Sorry for the length, but I didn't have time to write a short blog.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

X-Men Apocalypse: Liking the Movie-Well, It's Complicated

For those of you have not seen X-Men Apocalypse and if you're a fan, I have one word: Phoenix.  If you're a fan, when you see it, you will get it, if not take a fan and have them explain it to you.  If you are reading critics who are negative on this film, chances are pretty good they are not comic book nerds or have not followed even the animated series.  For this movie, it's going to be complicated.  My wife complains that too often when she goes to these movies, she feels like she's missing something since she didn't follow comics when she was a kid or an adult. She was also not the one who got up and watched shows like Thundercats and X-Men on Saturday with our son.  I was the resident nerd and truth be told, I have always loved these things. 

So, going to see X-Men Apocalypse for those who haven't followed the series or is a neophyte to the X-Men movies, it's going to have a few gaps for you along with back stories.  The other problem is that it is pretty clear that Apocalypse is setting up the franchise for years to come.  It seeks to correct the feeble attempt of setting up what is called the Dark Phoenix saga in X-Men III: Last Stand at which X-Men Apocalypse takes a pretty good potshot. The timeline of the film is in the space between the last battle in Days of Future Past and Wolverine waking up at the school at the very end of the movie. (I would like to point out that Stryker being actually Mystique in Days of Future Past at the end of the movie makes no sense and that it still doesn't.)

The other problem a newbie is going to face is that the original Apocalypse story is huge.  I think the original storyline ran for something like 50 plus comics. The movie makes all kinds of references to that series, and I have to admit, I had to look some of them up. What this means, to some there may be some holes, but to others, there will be some awesome Easter eggs to discover.  I liked the movie, but I am a nerd and have followed X-Men for a long, long time.

If you haven't seen the movie, you may want to leave at this point and come back after you've seen it. There be spoilers here!


Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), who was once worshiped as a god, is the oldest of mutants.  He has gained the ability of transmuting or transferring his consciousness to other mutants. With each change, he gains that mutant's power making him basically indestructible and immortal.  Now, he has found Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) who he wants for his ability to enter and control all minds, human and mutants alike. He gathers his four protectors, as he always has.  They are Psylocke (Olivia Munn), Angel (Ben Hardy) Storm (Alexandra Shipp) - yes that Storm- and Magneto (Michael Fassbender).  Apocalypse enhances the mutant ability of each.  Magneto has a whole new pain and hate to channel because it is in this movie that we learn of the killing of his wife and child. 

With the taking of Professor X, the audience sees the rise of the young X-Men.  The ones that director Bryan Singer has been promising since First Class.  There is an adventure where Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Quicksilver (Evan Peters) and the CIA human Moira Mactaggert (Rose Byrne), who was the love interest of Professor X in First Class, must all be saved by young X-Men from the evil Colonel Stryker.  Of course, in the saving, we get a sampling of Weapon X which was the time that Wolverine was turned into a killing machine. We are given the first X-Men who are Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee).  By the end of the movie the full team is assembled with the X-Men now joined by Quicksilver and Storm who has realized the error of following Apocalypse. The X-Men are trained by Beast and Mystique but under the watchful protection of Professor X.  No, it's not all the X-Men.  We still are missing Rogue, Gambit, Iceman and Jubilee, although Jubilee does make a small appearance in the movie. There is also the return of Havoc who is Cyclops' brother. 

I do want to take issue with Mystique being an X-Men leader.  Mystique has, in the comics, always been sort of nebulas as a character. No one seems to know her age or allegiances.  There was even once a story line that she was the mother of Nightcrawler.  We all love Jennifer Lawrence but creating all this storyline just so she can appear more in the movies in her latex lack of clothing is kind of getting in the way.  I have never been sure why Mystique doesn't wear her trademark white dress from the comics.  There is actually only one costume that needs to make its appearance, and that is Wolverine's yellow spandex costume. Mystique is a fun and interesting character. She should not, however, become the lead character.  

I also loved the best sequence in the movie which steals the show.  Quicksilver's saving of the students at Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters.  It is truly a wonderful scene.  There is also the wonder of the costumes that Quicksilver wears especially his tee shirts.  When we see the speedster again, he wears a Six Million Dollar Man shirt.  In the saving seen he wears a rock tee, emblazoned with RUSH on the front.  What a great selection.

A word about Apocalypse:  In the comics, Apocalypse is an imposing and fear-inspiring person.  While Oscar Isaac is a strongly centered actor, the character just doesn't have quite that awesome visceral reaction.  Yes, the movie does talk about Apocalypse's incredible power, but other than his traveling ability, he doesn't come off quite as fearsome in the movie. Overall, though Apocalypse is a great introduction to the story arc which may be happening, given the events at the end of the movie. It's just that he isn't well developed. 

X-Men Apocalypse is well done, but may be a bit confusing for the uninitiated. Is it the best X-Men ever? No but it is a long way from the worst. I enjoyed the movie, and it is a good follow-up for Days of Future Past.  There are plenty of homages to the comics of the 80s and pop culture in general. The 3-D is probably not worth the extra cost. I look forward to the next one.  I will buy the Blu-ray. 

Sunday, May 8, 2016

The Battle for Bucky

Captain America: Civil War is the third installment in the Captain America movies, and it also as much of an Avenger's movie as it is a Captain America.  Of all the comic book movies out floating around, the Captain America series remains a favorite.  It has action and humor and continues the ideas established in the first two movies about the dangers of unchecked power and that not all right and wrong is black and white.




The Civil War or tearing apart of the Avengers centers on Captain America's lost friend Bucky Barnes who was turned into the Winter Soldier by the evil organization Hydra in the second Captain America movie.  Bucky is accused of a bombing of a United Nations meeting, and Captain America knows that if he doesn't bring in the Winter Soldier, Bucky is going to be killed.  So Captain America, Steve Rogers, must choose between his loyalty to The Avengers and to his friend who saved his life and says he is innocent. Add to this mix is a United Nations accord that wants to control the Avengers because of the damage by their battles in the previous movies.  Unlike their much darker brethren in the DC movie universe, the heroes of the Marvel universe feel the death and destruction that results in their battles.  Never mind that those battles saved the planet, the casualties of war still create holes and problems and hurt for those that are left behind.  Tony "Ironman" Stark worries that the Avengers should not be unchecked while the old warrior, Steve "Captain America" Rogers worries that the Avengers will become as much a political tool as an instrument of salvation for people.

Enter the Bucky Barnes storyline.  One of those people, Helmut Zemo has lost everything as a result of the Avengers' battle with Ultron. He has determined to destroy the Avengers by creating strife in the group.  If there is a fault with the movie, it is the logic of the writing.  Even as egotistical as Tony Stark is he would see that Zemo is doing before the final battle at the end of the movie.  Captain America is trying only to defend Bucky from the vengeance-driven Ironman. Still the friendship and the loyalty that should have been formed in the battles done by the Avengers seem easily breached and paper-thin.  We are reminded that it is Captain America and the Winter Soldier and the Iron Patriot that are the old warriors. 

The movie introduces a few new characters. The first is the security head Everett Ross whose job it is to take care of first Bucky Barnes and then later Helmut Zemo.  He is actually originally a character from the Black Panther comics who is an ally of the Black Panther and an expert of the fictional kingdom of Wakanda.  He is played by Martin Freeman who has mastered the art of the quiet hero in his stints as Watson in Sherlock and Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit.  With Ross, of course, there is also the hero, Black Panther or King T'Challa of Wakanda.  What ties Black Panther into the story is that Wakanda is the place that the mysterious mineral added to Vibranium which makes up the Black Panther's costume armor as well as creating Captain America's trademark shield.  Black Panther too is driven by vengeance for the death of his father in the UN bombing.  It is the Black Panther who delivers the statement or another theme in the movie about the cost of revenge. Black Panther is played by Chadwick Boseman who does quite well with the role.  

We are also introduced to the Marvel Universe's new Spiderman, played by Tom Holland.  He is one of the truly enjoyable aspects of the movies.  Marvel has determined to return to the teen Peter Parker who chatters on incessantly and is filled with youthful exuberance.  Holland is, at least from the glimpse we get, perfect as Spiderman. I am not so sure that the "hot" Aunt May played by Marisa Tomei is a choice I agree with, but it makes for an interesting take. 

The villain, Helmut Zemo, is played by an actor, who every time I see him, my appreciation grows.  Daniel Brühl manages to play comic book villain Baron Zemo as both evil and sympathetic at the same time.  We understand his pain but also despise his quest for vengeance at all cost.  There is also the introduction of a possible new villain, Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross who is that power-hungry political functionary that we have come to expect in the Marvel world. Ross is played perfectly by William Hurt. 

The fun of the movie is clear.  We have heroes who we can cheer for who still find some joy in life.  The honest and good Hawkeye or the "just trying to find my place in the world" Scarlet Witch or the all too gentle and human machine called the Vision all make us understand the price that our heroes must pay. The battle between the Avengers is fun and at the same time unsettling because we know that they are friends on different sides who are simply trying to do what is right. Still moments like Captain America driving around in a Volkswagen bug with the Falcon and The Winter Soldier is a visual that I will not soon forget, especially as the Winter Soldier complains to the Falcon who won't move his seat up. This is a problem that anyone who has ridden in a VW Bug will understand. 

The movie is a good one and quite enjoyable and fun.  At almost two and a half hours, it was easy to sit through.  I don't think that the 3-D did much to add to the movie and a few of the battles used that blurry motion effect so "popular" in the Transformer movies.  I didn't like it then, and I am still not a fan in Captain America: Civil War.  The Marvel movies continue to remind us that superheroes must also be folks that offer more than just protection but hope too.  I will buy the Blu-ray.