Wednesday, May 21, 2014

X-Men: Days of Future Past

  • Released Internationally on 22/05/14
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 22/05/14
Review (21/05/14)
3-word review: Impressive family reunion. 
The X-Men franchise is quite remarkable. Now in it’s seventh film; having had a huge variety of directors, actors, angles of the story and heroic fanfares; it manages to remain hugely entertaining and fresh, mixing a fascinating array of characters with a central theme that is eerily relevant in today’s often xenophobic world. The main risk with this latest film was that too many famous faces and memorable characters would make for a crowded or confusing film, but the end result is in fact great fun and surprisingly coherent, considering the time-travel plot.
Back to the future
The film kicks off in a desolate, dark future, which is unpleasant to watch, let alone live in. After an intense opening sequence we learn that this chaos is the result of a longstanding war against mutants and those who support them, and a war that has got slightly out of hand due to the merciless ‘sentinels’ which enforce it. The cast of the first three X-Men films assemble, along with the ubiquitous Wolverine/Logan (Hugh Jackman, who has appeared in all seven films), whom they agree to send back in time to try and stop this war before it begins. We therefore swiftly jump back to the much more pleasant swinging seventies.
Time travel can be fun
Films that dip into the river of time risk opening up huge plot holes and losing the audience, but thankfully the technicalities are made rather simple here. Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones) stars as the scientist Dr Trask, who back in the 70s is the mind behind the first set of sentinels, whom he has designed to help target mutants. Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence, The Hunger Games, Silver Linings Playbook) is out to kill him, but in doing so would be captured, and her DNA used to make the sentinels all the more powerful. So essentially Wolverine has to round up the 70s X-Men and get them to stop her. What makes everything more fun is the playing with history that films like this are allowed. Magneto (Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave) has been imprisoned for the alleged assassination of JFK, the Vietnam war is ending, and Nixon is about to approve the sentinel programme.
Spoilt for choice
Rather than overcrowding the film, the many wonderful characters manage to make the film consistently brilliant, with a good mix of set pieces and character scenes. The main new role, besides Dr Trask, is the mutant Quicksilver (Evan Peters, Kick-Ass), who manages to hold his own amongst all the established names, and completely steals the limelight in the superb, show-stopping (literally) ‘time in a bottle’ sequence. Jim Croce sounds as great here as he did in Django Unchained. The overall feeling is that since all the main characters were so wonderfully built up in the previous films, they can immediately step on stage and make the scene more involving. Storm (Halle Berry) is back after a lengthy absence, and even though the future versions of Magneto and Professor X (Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart) have less action than they are used to, their presence is felt throughout. Jennifer Lawrence manages to shine through her heavy makeup and make Mystique possibly the most intriguing of all of them. It’s great seeing them all on screen together.
In the end
Brian Singer has pulled off quite a difficult task – cramming all the X-Men into one film, using time travel, and ending up with an entertaining film rather than a lengthy mess. He also drives forward the central theme of tolerance, and throws in some stunning action and visual effects as icing on the cake. It’s turning out to be a great summer at the movies.
p.s. Make sure you stay until the end of the credits, with your 3D glasses on.




Tuesday, May 20, 2014


  • Released Internationally on 14/05/14
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 15/05/14
Review (14/05/14)
3-word review: Better than 1998. 
The last time Hollywood gave us a big-budget interpretation of Japan's biggest export, the result wasn't pretty. The 1998 Godzilla, from the team that had just taken over the world with Independence Day, was famous more for its star-studded soundtrack than for any substance found within the script, and featured a monster that looked and moved like a huge T-Rex with a jaw deformity. Sixteen years later, this version is a much better film, with a much better monster at its centre.
It begins
After a frantic history lesson during the opening titles, we head to an opening scene that reminded me of Jurassic Park in terms of tone and look. Young director Gareth Edwards, who landed this big assignment on the strength of his low-budget film Monsters, has clearly given a lot of importance to the look of this film. The annoying 'night-time, in the rain' shots that made up most of the 1998 version are now replaced with a lot of broad daylight, and a colour palette that adds some vintage class to this vintage monster. The film's first act is set in 1999, and although Godzilla himself takes some time to show up, the human emotion starts early on.
Not just destruction
This is the other strong point of the film. There is, of course, a huge monster and lots of destruction. But it doesn't come at the expense of interesting characters and human drama. Bryan Cranston (Argo, Breaking Bad), Juliette Binoche (Chocolat, The English Patient) and Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Kick-Ass, Anna Karenina) are the family we get to focus on across the film's fifteen year timespan, and their struggle helps put all the surrounding death and chaos into perspective. Of course, we also get the necessary military jargon scenes, shots of scared people in standstill traffic, and newsreels, but then it would hardly be a disaster movie without them.
Technically great
The effects are as great as expected, with a design for the massive creatures that manages to give enough awe without making them lifeless. The sound design is also very noticeable, and Godzilla has a roar that makes the T-Rex seem tame. Proud of their creation, the filmmakers are more than happy to show him off, thus avoiding all the shadows and lurking that plagued the previous film. One scene of note is the stunning HALO jump scene - a couple of minutes of extreme beauty, as the military's finest jump in balletic formation and an operatic setting, on a one-way mission to save their country.

In the end
The final act does get a bit messy, which I guess is inevitable when everything is lying in ruin, but the film once again rises above the previous version by ending with a wonderful climax, something we don't get treated to often in disaster films. It's not Shakespeare or Gravity, but it's a solid effects film with a real heart, and definitely the type of crowd-pleaser that the summer box-office expects.