Friday, May 23, 2014

X-Men: Days of Future Past - 3 stars

It's the future, and mankind has been almost competely wiped out by the Sentinels, unstoppable killer robots.  The surviving X-Men decide that their only option is to go back in time and prevent the Sentinels from ever becoming operational.  There is one critical event that happened, and if they can prevent that from happening, it will completely change history and everything will be fine.

So they send Wolverine back to 1973.  He enlists the help of the young Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), Magneto (Michael Fassbender), and Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult) to stop Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from killing someone.  Along the way they enlist the help of Quicksilver (Even Peters), who steals the movie with only 10 minutes of screen time.

I had high expectations for this movie going in.  I was a fan of X-Men (2000), and X2: X-Men United (2003) was not only a great superhero movie, but a great movie, period.  I went back and re-watched both movies recently, and they hold up really well.  Director Bryan Singer left the franchise to make Superman Returns, and Brett Ratner wound up making X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), which was a big disappointment.  The two standalone Wolverine movies were decent, but 2011's X-Men: First Class was almost as good as X2.  Now Bryan Singer has returned to the franchise he started.

What I liked:

- Quicksilver.  He should have been in the entire movie.  There's a sequence where he saves the others from being shot, and it's incredible.  His power is he moves really fast, but we watch this scene unfold from his point of view.  So while everyone around is moving in super slow motion, he's casually putting on his headphones and walking around the room, flicking bullets out of the air.  That's one of the things I've been missing since X2 - seeing how much fun it would be to have these powers.  As fun as the action sequences can be, it's nice to see them having fun with their power.

- Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen back as Professor X and Magneto.  Even though they weren't in the movie much, it was nice to see them back in these roles.  It isn't really explained how Professor X is back from the dead, or how Magneto has his powes again, even though the last scenes of X-Men: The Last Stand hinted that it was a possibility.  But that's ok.  Ian McKellen has a way of using his powers with the authority and dignity of a trained Shakespearing actor.  There's something so cool about watching McKellen do these moves that we all probably did as kids.

- I like the way the movie focuses on the characters instead of action and spectacle.  With the exception of the finale at the White House, there's very little distruction.  But the dialogue is pretty good and the conflicts between the characters is dramatic.  It helps that we know these characters so well. 

What I didn't like:

- It seemed like the plan to go back in time to save humanity was thrown together really fast.  It's like the older X-Men meet up with the younger ones, find out about time travel, and say "Hey, why don't we go back in time and stop all this?" 

- Speaking of time travel, the whole concept didn't seem to hold up during the finale.  If stopping one event would have significant effects on history, wouldn't everything else that happens also change history?  In the original timeline, Magneto doesn't turn the Sentinels on the humans and he doesn't pick up that sports stadium.  It seems like the stuff that happens would have altered history and it wouldn't matter when Mystique makes her choice.  I guess that's the kind of thing you can't think about too much when time travel is used in a movie.  No time travel movie is ever able to keep to the rules they establish.

- I got tired of Charles trying to talk Mystique out of what she was planning to do.  He could have explained to her that if she goes through with it, the Sentinels would get more powerful and kill everyone.  Instead he just keeps pleading with her, and saying "The girl I grew up with wouldn't kill anyone."  It got annoying.

- They didn't give Hank McCoy much to do.  I liked his character in First Class, but this time he just seemed like a distraction. 

- Quicksilver wasn't in the movie enough.  Even Peters played Quicksilver with a gleam in his eye and a wicked grin.  His character was a breath of fresh air with all these other gloomy characters around, and his presence would have made the rest of the movie a lot more enjoyable.  Also, he really could have helped out at the White House at the end.

Overall, I did enjoy the movie.  But I had such high expectations and the movie didn't live up to them.  I really thought that Bryan Singer would be able to make another movie on par with X2, or at least with First Class.  I wish he would have stayed with the X-Men franchise all along instead of making Superman Returns.  I can only imagine how much better the third movie would have been.

But I am pretty excited for the next movie.  I don't want to spoil the end, but it sets things up nicely for more X-Men movies.  Hopefully the next one will be even better.

Neighbors - 2 stars

Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne play a couple with a newborn baby.  One day, a fraternity moves in next door.  They're worried that the frat parties will go late into the night and wake up their baby.  So they go next door to introduce themselves.  To help cement the friendship, they bring some pot with them (cause it's a Seth Rogen movie).  They get along at first, even going to a party at the frat house and having a great time (strangely, the baby doesn't wake up), but one night the frat house is partying late into the night.  They call the cops on the frat, and now they're enemies.

There are a couple things going on with this movie.  On the surface, it's just a bunch of dick jokes and frat boy humor.  The neighbors start playing more and more elaborate pranks on each other - the funniest one involves the airbag from Rogen's car, which you probably saw in the trailer.  But besides the jokes, the movie is also exploring what it's like to be in your 30s and responsible.  The couple is only a few years removed from the college / party lifestyle, and you can tell how badly they want to fit in with these kids.  But they also have a house and a kid, and are making the adjustment to responsible adult. 

The problem is the movie doesn't explore this theme very well, and the jokes aren't that funny.  Some are, but I spent way too much time in this movie not laughing.  Zac Efron and Dave Franco play the leaders of the fraternity, and they aren't funny.  There are several scenes of them together that feel improvised.  The interesting thing about improvisation is that you sometimes have to try a lot of stuff that doesn't work before you find the stuff that does work. 

A great example of this can be found on the DVD extras for The Break Up.  There are outtakes of Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau improvising a scene together, and it's interesting to watch their process.  Most of what they say to each other isn't funny, but they keep working it until they come up with some funny stuff.

A good movie edits out the stuff that doesn't work.  This movie leaves it in.  There's a scene where Efron and Franco make up after a fight, and for several minutes they riff on "Bros before hoes."  It goes on forever and isn't funny.

So, this is a misfire from Seth Rogen.  It's too bad because this looked really funny, and it sounds like a funny concept.  But all the funny parts were in the trailers and the movie kind of bored me.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 - 2 1/2 stars

It's difficult to review a new Spider-Man movie without comparing it to Sam Raimi's Spider-Man movies.  I'm sure I said it two years ago when The Amazing Spider-Man came out, but it's way too soon to reboot the franchise.  Sam Raimi's movies came out in 2002, 2004, and 2007, and it's ridiculous to reboot the franchise in 2012.  They should have had Andrew Garfield take over the role and just made Spider-Man 4.  We didn't need Peter Parker's origin story again.

In this new movie, Peter Parker (Garfield) can't decide what to do about Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone).  He's in love with her, but he keep seeing the ghost of her dead father (Dennis Leary), who made him promise in the previous movie to stay away from Gwen.  He tells her they can't be together, but then he stalks her and won't leave her alone.  He's also decided to start investigating what his father was up to before he died, and he has a new villain to deal with, named Electro (Jamie Foxx). 

What I liked:

- The relationship between Peter and Gwen.  Garfield and Stone have great chemistry together (it doesn't hurt that they're dating in real life), and every time Spider-Man was on screen, I just wanted the movie to get back to focusing on Peter and Gwen.  Director Mark Webb is very good at dealing with relationships onscreen.  If you haven't seen 500 Days of Summer, you really need to.

- Electro was cool.  I've always been a fan of characters who can shoot lightning (Raiden in Mortal Kombat, that guy in Big Trouble in Little China), and I liked the effect they used on his voice. 

What I didn't like:

- Andrew Garfield is all wrong for Peter Parker.  I really like him as an actor, but Peter shouldn't be so cocky and confident.  The character works much better when he's insecure, shy, all the qualities that Tobey Maguire brought.  Garfield seems like the coolest kid in school, so it isn't that exciting to see him become a super hero.

- I got tired of all his quips.  It seemed like every time he was chasing bad guys, he had a bad one-liner.  It was funny once or twice, but it started to get old really fast.

- Way too much exposition.  I really didn't care what his dad was working on before he died, and when we find everything out, it doesn't seem to amount to much.  We've already figured it out anyway.  I also got tired of this:  every time Peter was in his room, he'd look at his closet, and the camera would focus on his dad's briefcase.  It happened several times.  We got it the first time.

Overall, the movie isn't bad, but it feels very routine.  I think there have been so many superhero movies lately that I'm sick of them.  Unless they can bring something new, or give us an interesting character development, there's no reason to exist.  It felt like I've seen this movie several times before. 

I'll stick with Sam Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy (yes, even part 3).