On X-Men: Days of Future Past

My fellow comic book buddy, whom you might know as Muscle Milk, and I have differing perspectives on what makes a good movie. His focus: Did I have a good time? Did enough things explode? Was I constantly entertained? Was there a hot girl?

My focus tends to be: What did this say to me? Was it consistent? Did the characters develop through the course of the movie? Then, depending on the genre: was it funny enough? Was it dramatic enough? Did Godzilla eat enough people?

It’s the rare occasion when these two standards intersect on one movie – especially a comic book adaptation. I actually feel, though, that the latest X-Men entry didn’t fare too badly. Beware, because the following contains spoilers.

Admittedly, I am the first to say that I’m getting a little tired of all the Wolverine entries. Yes, he’s a cool tough guy and that’s always fun. But believe it or not, there are plenty of other cool butt kickers in the X-Men universe. Let’s try exploring some of them before Hugh Jackman gets too old and tired and then the whole X-Men franchise crumbles beneath his adamantium claws.

However, if we go back to the questions ahead:

Did I have a good time? Yes. The movie was pretty quick-paced and I felt it didn’t spend overly-long drawing out points that we already know and have ingrained in our collective cultural subconscious. We did not need to be re-introduced to the fact that Wolverine is a tough guy bad-ass. Just look at that haircut and facial hair! We know the Xavier-Magneto dynamic, so they didn’t re-tread that too much beyond what felt natural. And plus, Patrick Stewart is objectively wonderful. So there’s that.

Did enough things explode? Aka, was there enough action. Yes. Although, we were subjected to Wolverine bone-claws again. Ick. But I mean, watching the opening with the younger generation of X-Men, headed by Bobby, fight off the Sentinels was pretty awesome.

Was I constantly entertained? Yes. As mentioned, the movie kicks off with pretty great battles against the sentinels, demonstrating what a threat they are. We get some drama between young Charles and Eric. Mystique is actually pretty entertaining throughout – despite how I felt about her portrayal in the previous movie (they took the mystique out of her). It’s partially heist, partially action, all comic book. It’s definitely entertaining.

Did it have a hot girl? Take your pick. Jennifer Lawrence. Bingbing Fan (aka Blink aka the Asian chick with Portal powers). Even Famke Janssen made an appearance (of course).

Down to my criteria:

What did this say to me? There are a few areas to focus on. I really liked the treatment of Xavier, for example. What Prof. X said to his younger self was a thought to ponder on: young Charles wasn’t afraid of feeling other people’s emotions. He was afraid that it would make him confront his own. There’s a lot to be said of that even for we non-mutants. For example, are people with hurtful biases able to sympathize with those over whom they’re casting judgment? Or are they afraid to because once they do, it will cause them to confront themselves and their own wrong-doing? Would it cause their entire value system to collapse? How about focusing on Eric and Raven: are people born villains? Will changing events of their past keep them from pursuing a villainous future? And that ties right along with destiny, namely: will time always auto-correct its course so that no matter what “pebbles” are thrown into its stream, the current remains unchanged? (The movie says no).

“Was it consistent?” didn’t fare as well. By and large it’s pretty solid – especially for a summer blockbuster. But it’s afflicted by the same plot hole as pretty much every movie that ever uses time travel to fix a present-world problem: why, if you could transport a person back in time to any point in time, would you only give them a matter of days (or hours) to fix a huge, time-changing problem? Now, the reason from a story-telling stand-point is obvious. The movie needs tension to be exciting. But there’s not even some convenient deus ex-machina to explain why Wolverine was given so little time. They don’t really explain it at all – they comment as little as possible on it, in fact.

On to power problems, such as Blink’s. The Sentinels are shown to have adaptive power to compensate for the powers of the mutant they’re fighting, rendering them almost indestructible when fighting one mutant long enough. Blink alone seems to offer them an upper-hand: she opens portals left and right so that the Sentinels cannot anticipate who will attack them. For a brief moment of time, though, whoever is on the other side of a portal is vulnerable to attack. At one point, she’s not quick enough closing a portal and gets stabbed through the chest – the portal immediately closes and severs that portion of the Sentinel off. So… her portals can literally slice through Sentinels. While it’s awesome watching the portals being used by her teammates, wouldn’t it be more effective to open portals around the Sentinels and slice them in half?

Or Mystique’s powers. While Mystique traditionally has been an ass-kicker with the power to look like anyone, the movie implies that it’s more than just that: she adopts their traits on a biological level – it’s what gives the Sentinels their adaptive power. So wouldn’t that mean that while she looks like Wolverine, she’d heal like Wolverine? Look like Charles, become a telepath like Charles? While I’d have been satisfied if they’d explained that the Sentinel’s abilities come from scientists tweaking Mystique’s genetic code, the movie implies that it’s already inherent.

Then, of course, there’s Kitty Pryde. When, exactly, did she gain the power to send people’s minds through time to inhabit their past bodies? She’s not a telepath. She can’t do it to herself. And it’s not exactly molecular phasing.

From a story-telling perspective, they also had to retcon the past movies by making old Prof. Xavier give his spiel about how Raven was a cherished childhood friend – though if you watched the first trilogy, there’s no evidence of that. The Sentinels already had working prototypes in the 70s, but did not attack the X-Men until well over 40 years later. Magneto sends Wolverine back to help himself out – and yet young Eric has no interest in knowing how his future self would correct his… er… present past. Or the fact that a mutant killing some random scientist motivates the government to begin plans to exterminate mutants – but not a group of mutants breaking into and out of the Pentagon. Nor a mutant literally lifting a football stadium, encompassing the White House, and threatening to kill the president and his cabinet – the fact that Mystique saved him does little to fix the fact that something so tremendous happened. And Charles decides to trust Eric to go free, despite his willingness to kill friend and comrade. And somehow old Xavier is still in his own body… inexplicably. So consistency wasn’t DoFP’s strong suit – but it wasn’t so glaring that it detracted from my enjoyment.

If we move on to whether or not the characters develop, in this case I’d go back to yes – although Wolverine is still obsessed with Jean and there’s no mention of Mariko. But young Charles transforms dramatically, and Mystique is swayed by her old friend to become a hero to the president rather than villain – although her true allegiance doesn’t seem to be changed. In the end, Wolverine took up a lot of screen-time, but plot-wise, he was really a bystander (or perhaps prompter) in a story about Charles, Eric and Raven – which was welcomed.

And as for whether or not it fulfilled my expectations of the genre, it did. It had, as mentioned previously, explosions, cool fight scenes, excellent graphics, and an ounce of drama.

Overall, I’d give the movie 4/5 stars.

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The Amazing Spider-Man 2: A(nother) Chick Flick with Superheroes

uncle ben

If you can do good things, or like… the stuff that isn’t bad… or you know… make the choice that will mean good stuff happens for someone, you should because of things and stuff.

I saw The Amazing Spider-Man 2 last week, and it’s taken me a full week to really digest it and form what I want to say about it. As a review, this will include spoilers, so don’t read on if you haven’t seen said movie or if you haven’t but don’t care about spoilers.

My number one complaint about the first Amazing Spider-Man was that it’s basically a chick flick with a super hero. I mean, there’s even a period joke, guys. A period joke. If that doesn’t scream chick flick, I don’t know what will.

Maybe a drawn-out “will-they-won’t-they” relationship with some dreamy guy with a dark secret… oh, wait.

But over and over, with this new Spider-Man franchise, the whole thing seems to be carried on the back of Peter Parker’s chemistry with Gwen Stacy – because frankly, nothing else about it is that great.

The amazing acrobatic feats that Spidey is capable of, for example, all seem incredibly CGI-ed. At points, it’s almost like watching a cartoon. Which would be fine if… you know… I paid to watch a cartoon.

Amazing Spider-Man 2 Electro Screenshot CGI Effects

On the other hand, it IS the most realistic cartoon I’ve ever seen.

It’s also quite long, at two hours and twenty-two minutes. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: not every movie needs to be Lord of the Rings. Thanks a lot, Peter Jackson.

It spends a lot of time telling us that Jamie Foxx is quirky, alone, idolizes Spider-Man (because Spider-Man’s careless with his words and cares more about how he is seen by people than he does about how they’re affected), and doesn’t have any friends because he’s just too weird and nerdy. Ryan from the Office ryans him around a little bit. Suddenly, because Ryan ryaned him so hard, he gets powers!

Then it spends a lot of time kind of re-treading the last movie: Gwen and Peter have great chemistry, but he’s afraid she’ll get hurt, but he doesn’t care about the risks because he just can’t help himself, and Gwen’s kind of perfect because she’s cute and smart and funny. Blah, blah, blah. He loves her, can’t be with her, is with her anyways, then she’s going to leave him, but he’s going to go with her…

It throws in Harry Osborn – albeit, the most emo, slimy little Harry Osborn you’ve ever seen in any iteration – as Peter’s best friend that you knew absolutely nothing about in the last film because he was conveniently in boarding school. They haven’t seen or talked each other in years, but clearly that’s the basis for the closest friendship Peter has!

The plot thickens: Harry Osborn is desperate for some of Spidey’s blood because if he can do everything a spider can, maybe he has increased self-healing ability that would help cure him of a deadly hereditary disease!

But plot hole, and the worst one of the movie: ok, so Norman Osborn’s bout with the disease set on while he was Harry’s age – around 20. Still, Norman didn’t die till he was at least 50. Why would Harry get so pissed off that Spider-Man told him “not yet.” That’s not a no. It’s a “we don’t know what it’ll do yet, so let’s get it tested and make sure it’s safe first.” But Harry’s all, “WHY DOES SAFETY MATTER?! I’M DYINGGG!!!!!” Dude, you’re not dying MUCH faster than the rest of us. Chill out. Plus it’s a hereditary disease. It’s not the same as a virus that your anti-bodies can fight. It’s something that might actually require gene therapy – not spider venom.

Because he can’t get it, he goes all crazy, teams up with Electro, raids the company that formerly belonged to him, and uses an experimental serum on himself. Sounds rational.

The end of the movie was expected for any comic fan. And there was a lot that was done well. Overall, though, I’d probably only give The Amazing Spider-Man 2 a 3 out of 5. I hate drawn-out movies, and more than that: I hate plot holes.

What did you think?

The Hobbit Films – A Review (or Rant)

Typically, you may notice, we try to shape this blog into really focusing on games, gaming, game creation, and our game, of course, in particular. While I have discussed other media, it’s often with the intent of bettering our storytelling. It’s hard to keep coming up with subjects to write about, though, so today I will answer a question from the ever-cool Otaku Judge: What do I think about The Hobbit movies, as a person whose read the books? My one-word answer to him in one of the below posts? Yuck. Let me expound, though.

A quick disclaimer: I did not see the first movie. I did not see it on principle. I did not see it on principle because I do not think this book should have been three movies. I was ready to accept two movies. But three? Really? For a book that’s half the size of any of the books from the LoTR trilogy? Three? I knew that it would’ve been inundated with bland filler material, and probably non-canon plots — and I was right.

Now, I understand that many of the elements they added are canonical Tolkein devices that they pulled from other tales of Middle Earth, such as the Brown Wizard. However, do they appear in The Hobbit, the work in question? Does a cooky old guy jump on a sleigh pulled by bunnies and lead ORCS (not goblins) on a wild… er… rabbit chase? No. No, he does not.

So I did not see the first movie, though Justin and my brothers (all of whom have read the book) did. And that was enough for me. I did, however, recently see the second movie. Here are my thoughts:

1) Let’s get this out of the way: I thought it was an adventurous movie. It had a lot of battles, it was fun though long, and has some truly likable characters. I really enjoy seeing Watson/Tim Canterbury play Bilbo (okay, okay, I know his name: Martin Freeman), I do like the characterizations of Fili and Kili, and Thorin has grown on me as the embodiment of what I imagined as a child. Benedict Cumberbatch, of course, does a superb job in his voice acting role as Smaug. And Orlando Bloom’s second role as Bard is a surprisingly good human (I’m just kidding – but has anyone else caught the resemblance?) By some accounts, I would think it’s a good movie had it not been so long while accomplishing so little.

2) They’re really reaching for tie-ins. For example, they changed the goblins pursuing the group into orcs, and have used that to introduce the Uruk-hai, who in Tolkein’s writing did not appear until the attack at Gondor in The Lord of the Rings. Gandalf is depicted as having an encounter with the Eye of Mordor/Sauron – which, again, did not occur in the book. And let’s not forget the whole Legolas/Tauriel/Kili thing. More on that in a moment, though. Suffice it to say, stretching out material for one movie into three has introduced several prolonged, superfluous story lines.

3) Okay, the love-triangle. W-T-F? There is no love-triangle in my edition of the adventure-fantasy novel. Maybe I should’ve gotten a smutty daytime television version instead? I like Tauriel, and the addition of her, and I believe there was room for her given that not every elf that appears in The Hobbit is named, or gender-defined, or even really commented on. So that’s fine. Given, also, that the King is Legolas’ father, I even accept his presence. However, I would have thought that Legolas really would’ve made a mere cameo, rather than some starring role as a romantic hero/other-man. And now, spoiler: in the novel, Kili dies. With that in mind, I just cannot anticipate how they will resolve this plot in a satisfying manner without further violating the source material. I understand that that thought may very well be the creator’s intention to keep engaged audiences who would’ve otherwise thought that they knew everything (such as myself), but honestly, it’s not engaging so much as it’s frustrating. Or infuriating. Or perhaps engaging, but not in such a way that I’m particularly motivated to see the next film. It’s engaging in that it gives me something to complain about. I’d be just as happy to wait until someone posts the whole synopsis on Wikipedia. Or on an angry WordPress rant.

From what I can theorize, either both Kili and Tauriel die, which would just be awful from a story-telling perspective given that the second movie spent SO long keeping the little sucker alive, or they both survive and Tauriel and Kili run off together or rule over Durin, displacing Dain as King Under the Mountain. In either case, if Kili dies for any reason other than in the service of Thorin or likewise if he survives while Fili and Thorin die, it detracts from Tolkein’s picture of loyalty unto family, with a special connection between maternal uncles/nephews. If he does die in the same manner, but Tauriel survives, it’s just a disappointing watch for all of the build-up.

4) What’s with Legolas’ dad, anyways? He moves like Voldo from Soul Caliber. I don’t really know why they remind me of each other, but it’s the way he kind of sways around. Or maybe he’s also sporting a purple thong and orange chaps.

5) I do like Bard’s larger story, the connection between him and the “man who missed his mark” but didn’t really. That part was good. In fact, I think it was superior over what was presented in the novel. There, I said it.

Overall, those are my current impressions. What about you guys? What did you think? Am I way off here or do you agree?