X-Men: Apocalypse (2016, Bryan Singer)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

A powerful, ancient mutant is awoken in 1983 and begins his quest to wipe out humanity so the world can start again. The X-Men, including some young additions to the team, stand in his way…

Get used to multiples names…
* Charles Xavier aka Professor X (James McAvoy) is now running a private school so he can covertly help young mutants come to terms with their powers. During the action climax, he loses all his hair – we knew that would happen at some point!
* Erik Lehnsherr aka Magneto (Michael Fassbender) has gone to ground since the events of X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) He’s living under an assumed name (Magneto incognito?) with a new wife and daughter in Poland. But when they’re killed, he goes ape and joins forces with the film’s main bad guy.
* Raven Darkhölme aka Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) is off on her own when we first see her, helping mutants in places like East Berlin, but soon gets seconded back into the X-Men team.
* En Sabah Nur aka Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) is possibly the first ever mutant, is incredibly powerful, and has been asleep since being betrayed in Ancient Egypt. When he wakes up he’s grouchy, so decides to kill everybody… Well, aside from a few handpicked acolytes: Psylocke (Olivia Farrington– I mean Munn), Ororo Munroe aka Storm (Alexandra Shipp) and Angel (Ben Hardy). Storm defects to the good guys at the end. Psylocke sneaks off, hoping to be in the sequel.
* Hank McCoy aka Beast (Nicholas Hoult) is still Xavier’s right-hand man.
* CIA agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) has no memory of her involvement in the events of X-Men: First Class (2011) because Charles used mind-control to give her amnesia. But she helps the team defeat Apocalypse. There’s a joke about how she looks like she hasn’t aged a day – it’s been 21 years since we last saw her, fictionally speaking! – and she mentions her son, which is seeding a potential plot for a future film.
* After his scene-stealing spot in X-Men: Days of Future Past, Peter Maximoff aka Quicksilver (Evan Peters) returns for an *even more inventive and entertaining* set-piece here, as well as generally getting more to do. It’s also confirmed that he’s Erik’s son.
* The junior members of the team – X-Men: the Next Generation? – include younger versions of characters from the original trilogy: Scott Summers aka Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), and Kurt Wagner aka Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee).
* Alex Summers aka Havok (Lucas Till) appears in his third X-Men movie.

Stan Lee cameo: During Apocalypse’s apocalyptic apocalypse, Stan Lee and his wife, Joan, appear as an elderly couple looking on in horror. It’s a lot more sombre than his usual cameos.

Crossovers and continuity: There are a few elements that are contradicted or expanded in other movies.
* Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) has a surprise cameo when the characters break into a secret research base. Because we’re now in an alternative time (thanks, Days of Future Past!) he’s kinda going through a different version of the events seen in X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009). To be frank, the sequence is self-indulgent and slows the pace. The film wouldn’t suffer if it had been cut.
* William Stryker also crops up: this is the character’s fourth X-Men film, but it’s the first time an actor’s played him twice.
* The character of Angel had been in X-Men: The Last Stand (2006). His age makes no sense here.
* The film’s post-credits scene seems to be teasing the next solo Wolverine movie, which is due out in March 2017.

A comic-fan writes… Because I know next to nothing about the source material, I’ve asked my friend Fraser Dickson to talk about this film: “I was never a fan of Apocalypse in the comics. He seemed like this generic big bad who just wanted to rule the world. All a bit old-fashioned in comparison to the other more nuanced threats the X-Men were facing in print at that time. Unfortunately, for me, this film ended up re-enforcing that view. I say ended up because I really liked the new cast and it set off at a sprint developing into an enjoyable caper movie that really built on the strengths of First Class and ignored the worst of Days Of Future Past. Then came the world-ending CGI, which dwarfed the individual battles and stories being told and sent us back to generic disaster-movie territory with a blank villain at its centre, which, for me, sold short an otherwise enjoyable reboot…”

Review: There *are* problems. This is yet another bloody superhero film with a climax that consists of CGI buildings being destroyed. (Dear Hollywood: we’re all bored of that now. Think up something new.) And the bad guy’s not exactly what you call nuanced. But on the whole this is entertaining stuff. For a start, it shows recent rivals Avengers: Age of Ultron and Captain America: Civil War – two movies that sag under the weight of too many characters and subplots – how to do a big-budget action film where everyone feels like a vital cog in the machine. The story has been smartly constructed so that nearly every character has a journey or a moment to shine, while the younger cast in particular are likeable, fun and work well as a team. There’s also a joyful 1980s-ness to the whole thing: Kurt wears a Michael Jackson Thriller jacket, characters go to see Return of the Jedi and make a self-deprecating gag about trilogies, there are themes of nuclear war, and Ally Sheedy pops up in a small role. Two hours zip by very enjoyably.

Eight Brooklyn Bridges out of 10

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Deadpool (2016, Tim Miller)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Heavy-for-hire Wade Wilson is diagnosed with terminal cancer so signs up for a radical new treatment. It saves his life but turns him into a disfigured mutant superhero…

Get used to multiples names… Note: the witty credits sequence uses the following labels.
* God’s perfect idiot… Wade Wilson aka Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) is a mercenary who earns money by scaring off bullies. After learning he has cancer, he volunteers for an experimental treatment. However, after the bad guys reveal it’s actually a ruse to turn him into a slave, he seeks revenge using the nickname Deadpool… This is a second go at playing the character for Ryan Reynolds, although this movie ignores the events of X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009).
* A hot chick… Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) is a prostitute who Wade meets, falls in love with and wants to marry. She’s a classic hooker-with-a-heart, but also gets some droll comedy. Although not a part of this story, Vanessa is herself a superhero (called Copycat) in the source comic. Olivia Munn was offered the role but turned it down, saying she didn’t want to play ‘the girlfriend’. So instead she played Personality-Free Sidekick #38 in the next X-Men film. Her loss. Vanessa’s a better character.
* A British villain… Francis Freeman aka Ajax (Ed Skrein) is the bad guy. A mutant scientist who wants to create an army of slaves, he can’t feel pain. He has a sidekick called Angel Dust (played by former MMA fighter Gina Carano).
* The comic relief… Weasel (TJ Miller) runs a bar frequented by freelance mercenaries and is Wade’s laidback, wisecracking buddy.
* A moody teen… Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) is a young member of the X-Men, who turns up to help stop Wade’s carnage. She’s a minor character in the comic books and has been given new powers, personality and backstory here. The writers just liked the name, it seems.
* A CGI character… Colossus (Stefan Kapičić) is another member of the X-Men. He’s been in the film series a few times, of course, though sadly the original actor refused to appear this time round because they wanted to dub his dialogue.
* A gratuitous cameo… See next section.

Stan Lee cameo: We spot the great man in the strip-joint scene. “You can’t buy love,” he says. “But you can rent it for three minutes.”

Crossovers and continuity: There are a few elements that are contradicted or expanded in future movies.
* Deadpool featured as a secondary character in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. He was even played by Ryan Reynolds. But while there are gags referencing that movie – one about sewing up his mouth, for example – fictionally speaking this is a reboot.
* Colossus, as mentioned, was in four previous X-Men movies (2000-2014). In those films he was played by Daniel Cudmore, who was offered this gig but turned it down. We also visit Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, though all the famous characters are out. (When told he’ll meet Professor X, Deadpool asks whether it’ll be “Stewart or McAvoy” – a gag about the two actors who play the character.)
* The post-credits scene is a spoof of probably cinema’s best ever post-credits scene, the one at the end of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. It also jokingly teases a possible Deadpool sequel.

A comic-fan writes… Because I know next to nothing about the source material, I’ve asked my friend Rebecca Levene to talk about this film: “Is Deadpool the best of all the X-Men movies? I’m sure Deadpool himself would say so, and that’s good enough for me. When Deadpool was first introduced to the Marvel comics universe in the 1990s he was just another ultra-macho, gun-toting antihero drawn in the inimitable over-muscled style of Rob Liefeld. Thankfully all that remains of that original character are the pouches. And everything about this movie, from the ultra-violence and the sweariness to the unexpected sweetness and of course the regular fourth-wall breaking is true to the spirit of the current comics Deadpool that Ryan Reynolds so vocally adores. This movie was a labour of love, and while it’s rough at times, noticeably lower budget than any others in the current run of the franchise, that love wins out. Which, bizarrely enough, is also the message of the movie itself.”

Review: Lots of swearing, lots of graphic violence, lots of risqué jokes, lots of pop-culture references, lots of clichés being spoofed, a bit of nudity, and a character who talks to the camera, knows he’s in a film and even references the actor who’s playing him? This is 100 minutes of fun. It’s routinely laugh-out-loud funny and despite all the in-jokes and asides and references (of which there are *dozens*) there’s genuine emotion on show too. Wade and Vanessa have tremendous chemistry, and like in Galaxy Quest or The Lego Movie, the tone might be irreverent and sarcastic yet you also care about the central characters. That’s a great trick. The film’s mid-range budget – you could make four of these for one X-Men: Days of Future Past – might show a bit too often, but if anything the done-on-a-laptop CGI just makes the experience more likeable. It’s an underdog with attitude.

Nine bits of Vancouver standing in for New York out of 10

X-Men: Days of Future Past: The Rogue Cut (2015, Bryan Singer)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

A year after the release of X-Men: Days of Future Past, a different edit was made available on Blu-ray and DVD. Called The Rogue Cut because the most attention-grabbing addition was an entirely new subplot concerning that character, it’s around 17 minutes longer than the original. I’ve already written about the theatrical print, so this review is concerned with the changes made in 2015. It’s far from a full list. I’m just mentioning what I spotted and thought interesting…

* During the opening action sequence, we now see a glimpse or two of a temporary shrine the characters have built to fallen comrades. Aww.
* The minor characters in the future stuff now have a discussion about the pros and cons of changing history. “My people need to vote,” says Bishop as it concludes. Charles looks round the group, reading their thoughts: “They just did,” he says. “They’re in.”
* Kitty and Bobby share a moment – and a kiss – as she prepares to send Wolverine back in time.
* After Logan gets to 1973 and wakes up in bed with a woman called Gwen, his fight with some goons is more violent. There’s then an extra scene. He steals a heavy’s car and finds Gwen in the passenger seat. She clearly knows the 1970s Logan well, but this version just tells her to get out. As he drives away, we hear a radio news report about the end of the Vietnam War and see the World Trade Centre in the background – further reinforcements of the time period.
* In the 70s, when Logan, Charles and Hank need to find Quicksilver’s address, Logan laments that they don’t have the internet.
* There’s a new exchange at Quicksilver’s house: Logan trades a bit of banter with Quicksilver’s younger sister and there’s also mention of a third sibling (a nod to the fact that Quicksilver has a twin sister in the comics).
* Nixon’s first line while he watches news reports about mutants – “Fuck me!” – had been cut from the original version. A little while later another line has been reinstated – “I don’t care who you screw,” he says to Trask, “as long as it’s not me.”
* In the original version, the comatose Logan in the future scenes lashes out and injures Kitty. She then has to maintain the time-travel trance while bleeding. In this cut, however, Bobby suggests they find Rogue – a character from the original X-Men trilogy – so she can take Kitty’s place. It’s the headline change to the movie, and has a huge affect on the third quarter.
* Another huge change happens around this time too. In the original cut, Charles talks to Raven via telepathy and infers that she’s heading for Washington. That information has been removed from this version, though, and we cut to a new scene of Hank and Logan. Hank asks if he makes it in the future and Logan deadpans, “No.” (In the original, this exchange happens later on. Of course, that scene’s been trimmed out of this edit.)
* The new stuff continues… Hank is watching TV coverage about Trask when he hears a sound in the house and finds that Raven has sneaked in. She says she had nowhere else to go and kisses him. As they make out they turn into their (coincidentally both blue) mutant forms. He says she’s beautiful, which is a reference to a conversation they had in X-Men: First Class, but then pulls away and walks off. (That’s more willpower than I’d have, mate.)
* Then there’s a lovely dissolve from an exterior shot of the house in 1973 to the house in the war-torn future. In the 2020s, Charles, Erik and Bobby break into Charles’s former home to rescue Rogue. All this stuff is intercut with familiar shots of the 1973 Erik breaking into a government building. The crosscutting is really good, and was clearly the original intention during filming.
* In 1973 there’s a new scene of Raven sneaking into Cerebro and smashing up the equipment. After she’s left, she heads for Washington and we’re back into the original cut’s storyline.
* In the future, Rogue reaches the temple. Kitty learns that Bobby has been killed during the mission. Rogue then takes Kitty’s place by Logan’s side. (In the 70s, meanwhile, Logan somehow senses that Rogue is now in charge of his time-travelling.)
* In the White House sequence, Charles has a chat with an injured serviceman, who asks why he can’t walk. “Friendly fire,” says Charles.
* A new post-credits scene shows Trask in the same kind of prison that once held Erik. He’s grown a beard.

Review: The additions are good in and of themselves, and the flow of the storytelling is impressive when you see them in context. But it’s easy to see why the Rogue subplot was cut in 2014. It’s a tangent, a diversion, that doesn’t contribute anything new. Losing it didn’t damage the story. The Raven/Hank scenes were perhaps a greater loss, as they flesh out two key characters, though the pace was undoubtedly zippier without Raven’s visit to the house.

Eight Central Parks out of 10

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014, Bryan Singer)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

In the near future, a war is waging between mutants and robot killers called Sentinals. Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr realise their only hope for victory is to send Wolverine back in time to prevent the fighting ever starting…

Get used to multiples names…
* Charles Xavier aka Professor X (Patrick Stewart and James McAvoy) is just one of numerous characters who we see in both the 2020s and the 1970s – hence two actors playing the role. The main body of the film takes place in the past: it’s been 11 years since the events of X-Men: First Class (2011); Charles has been abandoned by most of his friends and is also a junkie. The drugs help him walk but subdue his telepathic powers.
* The action opening features a number of newly seen mutants fighting the Sentinals: Blink (Fan Bingbing), Warpath (Booboo Stewart), Sunspot (Adan Canto) and Bishop (Omar Sy). Bobby Drake (Shawn Ashmore) and Colossus (Daniel Cudmore) from the original trilogy are also part of the team, as is…
* Kitty Pryde (Ellen Paige) is using her powers to evade the Sentinals. The plan sees her send a colleague’s consciousness back in time to warn their past selves of upcoming attacks. (Keeping up?) She uses the same trick to send Wolverine to 1973. She then has to spend the rest of the film holding her hands either side of his sleeping head.
* Ororo Monroe aka Storm (Halle Berry) is still fighting with Professor X and still doesn’t have much to do.
* Logan aka Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is the movie’s lynchpin. His consciousness is sent from the 2020s into his 1973 body (very Desmond-in-Lost). He gets the gig because a) his mutant healing powers mean he has the best chance of surviving such a procedure, and b) he doesn’t age so Jackman can play the character throughout.
* Erik Lehnsherr aka Magneto (Ian McKellen and Michael Fassbender) is, in the future scenes, working with Charles and the others. But they’re estranged in the 1970s. Since the events of First Class, he’s been arrested for killing JFK and locked up in a cell under the Pentagon.
* Boliver Trask (Peter Dinklage) is the bad guy of the story. In 1973 he plans to build robots who can hunt down mutants. Ironically, however, the war in the future is the direct result of his death in 1973. So Wolverine has been sent back to save his life.
* Raven Darkhölme aka Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) has found out about Trask’s plans so is plotting to assassinate him. However, she doesn’t realise that this will lead to war. Since filming First Class, Jennifer Lawrence had won an Oscar and become a huge star, which might explain why the usually minor Mystique is so crucial to this plot. (That’s being cynical, of course: her storyline works well.)
* A scene in an army base in Vietnam features William Stryker (John Helman), Alex Summers (Lucas Till) and Toad (Evan Jonigkeit) – all characters seen in previous films.
* Hank McCoy aka Beast (Nicholas Haunt and Kelsey Grammer) is still at Charles’s side in the 70s. In the new future timeline we see at the end of the film, Kelsey Grammer features in one shot.
* Peter Maximoff aka Quicksilver (Evan Peters) is a young lad who Charles and Wolverine recruit to help free Erik from jail. His mutant power is that he can move at lightening speed. After the prison-break sequence, he goes home – presumably because he’d be able to solve any problem the team encounter and the film would lose any tension. There are hints that Peter might be Erik’s son. (A couple of months before this film came out, Quicksilver also debuted in the Avengers series of movies. He’s played by a different actor in those films, and is not intended to be the same guy as here.)
* President Richard Nixon (Mark Camacho) features a bit. There’s a gag about switching off the tape recorder he has stashed in the Oval Office.
* The alternative future seen at the end of the film features cameos from old characters Rogue (Anna Paquin), Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) and Scott Summers (James Marsden) – the latter two had been killed off in X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) and are being used to here to demonstrate how Wolverine has changed the past.

Crossovers and continuity: There are a few elements that are contradicted or expanded in future movies.
* The fact Charles is alive in the future – despite dying in X-Men: The Last Stand – was addressed in Easter-egg scenes in that film and The Wolverine (2013).
* When Raven finds autopsy photos in Trask’s office, they’re of First Class characters such as Azazel and Angel. Erik later specifies that other mutants such as Emma Frost and Banshee have also died in the last 10 years.
* Stryker mentions his son, Jason, who appeared as a grown-up in X2 (2003).
* As mentioned, the happy ending resurrects Jean and Scott, who died in The Last Stand.
* A post-credits scene set in Ancient Egypt teases the 2016 film X-Men: Apocalypse.

A comic-fan writes… Because I know next to nothing about the source material, I’ve asked my friend Johnathon Hughes to talk about this film: “Where the other films cherry-picked elements of plots from the long history of the comics, Days of Future Past is the first in the series to adapt one single story – even using it as the movie’s subtitle. In many ways it’s the ultimate X-Men story – a balanced mix of serious social comment (genocide, political corruption, hate crimes) with sci-fi/fantasy thrills (time travel and cool robots). It’s one of the more overtly political comic-book stories: published in 1980 on the eve of the US election that saw Ronald Reagan become President, it warns this is an integral point in history for mutants and predicts dark days ahead if they don’t act now, represented in the ravaged future timeline (set in 2013!). It’s hard not to read this as a statement on right-wing Republicanism that marginalised minorities, and reaffirms the allegory of mutant mistrust to society’s treatment of gay and ethnic communities. There are inevitable tweaks in the film, the biggest being that Wolverine is sent back from the future, not Kitty, but this is understandable as Kitty would not have been born in 1973 going by the chronology (up to this point) of the films. Plus Wolverine doesn’t age and Hugh Jackman’s star power makes him the more obvious choice as a protagonist who can straddle both timelines of the film franchise. And it’s anti-mutant politician Senator Kelly (played by Bruce Davison in the first two films) not Boliver Trask that Mystique plans to assassinate in the past. But in terms of the overall concept, themes and tone it’s pretty faithful to the source material. The post-apocalyptic future and design of the Sentinels are particularly well realised. As one of the most revered comic-book stories of all time, there’s no need to really mess about with it.”

Alternative version: A few months after this film’s release, an extended version called The Rogue Cut was released on DVD. There are a number of significant changes, so I’ll blog about that separately.

Review: There’s plenty to enjoy here, especially if like me you’ve recently seen all the previous movies again. This is one for the fans: if you’re a newcomer, good luck. Days of Future Past is a sequel to both the original trilogy and X-Men: First Class, and it assumes a level of knowledge and understanding. Marry that with a complex, time-shifting plot and it can be a struggle to keep with the mechanics of what’s going on. A second (or in my case third) viewing really helps, though, and it’s worth the effort. The first 15 minutes are necessarily grim – very Tech Noir, very The Terminator, very purple – but then it’s great fun once Wolverine wakes up in 1973 and the parallels with TV show Life on Mars start to mount up. There’s fish-out-of-water comedy, lots of action, lots of sci-fi trappings… but with Bryan Singer back as director the film never forgets to focus on character and story rather than explosions or paradoxes. If there’s one major flaw, it’s the nagging sense that the structure falls between two stools. As lovely as it is on a geek level to see the original cast and the First Class actors all involved in the same story, the future characters feel perfunctory and functional. (It must be the least-demanding acting Ian McKellen’s ever done on a job.) But with sequences such as the Pentagon heist, we’re often back to the swagger of First Class. Good fun.

Eight Eiffel Towers out of 10

The Wolverine (2013, James Mangold)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Haunted by the death of his love Jean Grey, Wolverine travels to Japan to say goodbye to a dying friend…

Get used to multiples names…
* Logan aka Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) maintains his record of appearing in every film in this series. At the start he’s mopping around after the events of X-Men: The Last Stand, and has long hair and a beard. Just in case you don’t get the theme, he soon encounters a wounded bear in the woods. He cleans himself up once he arrives in Japan for the film’s main storyline.
* Yashida (played by both Haruhiko Yamanouchi and Ken Yamamura) is the head of a large Japanese technology company. Logan first meets him in a Second World War prisoner-of-war camp, when they in turn save each other’s lives. In the present day, the elderly Yashida dies, which creates a power vacuum in his family. However, during the action climax, we learn that he’s still alive – his death was faked in order to con Wolverine out of his immortal mutation.
* Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) died (for a second time) when Logan was forced to kill her in the last film (well, the last one in terms of the series’s internal chronology), so here appears as a figment of Logan’s imagination. She comes to him in his dreams, dressed in negligee, for some really boring scenes. It’s nice of Logan to imagine his dead love at the age she would have been if she’d lived.
* Yukio (Rila Fukushima) is a Japanese mutant who can predict people’s deaths. She finds Logan in Canada and takes him to Japan. It ain’t the greatest performance you’ll ever see.
* Shingen Yashida (Hiroyuki Sanada, who played a very boring character in Lost) is Yashida’s son. He plots to murder his own daughter so he can control the family business.
* Mariko Yashida (Tao Okamoto) inherits the company when her grandfather ‘dies’ – which immediately puts her life at risk. Logan protects her: they go on the run and fall for each other.
* Dr Green aka Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova) is a mutant with a reptile-like tongue and an ability to shed her skin. She’s doing scientific work with Yashida, then becomes increasingly obvious as a bad sort. Unfortunately, the character is reminiscent of Poison Ivy from Batman & Robin, especially in the final act when she dresses up in a green superhero costume for some reason.
* Noburo Mori (Brian Tee) is a government minister and is engaged to Mariko. He’s a bit of a shit.
* Kenuichio Harada (Will Yun Lee) is a ninja-type who protects the Yashida family’s interests.

Crossovers and continuity: There are a few elements that are contradicted or expanded in other movies.
* We see a photo of Logan and Storm from X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), reinforcing that this film – unlike the first Wolverine solo movie – is set *after* the X-Men trilogy.
* In a mid-credits scene, Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr show up at an airport and ask for Logan’s help. It’s a lead-in to the next X-Men film, which was due out the following year. Logan is stunned to see Charles alive and well: the character had died in X-Men: The Last Stand, after all, though was resurrected in a post-credits Easter egg. Additionally, Erik had lost his mutant powers in that previous movie but has them back now.

Review: This is a simple, solid, enjoyable story – a pleasant change from the crash-bang-wallop of most recent comic-book films. It’s also nice, after five X-Men films heavy of continuity, to have a self-contained adventure. There are far fewer characters than usual and it’s often quite contemplative (well, at least until the CG-heavy finale). The well-staged prologue, which sees Logan imprisoned by the Japanese in the Second World War, throws us straight into story, sets up the main antagonist and shows off Logan’s mutations for newcomers. Then as the plot progresses – built on the nice if obvious parallel of Logan as a rōnin, a samurai without a master – there’s clearly more style and purpose on show than in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. The action sequences, for example, feel like a comic-book come to life. There are dramatic compositions in many frames, arch ‘hero shots’ of characters fighting, even visible whooshes of weapons. But it’s not all good news. The story has too many characters temporarily fingered as the ‘bad guy’ – Shingen, Noburo, Green, Yashida – so when we finally get the reveal of who’s behind it all the tension has fizzled out. The Jean Grey scenes are dull, heavy-handed and unnecessary. The final act gets a bit silly. And the script lacks wit, even if a decent joke about throwing someone into a swimming pool has been stolen from Diamonds Are Forever. A fun couple of hours, if nothing extraordinary.

Seven Ueno Stations out of 10

X-Men: First Class (2011, Matthew Vaughn)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Two young mutants, Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr, join forces while trying to defeat a man who’s hell-bent on starting World War Three…

Get used to multiples names…
* In this prequel to the X-Men trilogy, which is mostly set in 1962, Charles Xavier aka Professor X is a 24-year-old academic and telepath. He’s played by James McAvoy, who does a decent job of evoking the spirit of Patrick Stewart’s performance without resorting to an impression. (He also has hair: there are two separate jokes about him losing it.)
* Charles’s childhood pal Raven Darkhölme aka Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) is a shapeshifter. Her subplot is about how she feels ashamed by her blue skin, so she hides as a “normal”-looking woman. A colleague who fancies her tells her to take medication that will keep her looking Caucasian, explaining that her natural appearance will never be considered attractive. Oh, come on. Jennifer Lawrence painted blue is still sexier than most people not painted blue.
* The young version of Erik Lehnsherr aka Magneto is played by Michael Fassbender, who’s doing a James Bond audition until the character goes a bit loopy and turns evil. As with McAvoy and Patrick Stewart, you easily sense Ian McKellen lurking behind the eyes here. (During the action climax, though, Fassbender’s Irish accent becomes very apparent – was there not the time to fix it with an ADR session?)
* The chief villain is Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), a mutant who wants to provoke the US and the Soviet Union into nuclear war. He has a few hangers-on: Emma Frost (played appallingly by a lifeless January Jones), Azazel (Jason Flemyng) and Janos Quested aka Riptide (Álex González).
* Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) is a young CIA agent who helps Charles, as well as sharing an attraction with him. She’s the wrong age, given that we saw her in her 30s in X-Men: The Last Stand… but she also strips down to her underwear in her first scene, so swings and roundabouts. Her boss is a CIA guy who doesn’t get named for some reason (played by Oliver Platt).
* Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult) is an engineering genius who joins the team of good guys and is attracted to Raven. He injects himself with a mutant ‘cure’, but just ends up making his mutation more pronounced. Hashtag dramatic irony.
* In a joyful montage of Charles and Erik recruiting young mutants to their cause, we meet Angel Salvadore (Zoë Kravitz), Armando Muñoz aka Darwin (Edi Gathegi), Alex Summers aka Havok (Lucas Till) and Sean Cassidy aka Banshee (Caleb Landry Jones).
* Michael Ironside, credited as M. Ironside for some reason, plays a US Navy captain.

Crossovers and continuity: There are a few elements that are contradicted or expanded in other movies.
* Moira’s age (the actress was 32) doesn’t tally with her being clearly no more than 40 in X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), which is set four decades later.
* The original movie trilogy had no hint that Charles and Raven were childhood buddies.
* Emma Frost had been in X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009), though this is a brand-new take on the character.
* There’s a CIA agent called Stryker and there’s mention of his son, William – ie, the villain we’ve previously seen in X2 (2003) and X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
* Alex Summers is the brother of Scott Summers, a character seen in X-Men (2000), X2, X-Men: The Last Stand, X-Men Origins: Wolverine and X-Men: Apocalypse (2016).
* In the recruitment montage, Hugh Jackman has an uncredited cameo as Wolverine (a moment possible because the character doesn’t age). Charles and Erik find him sat in a bar and start their pitch, but he just tells them to go fuck themselves. It’s the biggest laugh in the movie.
* In a scene where Raven is flirting with Erik, he says, “Maybe in a few years…” So she morphs into a more mature version of herself – cutely played by Rebecca Romijn, the actress who played the character in the original trilogy.

Review: What fun. This is fast, breezy and confident – a superhero film with heart, laughs and momentum. Though the film is directed by Matthew Vaughn, the fact Bryan Singer returned to the series as producer and storyliner (having been away making Superman Returns amongst other jobs) must be significant. We’re back to the character-based storytelling Singer used so well in X-Men and X2. Themes and plots are delivered via character dialogue, intrigue, slices of genuine history, jokes and action beats. But Vaughn’s contribution is clearly important too. It’s a well-cast film (mostly), and there’s real panache on show. Directorial flourishes include a sudden switch of POV during the first Erik/Sebastian scene, good use of reflections, expressionist framings and even some split-screens. There’s also a lovely sense of period. It’s almost like watching a Bond film from the 60s: effortless cool and swagger, helped by fine incidental music and gorgeous design. But there is one nagging problem. Is the 1960s-ness being used to justify a fair amount of sexism? Raven’s neuroses are about her feminine appearance; Emma flounces around half-naked; Moira strips down to her underwear to pose as an escort; while Angel is a sex worker who defects to the bad guys on a whim. Perhaps the filmmakers would argue these things are in keeping with the old-school tone, but it’s still a disappointment – especially when actors as talented as Rose Byrne and Jennifer Lawrence are in the cast. Notwithstanding that issue, the movie does wow. Most impressively it strikes precisely the right balance between taking the story seriously and having some fun with it. There’s a great scene, for example, where the younger mutants joke about how they should all have secret codenames. Comedy, plotting, character information and comic-book conventions are all being serviced at the same time. Tremendous.

Nine Radcliffe Cameras out of 10

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009, Gavin Hood)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Immortal mutant James Logan takes part in a scientific experiment and is injected with a metal called adamantium…

Get used to multiples names…
* James Logan (Hugh Jackman) adopts the name Wolverine in this prequel to the X-Men trilogy. The film is the story of his life up to and including the moment he loses his memory.
* Logan’s childhood friend Victor Creed, who becomes one of the movie’s main villains, is played by Liev Schreiber. Early on we learn that the two share a father. Notwithstanding that, an actor who looks similar to Hugh Jackman has been cast as Logan’s mum’s husband.
* For the second time in three X-Men films, William Stryker features. As this film is set 20 years before X2, he’s been recast: Danny Huston has taken over from Brian Cox.
* In the early 1970s, Logan is seconded into a military squad of mutants. One of the team is played by Ryan Reynolds and is later experimented on by Stryker and becomes a zombie-like creature called Deadpool. Other mutants in the squad include Fred J Dukes, who’s later known as the Blob after putting on a ridiculous amount of weight (Kevin Durand), Chris Bradley (Dominic Monaghan), John Wraith (will.i.am) and Zero (Daniel Henney).
* While hiding out in Canada Logan has a boring girlfriend, Kayla (Lynn Collins). She may as well be called Character Who Gets Killed To Make The Hero Angry. (She later shows up again: it’s revealed she’s a mutant too and her death was staged.)
* On the run, Wolverine is given aid by an elderly couple (Max Cullen and Julia Blake) who may as well be called Mr and Mrs Convenient Characters Who Help The Hero Before Getting Killed.
* When Wolverine needs information about Styker’s base, he asks the only mutant to have ever escaped: Remy LeBeau aka Gambit (Taylor Kitsch).

Crossovers and continuity: There are a few elements that will be contradicted or expanded in future movies.
* William Stryker had featured in X2 (2003) and will also crop up in the First Class trilogy (2011-2016). In this film he mentions having a son, who we then see briefly: the son is also in X2. Stryker’s secret base at Alkali Lake is also seen in X-Men (2000), X2 and X-Men: Apocalypse (2016).
* Deadpool got a whole film to himself in 2016. Although still played by Ryan Reynolds, it’s a different take on the character.
* Both this movie’s Victor and Sabretooth from 2000’s X-Men are based on the same comic-book character, though it’s open to debate whether they’re meant to be the same man in the film series.
* We meet a teenager called Scott Summers (Tim Pocock). The grown-up Scott was one of the good guys in the 2000-2006 X-Men trilogy.
* Although not named, one of the mutants being held prisoner by Stryker is clearly meant to be Emma Frost – a popular character from the comic book. A different version of Emma will be X-Men: First Class (2011).
* Near the end of the film, Charles Xavier shows up to rescue the freed mutants. Patrick Stewart recorded new dialogue, while unsettling CGI has been used to show the character look like he would have done in 1979.

A comic-fan writes… Because I know next to nothing about the source material, I’ve asked my friend the writer Rebecca Levene to talk about this film: “I may be the only human being on the planet who actually likes this movie. Yes, the story’s a convoluted mess, but then so is Wolverine’s backstory in the comics and there are some genuinely inspired moments – particularly the title sequence montage showing Wolverine and Sabretooth’s long and violent history. Most of all, though, the comic geek in me loves the other X-Men cameos. Here at last is Gambit in all his sexy Cajun glory. And Deadpool’s ultimate fate may be a travesty – what lunatic takes away the Merc with a Mouth’s ability to speak? – but before that Ryan Reynolds gives us a glimpse of the star turn he’d later deliver.”

Review: This one doesn’t work. The characters are as thin as the pages of a comic book. Laughs are few and far between. But the biggest issue is simply that there’s no wow factor. The action is computer-game-ish – boring slo-mo violence and laws-of-physics-defying stunts – while there’s a real lack of polish to the filmmaking: exterior scenes are often filmed on a sound stage, while greenscreen shots are sometimes laughable. Also, curse of the prequel has struck again. Because we already know the broad strokes, at times the movie feels like an exercise in box-ticking. There *are* some good ideas, of course. The titles sequence shows us a montage of Logan and Victor fighting side-by-side in the American Civil War, the First World War, the Second World War (very Saving Private Ryan, this) and Vietnam. As the eras progress, Victor gets more and more reckless – smart, economic, fun storytelling. But after that the film gets vague and aimless. The main body of the story is set in 1979, for example, but the production design isn’t especially pushing the period. Instead it’s a bland version of ‘a few years ago’. There are no mobile phones or computers, but the odd old car aside it could be any time. That’s representative of the way the whole film is directed: no focus, no unity of vision, no distinctiveness.

Four ‘Three Mile Islands’ out of 10

X-Men: The Last Stand (2006, Brett Ratner)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

When a ‘cure’ that suppresses special abilities is discovered, battle lines are drawn in the mutant community…

Get used to multiples names…
* Heroes returning from previous films include Charles Xavier aka Professor X (Patrick Stewart), Ororo Munroe aka Storm (Halle Berry, in yet another wig), Colossus (Daniel Cudmore), Marie aka Rogue (Anna Paquin), Logan aka Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Bobby Drake aka Iceman (Shawn Ashmore), and Scott Summers aka Cyclops (James Marsden). Charles and Scott are both killed off, in separate incidents.
* An old ally of Xavier’s – Hank McCoy aka Beast (Kelsey Grammer), a mutant who’s a member of the US cabinet – also gets seconded into the team.
* Now she has drama scenes to play, mutant student Kitty Pryde (aka the girl who can walk through walls) has been recast with Ellen Paige.
* After her sacrifice in the previous film, Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) is resurrected here… by some pretty vague means. She’s not quite herself any more and hooks up with the bad guys… again, for not very clear reasons. We also see a young Jean in a flashback.
* Dr Moira MacTaggert (Olivia Williams) appears briefly a few times. She’s a scientist who clearly knows Charles from way back.
* The chief bad guy is again Erik Lehnsherr aka Magneto (Ian McKellen), who for unexplained reasons now has an English accent. X2’s John Allerdyce aka Pyro (Aaron Standford) is still at his side, and during the film Magneto also acquires some new mutant hangers-on, including a guy with spikes on his face (played by Miles from Lost), a girl who can move fast, a dude who can replicate himself many times over, and a man who can demolish walls with his head (played by Vinnie Jones… Give me strength). All are pretty thinly written characters.
* Raven Darkhölme aka Mystique (Rebecca Romijn) is also with Magneto to begin with, but after she’s accidentally ‘cured’ of her mutation he coldly abandons her. An odd choice, given how hot she looks with dark hair.
* Characters involved in the ‘cure’ plot include Warren Worthington (Michael Murphy), his son Warren aka Angel (Ben Foster), and a mutant child called Jimmy. None gets much screen time.
* We see the President (Josef Sommer) but he’s a different guy from in X2 so presumably there’s been an election since. One of his entourage is called Trask (played by Bill Duke from Commando and Predator). The latter character is from a famous comic-book run and was being seeded for a potential sequel.

Stan Lee cameo: We spot him early on. He plays a bemused man watering his garden when a young Jean Grey starts causing mayhem. (X-Men comics writer Chris Claremont is in the same scene.)

Crossovers and continuity: There are a few elements that are contradicted or expanded in other movies.
* The opening scene is set ‘twenty years ago’ and sees Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr visiting a teenage Jean Grey in order to recruit her for their school. CGI has been used to make Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen look two decades younger. It comes off as just creepy – it’s like they’re wearing masks of themselves. Charles and Erik are best buds in the 1980s, which doesn’t match with X-Men: First Class where the two men are estranged in 1962.
* The second scene of the film is set ‘ten years ago’ (ie, circa the mid-90s) and features the character of Warren Worthington aka Angel as a child. However, in X-Men: Apocalypse we see him aged about 25 in the early 1980s. (Keeping up?!)
* The *next* sequence sees our heroes in a virtual-reality simulation. It’s a training session and is visually inspired by the comic-book series later used as the basis for 2014’s X-Men: Days of Future Past. Additionally, a very different version of this film’s Trask character is in that later movie.
* The first post-credits scene of this series shows Moira MacTaggert seemingly bringing Charles Xavier back from the dead – which explains how he can show up alive and well in 2013’s The Wolverine. However, Moira’s age (she looks to be in her 30s) is contradicted by Rose Byrne playing her in later films set in 1962 and 1983.

Review: Give it its due: this film comes alive during the action sequences, which are exciting and often inventive. However, elsewhere there are lots of problems. A big one is focus. Plots and characters just keep going missing. Our heroes learn about the mutant ‘cure’ but then get distracted by Jean’s resurrection for a really long time. A Rogue/Bobby/Kitty love triangle is set up early on, but then we don’t see the characters again for ages. When not on screen, stories seem to freeze until we get back to them. Another issue is that the two threads of the movie, the cure and Jean’s return, don’t especially affect each other. The resurrection itself is also pretty naff. It requires retconning and clunky, vague explanations – and still doesn’t make much sense. Frankly, it seems to be there purely as lip service to comic-book fans. The cure subplot, meanwhile, is just too on-the-nose. The first two X-Men films had themes and subtexts. This one gives us characters spelling out metaphors and numerous scenes of single-opinion mobs. After the sleek X2 and its character-driven storytelling, this has the air of reverse-engineering a plot once you’ve decided on its action climax. It’s probably significant that the classy Bryan Singer has been replaced as director by Brett ‘Rush Hour’ Ratner. This is shallow and often cheesy hokum.

Five Golden Gate Bridges out of 10

X2 (2003, Bryan Singer)

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Aka: X-Men 2, X2: X-Men United

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Two opposing factions of mutants must join forces when a man called William Stryker plots to wipe them out…

Get used to multiples names…
* Back from the first film are good guys Logan aka Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Ororo Munroe aka Storm (Halle Berry), Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), Scott Summers aka Cyclops (James Marsden), Marie aka Rogue (Anna Paquin), Bobby Drake aka Iceman (Shawn Ashmore), Charles Xavier aka Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and, in another gag cameo about walking through walls, Kitty Pryde (recast with Katie Stuart). Wolverine and Jean continue their flirtation – that is, until she sacrifices herself during the action climax for not terribly clear reasons. Sadly, Xavier spends a looong time in a catatonic stupor so Patrick Stewart is rather sidelined. There’s a nice bit where Bobby has to tell his parents he’s a mutant: it plays like a coming-out scene, reinforcing the theme and providing some gentle comic relief. Younger team members Rogue and Drake more than hold their own with the others.
* Added to the team for this film are John Allerdyce aka Pyro (Aaron Standford), a livewire student who switches sides late on, and Colossus (Daniel Cudmore), who can turn his body into metal.
* A character who starts off working for the bad guys (against his will) but then joins up with the heroes is Kurt Wagner aka Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming). He can teleport and has a strong religious faith. In one scene, he has a chat with Jean and Storm. Maybe they’re comparing notes on what it’s like to be in a James Bond film with Pierce Brosnan.
* The real villain of the piece is a military loon called William Stryker (an OTT Brian Cox), who has a history with Wolverine and a hatred of mutants. Despite this, he has a mostly mute mutant sidekick called Yuriko Oyama aka Lady Deathstrike (Kelly Hu).
* The previous film’s Big Bad – Erik Lehnsherr aka Magneto (Ian McKellen) – is back, as is his pal Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos). Initially, Magneto is in the same prison we saw at the end of the first film. Because of the threat posed by Styker, he later teams up with the good guys. Romijn-Stamos actually gets a scene sans make-up when her character pretends to be a sexy blonde woman.
* Oh, and Senator Kelly has a short appearance. Neat trick, seeing how he died in X-Men. (It’s actually Mystique pretending to be him: actor Bruce Davison returns.)

Crossovers and continuity: There are a few elements that will be contradicted or expanded in future movies.
* Younger versions of William Stryker will play key roles in both X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) and X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014). In this movie, Stryker says it’s been 15 years since he saw Wolverine, which doesn’t tally with what we learn later.
* Mystique and Nightcrawler share a moment in this film – it’s a nod to the fact they’re mother and son in the comic books.
* Jean Grey’s death is a deliberate setting up of plot for the next film, X-Men: The Last Stand (2006).

A comic-fan writes… Because I know next to nothing about the source material, I’ve asked my friend Johnathon Hughes to give a comic-reader’s view on this movie: “X2 brims with confidence and definitely owes more to its comic-book roots than the first film. The episodic structure, multiple story strands, ambitious scale and richer characterisation give it the feel of a graphic novel from the glory days of the 1980s, drawing heavily from God Loves, Man Kills with its political comment about prejudice against mutants, and a fan-pleasing nod to the Phoenix saga at the end – the final image mourning Jean and teasing what lies beneath Alkali Lake is heart-stopping for anyone who grew up imagining what would it be like if Dark Phoenix made it to the big screen. The downbeat ending and shifting allegiances also make it feel like part of an ongoing story, meaning you want to come back to see what happens next issue.”

Review: A big improvement on the (decent enough) first film. For a kick-off, this is more complex: there’s more intrigue, more excitement, generally more going on. At first, a number of subplots bounce around each other before clicking together nicely, and it’s a script where each scene pushes the story on in interesting ways. Editorially it works really well too: scenes often reach a crisis point then cut away to eke out tension. (The attack on the school is especially gripping.) There’s also a pleasing Empire Strikes Backsiness about how the team of regulars is split up as the shit hits the fan. Meanwhile, as the plot motors along, every character gets a meaningful journey or nice little moment. In short, it’s just notably better written than the first film. People’s powers tend to be shown rather than explained in dialogue, for example, while plot exposition is much more elegantly handled. One thing that fails to fly, however, is the Wolverine/Jean romance. There’s little chemistry between the actors and it’s hard to understand what they see in each other (beyond the fact they’re both played by attractive people). But the sombre ending teases the next film well…

Nine White Houses out of 10