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Monthly Archives: May 2016

XmenApocalypse

The X-Men have a rocky cinematic history, to say the least. For a team that has consistently starred in some of Marvel’s best performing comics and television series, some of the films have been downright disappointing. I won’t go into too much detail on the whole history of the X-Men film series, as I recently did with a couple of my friends on “The Mother Flickers” YouTube channel, where we did a series of film reviews on the entire X-Men series. Needless to say, however, we mostly agreed that despite a dip in quality, the latest of the few films definitely set an upward trend, peaking with Bryan Singer’s return to the franchise with X-Men: Days of Future Past. So how does Singer’s follow up, X-Men: Apocalypse hold up? Let’s take a look.

The plot to X-Men: Apocalypse is very busy, but it revolves around Professor Xavier as he attempts to teach young mutants to control their abilities. Part of this class involves newcomer to Xavier’s school Scott Summers, played by Tye Sheridan, Jean Grey, played by Sophie Turner of Game of Thrones fame, and Nightcrawler, played by Kodi Smit-McPhee. Meanwhile, Mystique (reprised by Jennifer Lawrence) is on the search for Erik Lehnsherr, better known as the mutant Magneto, who has recently been re-exposed as a mutant after going into hiding, and having his wife and daughter killed because of him. This all takes a back seat, however, to the awakening of the ancient mutant En Sabah Nur, best known as Apocalypse, and portrayed by Oscar Isaac. Apocalypse gathers four mutants as his followers, including Magneto, and disarms the world of their nuclear weapons in an attempt to take over and “purge” the world of humanity, leaving only mutants to rebuild in the aftermath. This leaves it up to the new team of X-Men to stop Apocalypse and save the world.

This is the most basic explanation of the plot, and leads into two of my biggest complaints about the film; it’s overstuffed, and it’s tonally confused. To touch on how overstuffed it is, there’s a ton going on on screen at any given time; from Scott learning how to fit in, to Xavier trying to figure out what this new apocalyptic force he feels stems from, to Erik’s personal conflict of trying to fit in as a normal human, to Mystique helping refugee mutants, to Apocalypse himself amassing his power… the film is incredibly overstuffed, hardly giving any of these plotlines room to breathe, and thus leaves the film feeling like a jumbled mess. While hardly any of these plotlines felt unnecessary, there was simply too much, and though I feel Bryan Singer did a decent enough job juggling everything he wanted in the film, it didn’t all work.

This leads nicely into my second complaint, which is the tonal confusion this film suffers from. For the first half of the film, as everything is being set up to fall into place, each separate plotline of the film feels like its own separate film, making the transitions fairly jarring. An overall tone is never established, which left me wanting more. This is somewhat rectified at about the halfway point of the film, as all of the plotlines finally intersect there is a definite tone of urgency present, which gives plenty to enjoy as the final battle against Apocalypse and his Four Horsemen commences. The road there, however, is long and confusing. To compare it to an earlier summer superhero blockbuster, Captain America: Civil War, the two have roughly the same runtime, and Civil War moved at a much quicker and more coherent pace than X-Men: Apocalypse, which disappointed me.

Moving on from the negatives to one of the biggest positives of the film, to me, is the overall performances by our new cast of characters. Tye Sheridan, Sophie Turner, and Kodi Smit-McPhee all do an absolutely phenomenal job in their roles. They all have fantastic chemistry on screen, and as a beginning to the next generation of X-Men, they absolutely won me over. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender do great reprising their roles as Professor Xavier and Magneto, and though I feel their chemistry is weaker compared to their previous outings in First Class and Days of Future Past, this mostly stems from how conflicted Erik as a character is throughout the plot. By the end of the film, Fassbender and McAvoy have their chemistry back, and while I still feel that you can never touch the level that Stewart and McKellen reached in their portrayal of the characters, McAvoy and Fassbender continue to prove that they can do a great job in their own right.

The rest of the characters do a fine job as well; Evan Peters’ return as Quicksilver is a welcome addition, and Lawrence and Hoult are up to snuff in their respective performances as well. It’s hard for me to judge Olivia Munn and Ben Hardy’s performances as they really aren’t given much to do, but they do alright for what they’re given. While I wish Alexandra Shipp as Storm was given a bit more, she’s shown to be sticking around for the future of the series, so that leaves me hopeful for her future performances. Unfortunately, amongst all of these fantastic performances in the film, we’re also treated to an incredibly weak portrayal in the form of our title character.

First I’ll address Oscar Isaac’s performance, which I would say is quite good. Isaac clearly did the best he could with his script, and plays the “ingenious mastermind” quite well. Unfortunately, Apocalypse is given very little to do outside of his quest to gather his Four Horsemen, and we’re never truly given a full example of what his powers can truly do that makes him the most powerful mutant in the world. Instead, Apocalypse spends most of the film trying to convince his horsemen that he’s who they should align themselves with, and once it gets to the point where he actually needs to act, he simply has Magneto do the bulk of the work for him as far as building his base of action. To fight the X-Men, he assigns his horsemen to take care of them, and only once they’re all defeated to we get to see Apocalypse in action. Once in action, Apocalypse is decent, but at that point in the film I’d become so disappointed by Apocalypse’s lack of activity that it was tough to rebound from.

This, I feel, is the absolute most disappointing aspect of the film; the title character is the weakest point. Apocalypse has been called for by X-Men fans for years, wanting to see an epic film adaptation of the team’s greatest foe. While the film certainly becomes epic in scale, the character of Apocalypse himself is far from it. As I mentioned earlier, Apocalypse does very little in the film, which is the worst thing that could be said about the character; in comic’s lore, he is the arch enemy of the X-Men, and in the film, he is talked about as being one of the strongest mutants ever to live. Neither of these are portrayed properly in the film, which left me wanting more.

Sophie Turner has a line in the film about how the third in a series is always the worst, in regards to the group having gone to see Return of the Jedi. Apocalypse, acting as the third in the “new timeline” trilogy of First Class, Days of Future Past, and Apocalypse, unfortunately does indeed fit this descriptor in that it’s inferior to the films previous to it. However, it does more than act as a simple end to a trilogy, as it also marks the beginning of a new series of X-Men films starring this group of new X-Men. My hope is the film will become much more appreciated as the series goes on, much in the way Iron Man 2 holds up much better after watching The Avengers.

Despite all of the negatives the film has, it handles what works very well, and makes it memorable. The film does a good job of entertaining, and is ultimately a lot of fun in the right parts. That’s what it boils down to at the end, is whether or not you enjoyed the product. In a sea of X-Men films, it blends in as simply “not the worst,” and being released the same year as Deadpool and Civil War, it’s unfortunately going to suffer a bit since those two films were just so damn good. I’m giving X-Men: Apocalypse a 3/5; the confused and stuffed plot may drag it down a bit, and the titular Apocalypse may not have been handled all that well, but the portrayals of the rest of the characters are more than enough to safe the film from disaster, just like the X-Men they’re playing.

Neighbors_2_Sorority_Rising

When it comes to Greek life representation in movies, the result is usually played up for laughs. The most famous example obviously comes from Animal House, which did an excellent job of playing with the tropes and stereotypes of Greek life at college. Nicholas Stoller’s 2014 comedy Neighbors did an excellent job playing with the stereotypes of fraternities, while adding a creative and new spin on the typical representation, obviously by adding in the element of next-door neighbors being affected by the fraternity’s antics, but also by adding Teddy’s arc of feeling dissatisfied with his life and worried about joining the real world. This made it one of my personal favorite films relating to Greek life, and one of my favorite comedies of 2014. While I don’t feel it necessarily warranted a sequel, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising did a fine job of expanding on these themes, and even bringing some new elements to the table.

The plot to Neighbors 2 is fairly straight forward, even more simple than the plot to the original Neighbors was. Mac and Kelly, reprised by Seth Rogen and Rose Byren, are selling their house to move to the suburbs, once their 30-day escrow period has completed. Meanwhile college freshman Shelby, played by Chloë Grace Moretz, is disheartened by the inequality of the campus Greek life system which seems to favor fraternities over sororities. This leads Shelby to band together with her fellow disheartened freshmen and start her own, off campus sorority. Meanwhile Teddy, reprised by Zac Effron, feels lost and alone in the world seeing his fraternity brothers moving on and becoming successful with their lives. Teddy meets Shelby and her sorority, and offers to help them start up as they move into Teddy’s old fraternity house. Teddy does this to get back at Mac and Kelly, who he feels ruined his life through the events of the previous film. This is his plan, until the sorority abandons him, leading him to join forces with Mac and Kelly to try and stop the sorority from getting too out of control, and scaring away Mac and Kelly’s potential buyers for their home.

The performances are all fantastic; Seth Rogen and Rose Byren do an excellent job as the seasoned veterans to the films shenanigans, and are smart enough to not think that the same old tricks they used to rid themselves of Teddy’s fraternity in Neighbors will be their simple solution for this second go round. Chloë Grace Moretz is a welcome addition to the talented cast, taking the role of the central antagonist yet being a likable, sympathetic character who simply wants to be treated fairly while finding her place at college, giving the film some less than subtle feminist tonality. The true star of the show here, I felt, was Zac Effron reprising his role as Teddy from the first film. Teddy is a truly sympathetic character in this film, having not grown at all over the last two years and continuing to struggle finding a place in life, mostly due to his criminal record from the first films events. This leads him to lash out in vengeance against Mac and Kelly, only to find at the end of the film that they’ve taught him a valuable lesson about comradery and friendship. For a character who had such a small arc in the first film, this sequel does wonders for expanding his character, bringing about a true arc between the two that shows an amazing, positive change for the character.

For as much as I liked about this film, however, there was plenty to dislike as well. For as smart as the writing was in terms of plot and refusing to simply recycle the plot of Neighbors but adding in a sorority, I found myself laughing significantly less at this film than I did when I first saw Neighbors. In addition to this, Zac’s character is the only one who I felt truly grew stronger from the events. Sure Chloë’s character learns a bit, but she doesn’t change much from when we’re first introduced to her. Seth and Rose’s characters, meanwhile, learn just a little about their abilities as parents, but otherwise remain mostly unchanged from their appearance in the first film.

Finally, the feminist elements of the film I feel unfortunately fell flat. The film makes some solid points about the Greek life system, and as a member of a fraternity myself I can admit freely that the sororities do seem to be held to a higher standard than the male fraternities on campus are, when it comes to things such as recruitment, event planning, and even something as simple as verbiage used when around certain people and members. So there’s definitely a lot to say about the equality of women in the Greek system, which is indeed what spurs the events of the film in the first place. This quickly devolves, however, and the feminist tones that were set up as the foundation of the film become the butt of the joke. While I’m glad to see the film laughing at EVERYONE and not just a specific group, the result is the feminist message being lost in the comedy, and thus feeling contrived when the more serious moments do occur, and falling flat when trying to make a point.

The film does have a very important theme, however, and that’s the importance and lastingness of friendship. Despite everything that has gone on through the film, the sisters of Shelby’s sorority learn that as long as they have each other, that’s what makes them a sorority, not having a house or being liked on campus. Teddy learns that despite his friends and brothers growing up and moving on with their lives doesn’t mean that they’ve forgotten him, and that their brotherhood is lifelong, not simply for a college career. This is a powerful message, and one of the core tenants of Greek life; these relationships are lifelong, and you will always have your brothers/sisters there for you, both during college and post-graduation. Seeing this outlined in the film made me ecstatic, and I’m all too happy to see this side of Greek life represented in cinema.

Overall, the film stands out amongst a sea of mediocre-at-best comedy sequels, and does its best to be new, creative, and powerful when it needs to be. It’s not perfect, and I still like the original Neighbors more than I like this film. That being said, I appreciate the direction taken with the film, and I especially appreciate the message of lasting brotherhood/sisterhood. I’m giving Neighbors 2 a 3.5/5, and strongly recommend anyone who was a fan of Neighbors to check it out!

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The beginning of summer has been marked by the release of the latest installment to the Marvel Cinematic Universe for the last six years straight, with the franchise taking a break in 2009. While some of these films have certainly been better than others, it’s become something to look forward to as both a fan of comic books, a fan of film, and a general Marvel fan since childhood. This summer we’re marked by the release of Captain America: Civil War, which also happens to be the start of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Phase Three series of films, leading up to the constantly teased fight against the Mad Titan Thanos, and capping off with The Avengers: Infinity War Part II in 2019. As the beginning of a new phase, Civil War shows us exactly what to expect from the future of the MCU… and does a damn good job with it at that.

The story for Captain America: Civil War is loosely based on the Civil War arc from the comic books, but it handles much of the same material in a more personal, affective way than the comic event did. Without going into too much detail, the United Nations has drafted the Sokovia Accords, the MCU’s version of the Superhuman Registration Act, to act as a governing body for the Avengers, and all other “enhanced humans” as they’re called to make sure that the Avengers don’t go around policing the world as they have been, which has lead to the collateral damage seen in New York from The Avengers, Washington D.C. as seen in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Sokovia in Avengers: Age of Ultron, and it’s even spurred on a little bit by an event that takes place right in the beginning of the film, when the intervention of the Avengers causes massive damage done in Lagos, killing many in the process. The Avengers are split on the accords, and thus split off into different factions, giving us the titular “civil war.” Along the way, however, we see an agenda being pushed into place by Zemo, one of the new characters who is loosely based on the iconic Captain America villain, Baron Zemo. Zemo is a Sokovian, and wanted to use not only the Winter Soldier, but deeply held secrets of the past to tear the Avengers apart from the inside as retribution for what happened in Sokovia. While Zemo’s plotline does feel a bit forced in and even rushed at times, he serves to give our heroes something to unite against despite all of the turmoil of the Sokovia Accords, and leads to one of the most personally driven battles we’ve seen in the MCU.

One of the major criticisms leading up to the film was how there just weren’t enough heroes in the MCU to constitute calling this a “war,” but the film is leaps and bounds more effective than the comic was, and a lot of this comes from just how few heroes we DO get. When they fight, not only do we get more time to focus on individuals throughout the fight, but we truly feel emotionally connected to the conflict; Steve and Tony have been working together for four years now, and watching them disagree to the point of physically fighting just spoke to me as an audience member. Without getting too into comparisons between the two films, I feel like Civil War is doing here what Zach Snyder was trying to do with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but does so in a much better way; this comes from the Russo brothers having four years of on-screen history together to back up this major conflict, not only meaning that it made more sense in the context of the film, but also that it’s more effective to the viewer as anyone whose made it this far into the MCU has likely been watching at least since The Avengers, just giving the film more gravitas than BvS had. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed certain aspects of BvS and I’m very curious to see where the DCEU goes, but I just feel from a filmmaking perspective, Civil War just did it better.

When it comes to fidelity of the characters to their source material, Civil War just goes ahead and knocks it out of the park. For a series that’s known for their accurate depictions of their characters, Civil War stands out amongst even all of that. The two standouts here come from our newcomers, Black Panther and Spider-Man. Both of these characters are incredibly accurate to their comic book counterparts, with this version of Spider-Man being by far the most accurate to the source version we’ve ever seen in film. While this comes as no surprise, it’s incredible to see just how easily he fits into the MCU mold, while keeping true to what a 15 year-old would be doing in a situation like this. Though his time is brief, his scenes are some of the most memorable, and he takes a major part in what I believe to be the best fight scene of not just the film, but in the franchise as a whole. Black Panther, on the other hand, has his time spread out through more of the film; the film serves as a quite personal, and incredibly engaging origin story for King T’challa, and ends up being memorable in his own right, giving everyone something to look forward to with his solo film coming out in 2018.

For our veteran characters, we all know how accurate they are to their comic book counterparts, but this film gave some much needed, much welcomed development of the characters; Sharon Carter finally gets some expanded characterization as one of Captain America’s closest allies, we see much more of what kind of “person” Vision is than we were able to in Age of Ultron, and we’re seeing how Wanda is coping to her new life as an Avenger (POTENTIAL SPOILER: We also get a hint at some of the feelings Wanda and Vision share for each other in the comics, a welcome addition in my opinion). On top of all this, we see first hand the struggle Bucky Barnes faces as the Winter Soldier, wanting to leave that life behind and just do the right thing, but continuing to be picked up and simply used as if he were a weapon, which he retains no memories from outside of “Winter Soldier mode,” and thus gives him his own conflict to deal with, which he does well in my opinion.

The best character development, however, comes from our headline matchup, Captain America and Iron Man. Iron Man has certainly come a long way in eight years, as the once unapologetic playboy tech mogul has morphed into a desperate, guilt-ridden shell of who he once used to be; Iron Man has clearly been affected the most by the actions of the franchise, and is tired of being responsible for so much chaos and destruction. Because of this, he favors the Sokovia Accords. He realizes they’re too dangerous to the world without this supervision, and despite all the times they’ve saved the world, they simply haven’t cared about the cost up to this point. So while Iron Man seems to be on the “bad side” of the conflict, the film portrays him to do so out of what he feels is necessary. Tony has certainly grown up a lot in eight years, and the film does a fantastic job showing us not just that he has, but why he has.

Captain America, on the other hand, has completed his transition from “America’s best boy” that was started in Winter Soldier. Thanks to the accords and his unwavering loyalty to do what he feels is the right thing, he becomes a full on fugitive from the law yet again by refusing to sign the accords, and harboring Bucky from the government who wants him to answer for a crime he was framed for. Steve shows once again that he does what he thinks is right no matter what the situation is, and no matter who he’s up against, which has become par for the course for Captain America. He hasn’t changed much since his last film unlike Tony, but in a way, that’s the point of their characters. Tony, much like the technology he built his fame around, is constantly changing, and always adapting to what he thinks is right for the given situation, where Steve stands firm in his ideals, unwilling to compromise if it means even one person might lose their liberty over it. Much as the Captain America of the comics told Spider-Man in the Civil War event, and much like Sharon Carter tells Steve in this film, he plants himself like a tree when the whole world says “move.” And all he has to say to that is “No, you move.”

When it comes down to it, this might just be the best MCU film to date in my opinion. The way the film handles the material, both content wise and how personal they were able to make it, the way the film handles both veteran and newcomer characters, and the way it just loves and respects the comics the series came from, Civil War is sure to be a delight, not just for fans of Marvel comics, but for fans of the MCU and even film fans in general. I’m giving Captain America: Civil War 5/5 stars, and I urge anyone who hasn’t yet to please go check it out. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed, as it isn’t just a good superhero movie… it’s a damn good film.