'C'-Man, Action, Adam Devine, Alan James, Alec Baldwin, Allene Ray, Animation, Ari Sandel, Atomic Blonde, Beauty and the Beast (2017), Berlin, Bill Condon, Black Panther, Chadwick Boseman, Charlize Theron, Comedy, Crime, Daisy Ridley, Dan Stevens, David Leitch, Dean Jagger, Emma Watson, Fantasy, Game Night, Guinn Williams, James McAvoy, Jason Bateman, John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein, Joseph Lerner, Kenneth Branagh, Maris Wrixon, Marvel, Michelle Pfeiffer, Murder, Murder on the Orient Express (2017), Mystery, Noel M. Smith, Rachel McAdams, Reviews, Romance, Romantic comedy, Ryan Coogler, Steve Buscemi, Superhero, The Boss Baby, The Case of the Black Parrot, The Phantom (1931), Thriller, Tom McGrath, Wakanda, When We First Met, William Lundigan
‘C’-Man (1949) / D: Joseph Lerner / 77m
Cast: Dean Jagger, John Carradine, Lottie Elwen, Rene Paul, Harry Landers, Walter Vaughn, Adelaide Klein, Edith Atwater
Rating: 5/10 – a US Customs agent (Jagger) finds himself looking for the killer of his best friend (and fellow Customs agent), and the person responsible for the theft of a rare jewel – could they be the same man?; an odd noir crime thriller that betrays its low budget production values, ‘C’-Man is short on character but long on action, and is fitfully entertaining, though the performances vary wildly and the script contains some very po-faced dialogue, making it a movie you can’t really take your eyes from – and not in a good way.
When We First Met (2018) / D: Ari Sandel / 97m
Cast: Adam Devine, Alexandra Daddario, Shelley Hennig, Andrew Bachelor, Robbie Amell
Rating: 3/10 – Noah (Devine) falls for Avery (Daddario) and winds up in the friend zone, but thanks to a magic photo booth, he gets the chance to go back and change their relationship into a romantic one; a dire romantic comedy that struggles to be both romantic and funny, When We First Met can’t even make anything meaningful out of its time travel scenario, and is let down by a banal script and below-par performances.
The Phantom (1931) / D: Alan James / 62m
Cast: Guinn Williams. Allene Ray, Niles Welch, Tom O’Brien, Sheldon Lewis, Wilfred Lucas, Violet Knights, William Gould, Bobby Dunn, William Jackie
Rating: 3/10 – a reporter (Williams) tries to track down the titular criminal mastermind when he targets the father of his girlfriend (Ray), but finds it’s not as simple a prospect as he’d thought; an early talkie that shows a lack of imagination and purpose, The Phantom struggles from the outset to be anything but a disappointment, what with its unconvincing mix of comedy and drama, its old dark house scenario, and a clutch of amateur performances that drain the very life out of it at every turn.
Black Panther (2018) / D: Ryan Coogler / 134m
Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Sterling K. Brown, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis, Florence Kasumba, John Kani
Rating: 7/10 – the king of outwardly poor but inwardly technologically advanced Wakanda, T’Challa (Boseman), faces a coup from an unexpected source (Jordan), while trying to work out whether or not his country’s scientific advances should be shared with the wider world; though Black Panther does feature a predominantly black cast, and speaks to black issues, this is still a Marvel movie at the end of the day and one that adheres to the template Marvel have created for their releases, making this an admittedly funny and exciting thrill ride, but one that’s also another formulaic entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Atomic Blonde (2017) / D: David Leitch / 115m
Cast: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman, Toby Jones, Eddie Marsan, James Faulkner, Roland Møller, Sofia Boutella, Bill Skarsgård, Sam Hargrave, Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson, Til Schweiger
Rating: 6/10 – in the days before the fall of the Berlin Wall, a spy (Theron) must find a list of double agents that are being smuggled into the West, a task complicated by the involvement of the Americans, the Russians and a number of other interested parties; an attempt to provide audiences with a female John Wick, Atomic Blonde does have tremendous fight scenes, and a great central performance by Theron, but it’s let down by a muddled script, an even more muddled sense of the period it’s set in, and by trying to be fun when a straighter approach would have worked better.
Beauty and the Beast (2017) / D: Bill Condon / 129m
Cast: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Kevin Kline, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, Nathan Mack, Audra McDonald, Stanley Tucci, Gugu Mbatha-Raw
Rating: 5/10 – the classic fairy tale, and previously a classic animated movie, is given the live action treatment by Disney; if the latest installment of a certain space opera hadn’t been released in 2017, Beauty and the Beast would have been the number one movie at the international box office, but though the House of Mouse might point to this as a measure of quality, the reality is that Watson was miscast, the songs lack the emotional heft they had in the animated version, and the whole thing has a perfunctory air that no amount of superficial gloss and shine can overcome.
The Case of the Black Parrot (1941) / D: Noel M. Smith / 61m
Cast: William Lundigan, Maris Wrixon, Eddie Foy Jr, Paul Cavanagh, Luli Deste, Charles Waldron, Joseph Crehan, Emory Parnell, Phyllis Barry, Cyril Thornton
Rating: 6/10 – a newspaper reporter (Lundigan) gets involved in a case involving a master forger (the Black Parrot), an antique cabinet, and a couple of mysterious deaths; an enjoyable piece of hokum, The Case of the Black Parrot gets by on a great deal of understated charm, a whodunnit plot that doesn’t overplay its hand, and by having its cast treat the whole absurd undertaking with a sincerity that is an achievement all by itself.
Murder on the Orient Express (2017) / D: Kenneth Branagh / 114m
Cast: Kenneth Branagh, Tom Bateman, Lucy Boynton, Olivia Colman, Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Derek Jacobi, Marwan Kenzari, Leslie Odom Jr, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sergei Polunin, Daisy Ridley
Rating: 5/10 – the famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot (Branagh) is faced with a complex mystery: which one of a dozen passengers killed an infamous kidnapper, and more importantly, why?; yet another version of the Agatha Christie novel, Murder on the Orient Express strands its capable cast thanks to both an avalanche and a tepid script, leaving its director/star to orchestrate matters less effectively than expected, particularly when unravelling the mystery means having the suspects seated together in a way that clumsily replicates the Last Supper.
The Boss Baby (2017) / D: Tom McGrath / 97m
Cast: Alec Baldwin, Steve Buscemi, Jimmy Kimmel, Lisa Kudrow, Tobey Maguire, Miles Bakshi, James McGrath, Conrad Vernon, ViviAnn Yee, Eric Bell Jr, David Soren
Rating: 6/10 – when seven year old Tim (Bakshi) finds he has a new baby brother, Theodore (Baldwin) – and one dressed in a business suit at that – he also finds that Theodore is there to stop babies from being usurped in people’s affections by puppies; a brightly animated kids’ movie that takes several predictable swipes at corporate America, The Boss Baby wants to be heartwarming and caustic at the same time, but can’t quite manage both (it settles for heartwarming), and though Baldwin may seem like the perfect choice for the title character, he’s the weakest link in a voice cast that otherwise sells the performances with a great deal of enthusiasm.
Game Night (2018) / D: John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein / 100m
Cast: Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Kyle Chandler, Billy Magnussen, Sharon Horgan, Lamorne Morris, Kylie Bunbury, Jesse Plemons, Danny Huston, Michael C. Hall
Rating: 5/10 – when a group of friends led by Max (Bateman) and Annie (McAdams) are invited to a game night at the home of Max’s brother, Brooks (Chandler), the evening descends into murder and mayhem, and sees the group trying to get to the bottom of a real-life mystery; like an Eighties high concept comedy released thirty years too late, Game Night has a great cast but little direction and waaaay too much exposition clogging up its run time, all of which makes a couple of very funny, very inspired visual gags the only reward for the viewer who sticks with this to the end.
It’s been five years since the directing/writing team of Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal brought us Zero Dark Thirty – and it’s about time they had something new for us. Thankfully, the trailer for Detroit looks as if they’re not going to let us down. A stinging, emotive, and visceral look at the 12th Street riot that occurred in July 1967 following events that took place at the Algiers Motel, the movie has already come under fire for not including any black women in its main cast. It’s a little early to tell if this is a deliberate piece of revisionism, but what is clear from the glimpses of violence seen in the trailer is that Bigelow has captured the atmosphere and the grim inevitability of a situation that quickly spiralled out of control and left three men dead, and nine others brutally injured. Bigelow has also assembled a great cast, including John Boyega as a security guard who gets caught up in the riot, Jack Reynor, John Krasinski, Anthony Mackie, and in what could be the role that catapults him to well-deserved stardom, Will Poulter as one of the three cops who ended up on trial for murder. One of the must-see movies of 2017, Detroit has all the potential to be an impassioned and excoriating feature that will leave audiences stunned and impressed in equal measure when it’s released in August.
Samuel L. Jackson is the hitman. Ryan Reynolds is the bodyguard. Gary Oldman is the dictator both men team up to defeat. The tone of the movie? Well, you only have to see the poster for The Hitman’s Bodyguard to work that one out: a parody of The Bodyguard (1992) with Reynolds subbing for Kevin Costner, and Jackson for Whitney Houston. The trailer drives the idea home with what is obviously a deliberate lack of subtlety, and though Tom O’Connor’s screenplay was included in the 2011 Black List of unproduced scripts, this looks likely to be an action comedy that is big on action set-pieces, but short on actual laughs (though Reynolds’ comment that Jackson’s character has ruined the word “motherfucker” has an ironic touch to it that bodes well). However it turns out, and the trailer’s mix of shouty humour, action beats and Roadrunner/Wile E. Coyote-style stuntwork doesn’t seem to say “instant classic”, this could still be the kind of dumb “Saturday-night-with-beers-and-a-pizza” movie that gains a loyal fanbase, and becomes a bona fide guilty pleasure in years to come.
After the success of John Wick (2014), it was perhaps inevitable that there would be a distaff version of that movie (literally) hitting our screens. And so we have Atomic Blonde, an adaptation of Antony Johnston’s graphic novel The Coldest City (the movie’s original title), and starring Charlize Theron as an MI6 agent tasked with retrieving a list of double agents being smuggled into the West prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall. The John Wick connection is cemented by David Leitch being in the director’s chair, and the trailer showcases a scene that has Theron taking out a roomful of assailants in much the same style as Wick. Whether there will be too many similarities between the two movies remains to be seen, and if there are it may hurt Atomic Blonde‘s chances with the critics, but if its sense of humour is as acerbic as its action sequences are full-on kinetic, then the movie has a chance of connecting with a wider, more appreciative audience. The presence of Sofia Boutella as a French operative Theron’s character “makes contact with”, plus James McAvoy as her operational ally in Berlin, and John Goodman as a less than friendly CIA agent, adds lustre to the movie, and the trailer can’t help but give potential audiences the impression that this may well turn out to be a very, very fun ride indeed.
D: M. Night Shyamalan / 117m
Cast: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Betty Buckley, Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula, Brad William Henke, Sebastian Arcelus, Izzie Coffey
After a party at their local mall, birthday girl Claire (Richardson) and her friend Marcia (Sula) offer withdrawn classmate and pity invite Casey (Taylor-Joy), a ride home. But in the car park, a stranger (McAvoy) gets in the car instead of Claire’s father, and he uses a spray to render the three girls unconscious. When they wake, they find themselves in a locked basement room, but otherwise unhurt. Their abductor, Dennis, tells them that they’ll be perfectly safe, as long as they don’t try to escape; they’ve been taken because “someone” is coming. Meanwhile, Dennis attends therapy sessions with Dr Karen Fletcher (Buckley), but when he does he’s called Barry, and he’s a different personality altogether. And this is the point: Dennis and Barry are just two of twenty-three personalities living in the body of the man known as Kevin Wendell Crumb.
With one of the personalities sending urgent e-mails to Dr Fletcher on a regular basis, but Barry assuring her everything is okay, she suspects something has happened that has prompted this cry for help. As she attempts to work out just what that something might be, the girls make an attempt at escaping. Claire manages to get out of the room they’re in but she’s soon captured and locked in a separate room; the same fate eventually befalls Marcia. Casey tries to strike up a relationship with another of Kevin’s multiple personalities, a nine year old boy called Hedwig. He warns her that the “someone” who is coming is actually known as the Beast, and as Hedwig adds quite cheerfully, “He’s done awful things to people and he’ll do awful things things to you.” With Casey and Dr Fletcher arriving at the truth of things from different angles, it’s still down to the three girls to find a way out and back to safety before the Beast arrives.
With each new M. Night Shyamalan movie, it seems everyone is in agreement: he’s making better movies now from when he used to make absolute tosh like The Happening (2008) and The Last Airbender (2010). But while that may be true (and to make movies worse than either of those mentioned would be a feat in itself), it’s also true that he’s still not anywhere near to making movies as accomplished as The Sixth Sense (1999), or fan favourite, Unbreakable (2000). But while he’s still got a way to go, Split is certainly a good indication that he’s getting there. He’s helped in no small part by McAvoy’s incredibly detailed and nuanced performances as seven of Wendell’s multiple personalities, and Taylor-Joy’s practical captive with a relevant back story.
But while his cast go to great lengths to make his story at least halfway credible, and Shyamalan himself directs with great skill, as a writer he still manages to stumble too often for comfort, and the script fails to answer several important questions, the main one being, why is Hedwig’s drawing of the Beast not even remotely like the version we see towards the end – and especially after Dr Fletcher asserts that “an individual with multiple personalities can change their body chemistry with their thoughts”? (Oh, really?) It’s about time that Shyamalan let somebody else write the script because it’s the one area in which he consistently lets himself, and his movies, down. In the end, it’s all nonsense, but it could have been much more enjoyable nonsense, and McAvoy’s dexterous performances could have been part of a better showcase for his talents.
Rating: 6/10 – let down by a script that starts off strong then slowly but surely runs out of steam and ideas by the halfway mark, Split still qualifies as a stepping stone on the path of Shyamalan’s rehabilitation as a quality movie maker; McAvoy is terrific, the eerie nature of the basement rooms makes for a good mise en scène, and then there’s that final scene, which, depending on your love for a certain movie, will either have you whooping with joy, or wailing in despair.
Andrew Garfield, Charlie Hunnam, Desmond T. Doss, Fantasy, Guy Ritchie, Hacksaw Ridge, James McAvoy, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, M. Night Shyamalan, Mel Gibson, Previews, Psychological thriller, Split, Trailers, True story, War
If you don’t know who Desmond T. Doss was, then prepare to be amazed. The trailer for Hacksaw Ridge introduces us to a man whose pacifist leanings led to his being the only non-weapons carrying member of the US Army during World War II, and who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery and courage in rescuing over seventy-five men during the Battle of Okinawa. It’s an incredible tale, and judging from the trailer this could very well be in contention for a whole slew of awards once it goes on general release in November 2016. Advance word is overwhelmingly positive, and many people who’ve seen the movie already are praising its director, Mel Gibson – making his first movie behind the camera since Apocalypto (2006) – for the way in which he presents both the intensity and horror of the conflict on Okinawa, and Doss’s personal faith and its effect on the men around him. Andrew Garfield looks to have finally found a movie that allows him to step up to the mark in terms of his acting ability, and there’s advance word that Vince Vaughn (seen briefly here as a drill sergeant) gives his best performance yet in a movie. If all this early praise is to be believed, then this could prove to be one of the finest war movies ever made, and a reminder that Gibson, whatever his personal problems in recent years, is still a damn fine movie maker.
The latest from writer/director M. Night Shyamalan, Split looks like an attempt at making a disturbing psychological thriller based around the notion that a kidnapper with multiple personalities – 23, in fact – is doing so at the behest of the strongest, most fearful personality of the lot… the Beast. It remains to be seen if Shyamalan can pull off this particular storyline with anything like the degree of credibility it needs (and having James McAvoy playing the central character, Kevin(!), will certainly help his chances), or if the mechanics of the narrative will require McAvoy to shift personalities at too rapid a speed for things to remain plausible. This being Shyamalan, it’s hard to tell, but what can be discerned from Split‘s first trailer is that he’s going for a taut, gripping viewing experience, the kind he hasn’t really tried before, and one without any supernatural elements either. It’s easy to dismiss Shyamalan as a writer/director, but The Visit (2015) was a welcome semi-return to form, and he’s such a strong, distinctive, visually arresting director that it’s about time his skills as a writer were able to once again match those he has as a director.
At first sight, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword looks like a spirited romp through an alternative Arthurian timeline, one where the fabled King begins life as a child of the streets, but still ends up removing Excalibur from its stone and ruling a kingdom. And while there’s nothing remotely wrong with the idea of retelling the Arthur legend in such a way, what is obviously, clearly, undoubtedly, unquestionably and visibly wrong here is the way in which that idea has been executed. Guy Ritchie may be a very talented director, and he may have assembled a very talented cast – Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law, Eric Bana, Djimon Hounsou, Aidan Gillen, Astrid Bergès-Frisbey, and, erm, David Beckham – but the tone of the movie is plainly off by a country mile. Martial arts fight sequences, modern day humour, large-scale battle sequences straight out of the Peter Jackson Middle Earth Playbook, and a visual style that apes any number of other fantasy movies made in recent years; all these aspects and more make the movie feel derivative and lacking in originality. While it’s evidently been created with the intention of being one of 2017’s must-see tentpole movies, here’s a prediction: come next March we’ll all be asking the same question, “Why, Guy, why?”
Action, Angel, Apocalypse, Beast, Bryan Singer, Cyclops, Drama, Evan Peters, Havok, James McAvoy, Jean Grey, Jennifer Lawrence, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Magneto, Marvel, Michael Fassbender, Mutants, Mystique, Nicholas Hoult, Nightcrawler, Oscar Isaac, Professor Xavier, Psylocke, Quicksilver, Review, Rose Byrne, School for Gifted Children, Sci-fi, Sequel, Storm, Superheroes, Thriller, X-Men
D: Bryan Singer / 144m
Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar Isaac, Nicholas Hoult, Rose Byrne, Evan Peters, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Lucas Till, Olivia Munn, Ben Hardy, Alexandra Shipp, Josh Helman, Ally Sheedy
Rating: 6/10 – an average sequel that offers a muddled storyline complete with yet more disaster porn, the best thing you can say about X-Men: Apocalypse is that it’s competently made; without a strong emotional core to help the audience care about the characters, or a real sense of impending apocalypse to make the stakes all the more gripping, this is a sequel that fails to build on the good work achieved in the previous two instalments.
Andrew Scott, Body parts, Daniel Radcliffe, Drama, Frankenstein, Horror, Igor, James McAvoy, Jessica Findlay Brown, Life and death, Literary adaptation, Mary Shelley, Monster, Paul McGuigan, Review, Science, Thriller, Victorian London
D: Paul McGuigan / 110m
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, James McAvoy, Jessica Findlay Brown, Andrew Scott, Freddie Fox, Callum Turner, Daniel Mays, Charles Dance, Mark Gatiss
And so we have the latest variation on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus, or as it perhaps should be known, Victor Frankenstein: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Release Date…
When the first trailer was released back in August 2015, prospective viewers could have been forgiven for thinking that Victor Frankenstein was going to be a bit of a romp, a version where comedy was at the forefront, the bromance between Victor and Igor was going to carry the movie, and there was going to be lots of flashy special effects (and a monster). When the second trailer was released, the humour had been dialled back and the movie appeared to be a more serious take on the legend (albeit with a bromance between Victor and Igor and lots of flashy special effects – and a monster). Some prospective viewers may have sighed with relief; after all, if you’re going to make a Frankenstein movie that’s got humour in it, how on earth are you going to top Young Frankenstein (1974)?
Thankfully, the makers seemed to have realised that the one-liners and the overt bromance weren’t as good an idea as they might have been, and the movie is a more serious proposition, but there are still echoes of both humour and bromance, mostly from McAvoy’s hyperactive performance and screenwriter Max Landis’s uncertainty as to what tone to take with the material. What we’re left with is a movie that tries to make two tortured individuals into an unofficial couple – they meet, they admire each other to bits, they fall out, they reunite and reconfirm their commitment to each other – while using Andrew Scott’s equally tortured, increasingly crazed police inspector as the religious foil for their scientific endeavours, and never quite reconciling the whole “benefit to mankind” approach that goads them on.
Victor is portrayed as a manic obsessive with a “history” that drives him on, and McAvoy, usually a sensitive actor, here can’t resist the urge to go for broke and just let rip. You half suspect that Victor’s taking drugs but it’s not that simple: it’s just his personality, and McAvoy parades around like he’s on display throughout, declaiming wildly and to little purpose. Radcliffe takes the quieter route, but his Igor is a dead weight in a movie that wants to celebrate Victor’s mania rather than his assistant’s good sense. As one half of a team that’s in danger of destroying itself and being forgotten by history, you can understand his willingness to spend more and more time with ex-circus aerialist Lorelei (Brown) (who only appears to like him when he’s not a hunchback or looking like Robert Smith from The Cure).
On the visual side, Victor Frankenstein owes a lot to Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes movies, its late Victorian era setting full of background shots of building work going on and the streets teeming with the great and the downtrodden (and is further reinforced by the sudden appearance at the end of Gatiss as Victor’s new assistant). The climax is a suitably overwrought affair with plenty of explosions and destruction, and a monster that bears an unfortunate resemblance to both Dave Prowse’s incarnation in The Horror of Frankenstein (1970) and the Newborn from Alien: Resurrection (1997) (and why is it that mad scientists just can’t master putting a proper nose on their creation’s face?).
McGuigan doesn’t appear to have a firm grip on any of the movie, and there are moments of pure farce that undermine the intensity the makers are going for, such as Dance’s brief appearance as Victor’s father: there just to give Victor a slap and tell him he’s been a naughty boy. Still some humour then, but this time, unfortunate and unintentional, a bit like the movie as a whole.
Rating: 5/10 – another disappointing “adaptation” of Shelley’s tale, Victor Frankenstein is held back by weak plotting and a sense that there’s a different, perhaps better movie in there somewhere; McAvoy seems to be acting on his own recognisance, and the movie skips on providing any real horror from what Victor is bent on achieving, leaving it more anodyne than effective.
A reworking of Mary Shelley’s classic tale, Victor Frankenstein has long been touted as a story that concentrates on the relationship between the titular scientist (James McAvoy) and his assistant Igor (Daniel Radcliffe). It sounded like an interesting premise, and with the two stars firmly committed to the project, hopes have been high that this version will show audiences a new, different take on what is now a very familiar story. But this first trailer raises a variety of concerns, not least in that the relationship so focused on during production seems to have been over-emphasised (there’s certainly no glimpse of it in the trailer), and there are too many occasions where McAvoy seems to be cracking one-liners. Whether or not this version proves to be a stylish, thought-provoking addition to the ranks of Frankenstein movies, or something that sits uncomfortably close to Mel Brooks’ brilliant homage remains to be seen, but on this evidence there’s very much room for concern (and the introduction doesn’t help either).
Beast, Bolivar Trask, Bryan Singer, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, Magneto, Marvel, Michael Fassbender, Mutants, Patrick Stewart, Professor X, Quicksilver, Review, Sci-fi, Sentinels, Time travel, Wolverine
D: Bryan Singer / 131m
Cast: Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Ellen Page, Peter Dinklage, Halle Berry, Shawn Ashmore, Evan Peters, Omar Sy, Josh Helman, Mark Camacho
With X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) leaving a sour taste in the mouth after the glories of the first two X-Men movies, and with two subsequent Wolverine adventures proving that even a massive fan favourite doesn’t mean an automatically good movie, the future of the X-Men franchise was looking a little doubtful. With both Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen “getting on a bit”, the decision to revisit Charles Xavier and Eric Lehnsherr in their younger days in X-Men: First Class (2011) was a positive boon for the franchise and one that revitalised what was otherwise a moribund series. Now, with the equivalent of a spring in its step, we have a movie that both acknowledges its predecessors and forges a whole new path for its mutant protagonists.
Opening in the near future, with mutants and mankind alike being targeted for extinction by Sentinels, the world is a wasteland. With the Sentinels able to assimilate whatever mutant powers are pitched against them, a band of mutants including Kitty Pryde (Page), Bishop (Sy) and Iceman (Ashmore) fight a rearguard action against them that sees Professor X’s pupils evade certain death through Kitty’s ability to send a person’s consciousness back in time; this allows the remaining mutants to anticipate a Sentinel attack and flee before it can happen, thus erasing that particular timeline. With the arrival of Professor X (Stewart), Magneto (McKellen), Logan aka Wolverine (Jackman) and Storm (Berry), a last, desperate decision is made to send Wolverine’s consciousness back into his body in 1973, the year the Sentinels were created by industrialist Bolivar Trask (Dinklage). Back then, Trask was assassinated by Raven aka Mystique (Lawrence), which led to her capture and the advancement of the Sentinel programme using her DNA (this enables the Sentinels to assimilate other mutants’ powers). Logan’s mission: to unite the estranged Charles and Erik, track down Raven, and stop her from killing Trask.
Of course, it’s not easy. Since the events of X-Men: First Class, Charles has taken to wallowing in self-pity at the loss of Raven, and has lost his powers thanks to a serum created by Hank McCoy aka Beast (Hoult) that allows him to walk. He agrees to help for Mystique’s sake, though he is unhappy about needing Erik’s help. With the aid of Quicksilver (Peters), they free Erik from a cell beneath the Pentagon and travel to Paris (where Raven is due to kill Trask at a conference). Imitating a Vietnamese officer, Raven infiltrates the conference room where Trask plans to sell his Sentinel technology to the highest bidder. He reveals a hand-held mutant detector that is triggered by Raven’s presence. Hastily despatching the other attendees – including a young William Stryker (Helman) – Raven is stopped from shooting Trask by the arrival of Logan et al. Erik disarms her and then turns the gun on her; aware that her DNA will make the Sentinels an unstoppable force he believes it is better for her to die than to let them become so strong. Raven makes her escape but is wounded in the attempt. Erik tries to follow her but is stopped by Hank who has morphed into his Beast persona. All three are caught on film and the “mutant menace” espoused by Trask is taken up by President Nixon (Camacho) who gives the go ahead to the Sentinel programme.
At a press conference in the grounds of the White House set up to reveal the existence of the Sentinels and their purpose, Raven impersonates a Secret Service agent in order to get to Trask. Now on his own, Erik steals back the helmet that magnifies his powers and uses them to levitate a baseball stadium; he transports it to the press conference and drops it around the White House, effectively sealing it off from the police and everyone else. Charles is trapped under a piece of fallen scaffolding, while Logan and Hank do battle with one of the Sentinels (which are now under Erik’s control). In the future, the Sentinels attack the mutant hideout; casualties mount up as Professor X and Magneto wonder if Logan’s mission will be successful in time. As the future becomes ever bleaker, Erik castigates the President and his staff for their animosity towards mutants, and threatens them with a new world order, with mutants in control. With Logan and Hank unable to stop the Sentinel, and Raven still intent on killing Trask, and Erik about to dispose of Nixon and his staff, in the future the Sentinels breach the mutant hideout and target Magneto and Professor X…
Even at this late stage in the game there’s still more to the story than you’d expect. X-Men: Days of Future Past is a triumph for all concerned, an exciting, often unpredictable addition to the X-Men saga that more than lives up to expectations but also deepens and enriches the story begun in X-Men: First Class. With the stakes upped considerably, and the inclusion of more mutants than have been seen since The Last Stand, the movie seems, at first glance, to be overdoing it, adding too much to the mix for it to be as satisfying or rewarding as it should be (by necessity as much as expediency, some characters have more screen time than others). But thanks to Simon Kinberg’s measured script, the movie glides smoothly along, gaining momentum, adding layer upon layer of meaning, and providing an emotional depth that is missing from most – if not all – other superhero movies.
Largely this is due to the stellar cast, led by McAvoy and Fassbender, two actors who have made their roles their own. Their adversarial friendship is expanded upon here, both characters’ sense of having been betrayed by the other adding a dangerous edge to their scenes together, adding to the tension that develops as the world heads towards oblivion. Both actors give tremendous performances (McAvoy is superb in his opening scenes with Jackman), and the support they receive, notably from Hoult and Jackman, is equally impressive, while Dinklage (sporting a wig and a half) invests Trask with an eerie messianic quality that elevates the character from perfunctory villain to unwavering fear monger. And then there’s Lawrence, endowing Raven/Mystique with a mix of rage, sadness and longed-for redemption that makes her the most intriguing character of all, her dual nature at odds with itself even when fiercely determined to walk her own path. The real surprise, though, is the inclusion of Quicksilver. Peters turns in a funny, smart, freewheeling performance that is as charming as it is a real comedic shot in the arm. His sardonic smile and deadpan glances are perfectly pitched, and his appearance leaves you wanting more (which we’ll get in X-Men: Apocalypse).
Returning to the director’s chair following the departure of Matthew Vaughn, Singer shows a firm grasp of the material and an even firmer grasp on ensuring the human/mutant element isn’t lost amongst all the special effects and impressively mounted carnage. Even a small scene, such as the one between Professor X and Magneto towards the end of the movie, is more affecting than you might expect, and there are numerous occasions where Singer’s pleasure at being back in the director’s chair couldn’t be more evident if he’d stopped the movie mid-scene and held up a sign saying “I loved making this movie”. Singer is an expressive director, always willing to try something new, and his staging of the showdown at the White House shows a clear intention to avoid the usual action motifs, making the sequence that much more impressive (it’s also a clever move to reduce Logan’s involvement in the action, especially as he doesn’t have his adamantium skeleton for Erik to play around with).
The early Seventies are recreated with a fine eye for the details of the time, and there’s an astute tweaking on contemporary fashions (though it might have been fun to see Wolverine in bell bottoms), while the inclusion of footage shot as if it were news reports from the time is a clever conceit and works particularly well during Raven’s escape from the conference. The Sentinels are appropriately scary (and make Terminator 2’s T-1000 look like a skinny prototype), there’s the by-now obligatory post-credits sequence that sets up the next instalment, and there are a number of cameos that will have fans cheering in their seats (two cameos are very welcome indeed).
There are some stumbles. The opening ten to fifteen minutes, where the plot is established and some new characters introduced, is a bit clunky and muddled, and as mentioned before some of the cast don’t fare as well as others. Page does little more than sit with her fingers poised either side of Jackman’s temples for most of the movie, while McKellen gets to add the odd line here and there, but it’s Berry who’s almost completely sidelined, so much so that one of the cameo turns has more lines than her. (And on the subject of screen time, someone should give Anna Paquin’s agent a gold star; she appears for approximately ten dialogue-free seconds but is seventh billed; now that’s impressive.) Trask’s hand-held mutant detector is a clumsy contrivance that feels like it was added at the last minute, and the movie’s coda owes a little too much to another recent sci-fi franchise reboot (but it’s a welcome development nevertheless). All in all, though, the movie is too well constructed and executed for any of these (very minor) problems to spoil the overall presentation.
Rating: 8/10 – back on top as the best of the superhero movie franchises thanks to Singer’s return and an intelligent approach to the story (one of the comics’ most well-respected outings), X-Men: Days of Future Past is a treat for fans and non-fans alike; audacious, skilful, thought-provoking and often dazzling, the movie helps erase the debacle that was X-Men: The Last Stand, and is a better alternative universe for it.
D: Jon S. Baird / 97m
Cast: James McAvoy, Jamie Bell, Eddie Marsan, Martin Compston, Imogen Poots, John Sessions, Shirley Henderson, Gary Lewis, Kate Dickie, Joanne Froggatt, Jim Broadbent, Emun Elliott
Freewheeling, offensive, scabrous adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s novel that pushes so many boundaries it’s hard to keep track of them all. No politically incorrect aspect is ignored: homophobia, sexism, racism, substance abuse – all indulged in to within an inch of the script’s life. McAvoy is Detective-Sergeant Bruce Robertson, angling for promotion to Detective-Inspector, but saddled with the small matter of the murder of a Japanese tourist to deal with first. Add to that the manoeuvrings of his fellow Detecive-Sergeants – Poots, Lewis, Bell and Elliott – as well as a subplot involving his wife (Shauna Macdonald), and the mystery of who is making obscene phone calls to fellow lodge member Bladesey’s wife (a panting Henderson), and Bruce has got his work cut out for him. It’s a shame then he has such a dependency for drugs, booze and illicit sex. As the pressure on him builds and he becomes ever more desperate to secure his promotion, Bruce’s world slowly but surely falls apart, and in the process, he starts to see things that aren’t there: from his younger brother Davey, killed in a childhood accident, to increasingly bizarre sequences involving his doctor (Broadbent).
This is a potent adaptation, with plenty of energy and ‘they-didn’t-did-they?” moments of humour. McAvoy continues to cement his reputation as one of our finest young actors (okay, so he is 34), while amongst the supporting cast, both Marsan (as Bladesey) and Sessions (as Robertson’s boss) shine in their respective roles (it’s particularly good to see Sessions back on the big screen, and in a comic role as well). Baird directs with confidence and integrates the fantasy sequences with aplomb; he also manages the cast effectively and with a firm eye for avoiding caricature. There are times when the movie isn’t for the faint-hearted (“Have you started yet, baby cock?”), but anyone with a fondness for the novel or a penchant for politically incorrect humour will have a ball, especially when it comes to the photocopier game. Much better than you might expect and driven by a powerhouse performance by McAvoy, Filth is a breath of often rancid air that is all the better for not pulling its punches.
Rating: 8/10 – with a title that is far from ironic, Filth lives up to its name but is often searingly funny; a descent into one man’s nightmare that isn’t afraid to look into the abyss and then tell it to f**k off.