X-MEN A GO-GO

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X-Men: Apocalypse appeared in a crowded market of sequel s and comic book films this summer. The series was coming off a high of X-Men: Days of Future Past which combined the cast of the original run of films from 2000-2006 with the reboot X-Men: First Class kids ala like a Marvel Avengers team-up film. Intended as a trilogy capper to the young First Class crew, the scale of this X-Men film is bigger than any previous efforts with real world ending threats and yet the film is quite underwhelming. Where other films however muddled have felt fresh this year, this X-Men outing feels like a call back to better earlier trips. Even James McAvoy pointed out on Graham Norton “Charles goes bad again, I try to appeal to his inner humanity again.” That’s not what the main problem is though, Apocalypse is to put it mildly A bit of a fuckin mess. Too many characters, too many plot strands, an underwhelming villain and a finale that looks impressive at first but ends up like they always do being a big overblown cartoon that makes the audience feel no impact nor sense of stakes in the choreography. That is not to say it is without merit though. Their biggest mistake here is to not give closure to their cast of characters instead choosing to leave open the door for more profit-I mean storytelling.

Picking up from the events of Days of Future Past which was set primarily in 1973, Apocalypse takes place in 1983 with everybody fairly happy. Prof Xavier (James McAvoy) is running the School with Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult) and doing a bang up job. There are some particularly gifted students in attendance in the form of Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan) and Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) who we all know will become Cyclops and Phoenix. Jennifer Lawrence who proved the be the big break out star of this franchise due to her own one The Hunger Games, is back as Mystique rocking a leather jacket and being a bit of a symbol for mutants world-wide. She rescues them and is still fighting the good fight of mutants against humans who would hate, enslave or murder them or you know just humans in general. After almost killing the President, Magneto went back to Poland and raised a family. Image result for x-men apocalypse magnetoThese early scenes with Fassbender are low key and enjoyable. It feels like a natural progression for the character in middle age having fought the war for mutant rights and decided to go back where he came from, to where it all started and try to live a simple life as a man. The problem is we all know where this will end so it’s hard to get too involved with characters that will be the fate of an inevitable plot development. At least though there is something dialled down and interesting going on in Poland. Quicksilver is back in this film too which makes you think something inevitable will happen there too since he mentions Magneto is his father. Inexplicably this does not take place and I think it has less to do with character motivation and more to do with copyright legislation.

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Added into this mix is the villain En Sabur Nur or Apocalypse, a very old mutant maybe the first who used to make life tough back in the day for Egyptians and now has returned to……Sigh. You know it really doesn’t matter. You’d be better off seeing Oscar Isaac in A Most Violent Year Image result for a most violent yearor Inside Llewellyn Davis or Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook or James McAvoy in Filth or Tye Sheridan in Mud or  Sophie Turner in Game of Thrones or Evan Peters in American Horror Story or Olivia Munn in The Newsroom or Nicholas Hoult in Mad Max: Fury Road or Michael Fassbender in any movie he made with Steve McQueen or Lucas Till in…..in…actually this is probably Lucas’s Till’s best work. Still you get the point, there are better movies out there but I guess this one is not bad.

Look back in Egyptian times there was a mutant who ruled over the world with four deputies which allude to the Four Horsemen of the Biblical Apocalypse. I’ve heard Highlander the TV series did this idea more justice than this movie…… let that sink in for a moment. Awakened in modern times Ennie Sabie No feels a bit out of sorts and decides this old world of ours needs a bit of a renovation sensation which coincidentally includes our annihilation. How a victim of the Nazi’s final solution gets on board with mass genocide is beyond me but little Magneto has had a rough time of it. Image result for x-men apocalypse gifsA startling close up of Isaac describing our world while connected to a TV is oddly compelling but sadly his motivations or how he draws in his followers of four is less convincing. There are some tantalising Meta jokes, references to past relationships but no real payoff. Hoult and Lawrence had a nice chemistry in First Class and it would have been nice to develop their love story to some resolution in this film. Image result for x-men apocalypse magnetoMore inroads are made with Rose Byrne and McAvoy but still no cigar. There is another stand out Quicksilver sequence which has less impact this time around but there is a good joke with Peters and Lawrence. En Zanzi Bur is a powerful figure with immense power but without a proper motivation the finale lacks emotional power. Things blow up, pixels play across the screen, and some actors even go flying through the air on wires but ask yourself in 3 months if you remember any of it. You’ll remember Han Solo on the bridge a damn sight better or even Superman throwing that Kryptonite Spear into Doomsday.

Yosub Kim, Content Strategy Director x-men purple olivia munn swordMake a good film and everybody will beg you to be the only one to do a sequel, make a less than great film and everybody says it’s time to put the franchise to bed. Both are knee jerk reactions that don’t necessarily hold true. Bryan Singer has directed some fine films and been with these characters a long time, for me the best remains X-Men 2 which was 14 years ago. I wish him and 20th Century Fox well with the franchise and any choices they make in the future. In the end this could be as good a time as any to end this part of the story but if not, the directive should be simple – make it good. X-Men Apocalypse ain’t bad though.

-Lloyd Marken

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THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY PART 2 OF WHAT COULD HAVE JUST BEEN ONE MOVIE

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 makes a very compelling argument that there should only ever had been The Hunger Games: Mockingjay made as much as Part 1 made the same argument. Fans of the book should enjoy seeing this world realised on the screen with a fourth film and breathe a sigh of relief that the ending was not compromised for the masses. However for the rest of us Mockingjay’s split was an indulgence engineered to stretch revenue at the cost of narrative economy.  Hollywood please take note.

This is not to say it’s a bad film by itself. Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) returns, last seen having been attacked by her former fiancé Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) after they were finally reunited at the end of Part One. Part Two immediately picks up from there with no refresher to the world or current developments, the casual filmgoer may struggle to understand some of the personal stakes here if they can’t recall characters and their backstories. For instance Finnick a past Hunger Games Victor gets married here to his love from a previous film but I needed Wikipedia to remind me of their history together. The Wikipedia page made me care more about their wedding more than the film did and that’s a problem.

I did better remembering the world of rich and poor Districts and where we were in the war. Katniss a propaganda tool for the rebellion is eager to go after President Snow (Donald Sutherland never better) who rules The Capitol.  So after Finnick’s wedding (like all weddings a useful narrative tool for getting all characters into a room for introductions or farewells) she stows away on a transport jet to go to the frontlines. President Coin (Julianne Moore), leader of the Rebellion, has other plans for her though to be included in a squad that shoots propaganda shorts behind the troops while taking out booby-traps. There is a lot of neat political and social commentary in this series. Katniss a heroine who came to attention by surviving with skill and courage in a deadly gladiatorial game is now being utilised in a war to inspire but not to lead or fight. Jena Malone as former Victor Johanna Mason at one point mocks her even after being shot because she had to be wearing a bullet proof vest due to her value to the cause.

The scene in the hospital between Katniss and Joanna may just be my favourite of the whole film. Mason has retained her sass despite having been held captive and tortured for the past year. Everdeen who is still in the fight knows Mason maybe understands them and their world better than most. It’s Mason who helps her escape to the front and it is Mason who gets her to enjoy a dance with her loved ones at the wedding. War brings uncertainty and loss, better kick up your heels while everyone is still breathing even if you don’t feel like it.

With the booby traps set in the Capitol it has now become a much larger Hunger Games arena with the squad getting picked off as they make their way to Snow’s mansion. The books no doubt would’ve added compelling back stories to these characters to make you worry about their fates but here in the film it is lot more difficult to care about most of them. The ones we do care about the most were in the previous films and again the memories can be dim for a few if you haven’t seen the films recently. Another compelling reason why one Mockingjay film would’ve been better. Of course we care if Liam Hemsworth lives.

film kate winslet liam hemsworth the dressmakerYet imagine all these characters introduced at the beginning and then put in jeopardy during a third act assault on the Capitol. There’s two days spent in this section of the film that could have easily been one. Still there is a fantastic sequence involving subterranean creatures that plays like a PG-13 Aliens scene with all of the intensity and less of the gore.

How the war ends is very important to the film and pivotal to Katniss herself. The rebel with integrity is left with only one choice after it and when she lifts her bow and arrow one last time onscreen I was smiling with anticipation. This series is fitting for the times and the youth of it. They’re savvy to media manipulation through the democracy of digital content, they’re grown up on reality TV that plays like a modern distracting Colosseum, the world is shrinking in the age of information and the different levels of wealth through it has never been more apparent. Since October 2001 we’ve been at war in the Middle East one way or another and there have been a lot of casualties and soldiers coming home but leaving parts of themselves back there. By comparison a simple good and evil tale would be too quaint for these times and this generation. Mockingjay is nicely sophisticated with a broad canvas of ideas and complex characters. Just not with a story that again, I must point this out, had to be split into two.

-Lloyd Marken