wonderfully constructed and is a sight to behold.

All-in-all, The Hunger Games has a strong, but flawed, main character, with an intriguing, 1984-like basis to a reality TV show. But, ultimately, the movie has been hamstrung to cater to children and teenagers. Consequently, it is predictable and, like most reality TV shows/series, the film peters out before it ends.

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