Tag Archives: Ian McKellen

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X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) 3.9/5 (7)

 

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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.

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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012) 2.72/5 (2)

 

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Rating: The Good – 69.6
Genre: Fantasy
Duration: 169 mins
Director: Peter Jackson
Stars: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage

After the success of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, he was always going to find The Hobbit a tougher project not simply because of the difficulty in living up to the reputation of the earlier movies but because many a critic was just waiting for him to slip up. Not surprisingly, therefore, his decision to stretch the adaptation of that one book into another trilogy of three hour movies left those critics salivating and some would say with good reason. After all, what are you going to fill the movies with?

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey picks up decades before the events of The Lord of the Rings, and follows the adventures of Frodo’s uncle Bilbo and his efforts to help a motley group of wandering dwarfs reclaim their old kingdom from a nasty dragon Smaug who, years earlier, decimated their people and forced them to flee their homeland. This first installment is dedicated to the necessary exposition of the backstory and the early stages of the journey and, as a movie in its own right, it’s reasonably enjoyable if taken on its merits. Yes, there’s an extremely protracted buildup but if such a buildup is dedicated to the construction of character and relationships then it can be eminently watchable. Jackson and company make a modest attempt to do just that although it’s nowhere near as in-depth an introduction as we were treated to in The Fellowship of the Ring. Part of this is down to the source material which lacks the backbone and rich characterisation of the Rings trilogy. Simply put, it’s too lean a book and not as inspired to support the same class of story telling.

However, the real concern when it came to The Hobbit was whether or not Jackson could imbue this new film with the same magic and sense of distinct mythology that The Lord of the Rings trilogy was imbued with. In this respect, he was considerably more successful. An Unexpected Journey very much feels like the Middle-Earth we were introduced to 10 years earlier. There is of course a prevalence of more child centric manifestations of danger and wonder but this is an extension of Jackson’s integrity concerning the material because the book was aimed at younger audiences in the first place. But whereas many predicted this is where The Hobbit would fail, Jackson and his team of effects wizards (no pun intended!) use the more fairy-tale like material to give the movie a distinct personality and strengthen its connection to its audience. The concept design behind the various nasties and the visual effects are so rich and original in imagination yet governed so implicitly by archetypes that one can envisage them not only resonating with younger generations’ nascent notions of evil but coming to flesh out and further define those notions as they evolve through adulthood. Few films in the history of motion picture have done this and so, The Hobbit could even join the original Star Wars trilogy and the likes of Harryhausen’s ingenious incarnations in the echelons of keystone fantasy for this achievement alone.

But like Harryhausen’s films in particular, An Unexpected Journey also caters to the appetites of older audiences for there is much darkness implicit in the actions and words of the characters. Actions and words that skirt the edges of cannibalism and subtly disturbing indications of murder (the shot of Sting losing its glow as Gollum dispatches the Orc off-screen is particularly uncomfortable and must surely count as one of the more chilling devices to the depict something that Hollywood has – if truth be told – immunised us to). And actions and words that plumb more sophisticated ideas of inner torment and personal damnation.

The Hobbit scores big on the technical front too. As it was in the previous trilogy, Jackson’s action direction is superb, juggling fast and slow zoom and tracking shots into a whirlwind aesthetic which seem to ebb, flow, and grow intuitively to Howard Shore’s magnificent score. Needless to say, the tapestry of visual effects (and sound effects) are equally astounding and while not coming close the pinnacle of those served up in The Two Towers or The Return of the King, criticism should be reserved because this is the first story of a new trilogy and The Fellowship of the Ring wasn’t defined by any major set piece extravaganzas either.

Thus, for all the negativity surrounding its release, An Unexpected Journey isn’t nearly as bad as most have suggested. There are a few contrivances towards the end, their sole purpose to manipulate us into big emotions and it’s true that such cheap tricks were not typical to the first two instalments of The Lord of the Rings. They were however a feature of The Return of the King and this raises a salient point for those critics who fulfilled their latent ambition to take Jackson down a peg or two with The Hobbit. The final installment of the LotR’s was the one that garnered all the awards and most acclaim yet it was by a distance the weakest of the set. An Unexpected Journey with all its problems isn’t deserving of mention in the same breath as Fellowship or Towers but it’s certainly good enough to be compared to The Return of the King. At least as far as telling a story goes.

 

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X-Men (2000) 3.43/5 (1)

 

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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.

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The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) 4.86/5 (2)

 

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Rating: The Good – 70.3
Genre: Fantasy
Duration: 201mins
Director: Peter Jackson
Stars: Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen, Ian McKellen

Easily the weakest of Peter Jackson’s trilogy and by far the most over-rated, The Return of the King suffers from a tediously long ending, some rushed exposition regarding Aragorn’s decision to claim his birth-right, and Jackson’s decision to inlcude the undefeatable ghost army from the book which sucked the tension right out of the closing scenes of the central battle. Those three main problems aside this is a worthy climax to the great trilogy with all the characters remaining on form throughout. There are some stand-out sequences such as Gandolf shepherding the cavalry back to the White City, and that rousing speech from the great Bernard Hill’s “Theoden”. The subsequent battle for the White City is immense and the moment at which the Rohan smash through the Orc ranks will leave the hairs standing on the back of your neck. As with the first two films, The Return of the King is magnificently shot and the special effects are flawless which along with the pitch-perfect acting and tremendous story should ensure that this great trilogy will be enjoyed for years to come. Let’s just pray that Hollywood undergoes a serious culture change before some lazy executive decides to remake it.

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The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002) 4.86/5 (2)

 

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Rating: The Good – 80.1
Genre: Fantasy, Adventure
Duration: 179 mins
Director: Peter Jackson
Stars: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen

Peter Jackson’s follow-up to the first installment of Tolkien’s trilogy may not be as complete a movie as its predecessor (bridging films never are) but it is without any doubt the most visually spectacular thanks to the gargantuan battle scene which the movie (throughout its entire duration) marches unerringly towards. The Two Towers picks up with Frodo and Sam as they now must trek towards Mordor on their own while being silently pursued by the creature Gollum. Meanwhile, in easily the more interesting side to the story, the remainder of the fellowship relentlessly pursues the Uruk-hai who kidnapped the other hobbits. The pacing of the film is intricate yet utterly flawless as Jackson sweeps with ease between the different elements to the story which begin to branch away from each other in this part of the trilogy before coming together again in the third. He also ratchets up the tension as each scene progresses, giving the movie a steadily increasing sense of momentum which brings you straight into what surely must be the most impressive battle sequence to ever grace the silver screen. The Battle for Helm’s Deep is everything an epic story promises but not often delivers in movie form and if anything, Jackson outdoes the book as he brings the Elves into the story thereby adding a touch of grace which perfectly counter-balances the brutal power of the Uruk-hai. The crowning achievement of this masterpiece in action cinema comes with perhaps the most potent demonstration of the power of concept in film as the White Wizard leads a cavalry charge down a vertical slope into the black midst of a seemingly unbeatable army of monsters. Wow!

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The Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) 3.81/5 (3)

 

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Rating: The Good – 85.7
Genre: Fantasy, Adventure
Duration: 178 mins
Director: Peter Jackson
Stars: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Orlando Bloom

A masterclass in screen adaptation, pacing, and the use of special effects to augment story, Peter Jackson’s first installment of the Tolkien trilogy just shades The Two Towers as the best of the three. It sets the pretext to the drama wonderfully (evil force creates ring to corrupt and rule mankind) with a long but compelling monologue and then eases you into the story (ring is found by a Hobbit and a powerful wizard who set out for the evil lair in which it was created to destroy it). This allows the audience to see the best of Middle Earth and, therefore, ensures that they genuinely lament its demise at the hands of the Orcs of the west. The Fellowship of the Ring literally redefined how every aspect of a fantasy story should be portrayed on film and in doing so, it gives us one of the most original and engrossing stories of modern times and in a manner that complements the talent that went into writing it. The cast is uniformly excellent with Viggo Mortensen and Ian McKellen doing particularly well as Aragorn and Gandalf respectively. The production and costume design are utterly flawless and the makeup and special effects have yet to be equaled. In the latter regard, Jackson and his team show all the discipline, restraint, and intelligence that made the adaptation itself so successful. Everything included in this film is there because it helps the story be realised. There is not a single instance where style is put before substance and the result is that the audience comes to completely trust the director. This is a rare accomplishment and perhaps most relevant to fantasy films where the audience must follow the director and story-tellers into often impossible territory. Fairy-tales work because they are told to us by those whom we trust implicitly. The Lord of the Rings trilogy works on screen for the exact same reason.

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X-Men 2 (2003) 4/5 (1)

 

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Rating: The Good – 69
Genre: Action
Duration: 104 mins
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.

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