Action, Reviews

The Wolverine

The Wolverine

Copyright © 2013 by 20th Century Fox

Story
Set to events after X-Men: The Last Stand, Wolverine / Logan (Hugh Jackman) has left the X-Men team and is residing in Canada where he is constantly haunted by the death of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen). Because of the great loss, the emptiness he is feeling is taking a toll on him emotionally. During his time as a soldier in World War 2 when he was held captive in a Japanese POW camp near Nagasaki, he rescued an officer named Yashida (Ken Yamamura) and protected him from the atomic bomb blast that took place. Back to the present, he gets word from Yukio (Rila Fukushima) that Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi) is dying of cancer and wants Logan to follow her back to Japan upon Yashida’s request to repay his life debt. Upon arrival, he is embroiled with the Japanese mob, samurais and ninjas while still in conflict with his inner demons.

Review
After the lackluster direction of X-Men Origins, a lot has been riding on for its follow-up to turn the tide and restore movie goers’ confidence, casual and avid alike about our favourite clawed hero. It is a step towards the right direction when Darren Aronofsky (director of Black Swan) was approached to helm the sequel and Christopher McQuarrie, who had written the acclaimed ‘The Usual Suspects’ had been in charge with the script. It could very well turn out to be brooding and gritty, not unlike ‘Requiem for a Dream’ or ‘The Black Swan, but alas, the final product, while has been adjusted to James Mangold’s more mainstream sensibilities does not lose sight of its original vision. Even with a script re-write from Mark Bomback and Scott Frank, the emotional turmoil and void that our protagonist is going through are very much present in the film.

While the essence of the movie is retained, has the world weary Logan stepped out of his cave and searches for inner peace in the Land of the Rising Sun enough to make ‘The Wolverine’ the comeback everyone is hoping it to be? It definitely is a resounding ‘yes’. It is without a doubt right now that Jackman owns the role. After his stint at Les Miserables last year that earned him his first Oscar nomination, Jackman continues with this winning streak and takes us on an emotional journey not seen in the past movies. It is through the exploration of having to live forever with no purpose as your loved ones are taken away one lifetime after another provides a vulnerable facet to Wolverine.

He is ably supported by a cast predominantly Asian with endearing performances from Fukushima and Tao Okamoto as Mariko Yashida. From their renditions, it does not seem that they are novices to the film industry. Although only meant to provide continuity from Last Stand, it is always welcoming to see a fellow X-Man (or Woman) thrown into the mix. Having Janssen back as Jean adds the necessary dimension needed for the audience to feel Logan’s pain, loss and detachment from the rest of the world. Her strategically placed scenes also act as a threat to Logan’s blossoming relationship with Mariko.

For some who may find this character driven piece a little too slow, it does make up for it with some well choreographed action. It is a prerequisite in all comic book adaptations these days. While Origins was bombarded with one loud action piece after another, ‘The Wolverine’ only unfolds its fights and chases after sufficient time has been spent on dramatic exposition. The highlights begin with the attempted kidnapping of Mariko at the funeral, which stretches to a fight between Wolverine and the Yakuza clan on top of a bullet train and a drawn out swordplay involving Yukio and Shingen
Yashida (Hiroyuki Sanada) whilst Logan attempts to rid off a robotic parasite joined to his heart.

There have been criticisms about the third act faltering into typical comic book fare and revelations at the end were none too surprising but to the naysayers, this is the most personal and intimate tale in the franchise as it can ever be, thanks to efficient storytelling from Mangold. Whether the change of pacing, setting and direction can inspire bigger returns in the overall box office remains to be seen as a few key markets have yet to open ‘The Wolverine’. While Logan is not certain where he intends to go after all the kerfuffle in Japan, it is safe to say that our spiritual journey with him has been most satisfying and we can only hope for the film makers to keep pushing the envelope should there be a continuation to his adventures.

Rating
Entirety: A-
Acting: A
Plot: A

Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, some sexuality and language

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Action, Reviews

X-Men: First Class

First Class

Copyright © 2011 by 20th Century Fox

Story
A prequel to X-Men, it is set in 1962 with the Cuban Missile Crisis serving as the backdrop in shaping and severing Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto’s friendship (Michael Fassbender). It heavily focuses on the early years of their lives and how the the X-Men are recruited to combat the malicious threat of the Hellfire Club, a secret society bent on world domination. It is through the actions of the group leader, Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) that prompt Magneto to form his very own Brotherhood of Mutants.

Review
Seeing as to how this is not about Wolverine for once, Matthew Vaughn, the director of said flick and would-be director of Last Stand draws inspiration from Bryan Singer’s original and repeats the opening sequence where we first discover Magneto’s ability. It still evokes goose bumps every time I see it. Here, we discover that the young Magneto is forced to use his gift by a Dr Klaus Schmidt aka Sebastian Shaw and failure to do so will lead to the end of his mother’s life. We would not have a movie if he succeeded, right? Through the death of his mother, his anger unleashes his magnetic powers and thus sets the tone for the rest of the film.

Although the film spends a great deal of screen time fleshing out Xavier and Magneto’s characters, without a doubt, Magneto wins hands down for being the showstopper of this prequel. I have nothing against James McAvoy’s portrayal as the younger and sexier Xavier (it is just oozing with charm), but when you are up against with a more tormented and damaged character, there is only so much you can bring to the table. Any lesser actor taking on this role, he would have completely vanished from a star turn performance by Michael Fassbender as the grief-stricken orphan. With such magnetism, we are fully immersed in his plight for revenge and vigilantism. It is a bit of a downer whenever the focus shifts to the other cast members.

The film makers should have just made a Magneto spin-off instead of incorporating his back story into this prequel. From what is shown here, it seems like it is just a tip of the iceberg to his complicated past. One can hope for more in the upcoming sequel but it is unlikely that such emphasis will be to his favour as Days of Future Past (the next chapter) will have an even bigger challenge of juggling a huge cast from events in both First Class and Last Stand. However, it is admirable that Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) and Beast (Nicholas Hoult), who played supporting roles in the earlier installments are finally given the chance to shine.

All mutants ever wanted are to fit in with the rest of the world. Through the noteworthy performances from both of these young thespians, we understand the difficulties of being different and living in a time with a lot of intolerance, it is sometimes better to be like everyone else. Of course it would never be complete if there isn’t an antagonist who is trying to rein mutant supremacy over the human race. As the main villain, Kevin Bacon hams it up as Shaw and does incite some relevance on his decision to level the playing field, which Magneto mirrors in X-Men.

Seems to be quite a handful to handle in a 132-minute movie, right? Fret not, in the capable hands of Vaughn and a well-written script, what we get is a return to form with superb acting from the main players, consistent pacing and some nifty action sequences (particularly the one when Shaw’s boat receives a new facelift from Magneto). The only thing I would have liked to see done differently if the secondary characters (Xavier’s first batch of students) are given more to do, rather than just being merely there to drive the plot forward. We will just have to wait with bated breath for the next one to grace our screens to address some of the inconsistencies faced between the older trilogy and this preboot.

Rating
Entirety: A
Acting: A
Plot: A

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, some sexual content including brief partial nudity and language

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X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Wolverine

Copyright © 2009 by 20th Century Fox

Story
A spin-off from the X-Men film series, it chronicles the life of Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), focusing on his violent past and his relationship with his half-brother Victor Creed / Sabretooth (Liev Schreiber). The plot also details Wolverine’s early encounters with Major William Stryker (Danny Huston), his time with Team X, and the bonding of Wolverine’s skeleton with the indestructible metal adamantium during the Weapon X programme.

Review
It was only a matter of time before our most beloved X-Men on screen was headlining his own movie. After getting a glimpse of his past in the first two X-Men films, Wolverine’s complicated background is fully revealed here. We learn that his real name is James Logan and his mutation was triggered when his adopted father was killed by his real father. In an act of rage, James kills him and flees with his half-brother, Victor. As it happened in 1845 and they have the gift of regeneration, they spend the next century as soldiers fighting in the American Civil War, both World Wars and the Vietnam War. It was fascinating to learn that they were such an integral part to world history and it would have been good if the film makers explored this facet of their lives a little longer.

Instead, what we get is just a snapshot of those events and how they supported each other through those harrowing times. It further cements their relationship when Victor kills a senior officer in 1975 and James jumps to his defense, prompting their execution by firing squad which they survive. They are then offered a place to join Team X by Stryker that consists of other mutants including Agent Zero (Daniel Henney), Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds), John Wraith (will.i.am), Fred Dukes (Kevin Durand), and Chris Bradley (Dominic Monaghan). They join the team but James decides to leave the group when he does not see eye to eye with his team mates on their mistreatment for human life. After six years, he is seen working as a lumberjack in Canada and living with Kayla Silverfox (Lynn Collins). But a series of events concocted by Stryker lures James back to the colonel and agrees to undergo the painful operation of melding his bones with the unbreakable metal under the pretense that Stryker is helping him to exact revenge.

It is noble that James went through all that pain for love. Again, if the film delved more on James and Kayla’s relationship and their time together in Canada, it would have made a far stronger conviction once he decided that it was the only way for him to rid off all that anger. Understandably, the focus is all on Wolverine and Hugh Jackman does not disappoint. Having played him for the fourth time with a committed physical training regimen, he is every bit the Wolverine as envisioned in the long running comics. If the bar was not set so incredibly high by the works of Bryan Singer, this would have been a respectable effort as a standalone film. As it is not, the finished product, though polished is lacking in the grittiness that defined the first two in the series. The characters are layered with enough complexities to whet the audiences’ appetite for coming installments.

The same cannot really be said here. We are introduced to many interesting and colourful characters but they are just too supporting or blandly straightforward for us to care about them. It is unfortunate as there are many standout performances, most notably from Liev Schreiber, Lynn Collins and Taylor Kitsch as Gambit, another fan favourite finally brought to life after numerous unsuccessful attempts prior to this. Although just a brief appearance, it is also worth mentioning that Ryan Reynolds’ portrayal of Wade Wilson aka Deadpool is spot-on and captures the essence of this wisecracking mercenary with lethal swordsmanship skills. Still waiting for him to headline his own movie since negotiations began in 2003! He definitely gave the immortal brothers a run for their money during the final battle.

Whether it is a clash of creativity between the film makers and the personnel of Fox which could have altered the original vision of this project, to the purists who are hoping that this is the equivalent of DC’s Batman Begins, they may need to wait for another attempt to bring these established characters back to their glory days. Fret not, while it is not the redemption that we are hoping for after the last outing, it is still commendable for what has been presented on Wolverine’s early days. Now that it is already covered, let us hope for his next romp as the clawed one, it will be a return to form with his usual cool, rough and gruff demeanor, bub.

Rating
Entirety: B
Acting: A-
Plot: B

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, and some partial nudity

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X-Men: The Last Stand

The Last Stand

Copyright © 2006 by 20th Century Fox

Story
After the events from X2, the humans and mutants are seemingly living peacefully together. But wary of possible threats on mutant kind, both the X-Men and the Brotherhood of Mutants continue to fortify themselves should such a day occur. Things are set in motion when Worthington Labs, a pharmaceutical company has successfully developed an inoculation to suppress the X-gene that gives mutants their abilities and is offering a ‘cure’ to all mutants who wants it. Magneto (Ian McKellen) and his Brotherhood are convinced that all mutants will be forced to accept the cure and manage to persuade many in joining his fight against it. Matters are further complicated when Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) is resurrected as the Phoenix, a Class 5 mutant who possesses potentially limitless telepathic and telekinetic powers and her loyalty lies with Magneto instead. To prevent the battle from escalating to a full fledge war with the humans, the X-Men will once again need to make their stand for peaceful co-existence led by Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and Storm (Halle Berry) against the Brotherhood’s more radical approach.

Review
After two highly enjoyable and emotional outings with our favourite mutants, expectations will indeed be high for its next saga. Third time should still be a charm considering how X2 ended with so many possibilities that Last Stand can head. Loosely basing on two comic book story arcs ‘The Dark Phoenix Saga’ and ‘Gifted’, the emotional gravitas that you can get out of it is abundant. Unfortunately, it felt hollow and slightly manufactured. The characters are there just to move the plot along and do not impact any lasting impressions as compared to earlier installments. The decisions made by some major characters feels calculated and killing them off halfway through to muster some shock value only screams desperate and unnecessary.

As many have put the blame solely on Brett Ratner for this outcome, things began falling apart right after Bryan Singer, director of the first two movies left the project to direct Superman Returns instead (another well-made albeit underrated treatment of The Man of Steel). The story was to focus on Jean’s transformation and how she is manipulated by Emma Frost to gain control of her powers. While the finished movie still retains Jean being misguided by Magneto, the entire script had to be rewritten from scratch. Though Matthew Vaughn (Singer’s first replacement) would have surely retained the emotional depth and skewed towards heavier characterisation as will be seen in the next chapter of the X-Men saga that he undertakes, it was still a commendable feat that Ratner was able to get the job done in order to meet its release year in 2006. Vaughn withdrew even before filming began due to family issues and was cautious about the rushed production.

It is a culmination of many unfortunate circumstances that leads to this misstep and Ratner should be spared from all the loathe he has been receiving since the movie’s release. Granted that I would have preferred to see more of James Marsden’s Cyclops (again!) on screen or the motivations behind Pyro’s (Aaron Stanford) decision to join the Brotherhood, there are still many great moments that Ratner did bring to the table. Known for his flair in directing stylised action sequences as was evident in his Rush Hour series, the X-Men’s powers once again take centre stage to contribute to three very exhilarating and dramatic scenes. It starts off with Jean’s family house getting an unplanned make-over, followed by the restructuring of the Golden Gate Bridge to provide access to Alcatraz Island which leads to the climatic battle among the humans, the X-Men, the Brotherhood, the Omegas (a group consisting of mutant outcasts) and Jean.

While character development for the main and new characters are light, the introduction of a cure to the mutants’ abilities reflect how being in the minority who are different will usually need to adhere to conditions that are perceived as normal or acceptable, providing the political angle that permeated in its predecessors. To maintain its serious tone throughout, John Powell, the composer for this film scored a splendid soundtrack infusing the orchestra with lyrics from Benjamin Britten’s Requiem Mass to create a heightened sense of intensity in each rousing scene. As the focal point to the entire plot, Famke Janssen gets to shine and reminded us why she was one of the best things to happen in GoldenEye. Although the explanation as to how she unleashed the Phoenix is left to be desired, her portrayal as the conflicted and ‘darker’ Jean deserves recognition for elevating the overall mediocrity of the film’s storytelling.

Despite the flaws and some unanswered questions raised, it is still recommended for all X-Men fans and casual moviegoers alike to see and be entertained with state-of-the-art effects, stylised action, great acting and a thought provoking story with subtle political undertones. For all the ongoing internal issues that plagued this project, it deserves a lot more love than what it is getting now. It may be the last stand for some of the mutants here but the journey is ubiquitously far from being the last.

Rating
Entirety: B+
Acting: A-
Plot: A-

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action violence, some sexual content and language

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X2

X2

Copyright © 2003 by 20th Century Fox

Story
The follow-up to X-Men, it continues with the struggles of mutants to blend in with the rest of mankind and be accepted as equals. Things take a turn for the worse when the President of the United States is almost assassinated by Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming), a mutant with teleporting abilities and sets off a series of investigations from William Stryker (Brian Cox) to find out more about Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Cerebro, the device used for locating mutants all over the world from Magneto (Ian McKellen), now locked up in a plastic prison. With the information obtained, the colonel storms into the X-Mansion and seizes Cerebro along with some of the mutant children. With the help from Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), who is back from Alkali Lake to supervise the children after failing to learn about his past, a handful of the youngsters were able to escape from Stryker and his men. As the team regroup, they discover a more sinister plan is set in motion by Stryker to rid of mutant kind for good that and can only be carried out by a very powerful mutant.

Review
In a nutshell, X2 still remains as my favourite installment in the X-Men series. It is the Empire Strikes Back for comic-book adaptations. Due to the original’s success, it is evident that the budget has greatly expanded, allowing more screen time to showcase each mutant’s abilities. With an additional 30 minutes of running time from the original and you have the back stories for the main characters sufficiently covered previously, there is room for more cohesive story telling with bigger action sequences that not only enhance the strengths of these mutants but also to prove that the X-Men is indestructible when they are united against any threat thrown at them.

Highlights of such moments come during the intervention of two Air Force fighter jets on the X-Jet caused by a prior attack from Pyro (Aaron Stanford) and the rescue mission orchestrated by Magneto in Alkali Lake. The choreography definitely allowed Storm’s (Halle Berry) weather-controlling powers to be better realised here than in X-Men. The tornadoes that were ‘created’ to evade the fighter jets were especially impressive and memorable. Other noteworthy sequences worth mentioning would be the opening sequence where Nightcrawler attempts to assassinate the President in the White House and the climax when Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) sacrifices herself to save the team. They integrate so seamlessly with the drama that unfolds before that.

Relying on special effects alone does not a great movie make. What do Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Indiana Jones and Harry Potter all have in common? Besides being among the most successful franchises in movie history, each movie was able to top itself with a great story and consistent story telling. Of course it helps that they were effects laden but ultimately what separates the best from the mediocre is always going to be the story that you have invested in and characters that you care about long after the movie has ended. You get that in X2 too. The plot again focuses on the difficulties of being different and to get by peacefully with one another despite the differences. By now we are already acquainted with the main members of the team and fittingly the supporting roles of Jean, Storm and Iceman’s (Shawn Ashmore) roles have been widely expanded for this installment.

As for the new mutants introduced into the mix, notable standouts come from Nightcrawler, Pyro (a mutant who can manipulate with fire) and Deathstrike (Kelly Hu) who is the female equivalent of Wolverine. While it would have been nice to see more development in the latter especially Deathstrike, as she is relegated to merely a silent henchwoman, it at least makes up for a jaw dropping battle between herself and Wolverine. Too bad we will not see her again as I do think that her character still has a lot to offer. The same goes with Cyclops’ (James Marsden) importance in the sequel has diminished to being just another X-Men and not ‘The’ X-Man. Correct me if I am wrong but isn’t Cyclops supposed to be the second in command and the field leader of the X-Men? He certainly should be getting equal screen time with Wolverine, Jean and Storm. The filmmakers could have pit him against Wolverine to lead the rescue mission and with Jean being the central attraction, causes a lot of friction between the two to decide objectively. It is briefly explored in the beginning and could have taken a tad further.

By doing so, his characterisation will have more depth and we will know what a great leader he is meant to be as he will ultimately leave his personal feelings aside and make the best decisions for his team and the mission. Since it was a collective decision, we can only hope that the script writers will do justice to his character in future projects. At least the main antagonist this time around is from a human point of view. By looking from his perspective, we realise what ‘normal’ is capable of afflicting in the name of self preservation. It continues to address that being fearful of the unknown will only lead to unnecessary complications and does not in anyway help us to transcend to a more progressive future. This hatred for mutant kind is brought to life by the ever versatile Brian Cox who has been carving a name for himself with other supporting roles ranging from Troy to the Ring.

While it is expected that another sequel is going to be commissioned, it made sense that our most popular mutant, Wolverine’s past is being revealed very gradually for us to savour in the next serving. Here is hoping to more revelations in Pyro’s decision to join Magneto and the resurrection of Jean who eventually merges herself with the entity known as the Phoenix. A rare example of a sequel being more superior to the original, we will wait with eager anticipation for its follow-up.

Rating
Entirety: A
Acting: A-
Plot: A

Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action/violence, some sexuality and brief language

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