“Taken 3” Review

The third entry in the Taken franchise is running on fumes. You can hear it in Liam Neeson’s voice the way he abridges his iconic line to “I will find you and when I do…you know the rest.” And by this point we do know the rest. Neeson runs around a city taking down bad guys with his bare fists and plenty of guns. But this time is different as nobody is initially taken from Neeson except his innocence. Now he must contend with mobsters and the FBI as he struggles to clear his name. In other words, the filmmakers just rehashed The Fugitive.

Liam Neeson reprises his role once again as retired Special Ops agent Brian Mills, too old for the service yet not too old to go on the hunt. When he meets his ex-wife in a discussion that sounds in his favor, she turns up dead with Brian accused of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Now Mills is on the lam searching for the gangsters who wronged him while avoiding an FBI task force led by Forest Whitaker. I swear it seems as though Whitaker is reprising his role from 2013’s The Last Stand as he spends the majority of the movie duking it out with Neeson over the phone. The two characters never meet in their little game of cat and mouse as Neeson intimidates while Whitaker struggles to order his task force.

Whereas the previous movies took place in colorful cities of France and Turkey, Taken 3 finds itself entirely based in California. I’m not saying California is a drabber location in comparison, but it certainly seems to be shot that way. Since there are not as many alleys or roofs to scamper around, most of the action takes place is generic buildings/penthouses. Car chases through freeways and desert roads fill in the rest.

In an attempt to maintain the macho nature of Neeson’s gritty character, the movie struggles with trying to find new stunts and action scenes for the actor to flex his Charles Bronson-esque skills. This leads to some of the most laughably bad sequences for an action movie desperately trying to induce some thrill. These terrible moments mostly involve the car chases. Neeson narrowly escapes out of his car after it topples over a hillside and explodes. He swiftly avoids a truck’s cargo load that despite the size and weight is able to bounce off the freeway. And, in the most jaw-dropping was ridiculous stunts, Neeson takes out the landing gear of a plane by smashing through it with a car. Of course, the car is free of damage and Neeson doesn’t have a scratch on him. One would think that Taken 3 was in direct competition with the Fast and the Furious franchise.

When the movie isn’t trying to perform impossible stunts with cars, Neeson is performing his stock sequences of fighting, but not with less grit. There’s no memorable moment as when in the first Taken where he interrogates a goon with a car battery and cables. Both the filmmakers and Neeson are phoning it in with generic scenes of guns blazing and fists punching. It’s an old dog with no new tricks, supplanting editing and computer graphics for genuine grit and thrill.

The Taken series just needs to go to bed unless Neeson and writer Luc Besson really do want this franchise to become their Death Wish style paycheck until nothing is left. Liam Neeson initially said there wouldn’t be another Taken movie after completing the sequel. Whether he wanted to do this or not, he has certainly lost that action presence. He’s 62 years old and, as likable an actor as he is, just doesn’t seem to be all that into it. He really is getting too old for this crap and shouldn’t be wasting his time with such a lazy attempt to milk the last drops out of an action property.

“Green Street Hooligans: Underground” Review

While there are many movies out there that attempt to satirize the cheese of macho sports flicks from the 1980s, Green Street Hooligans: Underground seems to be one of the most earnest attempts at recapturing that goofy charm. It whips out all the old clichés of the sports training picture from the driving jog through the streets to the slow passionate scene of lovemaking to the quintessential giant of a nemesis. The soundtrack even echoes that familiar sense of 1980’s synth. Since it’s all kept rather subtle, you never really get that feeling of it being a-typical of the 80’s sports genre until about midway through the picture. There’s something rather admirable about a film that can keep up such a tone without added camp. It almost makes its spotty storytelling worth viewing.

What helps keep its 80’s sports roots well hidden is its premise of focusing on the world of street fighting football fans. Danny Harvey (Scott Adkins) returns to his old stomping grounds of West Ham when his little brother is murdered. Determined to find his brother’s killer, he decides to delve back into the world he left. He sticks around the pub to hook up with the lady bartender and acquaint himself with the Green Street Elite of fighting football fans. Out of shape and overweight, they’re far from being the best when it comes to street rumbles with opposing football team fans. Danny decides to whip them into shape for the main goal of tracking down his brother’s murderer (I think). There’s also an undercover cop in all the fighting seeking to find the murderer as well (I suppose).

Most of the film is dominated by montages with music. The violent drinkers hit the gym for some much-needed exercises before the big fights. They lift some weights, punch some bags and do plenty of push-ups. The fights themselves are treated almost like tournaments in the way the film tracks each street match. They take place everywhere from steel cages in fields to abandoned buildings with flares for lighting. They go at it like dogs, kicking and punching wherever they can land a blow, in some brutally bloody sequences. And, of course, there’s the sex scene montage which isn’t all that erotic in the least.

The fights themselves are very frequent and quite graphic. Heads smash through car windows, faces are stomped on by multiple fighters and groins are smashed. There’s not much craft to any of these scenes though. All the training they do for these matches eventually boils down to who can hit harder and gang-up on the most people. I also found it rather amusing how they keep track of these fights as if it were some sort of fantasy football league. This makes me question why the film couldn’t just be a comedy. The montages are laughable, the fights are over the top and the dialogue is just a comical mess of cuss words. I just couldn’t take such a film seriously for how straight it probably wanted to play up the world of organized underground football fan fighting. Then again, I was never much of a fan of organized underground football fan fighting. Maybe I’ll try to catch a few games on ESPN and see if it’s my thing.

Green Street Hooligans: Underground truly does feel like one of those forgettable and silly B-movies from the 1980s you’d put on for a laugh. But since I’m not so sure the director was in on this angle, I’m afraid I have to call it like I see it. This is a worthy rental as a party film to mock with your best buddies over a few beers. As a legitimate action picture about underground fighters, however, you’re better off finding something a little more grounded.

“Kite” (2014) Review

Of all the Japanese animated movies to adapt for a live-action presentation, Kite confuses me. The original source material was a one-hour, over-the-top action romp with ridiculously violent fights and overly graphic sex scenes. So disturbingly pedophelic were these sexual encounters that the general release had to be edited down severely with the “director’s cut” being released under a pornography affiliate. Tracing its inspiration, an obvious suspect would be Luc Besson’s Leon The Professional, a sub-par American remake of Besson’s superior action picture La Femme Nakita. Perhaps the producers of the Kite remake somehow thought that the talent would come full circle.

In reality, it’s a bland mess of an action picture drowned in cliché and confusion. The setting seems to have shifted from Japan to South Africa (never stated, but that’s where it was filmed). The world has just suffered an economic collapse and society has crumbled to a world of flesh cartels and vicious gangs. It seems like a more likely future free of robots and holograms, but most of the setting sounds like the present even without the economic crash. I guess that backdrop makes the abundance of mobsters and nightclubs more acceptable.

Our protagonist is the young vigilante Sawa (India Eisley), fighting her one-woman war against the flesh dealers to avenge her dead parents. She poses as a prostitute in her boldly colored wig and lures the men in with her sexual offerings. But, surprise, she murders them with skill just before they do the deed.

Her weapon of choice is a bulky pistol that fires bullets with a timed explosive charge upon impact. This sounds like it would make for some neat kills, but we never see any of them since she aims directly for the head killing the gangsters instantly.

In the opening scene, Sawa puts a bullet in the brain of her lasted perverted catch of the day in an elevator. The bullet is apparently strong enough to put a baseball-sized hole through the victim’s blocking hand, but not enough to blow away his skull. The music swells as the beeping of the bullet lodged in the corpse grows faster until there is a bloody explosions. This director is actually seeking tension in if a dead body can get deader. The movie never gives us that satisfactory moment where a gangster is wounded by one of these bullets, corners Sawa with a deadly assurance of her demise and loses a limb from the explosion.

But the a-typical mafia men in tacky suits are not the only opponents she has to deal with. There is apparently a roaming gang of feral humans that seem to be lost on their way to the set of Mad Max. They leap and bound from city structures like parkour artists on adrenaline. They travel in packs giving the standard whistle for more of their kind to join in the hunt for money, guns and whatever they can loot off their victims as they brutally beat them to bloody pulps.

Where are the cops in all this? They’re just as corrupted by the crippled economic state. Karl Aker (Samuel L. Jackson) is one such detective working semi-outside the law to give Sawa with plenty of guns and drugs. Her narcotic of choice is known as Amp which is apparently supposed to make you an efficient killer, but also degrade your memory severely. Of course, this clouds her true purpose for avenging her parents which will eventually surface.

Everything about this movie is sloppy from its laughable twists to its poorly edited action sequences to even the sound design. In order to make this vision seem just a tad futuristic, the movie adds these strange synth sounds to the cop car sirens. This sound clashes heavily with the techno soundtrack where you’re not sure if the music is building or if the cops are approaching from the distance. Supposedly, Rob Cohen (Shark Night) was attached to direct, but died before production began and David R Ellis stepped in to direct. Given Rob’s resume, it’s possible he could have delivered a movie that was just as campy as its anime counterpart. What we got instead is a dreary picture that attempts to be dark and bombastic without ever hitting either target.

Lacking in bite, blood and pulp, Kite is a remake doomed to obscurity if not for its bland production than its overuse of clichés. Honestly, how many more cherry-colored bob wigs do I have to see a movie prostitute/assassin wear before this trope is retired. I’ve already seen it used twice in 2014. Somebody please put a bullet in this tired device to put it out of its misery.

“Maleficent” Review

Be it the popularity of Game of Thrones or that trend of darkening up classic fairytales, Disney has taken a new approach to the story of Sleeping Beauty with a focus on the villainous Maleficent. But as the voice-over introduction implies, there’s more to the story than we originally thought. In fact, this version believes that the story is completely wrong. Maleficent wasn’t a villain at all, but a wronged woman who ends up saving the day. Such a route isn’t uncommon as the only two ways to make a movie about a villain is to either have them turn around as the hero or slink comfortably into their role of evil. But in the quest to make Maleficent the hero in this story, so much else is sacrificed in the name of making a female-friendly witch of great power and pathos.

The movie begins innocent enough portraying Maleficent as a curious, young fairy of the forest who fancies a prince that wanders into her domain. The two form a relationship, but their souls grow apart as the kingdom of humans threatens to encroach on the magical forest. Battles ensue between the king’s army of knights and Maleficent’s army of trees. Eventually the prince must make a serious choice about where he stands by cutting off the wings of his secret love. And this is the moment where the story loses all its character and tone the way Maleficent being de-winged is staged as a rape allegory with her being drugged, sliced and crying in a pool of her tears in the morning.

This would seem to be the setup for a darker path of a villain given how horribly wronged she was by her first love. But once we get to the familiar story of Sleeping Beauty with the iconic scene of the wicked witch cursing the princess, the movie starts dipping down into the depths of a mediocre fan-fiction. Rather than despise Sleeping Beauty and attempt to keep her comatose for eternity, the magical matriarch regrets her decision after years of watching over her like a mother hen. Rather than harbor some fleeting emotions of their earlier romance, Maleficent and the prince-turned-king are simplistic enemies. And rather than Sleeping Beauty being awakened by the kiss of a prince, she’s actually awakened by Maleficent herself.

All of this staged as if to imply that the true story of Sleeping Beauty was a massive coverup by a patriarchal society. There’s nothing wrong with rewriting a fairytale from a different perspective, but this one appears more vindictive than creative. The best part of the picture is Angelina Jolie as the cackling and sinister Maleficent, embodying the role as no other actor could. The worst part of the movie is everything else. The character that surround Maleficent’s arc are all one-dimensional. The king who descends into madness has no buildup – one scene he’s a boy in love with a fairy, the next he’s a babbling madman swinging a sword. Prince Charming appears in the picture, but only as a worthless red herring. The three fairies that watch over Sleeping Beauty are just forced comic relief embodying a female version of The Three Stooges. And Sleeping Beauty herself would have been better off spending the entire movie asleep with how little she has to say or do.

The consensus among both the writer, director and Jolie was that they felt compelled to make this movie as an aspiring figure for little girls. Sure, because this is what little girls want to see in a movie, right? They don’t want a fantasy story filled with enchantment and wonder – they want rape allegories and pathos in a tone-deaf revenge tale. The movie is entirely dependent on Jolie’s performance to hold this rickety narrative together that tacks on CGI battles and light humor. At its best, the grand effects of walking trees and fire-breathing dragons is serviceable. At its worst, the bickering of the fairies will have you tearing your hair out in annoyance.

Maleficent features Angelina Jolie all dolled up as the perfect villain with nowhere to go. She leaves behind every single actor in the dust as if her magical powers sucked every ounce of character out of the cast. Even her companion – a crow that transforms into a man – isn’t much for conversation. Though given how terrible the dialogue is of the three fairies, maybe he got off lucky. It’s such a shame that the marvelous talents of Jolie are wasted on a ham-fisted script where she has to act against cardboard characters. Sure, she’s a memorable character for rediscovering love and she emits a palpable charm, but at what cost? I want to love her and this movie, but it’s hard to do that when this picture refuses to define its characters or pick a consistent tone.

“Transformers: Age of Extinction” Review

The fourth entry in Michael Bay’s ‘Transformers‘ movie saga has new characters and the same old flaws. It’s a clunky and bloated mess of a movie based on the popular 1980’s toy line and cartoon/3o-minute commercial series. This is the very definition of a mindless summer blockbuster that is all presentation and zero substance. In other words, it’s just another Transformers movie with all the flashy graphics and major plot problems we’ve come to expect from this franchise by now. It’s a movie that doesn’t so much leave me foaming with hate, but sighing in disappointment.

At almost three hours, this is a needlessly intricate plot for what amounts to a soulless robot battle. The Autobots, the ‘good Transformers’, are currently being hunted down the by the CIA after their last big battle resulted in too much damage and loss of life in Chicago. To dispatch them, the American government comes up with the genius idea to use the visiting Transformers creators in wiping out their own ilk. We know this is only going to result in the destruction of humanity when the creators turn on the humans, but nobody ever once bothers pointing this out. In addition, the government is also working with a science division to create their own Transformers with a new element known as Transformium (what an original name). In doing so, they end up reviving Megatron (rival villain of the Autobots) who now has the ability to a-sexually reproduce more Transformers for some reason.

None of this matters though as it’s all just an elaborate excuse for Mark Wahlberg and his family to run around robot-infested battlefields. Wahlberg plays a poor inventor who happens upon the Autobot leader Optimus Prime and is conflicted about helping him or turning him in. The decision is easily made when the CIA arrive at his door and threaten to kill his daughter unless he hands over Prime. They escape in a big explosion and it’s now working man versus government and Autobots versus Transformer creators. Instead of taking advance of all the various plot points and angles you could take from the multitude of story elements tossed in, they’re just stepping stones to the inevitable.

The computer graphics for the Transformers and the action sequences are top-notch as always with a nearly seamless blending of live-action footage and CGI. But what is it all for? None of these characters are developed enough that we don’t care who is killed or who shoots what. The entire last hour is a frenetic mess of moving parts clashing on screen. I can’t tell which Transformer is which with such horrible designs that lack any iconography or personality. How is it that in a movie year where we have films with CGI raccoons, ninja turtles and apes are far more expressive and competent then the smattering of gears that are the Transformers?

Why is Optimus Prime riding a robotic dinosaur and wielding a sword? Who cares – he just cut a Transformer in half. That is the only justification I could imagine for everything that happens in this movie. This is the very definition of a film with no shame. It doesn’t care that the characters are one dimensional. It doesn’t care that plot is a string of lame gags where everybody is comic relief.  And it certainly doesn’t care about the worst product placement I’ve ever seen – as if Bay is trying to outdo himself in this one department. If Michael Bay cares only about the technical aspect and none of the story, why should we give a hoot about anything in this film? It’s the junkiest of the junk food cinema, guaranteed to give you a brain ache.

“Lucy” (2014) Review

‘Lucy’ may not be one of Luc Beeson’s best action films, but it’s certainly his most ambitious and challenging given the subject matter. It attempts to find some meaning and reasoning to the essence of life from the perspective of someone who can see almost every aspect of reality. That’s not quite the story you’d expect from a director that specializes in gun-toting action sequences. And while Beeson still doesn’t shy away from his bread and butter, he at least takes some unexpected chances for a conceiving a very different action picture.

Our title protagonist played by Scarlett Johansson is party girl unwittingly forced into a drug smuggling campaign by a Hong Kong mafia boss. The blue powdered substance is apparently so powerful that a hefty dose can fry your brain. This does not bode well for the drug mules that forcefully hold the packaged material within their abdomens. Lucy, however, has her bag of the lethal narcotic opened, exposing her body to the harmful effects. Somewhat to her benefit, the drug increases her brain activity above the usual 10%. With her newfound superpower, she can read minds, float objects and fire guns with pinpoint accuracy. The only drawback is that her awareness will continue to grow until she eventually dies. With little time left on this Earth, Lucy makes the tough decision of what to do with new awareness as her time runs out.

Unlike this Beeson’s previous works, this scenario is not limited to a revenge plot. In fact, the revenge on this mafia head himself is very early, very brief and more of a torture than a takedown. She seems far more preoccupied by making sure the drug doesn’t get out into the public. Additionally, she takes an interest in a scientist (Morgan Freeman) who she confides her knowledge with and hopes that she can in trust him with the secrets she’s discovered. Of course, those expecting her to use these psychic powers on an onslaught of gangsters will not be let down either. She disassembles guns, traps the bad guys inside invisible walls and suspends them in the air to get what she wants.

Scarlett Johansson really puts her all into this performance as a woman who tries to grapple with her new understanding of the world. Despite her initial status, she’s not bouncing around playing all kinds of goofy parlor tricks with her new powers. She knows far too much about the world and finds a certain vulnerability at comprehending all of existence through her super brain. Her cold delivery and exploration of life creates a fully realized character that you both sympathize with and genuinely want to see her succeed in her end goal of bettering human life. I was surprised to find this in a film where the title hero is essentially an immortal god capable of perfect accuracy and undefeatable psychic powers.

While I don’t quite feel the film is as transcendent as it likes to think it is with some unsubtle editing, it’s still a wildly impressive visual treat that takes more chances with it subject material. It would be all too easy to play it safe by making ‘Lucy’ a simple story of a dying mutant’s revenge. Beeson attempts to say so much more about human existence with the piece even if he’s not exactly putting the puzzle together very accurately. This is an action movie that won’t exactly expand your mind with its science fiction angle, but it will give your brain something unique to chew on.

“Edge of Tomorrow” Review

You may have missed this film at the theater because it had such a generic title: ‘Edge of Tomorrow’. Now on home video its been given the title ‘Live Die Repeat’ with the subtitle ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ in the corner of the cover. Well, that’s a slightly better title and at least superior to its novel source entitled ‘All You Need Is Kill’. Well you can call this film anything you like, but I call it one of the best films sci-fi films I’ve seen all year.

Tom Cruise plays a Major who is demoted down to a grunt for a D-day style offensive against an invading alien force known as Mimics. Cruise is killed minutes within the battle, but not before getting some nasty alien blood into his system. The blood of these aliens has time-travel abilities which ends up sending back to relive the same battle again. He’s sent into combat again, dies again and the whole thing starts all over again, hence the title. Think of it as a science-fiction version of ‘Groundhog Day’. The only one who believes what Cruise is going through is Emily Blunt’s character, a veteran soldier who has had the same experience. She’s aware that the only way to stop the cycle is to either get a blood transfusion or kill the hive mind of the aliens. And since Cruise seems doomed to die in this alien war, the latter is a much more tantalizing goal.

Just like ‘Groundhog Day’, ‘Live Die Repeat’ makes great use of the repeating day concept to be both clever and amusing. Not-so-typical for Tom Cruise’s usual characters, he doesn’t play an action hero from the start. In fact he makes several mistakes that result in multiple deaths until he finally trains enough to become a more efficient soldier. When he does, there’s an undeniable charm to the way he strolls through key events as a psychic who seems to know everything about everyone from the accumulated knowledge. It’s also just as hilarious to watch him fail each time. One of the funniest montages involves his training scenes with Emily Blunt where any serious injuries incurred by Cruise’s character results in her murdering him to reset the day once more. There are several great moments where Cruise tries to walk off his injuries claiming its not that bad only to be shot by Blunt and start all over.

As much as it is a tongue-in-cheek comedy, it also succeeds at being a sci-fi/action blockbuster with brains. The mystery behind the invading alien creatures is just as intriguing as their designs. The closest thing I can relate them to are like rabid starfishes able to change their shape and attack multiple targets. Once Cruise and Blunt finally form a solution, they carry out their plan of attack with incredible efficiency and tact in sensational action sequences.

Director Doug Liman completely delivers on a film that’s goes above and beyond the expectations. The action sequences are well-shot with some rather some impressive computer graphics given the abundance. You’d think that a film repeating key scenes over and over would grow dull, but the it’s edited tightly enough to keep the energy and drive of the picture going. I had a lot of fun watching this film trying to decipher the Mimics and watching Cruise learn from his deadly mistakes. This is a film I’m going to be going watching multiple times in the future just to see if I can see something new each time. Needless to say, it’s a definite buy.

“X-Men: Days of Future Past” Review

The ‘X-Men’ are easily one of the most intriguing and interesting superhero teams in comic book history. It’s been a long time since those awesome stories have actually resonated on the big screen. The franchise over the last four years has gone downhill into routine action shlock. Thankfully, Brian Singer has returned to deliver one of the best ‘X-Men’ movies ever made based on one of the most memorable stories. You know how some comic book fans will often talk about their favorite sagas and how those would make the best films, but would probably be muddled in production? This is the first comic book film to finally get the formula right and it’s a more than welcome presence for the genre.

The future for the ‘X-Men’ is a dark and depressing time as mutants are hunted down and murdered by the robotic Sentinels. Able to adapt to any superpower and outnumber their opposition in numbers, the few remaining mutants struggle to hide and survive. Notable regulars Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and Kitty Pride (Ellen Paige) are a few of the remaining mutants from the old guard. Their last hope is to travel back in time and undo the events that led to this dismal state.

Using Kitty Pride’s unique time-traveling ability, Wolverine is sent back to 1973 to undo the crucial moment in history that set off a horrific chain reaction. The Sentinels were developed by Trask (Peter Dinklage), but did not receive the proper funding and attention until Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) murders the President of the United States. To prevent this assassination, Wolverine rounds up the old gang that includes Xavier, Beast, Magneto and Quicksilver for a brief prison break of Magneto. At the same time while Wolverine is desperately trying to change history, his friends in the future are tragically trying to keep him in the past before the Sentinels end them all.

Explaining to everyone in the past what will happen in the future is easy for Wolverine. The tough part is attempting to change the minds of those who act on their fears to prevent catastrophe. Xavier has shut himself off from his telepathic abilities, Beast is ashamed of his abilities, Mystique is entirely driven by revenge and Magneto seems to think he can handle all of this with no regard for others. Therein lies the challenge not just for Wolverine, but for all the characters to grow as better or worse individuals who will shape the world with their actions. So, essentially, it’s Back to the Future with much more epic consequences.

This is the first ‘X-Men’ film Bryan Singer has directed in at least a decade. His last film was ‘X-2: X-Men United’, the only ‘X-Men’ film I actually enjoyed. Now he’s blown the rest of the franchise away with this pitch-perfect direction of the classic comic arc. What makes his effort so different and so effective is how much Singer holds back. He never inserts more mutants or action sequences than what is needed to make the film work.

Early in the film, Mystique saves a group of mutant soldiers from being experimented on by Trask Industries. I was almost positive these mutants were going to be thrown into a large scale sequence later on. To my surprise, they serve their purpose of just establishing the climate of mutants for this era. The final confrontation of the film is the showdown we were prompted for, but it’s a rather genius scene for how Magneto plans to be the victor. He traps the area of the White House by lifting a sports stadium to create a perimeter. It’s a smart use of his mutant powers and still manages to feel epic in scale. It’s a far cry from when Magneto moved the Golden Gate bridge for the silliest of reasons.

Quicksilver, despite his short appearance, manages to steal the show with his comical personality and speedy displays. The scene where he disables a room full of security guards from shooting down our heroes is both stunning, clever and a whole lot of fun. He’s much needed smile in a story that’s mostly gloom and doom. Also, if you’re familiar with Quicksilver’s family ties, there’s a brilliant little easter egg in the dialogue.

While there are a handful of fight scenes, hardly any of them felt pointless or drawn out. It helps that there was a main goal for which all these characters were fighting towards so that everything is kept in focus. Mystique, for how many fights she gets into, isn’t just being an atypical villain. Her mission is clear and she wastes no time saving her kind and wiping out the threats. It’s that added depth to the characters and their plight that makes the fights that much more entertaining.

What I love so much about Singer’s script is that he manages to maintain the overall story of the original content, but still make it balanced and work within a movie. By focussing the movie entirely on Wolverine, Xavier, Beast, Magneto, Mystique and Trask, we’re given plenty of opportunity to explore these characters and their ambitions. Trask, in particular, managed to be one of the most unique villains I’ve seen in a comic book movie for how three-dimensionally defined he ended up being. The man doesn’t really want to kill all mutants for revenge, but has a genuine desire for safety and the study of mutants. He’s a villain who truly doesn’t see himself as one at all.

With a story that jumps between two timelines, it seems like it would be easy to get lost. But the script manages to keep things leveled and focussed while at the same time not wasting a moment. That’s a rather impressive for a film with so many characters, even if only a handful get the most screentime. But even the primary characters never felt overused. With Wolverine being the one sent back in time to save the future, you’d think he took center stage. To my delighted surprise, he really only serves his purpose for setting the plans in motion and then literally leaves the stage.

While the plot is perfectly conceived for a time travel film, it’s the characters that really give the movie such value. We’re given a small group of characters that we can follow and understand rather than just a smattering of simple heroes as previous ‘X-Men’ films tended to be. Sure, we are still introduced to a large collective of mutants, but most of them only fulfill their purpose for the establishing environment, tone and urgency. As a result, even the smaller roles don’t feel wasted.

This is the ‘X-Men’ film every fan has been waiting to see and it delivers on all fronts. It’s that one dream production that every comic book reader talks about, but figured they’d never see. Thanks to Brian Singer’s skillful and tight direction, ‘Days of Future Past’ ends up being not only the best ‘X-Men’ film, but easily one of the best comic book movies ever made. Expect this film to be talked about years later as the perfect comic book film adaptation. One can only hope this talented vision rubs off on the future tsunami of superhero films.

“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” Review

The sequel to ‘Captain America‘ is the shot in the arm superhero movies needed. While other films of the genre struggle to write in heroes and villains for a modern audience, ‘The Winter Soldier‘ is aware of exactly what it wants to be. It ends up being the only Marvel movie out of Disney that not only has a tight and intriguing script, but has a lot to say about our world’s security and how it can get the best of our trust. And the best part is that it still manages to get away with adding in more heroes and villains to an already exciting political thriller.

Trying to find a purpose for his place as an unfrozen hero in the 21st century, Steve Rogers continues working for Nick Fury of the secretive S.H.I.E.L.D. organization. Continuing to don the Captain America suit, he ends up dealing with hostage situations and taking out terrorists. However, when he discovers that Black Widow and Nick Fury have been keeping information from him on his missions, Rogers begins to have severe doubts about the level of security and trust within the organization. The upcoming deployment of three massive Helicarriers doesn’t thrill him too much either.

Steve’s doubts are rightfully justified when a high level of corruption and assassinations start taking place within S.H.I.E.L.D. Trusting no one, Steve ends up on the lamb with crucial data that reveals an insidious plot leading to the rebirth of the long-dead menacing group, Hydra. And just in case wave after wave of secret Hydra agents armed to the teeth wasn’t enough of a challenge, Captain America must also deal with the mysterious and powerful Winter Soldier. This won’t be an easy fight as the Winter Soldier can match the star-striped hero’s power and has an emotional edge when his true identity is revealed.

Who would’ve thought that Anthony and Joe Russo, the two guys behind ‘Community‘, could deliver such a bracing thrill ride. These boys don’t waste a frame or a shot. It really embodies the whole atmosphere and complex nature of a spy film while still continuing the story of a soldier soldier frozen in time. For a film that features an old talking computer and cyborg soldier, ‘The Winter Soldier’ manages to be well-grounded conspiracy thriller that takes all the correct and exciting routes you’d hope it would take. The paranoia and fear of the underground Hydra organization infiltrating SHIELD feels very real and incredibly gritty.

This is due mostly in part to the action sequences which are beyond words. With Captain America hopping and skipping around wide sets while Falcon zooms through the sky, there is quite a bit going on in these scenes. And, for the most part, they’re not just excuses for flashy CGI (though it does look pretty cool when those Helicarriers ascend). When Nick Fury is assaulted by Hydra agents early in the film, it’s an attack that is hard and fast with no punches pulled. Hydra presents itself as a real and seemingly unstoppable threat especially with the Winter Soldier going toe-to-toe with Captain America. The fight scenes between these two are so brutal you feel every punch.

That’s not to say there isn’t any room for fun. The opening sequence in which Steve Rogers dashes around a captured boat taking out terrorists left and right really brought a smile to my face. It’s a scene packed with plenty of fun takedowns and witty one-liners that gets the movie off to an enthusiastic start. The two directors do get a little crazy with the shaky-cam effects, but that’s understandable given how much is going on. In the scene where the Helicarriers are in the air firing wildly in all directions, you really do want to see the entire area of carnage.

Once again, the Russo brothers stun me with a script I wouldn’t expect to be so grand and layered. For one, Steve Rogers is the most interesting of the colorful characters not just for how he attempts to adapt to modern culture, but also how he tries to comprehend the new state of security. He’s wary of SHIELD’s restrictions and the need for more weapons when trust and communications are placed on levels. Even with all his super-soldier powers, the man still feels helpless when there are so many forces at work behind the scenes that he ends up flexing more of his brain muscles to unravel the corruption.

This turns the film into more of an espionage thriller than your standard superhero film. It takes so many twist and turns that there never is a dull moment as you get to play the guessing game of who is working for Hydra. There are so many secret plans and weapons revealed in the epic climax I can’t even begin to describe the exact events within a few sentences. It really is a masterfully crafted dance of shocking realizations and pulse-pounding action you just have to see to appreciate.

But the most admirable part of the script is that on top of this great story, the Russo boys manage to write in the hero of Falcon and the programmed villain Winter Soldier. I was especially impressed with the development of Falcon, a character that appears in the comics as a little goofy and basic. But they actually give him a solid, modern redesign and a believable place within the story so he’s not just shoehorned in. Winter Soldier didn’t seem like too hard of a character to integrate, but it’s still pretty cool how the Russo’s didn’t compromise on the sci-fi tech of old-world Hydra. All this makes for one of the most effective balancing acts for a superhero movie I’ve ever seen.

‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ is everything an exciting superhero movie should be and then some. Mixing the intrigue of an espionage thriller with the big-budget action sequences and heroic elements forms one of the most enjoyable film concoctions to come out of Marvel Studios. It’s not only one of Marvel’s best movies; it’s one of the best superhero movies ever made.

“The Amazing Spider Man 2” Review

This new ‘Spider Man’ may be a reboot of the movie series, but it seems to have the same problems as the old one. Namely, it’s come down with a bad case of sequel-itis we’ve seen previously in ‘Spider Man 3′. After opening up a new world with the first film, ‘The Amazing Spider Man 2′ is just in too much of a rush to cram in as much as possible. The final result is a bloated film with just too many yarns that hardly build or culminate. It’s never a good sign when a movie over 2 hours long still feels like you’re only getting have the story.

Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) continues to web-sling around New York as the titular hero. Despite the promise he made to the late father of Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), he does his best to maintain a relationship her. Of course, the fear of losing her causes his relationship to fluctuate as new baddies arise from within the mysterious Oscorp. The sketchy corporate giant is at it again this time developing the villain Electro (Jamie Foxx) as well as the Rhino (Paul Giamatti) as a bookend throw-away experiment. All this is going on under the radar of Harry Osborne, seeking a cure for the horrific disease that claimed his father. As Harry tries to reconnect with his childhood pal Peter Parker, he starts uncovering the horrifying mysteries of his family’s company and begins to fight back against the corruption in his angst. Meanwhile, Spider Man struggles with trying to find a way to save everyone with disastrous results.

Much like the last film, this sequel manages to tap into some of the adventurous nature of the web-slinger, but never fully capitalizes on it. Just when we think Peter has found some joy in his life, it’s quickly snatched away by tragic villains or unfortunate incidents. It’s all well and good to throw some tragedy into the mix to give Peter a higher mountain to climb, but this film just piles way too much on to our protagonist. The climax of the film is so incredibly dark that it almost seems inappropriate to end it on such a high note. The segments involving The Rhino feel like they’re from another movie; a much more fun movie where Spider Man can deliver more bits and fight some entertaining villains. That’s the kind of a film I want to see as opposed to everyone around Parker falling down dark holes. If I want a somber hero’s journey filled with grim, I’ll watch Batman.

At over two hours, this is a Spider Man movie with too much going on that’s never really explored enough. There’s an opening sequence involving more secrets of the Parker family, but that is hardly ever developed past that scene. There’s some interesting mechanics to the unstable psyche of Electro, but, again, it feels like we’re only given half the story. What made the first ‘Amazing Spider Man’ so engaging was that there was one central villain with an organic progression to his descent. There’s just nothing to latch on to in this film. It just feels like a series of introductions for Sony’s forthcoming ‘Sinister Six’ movie. Movie’s should not be promos or commercials for better ones to come, regardless of being a bridge or not. The final result is a messy collection of Spider Man yarns. All the elements are there given how perfect Garfield and Stone are on screen, but they deserve far better arcs than the disjointed ones presented in this superhero story.