X-Men: Apocalypse – Film Review

X-Men Apocalypse 1

If you read the title of this latest X-Men film out loud, punctuation and all, it gets the unfortunate subtitle of “colon apocalypse” which makes me wish the film were slightly worse so I could use that as a clever “the title reviews itself!!!” remark. Alas X-Men: Apocalypse is not terrible enough to be worth of a weak diarrhea joke despite trying incredibly hard to be.

Set ten years after some of the events of X-Men: Days of Future Past, the mutants we know and love are looking very young for their age and are scattered about the globe. Professor X (James McAvoy) is preening over his academy, Raven/Mystique/Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is roaming the world being heroic, and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) has hung up his bad guy helmet to grow a beard and do manual labour like he’s in the series finale of Dexter. When an ancient mutant with the ominous nickname Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) is awoken by four chanting men the end of mankind becomes a possibility and the heroes must reunite, grab some newbies, and save the world. Apart from Magneto of course who can’t resist scratching that homicidal itch and joins the baddies for a bit instead.

What follows is a bit of a mess: Beloved characters return but are sidelined by a boring bad guy, humorous interludes are laugh out loud funny but are inserted into scenes of real drama in a way that really jars, endless barrels of CGI are unloaded in a manner that becomes almost incoherent, and the 3D does little more than make the subtitles pop. There are many reasons to dislike the film; it is confusing, occasionally boring, and uses Auschwitz in a questionable way, but I still had a good time.

X-Men Apocalypse 2

X-Men: Apocalypse relies heavily on the audience’s love for its cast and its characters. It even sticks in a Wolverine cameo and poaches Sophie Turner from Game of Thrones to get the fanboys onside. Director Bryan Singer does this because he thinks he can get away with it and to a large extent he can. The young cast of this more recent X-Men trilogy are all perfectly lovable and it is their presence that took me through the film. I was five films deep, ignoring Wolverine films and Deadpool for the sake of sanity, at the start of the film so genuinely care what happens to the regulars involved. It is a real shame that there wasn’t more of Fassbender, Lawrence, and McAvoy as too much time was spent with Apocalypse and his penchant for Batman & Robin style superhero costumes and not enough with the faces I had come to see.

Apocalypse wasn’t a villain with a relatable backstory or understandable plan; he was just an egotistical maniac who felt that the way to save mankind was to kill it indiscriminately. It’s a plot I struggled to get behind and it was never really explained why Magneto got so swept up in it. The film uses cheap tricks to give Magneto some motivation but considering the character’s moral yo-yoing you’d have expected him to pause before manipulating the whole earth’s magnetic fields. A good baddie needs conflict and charisma; something Magneto provides in spades but Apocalypse severely lacks.

As mentioned before the film’s tone is all over the place. I was pleased to see the return of Evan Peters’ Quicksilver but his comedic time to shine is tarnished when you pause from laughing and realise the horrific reality of what has been going on while he was running around being the very definition of a superhero. The tonal rollercoaster makes it hard to take the serious bits seriously and tricky to fully enjoy the fun bits. X-Men is a fun franchise and is at its worst when being too straight faced.

X-Men: Apocalypse makes no real sense in the context of the original trilogy of X-Men films and includes at least one character who shouldn’t be around for another decade or three. That said comics make good use of alternate realities and thanks to the last instalment’s time travel joy all manner of plot holes are fair game now.

X-Men: Apocalypse may be messy but I am grading on a curve and Batman v Superman is still a painfully recent memory. This is the weaker episode of your favourite TV show; forgivable but forgettable. Despite all the grumbling above there is an enjoyable film in a strong franchise if you look hard enough and try really hard not to think of The Mummy.

X-Men: Apocalypse is out in the UK today.

Give Divergent a Chance Snooty Face

Divergent

Sit down kids I want to have a word with you. I’m going to tell you an incredible story, the story of how I met your mother…. Nope, sorry, wrong topic. I want to tell you why Divergent is worth your time and shouldn’t be dismissed as another Hunger Games rip-off. For an introduction to Divergent have a look at my previous post.

First a disclaimer. When I say Divergent is “good” and “worth your time” I mean that it is good relative to other series in this genre and worth your time if you enjoy YA novels set in a dystopian future. This is not going to win Oscars or Man Booker prizes so take your snooty face and get out of here.

Because I believe in consuming any and all media without judgement (HA!) I have read both the Hunger Games and Divergent trilogies. As I have said in the past the Divergent series “are not great works of literature but they are engaging, engrossing, very quick to read, and in my opinion are superior to The Hunger Games.” As Divergent star Shailene Woodley has said the two are as alike as Star Wars and Star Trek; both feature a female lead fighting for freedom in a dystopian future but the journeys they take are very different.

I was not a fan of The Hunger Games and despite it being a quick read took forever to read the first book. It wasn’t until I was faced with overnight coach trips to and from Amsterdam that I found myself isolated enough to consider finishing the trilogy. Sadly in my mind the series just got worse and worse as our “strong female lead” Katniss Everdeen continued to spend her time worrying about boys and having things happen to her rather than take much action herself. For balance I know plenty of people who love the books and these opinions are my own and do not reflect those of the BBC (why would they?). Yes I enjoy the films in their own way but I can’t be sure how much of that is down to the sheer amount of Jennifer Lawrence they involve and the amount of leeway I am willing to give her.

KatnissTris

Divergent is better than The Hunger Games (there, I’ve said it again) because “strong female lead” Tris is strong, female, and leads. Tris makes decisions, takes action, and never passes out during climactic battle scenes. More importantly the Divergent series gets better with each edition. While The Hunger Games declined in quality before boring me senseless in the final book, soon to be two whole films, Divergent not only is at its best in book three but actually explains the myriad of grievances I had in the beginning. Plot holes become part of the plot meaning that what could be seen as a weak opener is made more coherent when the series is looked at as a whole.

The result of this is that you might need to give Divergent a chance even after having seen the first film. Reviews are a little mixed and I am worried that this might turn people off what has the potential to be a solid teen franchise. I haven’t seen the film yet (angry glance at PR agencies) so can’t comment myself but I am pretty confidence that some of the story’s weaknesses will be addressed later on in the trilogy.

Most importantly of all the Divergent book trilogy is being adapted into a Divergent film trilogy meaning that the final book will not be split into two money-grabbing, story-stretching films. I think we can all be thankful for that.

Divergent is in UK cinemas from 4th April 2014 and I need someone to go with.

When Franchises Hog Talent Andrew Garfield

Red Riding

Originally posted at Jeff Goldblum’s Laugh

With the seemingly infinite number of franchises bubbling about at the moment more and more actors are being snapped up to appear in an adaptation of a comic book or YA novel. The actors we have grown to love for their intimate roles in independent films are suddenly committing years of their lives by signing up in appear in numerous big budget action movies. In some cases these actors manage to maintain their career outside of the franchise but for a few the pull proves too strong and they disappear inside never to be seen in a different role ever again… or at least until the film series comes to a close.

What sparked this worry off in my mind was my love for the work of Andrew Garfield, the thick haired transatlantic actor who is mostly seen swinging around in a tight red and blue suit under the guise of Spider-Man. It wasn’t always this way, oh no, Garfield used to wear jumpers and have low-budget emotions. Ah… those were the days.

Never Let Me Go

In 2007 Garfield starred in the low-budget British drama Boy A about a young man recently released from prison having served time for committing murder as a child. His performance was subtle and flawless, a feat he repeated in 2009 when appearing as a young journalist investigating a murder in the Red Riding trilogy on Channel 4. There was no denying his acting chops and his choice of roles seemed to favour quality over box office potential or fame.

The end of 2010 and start of 2011 saw Garfield hit a career high with his roles in both the highly successful The Social Network and the Heavy Knitwear Science Fiction staple Never Let Me Go. Garfield was suddenly my favourite actor in the world ever, no take-backs. What would he do next, what indie gem would he grace with his presence?

Since February 2011 Andrew Garfield has not been seen outside of his spandex suit and much as I enjoy him in the role this simply is not good enough. As a consumer I have a right to have my opinion heard!

I can’t help but feel like the Amazing Spider-Man franchise has stolen Andrew Garfield from our screens and stopped his diverse career from progressing. He may be a household name now but with great fame has come great… uniformity. His special lady friend and co-star Emma Stone has somehow escaped this fate and has made five films during the Amazing Spider-Man process. The series’ director Marc Webb suffers a similar fate to Garfield having only made the brilliant (and brilliantly misunderstood) (500) Days of Summer prior to getting sucked into Spider-Man vortex.

The Amazing Spider-Man

It is at this point that my argument collapses around my feet. This is the point in the article where I list the dozens of other actors who have entered franchises and failed to make other work but as you’ll soon see they vehemently refuse to fit my hypothesis which is rude and highly inconvenient.

Jennifer Lawrence has taken on both Hunger Games and X-Men: First Class franchises and still managed to put in Oscar nominated performances in more traditional films. Samuel L. Jackson is in every film that comes out that even tangentially relates to the Avengers behemoth and still is making more non-franchise films than I can keep track of. As for directors Joss Whedon has his finger in as many Avengers pies as Jackson and still managed to make the Shakespeare adaptation Much Ado About Nothing apparently when we weren’t keeping a close enough eye on him.

Contrary to my original fears it can be done; you can have it all and getting involved in a franchise doesn’t have to ruin your career. And by “ruin” I am naively assuming that a career is ruined the minute you become fabulously rich and famous but have a slightly less diverse roster of films. That said I can’t help but think that the big budgets franchises do limit the choices the actors can make.

Perhaps this all stems from a selfish desire to see my personal favourites appear in a larger number of films that don’t involve a single explosion (OK, I’ll allow a small one) or any mutant superpowers. When I look back at the career of Robert Downey Jr. I see Chaplin, Wonder Boys, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, A Scanner Darkly, and Zodiac whereas now all we see is Tony Stark and Sherlock Holmes. The films are fun, don’t get me wrong, but do they give the actors involved as much scope to test their acting mettle? I don’t think so.

Am I just being selfish, do I hate my beloved actors appearing in more mainstream films that give me less enjoyment but allow them more exposure? Am I just being a snob in assuming that acting in a franchise is less worthy than acting in an indie drama? Obviously the answer here is yes but that doesn’t change how I feel.

I for one will be glad when Andrew Garfield hangs up the spidey senses in favour for screaming on beaches and watch with trepidation as newer actors like Tom Hiddleston, Shailene Woodley, and Elizabeth Olsen take their first steps from the indie world and into the kingdom of franchises. I hope they come back out the other side and still make smaller films. If Emma Watson can manage it then so can they.

The Hunger Games – Review

Having fought off my fellow contributors for the opportunity to review the adaptation of one of the most addictive Young Adult novels in recent memory, I then worried that I’d be forced to say it was tripe. But no! Against all expectations, The Hunger Games is a Good Film. If that’s not enough, carry on reading.

For those not up to date on the latest teen literary phenomenon, The Hunger Games takes place in the dystopian future Panem, where North America currently is. After putting down an uprising in the country’s 12 districts, the ruling Capitol devised the Games as a way of reminding those pesky workers what happens when they get a bit uppity and forget their place. Each year every district, excepting the Capitol itself of course, is required to send one boy and one girl along to a fight to the death. The last standing is then showered in riches to pay for their lifetime of therapy.

We join the action as Katniss Everdeen prepares her little sister, Primrose, for the lottery to pick District 12’s representatives. She assures the youngest Everdeen that as it’s her first time in the pool there’s no way Prim could possibly be picked. I assume you see where this is going. As a result, Katniss immediately steps up to take her sister’s place.

Both uncommunicative and frequently alone, Katniss lacks a lot of dialogue. Yet, she’s brilliantly portrayed by Jennifer Lawrence, who carries the film with confidence. She also does a good line in fake smiles – in most reviews, that comment would be a negative but not when playing unsociable Katniss.

For a film about 24 teenagers trying to slaughter each other, there is horror to be had but its 12A rating has sapped some of the punch. The handheld shaky cam does add tension to the hunt and the sound editing was excellent but when a wimp like me is able to sit through that much death without looking away, there’s something missing. This is particularly glaring when, in order to explain why we should be scared of a situation, the action is sometimes forced to pause for some exposition from the commentators.

I’ll reiterate, The Hunger Games is a good film: entertaining, engrossing and emotional without being manipulative. The adaptation is well-judged, the script zips along at pace and as such, it stands on its own two feet – no extra-curricular reading required. Purists expecting Madge to appear or any back story to the Avox girl should probably just stick to the books. Solid and well-made, it’s a satisfying couple of hours of entertainment but it doesn’t stay with you. Instead of dwelling on the cruelty of the Capitol’s rule, or the barbaric actions of some of the kids, I left the cinema puzzling over something I had noticed in the closing credits: There were snake wranglers? When in the film were there snakes?


4 stars = Rather Pleased

Orange Rising Star Award 2012 Nominees

This week the nominees for the 2012 Orange Rising Star Award were announced. With voting handled by the Great British Public, this is the one time we get a say on who wins a proper award. It is our duty as UK citizens and internet based film fans to have that say and vote. Let’s have a completely objective look at the nominees.

Jessica Chastain
Appearing in no less than five films this year, Chastain has burst out of nowhere to become a big upcoming presence in modern cinema. Highlights for me include Take Shelter and Coriolanus.

Eddie Redmayne
With the look of a male Gemma Arterton about him, Redmayne has only one major release this year, and it isn’t out until tomorrow. Still, having the lead role in My Week with Marilyn amongst so many British stalwarts is impressive.

Adam Deacon
A good handful of films out this year and yet the only roles I am likely to have seen Deacon in are the two separate characters he’s played on Casualty. Anuvahood did look amusing though.

Chris Hemsworth
From Home and Away to playing Thor, God of Oversized Hammers, Hemsworth has come a long way in the past four years. FUN FACT: He also did one episode of Neighbours.

Tom Hiddleston
Hiddleston is all over the shop starring in everything from comic book blockbusters to arty family dramas, from Woody Allen to The Deep Blue Sea. His face terrifies me slightly but we shouldn’t hold that against him.

Jennifer Lawrence
Lovely Jennifer Lawrence went on from her Oscar nominated performance to play Anton Yelchin’s love interest twice and to take on the role of a blue X-Person. Soon to be heading up the Next Big Franchise, Lawrence’s star is on the rise.

Felicity Jones
HELLO! No, I must remain impartial. Since getting the nod from us early last year (way before everyone else), Jones has been on a dramatic rise topped by a win at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Not bad for a Brummie.

Chris O’Dowd
After slogging away on Channel 4 since 2006, O’Dowd has hit the big screen three times in the past two years. It was his appearance in Bridesmaids which everyone actually noticed though, providing a much-needed core to a fun but messy comedy.

There are your eight nominees, who will you vote for? We are remaining totally impartial…

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