DARK PHOENIX (June 6, 1999)
Writer/Director: Simon Kinberg
Starring: Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Nicholas Hoult, Jessica Chastain, Alexandra Shipp, Evan Peters, Kodi Smit-Phee
Jean Grey is a favorite among X-Men fans. She’s had quite the journey as we’ve seen in the comics and film series. Dark Phoenix acts as part origin story as it charts evolution as mutant into the fully fledged Dark Phoenix. Game of Thrones’ Sophie Turner returns to the role of Jean Grey after appearing in X-Men: Apocalypse. We learn as a young girl she accidentally caused the death of her parents in a car accident. Her powers of telepathy and telekinesis have only gotten stronger as she’s grown up. She lives under Professor Xavier’s home for gifted children, but her powers have become too strong and uncontrollable driving a wedge between her, Xavier, and the rest of the X-Men. Her vulnerable state combined with powers become the focus of an alien species who can inhabit the human form. Vuk (Jessica Chastain) finds Jean Grey luring her into the dark side.
LOGAN (March 6, 2017)
Director: James Mangold
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Stephen Merchant, Dafne Keen, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Boyd Holbrook, Richard E. Grant, Eriq La Salle, Elise Neal
Hugh Jackman first donned the Wolverine claws for the first X-Men film back in 2000. Seventeen years and nine appearances later, he has come to the end of his reign for playing the iconic comic book hero. Logan picks up in the year 2029 and we see him living in hiding under a new identity as a limo driver. The mutant population has practically been wiped out with Logan living a simple life in Mexico with old pal Charles Xavier (Stewart) and the albino mutant Caliban (Merchant). Both Logan and Charles have seen better days. Charles suffers multiple seizures and no longer has full control over his mind. Logan has been roughed up and beaten down so many times it has taken a toll on his body. His healing powers are not as fast as they once were making the recovery time after a battle long and arduous. He also can’t seem to shake his drinking problem.
He’s approached by a nurse named Gabriella (Rodriguez) asking for help to take her and her daughter, Laura (Keen), to a remote location only known as Eden. As hard as Logan tries to ignore them, he finds himself caught up in their mess. Charles believes little Laura has gifted powers, and after an all-out brawl at their compound, Logan learns she is full of the same metal that fills his body. She was born in an experimental lab where mutant children were created to become killing machines. Logan and Charles find themselves on the run protecting this little girl from the authorities that are fast on her trail.
It can be a bit hard to keep up in the lineage of two X-Men trilogies and a Wolverine trilogy. The other Wolverine movies were grave disappointments and X-Men: Apocalypse was overstuffed with characters and CGI to the point it ruined the set-up previously in place for that second trilogy. It was a relief to sit through Logan and realize that Jackman is ending his run on a high note. This film is not only the best in his standalone trilogy, but is one of the best of the nine movies. Director James Mangold, who also directed The Wolverine, keeps the movie as grounded in realism as possible. It’s an added challenge, but one that ultimately works, when a director can morph the lore of the genre while keeping it in tangible and realistic society. He goes back to basics to remind us why we like this character. His fills his screenplay with great care fleshing out where these characters are at as we approach the end of their journey. I think naming it Logan showcases how Mangold is diving into the human side of him now, not just the X-Men mutant that he was once. He was a brutal independent tough guy with claws of steel. He still has that edge, but now we find him in the caretaker role to his mentor Charles and Laura. There is a strong family theme to this film that’s been missing in the other Wolverine movies. It raises the stakes for these three characters as we see them potentially facing their end of days.
Despite it being set in the near-future, Mangold feels inspired by the western genre to close out this iteration. There is the obvious desert wasteland setting, it’s survival of the fittest mode, and the final epic showdown for our hero. He even uses Johnny Cash’s “The Man Comes Around” to play during the closing credits. It’s the perfect touch to define one of the most popular X-Men characters. Even if you’ve never seen any of the other entries, Logan has it’s own standalone story. At the same time, Mangold keeps it in tune with what has come before for us geeks that have devoted seventeen years to the character. Charles and Logan reminisce about the old days detailing key moments in previous films. There’s also the meta vibe in acknowledging the impact the X-Men had in society. Logan comes face to face with the Wolverine action figure in the full yellow suit and the comics that have been made detailing their adventures.
Logan succeeds at never feeling bogged down in cheap CGI effects like some superhero movies tend to rely on. There are long bouts where the claws are kept in as Mangold focuses on the relationships between the three main characters. When the time comes for Logan’s and Laura’s claws, he goes full force. This film was given the creative license for a hard-R rating given the previous success of Deadpool. The violence and carnage is cranked up much higher than in the previous films. It feels appropriate given the nature of these characters and that it’s the last movie. This is definitely NOT a kid’s movie with the profanity and brutality at hand. It’s especially jarring at times given the fact that the young girl is extremely ruthless.
It’s hard to imagine anyone else in the role of Wolverine, yet Jackman was the second choice. Dougray Scott was originally cast but had to back out due to scheduling conflicts with Mission Impossible II. Jackman brings out more layers to Logan than we have seen in any of the previous entries. His scenes with Patrick Stewart have a heartfelt father/son quality to them, which gives the film more weight as it progresses. You don’t often find that in your standard superhero film. As a kid growing up watching the X-Men cartoons, Logan is the ending I was hoping for unlike X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men: Apocalypse. The conclusion to a trilogy needs give a proper sendoff to characters we have come to love and root for. Logan does precisely that as I grew to really care about him as a person. Maybe I can revisit the other two in this trilogy with a better appreciation.
Is It Worth Your Trip to the Movies? An extremely satisfying conclusion for such a beloved character
RATING: 4 out of 5 TICKET STUBS
X-MEN: APOCALYPSE (May 25, 2016)
Director: Bryan Singer
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Nicholas Hoult, Oscar Isaac, Tye Sheridan, Sophie Turner, Evan Peters, Oliva Munn, Rose Byrne, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Alexandra Shipp
I thought it would be a slam-dunk no-brainer that the casting of Oscar Isaac in the latest and final film in the new X-Men trilogy would make it the best one yet. I now realize I was reaching a bit due to my love of the actor. In case you’re unfamiliar, he played the heroic Poe Dameron in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and the title character in Inside Llewyn Davis. Now he’s playing the mother of all X-Men villains, Apocalypse. The film opens in 3600 BCE in ancient Cairo with a transformation ceremony where he is given the gift of eternity. After a very CGI heavy opening sequence, he is sequestered into hibernation buried deep beneath a pyramid. Cut to 1983 and we pick up years after the events of X-Men: Days of Future Past. Charles Xavier (McAvoy) is now running his school for gifted students. Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (Fassbender) has started a new life in Poland where he has changed his name, has a job, and takes care of his wife and daughter. Raven/Mystique (Lawrence) has been off on her own helping other mutants she meets along the way. One of them is Nightcrawler (Smit-McPhee) whom she brings to Xavier’s school.
Another character coming back into play is Rose Byrne’s Moira MacTaggert, a CIA agent we first met in X-Men First Class. She heads to Cairo trying to find a connection to a mutant group who are believed to be dated back many centuries ago. That connection could lead to the very first mutant, Apocalypse. While she is there his powers are awoken and he is unleashed into the real world again. This time he has his sights set on total world annihilation in hopes of rebuilding it again. He recruits Storm (Shipp), Angel (Hardy), Psylocke (Munn), and Magneto to help him take down Xavier.
As with the other two films in the new trilogy, we are continuing to see the background and early days of the mutants we were first introduced to in Bryan Singer’s original trilogy when they were all adults. Screenwriter Simon Kinberg, who has previously been a writer and producer on the trilogy, brings in other fan favorites as well with Jean Grey (Turner) and Scott Summer/Cyclops (Sheridan) as students at Xavier’s school. Their budding romance comes into play, and Jean Grey’s telekinesis plays a big factor into the climax. Singer is back on board and makes this the fourth film he’s directed in the two trilogies. I’m a pretty big fan of the series overall as the X-Men were the Marvel characters I grew up watching long before I delved into the Avengers. It can be a bit daunting trying to keep everything together in your head from both trilogies, especially as timelines have been altered quite a bit throughout the six films.
There’s a scene in the film when Jubilee, Jean, Scott, and Nightcrawler are walking out of a movie theater showing Return of the Jedi and they comment on how the third film is always the worst. It’s as if Kinberg already knew that he was writing a mediocre script that couldn’t compare to the other films. I was already having that thought before this scene, and Kinberg’s analysis basically cemented that idea for me. Was he trying to be clever or just point out the obvious? It’s an extremely choppy script as he’s constantly jumping from one scene to the next to fit all the characters in and feel like they’re given ample screen time. The film begins with everyone literally all over the map so it takes some energy and effort to get them all back under one roof. All of this quick back and forth doesn’t give enough quality time with any one character or subplot to really feel any weight or emotion. Many characters often feel like they were added just to please fans without any decent justification. So much of the humanity and heart within these characters is missing.
One of the aspects I loved about the other films in the franchise is that the X-Men were treated like regular human characters who just happen to be gifted with special powers. They were placed in a real life setting where they had to learn how to control and use those powers for good. Take Days of Future Past for example, the ‘70s timeframe led to President Nixon being a character with the villain standing by him during the climax. The placement in reality is basically thrown out the window here. I’m not saying we need real historical figures to make that happen, but Apocalypse becomes so reliant on CGI that it tonally doesn’t seem to fit what has come before. I am not as familiar with the actual comic books, but this film definitely feels the most cartoonish and colorful film in the franchise. Is this all coming from the decision to use Apocalypse as the main villain? He is a core character, so it was only a matter of time before he came into play, but his swirling, shifting, spinning powers make the film feel more like Brendan Fraser’s The Mummy than an X-Men film. Maybe die-hard comic book fans will rejoice in how they treat the character, but like many CGI laden films watched through 3D glasses, it just looks cheap to me.
I mentioned my adoration of Oscar Isaac previously, but even he can’t save the title character. It just seems so odd to me as he becomes totally lost underneath a purple prosthetic make-up design. He’s downright unrecognizable and not given quality material to play with for an actor of his stature and the unique qualities he usually can bring to a character. There’s also some auto-tune done with his voice, which continually left me scratching me head in every scene. He’s too good of an actor to be buried underneath this character. There has been hype surrounding Olivia Munn (The Newsroom) who is also new to the series playing Psylocke, one of Apocalypse’s right hand associates. I feel like she could have been a cool character as she thrashes her purple electric whip around and uses an electric blade, but she’s basically reduced to evil stares into the camera.
The core to all three of these films belongs to Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender, and James McAvoy. While they are not completely wasted in this film, there’s this overriding feeling like maybe they are too big now for this franchise. Lawrence and Fassbender have multiple Oscar nominations under their belt with Lawrence having won as well. She has to give a few motivational speeches in the film to some of the other X-Men, but I winced a few times with the cheesy dialogue she is forced to deliver. Fassbender is given some nice moments with his family in the Poland scenes before he is forced back into his Magneto helmet. Evan Peters is back as Quicksilver, the comic relief of the film. He provides some good laughs and is given another slo-mo action sequence to capitalize on his powers. It’s one of the biggest and best scenes in the whole film.
This is the third superhero film this year following Batman v Superman and Captain America: Civil War. All three are well over the two-hour marker and all three are heavy on subplots trying to fit a plethora of characters together. X-Men: Apocalypse takes on way too much and just doesn’t know how to make it all work. Frankly, I found myself not caring most of the time, which is shame, as I really do love these characters and actors. Bryan Singer has been the original head honcho on this franchise since day one, and it just feels like a let down to see it come to this.
Is It Worth Your Trip to the Movies? Sadly this film won’t win over anyone new to the characters.
RATING: 2 out of 5 TICKET STUBS
X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (October 29, 2013)
Director: Bryan Singer
Starring: Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Hugh Jackman, Peter Dinklage, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Halle Berry, Ellen Page, Shawn Ashmore
The fans rejoiced when it was announced that Bryan Singer signed on to direct the latest outing in this series. He got the series going with X-Men and then upped the ante with the stellar X2 in 2003. Unfortunately he departed the series and we were left with Brett Ratner directing X-Men: The Last Stand, which still leaves a sour note in moviegoers’ memories. Since the original trilogy, we have had two terrible stand-alone Wolverine films and a prequel called X-Men: First Class. I really enjoyed X-Men: First Class despite the horrendous casting of January Jones. Call me a purist, but I really think this series is best served under the hands of Bryan Singer. In X-Men: Days of Future Past, not only do we get Singer, but we get the best of both worlds as it reunites the original trilogy cast members plus the new actors that played their younger selves in X-Men: First Class.
A war carries on between the humans and the mutants. The humans have unleashed massive robotic killing machines called the Sentinels as their weapon. They were created in 1973 by Dr. Boliver Trask (Dinklage) who at the time was assassinated by the mutant Mystique (Lawrence). She believed if she killed him it would stop the Sentinels from being mass produced and given clearance to be used by the government. Her plan backfired as the assassination caused the mutants to become thought of as an even larger danger and threat to the public than before.
In the future as the mutant population continues to decline, Professor Charles Xavier (Stewart) and Magneto (McKellen) devise a plan to travel back in time in 1973 to stop Mystique from killing Dr. Trask. They seek the help of fellow mutant Kitty Pryde (Page) who uses her powers to send Wolverine’s (Jackman) consciousness back to 1973. When he arrives, he needs to find the Professor (now played by McAvoy) and Magneto (now played by Fassbender) to locate Mystique’s whereabouts.
Time travel movies can be tricky if the story goes back and forth numerous times throughout a movie. The story can become convoluted and confusing to the audience. When they work, the payoff is thrilling and it makes the movie all the more accessible. X-Men: Days of Future Past falls into the second category. Screenwriter Simon Kinberg keeps a majority of the story in the 1973 timeline. This helps enhance the character development that was started in X-Men: First Class as we learn more of where these characters are coming from and how their relationships have changed in the decades in between both settings. There is a clear shift in the relationship between Professor X and Magneto from where they started out in terms of their friendship or lack thereof. In this film, we see a very different version of Professor X. James McAvoy gets to play out the disheveled, addicted, and depressed side of him which is a far cry from the stoic leader we know of him through Patrick Stewart’s performance. The only downside to having a majority of the film set in the past is that we don’t see a lot of Stewart and Ian McKellen who are such fantastic actors. I’m sure their busy theater schedules and McKellen’s work in The Hobbit films made their availability limited or maybe that was always the intention of how the structure of the story was plotted out.
One of the great characteristics about the X-Men is how universally relatable they can be compared to some of the other Marvel Comics heroes. You may be thinking that idea is a stretch as no one has the ability to teleport, control the weather, or have claws come shooting out of their hands, but there is the underlying message of not being accepted for the way you were born. Many of these characters face adversity and discrimination due to their powers and fight for their voice to be heard or be accepted like any other human being. I think many people can relate to that concept in one way or another. Plus, who hasn’t once thought about what superpower they wish they had. Bryan Singer has a deep understanding of this theme and is able to bring it out with these characters while making it a fun, exciting, action filled comic book movie. With a majority of the story set in the past, the film poses a general reminder on how far our society has come in the last few decades regarding the acceptance and tolerance of others. We can look back, learn, and grow from history.
I think if people are hesitant about comic book movies, I would recommend the X-Men films to help them get on the bandwagon. X-Men: Days of Future Past is a fantastic return to form that has won the fan base over again. I get that giddy feeling seeing this huge ensemble of actors step away from the stage or other indie movies to play against a green screen and return to characters the audience has invested in over the years. Sometimes reunion type movies can feel hokey and contrived, but I never got that impression here. One of the highlights of the movie was new cast member Evan Peters (American Horror Story) as Quicksilver who has a funny slow-motion action sequence with a bunch of armed guards. The ending of the film will get fans excited for X-Men: Apocalypse, the third entry in this new trilogy, as there are cameos galore that pop up that further tie it into the timeline of the original trilogy. Good news, Bryan Singer is set to helm that one as well.
Is it worth your trip to the movies? The X-Men are my favorite in the Marvel Comics canon, and the return of director Bryan Singer has made it the best one since X2.
RATING: 4 out of 5 Ticket Stubs
THE WOLVERINE (August 7, 2013)
Director: James Mangold
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Famke Janssen, Haruhiko Yamanouchi
Hugh Jackman is back in familiar territory as he straps on the claws for his sixth outing as the infamous mutant Logan, aka Wolverine. During the bombing of Nagasaki, Logan saves the life of Officer Yashida from the blast and in turn reveals his secret powers of healing and immortality in the process. Logan is severely burned by shielding Yashida from the blast but instantly heals in front of him. Time passes and in present day Japan, a very old Yashida (Yamanouchi) is dying and wants to find Logan to repay his lifelong debt to him.
Yashida sends fellow mutant Yukio (Fukushima) to hunt down Logan and bring him to his death bed. Logan agrees after seeing the effects of Yukio’s abilities. Logan finds out that Yashida’s plan of gratitude is not as simple as it seems. Through the use of his technology company, Yashida wants to transfer Logan’s healing power to himself in order to live forever and rid Logan of the crippling idea of immortality that has plagued him. Logan refuses the offer and Yashida dies the next day. At the funeral, Yashida’s granddaughter Mariko (Okamoto) is the target of a kidnapping plot by a bunch of gangsters as part of a bigger plan involving Yashida’s estate and the future of his company. Logan is able to rescue her only after taking a brutal beating and rounds of bullets to his body. He notices his healing powers are not working as quickly as they normally do. Yukio tries to warn him as she continues to get visions of his death. Yashida’s doctor, Dr. Green (Khodchenkova), is not to be trusted as she is also a mutant known as Viper with a wicked tongue and lethal toxic that she seductively blows into her victims’ bodies, Logan being one of them.
There is a lot riding on The Wolverine as the second solo X-Men related movie. X-Men Origins: Wolverinewas considered a massive dud by many fans of the series. Hugh Jackman knew that special care was going to have to be placed in the story and characters if another solo Wolverine movie were to get made. You have to win back the trust of a loyal fan base now that you pissed them off with the horrible origins movie. It is easy to say that The Wolverine is better than X-Men Origins: Wolverine but it does not take much to reach that level. Even with that being said, it still does not live up to the quality of other films in the comic book turned movie genre. It is further proof that this character may not have what it takes for a solo movie. We have seen that many of Marvel’s Avengers can have their stand-alone movies. In theory one would think the character of Logan/Wolverine could work outside of the other X-Men, but like The Hulk, two movies have proven something is amiss.
It is easy to dislike a movie when it has cheesy dialogue, terrible characters, or fake special effects. I sometimes find it more problematic when a movie falls flat and feels boring. Viper, played by Svetlana Khodchenkova, is the main mutant villain but bears a striking resemblance to Poison Ivy in Batman and Robin. Like Poison Ivy, she makes for a weak, forgettable villain. Same goes for the gangsters that are after Mariko. The Japanese setting provides for some nice samurai style fight choreography, but most of the fights scenes are nothing special. I’m a sucker for fights on top of moving trains, so that chase was the only fight of the movie to leave a lasting impression and it came early on in the movie. As the semi-punk mutant fighter Yukio, Rila Fukushima is making her big screen debut. She has the best of the three main female characters, but again, I did not feel anything special about her.
The story touches upon Logan’s struggles with his immortality and the constant fact that everyone will die around him. He is constantly haunted by his former lover and fellow mutant Jean Grey (Janssen) who he had to kill in X-Men: The Last Stand. I found this sub-plot and themes between Logan’s identity crisis much more appealing than the Japanese gangsters and the kidnapping plot. I suppose the film would get too bogged down and droopy if it was all about a depressed and mopey Wolverine.
After six movies, I am glad Hugh Jackman continues to play Wolverine. I cannot imagine another actor in this role and after so many outings Jackman knows how to give him a life and dimension that other characters in the genre do not always have. The Japanese setting is a nice departure for the character and gives the film a very different look and feel from any of the others in the series. Along with the samurai style fighting, the cinematography and costume design is also enriched by the Japanese culture. Director James Mangold has had some career hits (Girl, Interrupted, Walk the Line) and some misses (Kate & Leopold, Knight and Day). While there are some nice touches along the way, I’d chuck this one in the misses pile. Mangold plays it far too safe the majority of the time. Is it bad that the best part of the movie came after the movie during the middle of the credits? Marvel always adds in a little mid-credit tease to their movies. I do not want to give too much away, but I was grinning ear-to-ear as it is a lead up to next year’s X-Men: Days of Future Past. I just wish I would have had that sensation during the actual movie.
RATING: ** (2 out of 5 stars)
X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (June 5, 2011)
Director: Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass)
Starring: James McAvoy (Atonement), Michael Fassbender (Jane Eyre), Kevin Bacon (Footloose), Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone), Nicholas Hoult (A Single Man)
During World War II, Erik Lensherr (Fassbender) is forced to be separated from his mother outside the gates of a concentration camp. As he reaches for her one last time, a rage fueled Erik opens the gates without even touching the gate. His power to move and control metal is witnessed by Sebastian Shaw (Bacon), a sadistic scientist. Erik vows to use his powers to get revenge on Shaw after witnessing him murder his mother.
Time has passed, and it is now 1962 in the middle of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Erik has come to the United States to track down Shaw. CIA agent Moira MacTaggart (Rose Byrne) is on the search for a U.S. Army Colonel. After following him into a nightclub, MacTaggart witnesses his sudden disappearance out of the room under the hands of Shaw and his mutant henchman. Shaw has not aged due to his energy absorbing powers. MacTaggart fears the rise of Shaw and tracks down Charles Xavier (McAvoy) who has recently done a thesis on mutation. Xavier agrees to join a special division of the CIA to shed light on mutation and bring down Shaw. After a failed attempt at capturing Shaw and his sidekick Emma Frost (January Jones), Xavier convinces Erik to join this division. Xavier admits to Erik the he is a telepath. They join forces and recruit fellow mutants like Raven (Lawrence) and Hank McCoy (Hoult), AKA Mystique and Beast. They train and strengthen their powers to combat Shaw and Emma Frost.
When I first heard there was going to be another X-Men movie and it was going to be an origins story, I was worried. X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) and X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) did not live up to the strength of the first two movies. After the cast was announced and the first trailer came out, my faith in the series was revitalized. I would rank this as number three in the series. As a whole, it’s a fun summer movie with big action sequences, fun characters, and special effects. While some of the special effects with the mutant powers come off a little hokey, it’s still a great ride. While I would have loved to have seen familiar faces like Cyclops, Storm, or Jean Grey, X-Men: First Class does introduce some new mutants to the story. McAvoy and Fassbender stand out amongst the cast. January Jones on the other hand is just awful. She brings nothing to her character, which is her usual style. Bryan Singer who directed the first two movies was involved in the story and produced this entry. His style and ideas definitely help bring the movie back to the tone of the first two. I really appreciate that the movie transitions well into the relationships and story lines we know from the first movie. Too many times prequels or origin stories don’t fit into the series well.
RATING: *** 1/2 (3.5 out of 5 stars)