X-Men Apocalypse Review

Finally, a superhero series I’m actually interested in, the X-Men. Coming out two years before Sam Raimi’s Spiderman (thought by many to be the pivotal films for the superhero genre) X-Men showed how good superhero movies could be. And after watching Days Of Future Past literally 24 hours ago to be caught up with the entire franchise, now it’s time for the Apocalypse.

X-Men: Apocalypse stars James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence and Oscsar Isaac and is directed by Bryan Singer. The film follows the young X-Men as Apocalypse (Isaac) the first ever mutant comes back to wreak havoc on the world.

The great cast we all know and love are back. In addition to the old regulars we have newcomers such as Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan and my favourite, Kodi-Smitt McPhee, recast to bring back younger versions of Jean Grey, Cyclops and Nightcrawler respectively. But even with the frankly amazing cast, there are too many characters. The first X-Men film gave us maybe around seven main mutants to remember. Here we have way too many; Apocalypse and his Horsemen, the older group of X-Men and the younger mutants as well. Lots of critics and fans have been hating on Oscar Isaac for his portrayal as Apocalypse. Sure, he was a bit flat, like if Ultron hadn’t had the brilliant voice of James Spader and we never understood what his powers were, but overall he was fine in the role.

The over-crowding of the mutants brings the other problem of the film to the front, the script. With all these characters are their different sub-plots and character re-introductions; it’ll get to the point where it’s been well over half an hour before you get back to certain characters. Mystique and Nightcrawler’s introduction especially, there are massive gaps in their parts of the story. And due to the odd editing, it seems like the duo are stuck walking around East Berlin for a couple of days instead of going where they need to immediately. To continue with the script, the film isn’t as witty as the ones before, with only a few jokes coming from the naivety of Nightcrawler. Character development, which Days Of Future Past managed to have a lot of, seems to happen here in an instant, with characters changing allegiances in mere seconds, rather than over the 2 AND A HALF HOUR running time.

It’s weird; all I seem to do with superhero films is rant when I come down to writing the review. Even with a franchise that I like, it’s just that saying anything I did like would essentially be repeating myself over and over again. The cast is good, the action is good, the effects are good, but we all know this already from past films. That’s not to say that there aren’t new, interesting side-plots. Quicksilver copies his set-piece run from Days Of Future Past in Xavier’s school, set to Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams and it is honestly the best scene of the film. A scene with Apocalypse, which uses a Beethoven remix (if I’m correct) is also fun for the choice and use of classical music in that scene. It’s just I can’t really remember anything from the rest of the film clearly.

The last thing I want to talk about is the scale of the film. In Days Of Future Past, the final climactic battle takes place on the lawn of the White House. All of the energy of the film was focussed on that space. In Apocalypse, it’s major battle encompasses nearly the entire world. When it’s spaced out it loses something. To make a nerdy analogy; in Doctor Who when the Doctor first faced the Daleks, it was a big deal. Now they appear so frequently it’s lost all sense of emergency. It’s the same here. It feels too big, too dramatic, too weighed down. It just needed to back up a small amount.

In looking back and writing this review, Apocalypse wasn’t as good as I remembered it being. I enjoyed myself while I was in the theatre, but it’s not a great X-Men or superhero film, just good enough.

Score: 6/10 Days Of Future Past was better.

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens Review

Well, this film obviously needs no introduction. A film series that set off a thousand spawns and imitators, launching the young actors and actresses who starred in it into the stratosphere and the main creator into being one of the most famous (and now infamous) directors alive today. So let us have no further delay, and press on with Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens.

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens stars Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Peter Mayhew and is directed by JJ Abrams. Set thirty years after Episode VI, the film follows duo Rey (Ridley) and Finn (Boyega) as they try to deliver secret plans to the Resistance and attempt to fight a new threat to the Galactic Republic, The First Order.

Despite being a new trilogy, Episode VII is pretty much a love letter to the original trilogy and it’s fans. Many of the sets look like they’ve been ripped straight from the old series and given a polish (it’s seems all the planets in the entire galaxy are either deserts, snow or forests) and many of the old cast return for varying amounts of time. Unfortunately, it’s in these moments where I was the least interested in The Force Awakens and because JJ Abrams wants to mollify fanboys, he feels he has to make the film primarily about them rather than the more interesting new cast. It feels more like a fan service film rather than an actually good film.

The new cast is primarily Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Oscar Isaac, who all excel at their roles. Isaac is well known for his work in cinema and look’s like he’s having the time of his life as ace fighter pilot Poe, but the most praise should go to Ridley and Boyega. While the duo have both done some acting work before, they are relative newcomers compared to Isaac, and they both deliver in the action and the emotion. It looks like Abrams is setting up a new Luke/Leia/Han trio, but with some surprising reveals during act two and three show that it’s going to be hard to pin down which new character is meant to link up with their older counterpart. Sadly, the script does it’s best to try and destroy the chemistry between the three, with many instances of characters sitting down and explaining what has been happening in the time between the films to camera.

In an attempt to harken back to the originals, a lot more emphasis has been put on model work and puppets rather than excessive CGI. The creative teams behind Star Wars have done a fantastic job at creating several believable worlds and aliens that require no added computer wizardry, including the little R2D2 clone BB-8, who was a real-life prop instead of a CGI creation. The CGI that has been used however, looks great. The lightsabers have exquisite detailing, and it’s a joy to watch them get thrown around by the cast. Unlike the light-rods of previous films, the sabers here pop and fizzle, with Dark Lord Kylo Ren’s claymore lightsaber reacting with the falling snow during one battle, making it flicker and fade during the fight.

The Force Awakens leaves me sad however. Say what you will about the prequels, but at least they had a narrative ending. It seems now, with the sequel-bait at the end of Episode VII, and Disney planning on releasing a Star Wars based film every year, I feel as though we are never going to get a satisfying closure to film in this franchise ever again.

In summary, Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens has a great cast and a compelling intellectual property, but there just seems to be something lacking, a disturbance in the force if you will. Maybe it’s due to there not being much narrative flair, or the rather dull and expository script, or how it tries to evoke so much of the previous films that it doesn’t carve out it’s own niche in the series. I can’t fault Abrams for his enthusiasm, but I find his lack of new material…disturbing.

Score: 7/10 It’s good. It’s not great.

Ex Machina Review

Ex Machina marks Alex Garland’s first foray into directing, making the film his first “proper” auteur piece. And while the film’s exploration into the near-future of artificial intelligence is dark and unnerving (in that signature Garland way), it is unfortunate that it isn’t as good as the other films in the genre.

Ex Machina (coming from the Latin phrase Deus Ex Machina, meaning “God From The Machine”) is about a young IT intern named Caleb (played by Domhnall Gleeson) who after winning a prize from his company gets to spend a week with its reclusive owner Nathan (played by Oscar Isaac). It is during this week that Nathan shows off his newest invention to Caleb, an almost fully functioning AI called Ava (played by Alicia Vikander), who starts to interact with Caleb.

First off, I like Alex Garland. Whether it’s The Beach, 28 Days Later or even Enslaved: Odyssey To The West, the man knows how to write a compelling story, and that is one of Ex Machina’s strongest points. The dialogue spoken between our three leads (there are other characters but most of the film is spent within these three company) has been planned out methodically, with many references to science, art, religion and philosophy, with scientists such as J. Robert Oppenheimer and his infamous “I have become death” quote from the Bhavagad Gita being used or Nathan’s fascination with Jackson Pollock’s creative process. But fundamentally, that is also Ex Machina’s problem. It feels like a grab-bag of many ideas that it doesn’t get to carve out its own ideas on the genre, instead using other people and themes to parallel the characters in the film.

On to a more positive note, the acting in the film is top-notch, with Alicia Vikander performing a standout role as Ava. Her time spent as a ballet dancer can be seen throughout her movement in the film, to the point where it looks like she almost glides across the modernist sets. Oscar Isaac is also worthy of mention as Nathan, who seems to be reprising his role from The Two Faces of January, of a man who is devilishly charming yet there is something brewing under the surface. Domhnall Gleeson meanwhile, seems to be getting type casted in the quiet role again. He’s a perfectly fine actor in Ex Machina, but after About Time, Calvary and his stint in Black Mirror he does seem to be filling the role of a shy, socially awkward character, and it would be nice to see him branch out into a different role.

The film does present some of Garland’s signature unnerving moments, one scene that springs to mind is a montage when Caleb finally realises what Nathan is actually up to in his research facility and why he was integral to the creation of Ava, ending with a freeze frame of a security camera which shows a picture that is quite unsettling (no spoilers). Garland does these scenes well and they fit with the overall tone of the film, with the ending suitably Garland-esque, which stays with you long after the film has ended, leaving you pondering the aspects that were left hanging.

Overall, Ex Machina wants to be a film about big ideas, but comes off as not being as smart as it thinks it is. With the aforementioned Jackson Pollock painting and conversation about it (again no spoilers) becoming a recurring motif, or the fact that there are seven “sessions” of Ava coming to life (I see what you did there with the number Garland), it feels like there was something bigger waiting in the wings but then was never actually revealed.

This does however; signal the start of a trend in films, with Big Hero 6 before it and Chappie coming in March, 2015 seems to be the year of the Artificial Intelligence.

Score: 7/10, Interesting and laced with meaning, but feels like there is something lacking.