Rating: The Good – 74.9 Genre: Action, Fantasy Duration: 132 mins Director: Bryan Singer Stars: Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender
Director Bryan Singer brings an assured and classy touch back to the franchise he helped forge in this surprisingly gripping fantasy sci-fi in which two versions of the same X-Men are united across time in an epic showdown to save the Earth against a future army of robot “Sentinels”. Superbly balancing the multiple threads to the story so that the main plot pulses steadily and clearly from start to finish, X-Men: Days of Future Past counts as a rather impressive feat of story-telling. With Patrick Stewart’s “Prof. X” and Ian McKellen’s “Magneto” on one side of the temporal divide, their successors (James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender respectively) on the other, and Hugh Jackman’s “Wolverine” straddling the two, we move between a nicely realised 1970’s and a desolate future as the older X-Men attempt to alter their own history and preclude the invincible Sentinels from ever coming into being. On the technical front, this movie is pillared by some genuinely striking action set pieces opening with an elegantly edited showdown between mutant and robot and peaking with an acutely impressive prison-break in the bowls of The Pentagon. This latter sequence, wryly soundtracked to Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle”, involves Evan Peters’ delightfully impish “Quicksilver” making a high speed mockery of the famous building’s security in a whirlwind of smile-inducing not to mention brilliantly conceived mischief-making. Alongside this brief cameo of what very well might prove to be the franchise’s most lovable character, what really sets Days of Future Past apart from the myriad of modern superhero movies is the sophistication of its construction. Though most of the future mutants offer mere cameos, Singer makes the most of their personalities and powers, deftly interweaving their trials and tribulations with those of their past counterparts and culminating in a suitably rousing finale. Given how uninspired and formulaic the genre has become, it’s genuinely refreshing to come across a simply well made movie.
Rating: The Good – 65.8 Genre: Action, Fantasy Duration: 104 mins Director: Bryan Singer Stars: Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen
Bryan Singer’s X-Men is an above average comic book drama due to a smart script, some stylish direction by Singer, and good acting all round by an ensemble cast of scene-stealers. The story follows a group of mutants who not only fight prejudice against their own kind but other other mutants who feels that such prejudice warrants violence against the rest of the human race. While the action is first rate and Singer captures it with an assured hand, the major strength of X-Men is without a doubt the witty script and the actors who seem to be enjoying every word of it. On that note, Hugh Jackman is the standout player as his Wolverine is both bad-ass and genuinely funny. Patrick Stewart makes an obviously good Professor X while Ian McKellen puts in a delicious turn as Magneto. Overall, X-Men stands apart from most of the comic-book films which were springing up at the time as Singer and co. employ a more restrained and clever use of the subject material and make the most of the opportunity to draw not too subtle comparisons between the anti-mutant prejudice of the story and real life prejudices.
Rating: The Good – 70 Genre: Thriller Duration: 153 mins Director: Denis Villeneuve Stars: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis
Flawed but nonetheless intensely atmospheric drama that attempts to rise above the mire of serial killer movies by probing mutually constraining questions of guilt, responsibility, necessity, and revenge. When two girls are kidnapped, one of the fathers (Hugh Jackman) kidnaps the original suspect who he is convinced is the guilty party despite the lead detective’s (Jake Gyllenhaal) assertions he isn’t. As the mystery into the kidnapping throws up more and more barriers to detective Loki’s investigation, Keller Dover subjects his suspect to torturous treatment in the attempt to uncover the girls’ whereabouts. It’s a scintillating premise and the first 60 minutes lives up to its promise thanks to the compelling performances of the two leads and the heavy mood its director Denis Villeneuve establishes from early on. Boasting an immaculate visual profile courtesy of the great Roger Deacons, Prisoners is veritably defined by its dark palette of colours and bleak tonal lighting and combined with the methodical yet artful direction of that opening hour, it sets its stall out as a wholly consuming piece of cinema.
However, just when the story should be consummating this style and premise, it gets bogged down under the weight of its lofty ambitions. The moral conundrum which the bulk of the movie is constructed around ultimately loses cohesion thanks to a ludicrously protracted second act. So, what should’ve been a straightforward dichotomy of moral relativism becomes bloated as Villeneuve leaves and revisits it over and over and the lack of any genuine ethical counterpoint inevitably takes its toll. But it’s not simply a failure to properly tease out its central moralism that scuppers Prisoners. A second issue is the ending. As a twist, it works relatively well but things get a little too caricatured and cliched to the point that it borders on the absurd. However, the most frustrating issue with the film is undoubtedly a gargantuan plot hole concerning the police’s investigation and (without giving anything away) their failure to use scent dogs to do something so fundamental that the case would’ve been solved within the first 24 hours if they did. For a film that runs for two hours beyond that point in the story, it becomes an unforgivable contrivance and sours the entire experience. Yes, there are many interesting curve-balls written into those two hours but, by that point, writer Aaron Guzikowski has lost a critical degree of his audience’s trust. Less gargantuan but still significant are the plot holes surrounding Loki’s failure to connect glaringly overlapping incidents from early on in the film and there’s also an uninspired and overfamiliar antagonism between Loki and his superior that recalls the ‘angry police captain’ of 70/80’s cop movie (a cliche that was lampooned as far back as 1993’s So I Married an Axe Murderer).
All this is a real shame because, in addition to the wonderful aesthetic, Jackman and in particular Gyllenhaal are outstanding. The former got most of the plaudits but it’s the latter’s textured approach to his character that is the more engaging. There’s an interesting back story to his character that suggests an added impetus to do the type of work he does. But because it’s only really alluded to, it’s left to Gyllenhaal to tease it out. He does so admirably. From the idiosyncratic blinking to his general physical and verbal comportment, he layers Loki with intriguing qualities that on their own could drive a film. But as Dover’s side to the story takes precedence and the aforementioned plot holes accrue, that boat sails.
In the end, Prisoners feels like an opportunity missed but with the outstanding performances and that rich atmosphere, there are enough reasons to recommend it. The second half isn’t all bad either. There’s a beautifully shot driving sequence right at the climax that capstones the film’s tension in audacious style and even rivals Pacino’s driving scene from Heat. And while the ending gets a little silly, it’s shot with enough adroit class and clever tension that it can still be enjoyed over a bowl of popcorn.
Rating: The Good – 69 Genre: Action Duration: 104mins Director: Bryan Singer Stars: Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen
Even better than the original due to a darker script that involves the X-Men working together to fight a common enemy in the form of a secret government project that is designed to get rid of the mutant threat once and for all. The relationships are developed further than the original as they head into more interesting territory. Singer ups the ante on the action front also so get ready for some nicely choreographed fight scenes which provide a better opportunity to showcase the various mutants’ abilities.