X-Men: Days of Future Past

ImageAfter over a decade away from the X-Men, director Bryan Singer finally returns to the franchise that made him superbly famous. Singer helmed the first X-Men film in 2000 and its even more enjoyable sequel X2 in 2003 but then stepped down. The X-Men series would expand with four more films in Singer’s absence, the best of them Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class in 2011 and the worst of them Gavin Hood’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine in 2009. The point being that while the X-Men films have persevered in Singer’s absence, they certainly have had their ups and downs. Nonetheless, Singer’s entries have each miraculously improved on its predecessor. While I still feel X-Men: First Class is the strongest X-Men film overall, Singer’s third entry X-Men: Days of Future Past is certainly his finest of the bunch and a real crowd-pleaser at that!

At first glance, the plot of X-Men: Days of Future Past sounds like it would be fraught with confusion and dramatic subtext, but it is actually just Back to the Future with mutants. The present day X-Men are living in a world where man has defeated the mutant. With the creation of Dr. Bolivar Trask’s (Peter Dinklage) Sentinels, mutants are being hunted and executed to the point of extinction. A small army of original X-Men, lead by Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen) have so far eluded the Sentinels, but time is running out. A final Hail Mary play involves using the telekinetic power of Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) to send the consciousness of Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back to 1973 where he can hopefully sway the younger X-Men to stop the series of past events that allow Trask and his Sentinels to come to power. Great Scott!

Singer is thus tasked with the challenging undertaking of balancing the present day cast of original X-Men with that of their engaging and charming First Class counterparts. Fortunately, he is up for the challenge and succeeds by crafting a film that does not look for balance but puts the attention firmly on the new and absurdly talented First Class. Many fans will likely balk at the frame story that leaves Stewart, McKellen, and company as book ends of an otherwise straight-forward sequel to X-Men: First Class, but I feel this is precisely the direction to take these films and I am thrilled that the rest of the original cast seems to feel this way as well. Michael Fassbender in particular brings a great deal of complexity to the character of Magneto and truly commands the audience’s attention the way Jackman’s Wolverine used to in the original films. Jackman is still fantastic as Wolverine and has somehow not worn out his welcome at all. His character feels like the appropriate choice for anchoring the film’s point of view, and Jackman’s performance is nuanced enough to be tough yet endearing.  This is most evident in his scenes with James McAvoy’s Charles Xavier; these two fall into stride in an almost Butch and Sundance kind of way.

There is a lot of star power in this film; I mean, I haven’t even addressed Jennifer Lawrence yet! However, there are also a host of new mutants introduced in this film. This inundation of countless new characters was the tipping point for the third film, X-Men: The Last Stand. Too many cooks in the kitchen spoil the broth, as they say. Yet, Singer somehow manages this feat effortlessly, seemingly poking fun at the previous idiom by setting one of the film’s most enjoyable scenes starring a new character literally in a kitchen with way too many people in it!

Speaking of too many people, Jennifer Lawrence reprises her role as Mystique and Nicholas Hoult is back as Beast. These two blue beauties were front and center in X-Men: First Class but seem far less utilized in this film, even though Mystique is pivotal to the film’s plot. This is unfortunate since their chemistry and vivacity were so fun in the previous film.

X-Men: Days of Future Past does exactly what Fox, Marvel, and fans hoped it would. It revitalized the franchise, it spun the storyline in a new and vibrant direction, and it made lots of money. I am eager to see where Singer takes us next in X-Men: Apocalypse. A-

X-Men: Days of Future Past is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 2 hours and 11 minutes. As always, stay through the credits for a brief but vital scene at what’s next for the X-Men.

  

Advertisements

Neighbors

ImageRobert Frost once wrote, “Good fences make good neighbors.” The new Seth Rogan film, Neighbors pokes numerous holes in that philosophical statement and illustrates why Frost’s New Hampshire home was very, very well isolated.

This is not the first comedy film to go by the title Neighbors. In 1981, Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi followed up the success of The Blues Brothers with a dark misfire about a suburban man (Belushi) whose life is flipped upside down by his obnoxious neighbor (Aykroyd). The film was a production nightmare and was also the last teaming-up of Belushi and Aykroyd before Belushi’s death. It was also a missed opportunity from a simple and potentially brilliant film idea.

Now, Rogan and co-writer Evan Goldberg seem to have righted a wrong by bringing their signature raunchy wit to their latest production.

Rogan plays Mac Radner, a new father, who with his wife Kelly (Rose Byrne), is trying to adjust to a new responsible life now that the carefree days are behind him. Caring for a newborn proves to have its challenges but none measure up to the challenges of having a fraternity move in to the house next door. Not wanting to be the square neighbors who have to tell the kids to, “Keep it down!” Mac and Kelly decide to play it cool at first and let these frat brothers know that they are still hip and young. They approach fraternity president Teddy (Zac Efron) and awkwardly suggest he and his buddies keep the noise down. Within days, however the frat parties are out of control forcing Mac to call the police and report a noise violation. It may as well have been the assassination of Arch Duke Ferdinand because it’s an all out war from that point forward.

Image
Robert Frost’s home in Derry, NH.

Teddy and his band of brothers (including such familiar faces as Dave Franco, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, and Jerrod Carmichael) pool all of their intellect and creativity and aim it not at academics but at the Radners. Carefully placed air bags, hysterically themed parties, and shenanigans aplenty increase the Radner’s misery and decrease the Radner’s home value, making it impossible for them to move.

But don’t count those Radners out yet. Mac and Kelly, along with their divorced friends Jimmy (Ike Barinholtz) and Paula (Carla Gallo), do not go down without a fight.

Neighbors has the edge, pacing, and cringe-worthy raunch we’ve come to expect from the best of Rogan’s efforts. The jokes are funny, but we may be starting to see Rogan start drawing from the bottom of the well. Much has been made of Rogan transitioning from playing characters who are more juvenile to those who are more mature and adult. This “maturity” seemingly comes along with some retreads or re-purposing of jokes that he has used before. One example would be the interesting biological party trick Dave Franco’s character Pete is able to “produce.” This is identical to the interesting “gift” Jason Mewes’s character Lester is able to “achieve” in Zack and Miri Make a Porno. This is more of an observation than a criticism, but it will be interesting to watch how Rogan “comes of age” as a major player in the world of comedy. What certainly does work for this film is how well suited the rest of the cast is for supporting Rogan and Goldberg’s script. Rose Byrne holds nothing back in her performance as Kelly and with this film as well as her uptight and hilarious turn in Bridesmaids she has become a surprisingly comic actress for one originally so suited to drama. Efron is perfect as Teddy and plays the character with endearing charm compelling the audience to both revere and revile him. Much of the film’s heart is a result of the tumultuous relationship scenes between Efron and Franco. Lastly, the baby (played by twins Elise and Zoey Vargas) is flippin’ adorable!

Neighbors is a top-notch comedy and capitalizes on a simple but brilliant concept. B+

Neighbors is rated R and has a running time of 1 hour and 36 minutes. Stay midway through the credits for more scenes of that flippin’ adorable baby!

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

ImageJust as Spidey is swinging back into theaters for, doubtless, another big opening at the box office, The People’s Critic is just getting a chance to write up the Spring’s first big blockbuster. That’s right, Cap is back, and in a big, big way! Remember when Sam Raimi’s Spiderman came out, and everyone was saying, “Now that is how you make a comic book movie!”? But then The Dark Knight came out and everyone said, “No wait, now that is how you make a comic book movie!” Taking nothing away from Spiderman, The Dark Knight, or the other entries in the Marvel franchise, I would like to formally invite Captain America: The Winter Soldier into the conversation because this is how you make a comic book movie!

To begin with, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a terrific political conspiracy thriller in the style of Three Days of the Condor or The Parallax View except with superheroes and a bigger budget. I can honestly say that anyone can enjoy this film even without previous knowledge of other Marvel franchise films. I can say this because I took my mother to the film and she loved it. For those of you who know my mother’s skepticism to all things “comic,” that should send you to the theater immediately.

For those of you who don’t know my mother or need even more motivation, now I’m speaking to you. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the follow-up to Joe Johnston’s 2011 film, Captain America: The First Avenger. The sequel, exquisitely directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, finds “Cap” Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) finally adjusting to life in the 21st century. Still an active member of S.H.I.E.L.D, Rogers continues to take missions but is finding modern ethics a bit distasteful compared to those he lived by in the 1940s.  

When S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), reveals a new initiative called Project Insight, Rogers has major doubts. Spearheaded by the World Security Council, Project Insight would use triangulated helicarriers that track bio-levels in all humans to determine future threats and then eliminate them before they can ever strike. Similar to the conflicts in the film Minority Report, this form of “pre-crime” judgment is a tough pill for Rogers to swallow. After Fury requests that Secretary of Defense Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) delay Project Insight, Fury is suddenly attacked in one of the finest action sequences put to film in recent memory.

Now Rogers along with new pal, Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) and Agent Natasha Romanoff (Scarlet Johansson), must search to find who it is that is attacking S.H.I.E.L.D. and preserve the safety of America and the world. His efforts are complicated with the arrival of The Winter Soldier, a mysterious super soldier with talents and abilities rivaling those of Rogers’s. The cat’s mostly out of the bag regarding what the Winter Soldier’s identity truly is, but I will not reveal it here.

Back to my original statement about why this film belongs in the conversation of finest comic book movies. While many films of this genre are born into intergalactic conflicts and absurdly fantastic plotlines, the best of them are grounded, at least partially, in reality. The motive for Captain America has always been protecting his homeland from threats, and it is a credit to the Russo brothers and writers Christopher Marcus and Stephen McFeely to put him in an environment where he is doing that very thing.  Additionally, the performances are pitch perfect.  Evans brings the perfect balance of charm, bravado, and idealism to the role of Captain America, and Robert Redford puts forth a very real and noteworthy performance as Pierce, no doubt inspired by how Tommy Lee Jones treated his role as Colonel Phillips in Captain America: The First Avenger. 

The film, while capable of standing alone, is also so well woven in to the Marvel universe. References and Easter eggs abound including one small homage to actor, Samuel L. Jackson that is sure to delight fans of his films. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is yet another fantastic entry into this still unrivaled and unprecedented series of associated franchises. However, this film sets a new bar but one that I have no doubts will be surpassed again. A

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 2 hours and 15 minutes. Marvel continues its trend of providing stingers after the credits, so stay comfortable and enjoy two scenes – one midway through the credits and one afterwards.