Logan (2017): A Dystopic Western Masterpiece That Explores the Depths of Pain

    “Logan” is the greatest X-Men Films and one of my all time favorite films. This is a film that doesn’t hold back in any way and is powerful because of it. To give my non-spoiler thoughts…it is well worth your time. It is beautifully crafted, has a powerful emotional core that drives it and has a point in some of the overarching themes on both the personal and larger societal level (a theme of X-Men films I’ve always appreciated). I’ll get into the details of all these things later into the review.

     The film was directed by James Mangold who wrote the screenplay along with Scott Frank and Michael Green while being produced by Hutch Parker, Simon Kinberg and Lauren Shuler Donner.

    The story takes place in 2029 and all the X-Men are gone except for Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) who is taking care of a dying Professor X (Patrick Stewart) who is losing control of his powers and is only able to keep them in check with medication. Wolverine has become a drunk as well and it takes a mutant child called X-23 (Dafne Keen) coming into their lives as she escapes from the Transigen Corporation who created her and other children who she is trying to find to escape to safety in Canada.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world is one where there are no more X-Men and we never get a full explanation (a virus is what is implied but never fully explained). Transigen has cyborg mercs who are hunting down mutants and the world is desolate with extreme poverty and wealth. The world is a reflection of ours, as the good X-Men films tend to do.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful and captures the pain and isolation of our characters…from the stark contrasts of light and dark…and splotches of blood or shadow. This is a world that reflects our broken characters.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is very much western in theme, which is what I consider the film to be, more so than an X-Men film as the characters didn’t have to be the people they were for the story to work. This story stands strong on it’s own and the soundtrack reflects that. Marco Beltrami made a fantastic soundtrack.

The Characters – The characters are one of the strongest part of the film as it is their wrestling with their pain and choices they make from it that define them and the film.

Donald Pierce – Pierce is head of the Reavers and is a charming, brutal character. I wish he’d been the big bad as the Mad Scientist was pretty lame. Pierce just loved the joy of the hunt and being in control and respected power. This made him interesting and it takes a lot to take him down.

The Family – There is an African-American family that takes them in that the Reavers with the Wolverine clone destroy. It is the first bit of compassion our characters experience and it all ends with the father holding a gun at Wolverine even after Wolverine saves him from his clone…it is such a tragic course of events that leads to both the death of Professor X and Logan and Laura back on the road.

Caliban – Is an albino mutant who can track mutants and is taking care of Xavier. He is a kind and desperate mutant who ends up being used by the Reavers again (he was used by the corporation in the past) but sacrifices himself so that Logan and Laura can escape. I really liked his character. He is fearful and it is contrasted with Xavier’s sorrow and Logan’s rage.

Laura / X-23 – Dafne Keen is a great actress. She gives an intensity to her character where it is believable that she was created and experimented on in a lab. You can understand her rage and her killing Reavers and becoming a family with Professor X and Logan is beautiful…as is her losses she goes through. She is one of the clear leader among the New Mutants that Transigen created.

Charles Xavier / Professor X – Charles is going crazy and is suffering from brain degeneration that he has to take pills for, in order to control his powers. He is the external conscience for Logan though as he is the one who helps Laura find them and is the one always pushing Logan to help her. He is full of regrets for those he hurt when he lost control of his powers and his manipulative past…In the end he confesses all of this but no one hears as he is killed. It is tragic and fits the lonely, regret and despair that pervades and follows our heroes. Patrick Stewart once again is acting gold.

Logan / Wolverine – Hugh Jackman gives one of his best performances ever in this role. We get to see him drunk and desperate, sorrowful and in despair, rageful and moments of joy and empathy. He truly owns this character and I’m grateful he got this beautiful sendoff as his character has redemption and becomes an X-Men again.

The Ending – The ending is so sad. The New Mutants escape to Canada but Logan dies, killed by his clone as he finds his core as an X-Men again but at the expense of his life…Though he dies happy as he protects the girl who became family to him and was his daughter, and not just because she was made with his DNA. The scene is powerful and there aren’t many words at his funeral but it captures that even in desperation people can find the will to move forward.

Regret and Pain – Regret and pain are major themes of the film as both Logan and Xavier live with regrets of all those they hurt, killed or destroyed as this is a core motivation for what drives them to protect others, specifically Laura. They are broken from their mistakes and are surrounded by a world that reflects them.

Persecution of Immigrants and Refugees – From Transigen hunting the New Mutants across borders and trying to stop them from escaping to safety in Canada (the current refugees and immigrants doing the same with Trumps immoral new policies), this is a major theme of the story and is one that has always existed in X-Men as persecution and acceptance and compassion for the other is one of the greatest themes of the X-Men.

Pain, Healing and Getting Outside the Self – Healing and looking outside of the self is a major theme of Logan’s character and this film is him finding it again, even after all he has lost and all the pain he’s gone through. This arc ends with his powerful sacrifice for other New Mutants, as Logan once more becomes an X-Men (reflected in the cross at his grave being turned into an X by Laura).

The Cons: Zander Rice – This guy is Mad Scientist ^TM  and anyone could have played him. I wish the Reavers had been the main threat or a scientist who better reflected the world. This world felt like Mad Max and needed a Mad Max type villain. Someone to be Professor X or Logan’s foil. All this guy wanted was power and to create and control mutants and we never see him do anything outside of the lab and hunting our heroes. A better villain like Bane, Joker or Immorten Joe would have made this film perfect.

   This was a film that achieved everything it set out to do, with the only con I could really find being how forgettable the main villain was. Everyone else served a purpose that drove the story in narrative in a rewarding way and had payoff at the end. This is a film that reminds us how important it is to look outside of ourselves, no matter what the cost is and that the actions we do matter and can make a difference even in the worst of world circumstances. This film will probably make my Top 5 Films of 2017 as it is one of the best super hero and comic book films I have ever watched and is a beautiful, tragic film with an unforgettable story. What a sendoff for Patrick Stewart as Professor X and Hugh Jackman as Wolverine.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10

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Constantine (2005): A Decent Adaptation Buried Under Weird Pacing and Stilted Dialogue

Constantine

       “Constantine” is one of those strange films that doesn’t quite work. There are some great moments in it, especially when it felt like the amazing character Constantine was there (Keanu Reeves managed to pull it off when he was given good dialogue), but the weird pacing, clash of tones and overall stilted dialogue keep this film from ever reaching good. Constantine is a fascinating character who is driven by outsmarting the greater powers than himself, he’s a deal maker and cynic and I wish we could have seen more of that, as well as the personal nature of most of the stories in the “Hellblazer” series where his story is told.

     The film was directed by Francis Lawrence, written by Kevin Brodin and Frank Cappello and produced by Akiva Goldsman, Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Michael Uslan, Benjamin Melniker and Lauren Shuler Donner.

     The story involves Constantine (Keanu Reeves) facing his mortality as he learns he has terminal cancer  as Detective Angela is pulled into his world after the mysterious suicide of her sister (Rachel Weisz plays both characters). As Angela discovers the magic that exists in her family forces plot against the world as Constantine and his allies must work to save it and prevent the end.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world is one of the best parts of this film! There are half-demons and half-angels, and it takes place on the world stage in a world full of broken people. There are not heroes in this and that is part of what it makes it so fun.

Cinematography – The CGI is a little dated but the style of it is still amazing. I loved how Hell was done and how they presented seeing things that are hidden from us in our world. Philippe Rousselot did a great job.

Introduction to Constantine – We are introduced to Constantine as he kicks a warrior demon out of a girl. His interactions with the people and the demon is straight up Constantine. He’s standoffish, business all the way through and after takes out. Even his friends  give him space.

Hell – Hell is a twisted version of our world above and further below you have people consuming and being consumed. It was a very creative take on Hell and added terror to the demons we met.

Luficer – This Luficer is the threatening salesman and it works. He has power to how he speaks, with an heir of threatening kindness. I liked the white suit and the detail of him leaving behind black wherever he walked was great at giving him an otherworldly feel. He ends up punishing his son for breaking out and dealing with the half-angel Gabriel to try and take over and nearly takes Constantine until God protects him when he offers his life for Angela’s sister.

Chas Kramer – Shia LeBeouf was so much more likeable before “Transformers” and his later stuff. In this he’s Constantine’s driver and shows that he’s been studying up on how to fight demons too in the final fight, even though he does die he gets a lot of humanity and shows he isn’t just a fan, he wants to be respected.

Papa Midnite – This character is cold and cruel and after is chill and acts like an old friend again with Constantine. I like both versions of the character and just wish he’d been written more consistently. Djimon Hounsou does a fantastic job.

Constantine – Keanu can act when given the chance and he shows it here. We see him mad, sad, empathetic and all the emotions of a man dealing with death. His character also gets an arc too as his friends all die to Gabriel and Mammon but God protects him in the end when he finds belief and stops smoking since he got 2 chances as he kills himself twice over the course of the film (first to end the torture his parents were putting him through, second for the meeting with Luficer).

Okay: Constantine’s Arc – the arc was too easy, he is a cynical guy who knows that there are tons of higher beings out there but knows they can’t be counted on (even God drops the ball on letting his friends die and all the people who died from the fallout of Mammon and Gabriel getting their plans together) so him becoming a sudden believer made sense in the simplest of arcs but didn’t feel quite true to the character…so putting it at okay.

The Cons: Angela Dodson – Rachel Weisz is usually always the damsel and she is here too. She learns how to have psychic powers and is used by the villains almost immediately. It’s annoying and I hated that her character only seemed to exist in this role.

The Dialogue – The dialogue is stilted and sometimes characters will make comments that are meant to be jokes but it just ruins the tone of the scene and makes the pacing feel choppy.

Tone – The tone is thankfully largely dark but the moments of attempted humor don’t always work when they try go light hearted, I almost think this was meant to be a PG-13 movie but because they went for the R it just made the tone jarring.

Pacing – Thanks to tone and dialogue the pacing doesn’t flow all the time. The pacing of the opening and middle are fine but right around the end and leading up to the climax there are scenes that linger and it ruins the pacing.

    This is a film that is worth seeing once or renting and that is it. The great moments where Constantine is the cynical anti-hero of the comics make this film a lot of fun, and Keanu has more range than he is given credit…I think he suffers from having films with bad scripts or off tones, as this film does, but he is still a positive of this film. There were moments he felt like the Constantine in the comics, even though Constantine finding God and quitting smoking felt out of character, in all the “Hellblazer” comics I’ve read, nothing close to that happens. He makes deals and cons higher powers, he doesn’t give them worship. Still, I get why they did the arc, Constantine’s growth when it happens is hard write, so these writers took the easy way to write growth rather than writing something more complex, but given that they wrote the dialogue, the story is going to be brought down regardless. Rent it if you like Constantine, DC and Vertigo comics and films or like Keanu Reeves, but don’t go in expecting a good film.

Final Score: 7 / 10

X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) – An Alright Made for Television Film

X-Men Apocalypse

  There is a comment that Jean Grey makes after her and the other X-Men leave the school to go see “Return of the Jedi.” She says, “We all can agree, the third film is always the worst.” Meant as a jab against “X-Men 3” by Bryan Singer, the same rule also applies to the new Trilogy that began with “First Class,” as this film is clearly the weakest in the new Trilogy. It isn’t a bad film, “Return of the Jedi” isn’t a bad film…but a lot of it doesn’t work and in the end it feels like an okay, made for tv movie in both production quality and filming.

       “X-Men: Apocalypse” was directed by Bryan Singer who was one of the producers and creators of the story. The screenplay was by Simon Kinberg who was also one of the producers and the other producers are Lauren Shuler Donner and Hutch Parker.

SPOILERS ahead

    The story involves the awakening of the first mutant, Apocalypse (Oscar Isaacs) after he is trapped underneath a pyramid when his people rebel against him. From here it is up to the X-Men to stop him after Professor Xavier (James McAvoy) is kidnapped by Apocalypse and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) is made into one of Apocalypse’s Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

The Pros: The World – The world of X-Men is a wonderful world. There are so many factions and characters. This is a world that is always in flux and that a single X-Men can often change the shape of that world.

The Characters – The characters are fantastic and the strongest part of this series. Each of them is flawed and an outcast and it helps define their struggle, making them compelling.

Cyclops – Cyclops demonstrates why he will later become group leader in this, as we see him demonstrate courage after he makes friends with Nightcrawler and Jean Grey and mounts a rescue with them to save Mystique, Beast and Quicksilver from Striker.

Beast – Beast is back and is the adviser and friend to Xavier. His arc is making peace with how he looks and through it he helps Mystique do the same.

Nightcrawler – Nightcrawler is one of my favorite X-Men and it is awesome to see him here again! We are introduced to him in the Mutant Fighting Pits that Human supremacists run and later at Professor X’s school after Mystique rescues him. He shows courage on countless occasions.

Quicksilver – Evan Peters is a great Quicksilver and he is one of the best parts of this film. His relationship to Mystique and Magneto are fascinating and we see that he admires his dad but is ashamed of him too as he chooses not to tell him that he is Magneto’s son…He knows his dad turning on the villain at the end doesn’t rewrite all his past murders.

Mystique – Jennifer Lawrence is good as Mystique and her arc is making peace with herself again as we see her embrace her natural look by the end and become a member of the X-Men, helping to found the newest generation of them. She is a Mutant revolutionary in this as after the events of last film she represents mutant power to others and she continues to be the one who rescues them from harm.

Magneto – Fassbender is awesome as Magneto! In this we see him have a family in Poland only to lose it all when the locals panic, causing him to be manipulated by Apocalypse into one of his Horsemen. His arc is realizing that his friends are his family and that he isn’t alone. He still doesn’t trust people, and he has a lot of bad stuff he’s done…but by the end there is the man who will act for good for Mutants and all.

Professor X – Professor X’s arc involves him realizing how he is like Apocalypse (Apocalypse influences people to do his will) which leads to Xavier giving Moira back her memories as she is an ally (she sadly is just kind of there in regards to the script though…). Apocalypse captures him and wants to use his body as his next vessel so he can control everyone’s mind and see into everyone’s mind. Professor X fights it and with Jean Grey’s help is able to get Apocalypse out of his mind.

Jean Grey – Sophie Turner is a great Jean Grey and she actually has a decent arc! Her arc is releasing her full powers and in the process defeating Apocalypse. We see her afraid of what she sees and it mirrors Professor X’s journey. She is the best hero in this. Only complain is her American accent doesn’t always work.

Okay: Wolverine – Wolverine has a Cameo at Striker’s base and we see that he just got his claws. He reeks tons of havoc upon Striker’s forces and is only brought out of his feral state by Jean Grey, establishing why he’ll be attracted to her later. It wasn’t needed, but it wasn’t bad. Jackman continues to dominate this role.

The Other Horsemen – The other Horsemen are just kind of there and aren’t given much to do. Storm is a thief who later joins the X-Men, Angel is a fighter in a mutant fighter arena . Psylocke is an enforcer who turns against Apocalypse with Storm and Magneto at the end too. Though she might be possessed by Apocalypse’s spirit at the end, so I guess that is something that was done with her character at least.

Okay/Con: Apocalypse – Apocalypse seems bored most of the time.

The Cons: Direction and Cinematography – The direction looks like television…whether is the cheaper looking costumes or the cinematography that makes me appreciate the cinematography in “The Flash” more. When you are less than the CW, you are television level directing.

Stan Lee Cameo – The cameo happens when Apocalypse gets rid of the World’s nukes. It makes the scene funny when it should have been dramatic and serious.

Unfocused Narrative – The narrative felt unfocused at times, especially after we visit Striker’s base…

Costumes – The costumers look bad. The leather makes everything look big and it has none of the realism from the Marvel films or even the decent looking costumers the DC films.

Striker and his Base –  This whole side quest felt like a callback to X-2 as we are back at Striker’s base with a young Striker (didn’t Mystique replace him last film?) and he’s just there so we can have a human baddie to counter Apocalypse. More time could have been spent to develop Apocalypse and his motivations rather than this crap. Good action but pointless.

   As stated at the beginning this is the weakest in the New X-Men Trilogy that began with “First Class.” The production value doesn’t help, though the actors and characters add a lot to it and help elevate it beyond the cons making it a flawed but fun film that I wouldn’t watch again, but enjoyed while watching. This film is okay. If you are a fan of X-Men you will probably like it. Apocalypse could have been a much more interesting character and threat and his presentation just doesn’t work. The drama that works is when we are with the characters and their individual relationships trying to make their way in the world…and that is what made the film worth seeing.

Final Score: 6.4 / 10

Deadpool (2016): A Hilarious Satire of Super Hero Films and a Brilliant Action Film, Romance and Comedy

Deadpool poster

   “Deadpool” is hilarious. This is an action, comedy and romance that is self aware (like Deadpool in the comics who is aware he is in a comic) and from this we get a very tighly written story that explores his origin, mission and even gives him a pretty amazing arc. The film lived up to the hype and I would not at all be surprised if it makes my Top 5 of 2016. I haven’t laughed this hard during a film since “Guardians of the Galaxy” two years ago. This was a film that the Comic Book Film Universes needed with Marvel and the other X-Men films bittersweet drama and DC’s grimdark films.

    The film was directed by Tim Miller and written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick while being produced by Simon Kinberg, Ryan Reynolds and Lauren Shuler Donner.

SPOILERS ahead

     The story involves Deadpool’s origin and his quest for revenge against the man who  nearly destroys his life on multiple occasions while he proceeds to break the Fourth Wall and a bunch of other things along the way.

The Pros: The Soundtrack – From George Michael’s “Careless Whisper” to countless other songs with so much personality going on, Best choice of soundtrack in regards to comedy and drama since “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

The Opening Credits – The Opening Credits lampoon every superhero film, but espicially the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the X-Menverse by having examples of people as the villain being “A British Villain” the director being “An Overpaid Tool” the producers being “Asshats” and the writers being “The True Heroes of this Picture.” It’s gold all the way through and the best use of opening credits.

The References – Deadpool references not wanting to be in a green CGI suit (“Green Lantern) there is a Deadpool” action figure from “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” (and never in a good context, only to mock) as well as countless other things…from a fight on a dead Helocarrier and Bob being a member of Hydra technically. The show lets loose on all the things it draws inspiration from and lets Deadpool do his take-down from above the Fourth Wall.

Breaking the Fourth Wall – This happens throughout the film as Deadpool talks directly to the audience as he does in the comics. He’s comic relief and more which gives him the freedom to be the storyteller on occasion (this film as an example) which plays up the comedy but still keeps the heart as at the end of the day Deadpool is Wade Wilson.

The Characters – The X-Men cameos are awesome, the main leads are great and the only weak characters a few support characters and the villain…keeping up the the possibly purposeful theme of Marvel having a villain problem, as the story isn’t about them.

Blind Al – Is Deadpool’s roommate and has quite a history as she used to a crack addict and well…lives with Deadpool. She doesn’t put up with his crap though and is blunt to him on multiple occasions which he rewards with a cure for blindness and crack before he goes to his final fight. Leslie Uggams is fantastic.

Colossus – This dude is sincere and wonderful and wants Deadpool to be a good guy and X-Men. His interactions with him are gold as he preaches what it means to be a hero only to have Deadpool continue to walk all over him. He proves himself amazing on countless occasions though as Deadpool can’t hurt him at all and he manages to take out one of the two big bads. Stefan Kapicic did a great job.

Negasonic Teenage Warhead – This character is wonderful and does a good job at not letting Deadpool get under her skin. She even has a grudging respect for the guy by the end because he is honest in his crazy. Brianna Hildebrand is fantastic and really shines in the final battle as she saves Colossus and Deadpool a few times.

Vanessa – Morena Baccarine is awesome as Deadpool’s partner. She needs to be saved at one point but she shows herself to be the mature crazy one throughout the film and helps takeout the big bad. She is clearly one of the folks to come out of “Firefly” clearly making her own path in this genre and owning it as she is amazing “Gotham” and I want to see more Vanessa here. She accepts Deadpool (but is honest about the period she’ll need to accept how his body has been warped) but together they move on. They are both all about sex too as she was a hooker and their time montage is them having sex over a long time through many holidays.

Wade Wilson/Deadpool – Ryan Reynolds was perfect for this role and I’m glad he produced this. After the atrocity of “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” it is great seeing that he knows and loves sthis character and was able to put him so perfectly on the screen. From his breaking of the fourth wall, to his tragic backstory, to his growing up while still being insane and unstable…Deadpool is Deadpool, truly do more research on the guy as there is so much you will discover. I could write an essay on the character. This movie captures him so well and gives him all the arc he needs and lets him tell his story.

The Ending Credits – We get an animated Deadpool playing on the saxophone, making a unicorn jackoff and countless other imagse. It is cute, raunchy and adorable…it’s Deadpool.

The After Credits Scene – Deadpool asks the audience why they are still around but later tells us that Cable will be in the next “Deadpool” film and that he’s really cool before asking us to go again. This entire time he’s in his mask and wearing a pajama robes.

Okay: The Villains – They are both British or Britishesque with one whose name (Francis but trying to get people to call him “Ajax” being a ongoing joke) are okay but not all that memorable…it is a Deadpool film so there is that, but I got the MCU problem even though Fox isn’t a part of the MCU. I would have liked more done with the villains.

  This film is probably going to make my Top 5 at the end of the year. Rarely has a film made me laugh as much as this one did. This is a film that is worth checking out if you are okay with sex and violence (don’t take your kids to see this film if they are young), “Deadpool” knows it’s audience and is a brilliant satire that manages to have a beautiful love story be the core arc of the film. I cared about Wade and Vanessa and hope that wherever their future goes that they can continue to grow together in their crazy amazingness.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10