Movie Reviews - 2014 postsTuesday July 22, 2014
Movie Review: God's Pocket (2014)
“God’s Pocket,” written and directed by John Slattery of “Mad Men,” is more fun than I thought it would be.
It’s set in the 1970s in a fictionalized version of a crime-ridden, blue collar section of South Philadelphia, Schuylkill (a.k.a. “Devil’s Pocket”), and focuses on the down-and-out, the scroungers, the made and the marginalized. The people from God’s Pocket, we’re told, rarely leave God’s Pocket, and don’t trust anyone not from God’s Pocket. And if they’re smart, and they are not many of those, they wouldn’t trust anyone from God’s Pocket, either.
The local newspaper has an alcoholic columnist, Richard Shellburn (Richard Jenkins), who likes to wax rhapsodic about the area. He’s its poet laureate, and he’s the kind of poet laureate it deserves. Early, he says, “I’ve been writing the story of this city for 20 years,” and I answered back at the screen, “So you should be better at it,” because he’s lousy. He’s semi-celebrated but 90% inebriated. That’s how you can tell it’s the 1970s: a newspaperman is a local celebrity.
Anyway he spends a lot of time sentimentalizing God’s Pocket, defining it narrowly, so allow me to try the same. There are two things you need to know about God’s Pocket and “God’s Pocket,” and they are both unexpected and the expected: You never know who’s going to win a fight and everyone is going to try to fuck Christina Hendricks.
Truth won't out
The movie opens with two funerals, spaced a few days apart, so, like in the cold opens of “Six Feet Under,” we wonder who is going to die.
It doesn’t take long to find out the first. Hendricks plays Jeanie Scarpato, first seen with her husband Mickey (Philip Seymour Hoffman) huffing and puffing on top of her in the early morning light. Then she rouses her twentysomething son, Leon (Caleb Landry Jones, trying to channel Heath Ledger), for work. He’s a druggie, thinks he’s a toughie, plays with a pocket razor at the factory. He also thinks he can pick on the one black guy there. Wrong. After putting the razor to his throat, ha ha, the dude clubs him with a lead pipe. Down he goes. Dead, it turns out. But the foreman, Coleman Peets (Glenn Fleshler, who played George Remus on “Boardwalk Empire” and—more memorably—Errol Childress in “True Detective”), tells the cops a crane swung and hit him. All the others agree. Nobody really liked Leon. Or maybe that’s just the way in God’s Pocket.
Jeanie, distraught, knows something else happened—she just knows—so she asks first her husband, then the cops, then Richard Shellburn, to investigate. They all kinda do. Because, well, it’s Christina Hendricks.
At this point you think: Who’s going to find the answer first? But that’s the wrong question. “First” is particularly wrong. Truth doesn’t out in God’s Pocket.
Instead, Mickey asks his connected friend, Arthur (John Turturro), to see if local crime boss Sal Cappi (Domenick Lombardozzi, Herc on “The Wire” and Ralph Capone on “Boardwalk Empire”) can’t send some guys down to ask some questions. They do. And Coleman Peets is there all by himself. Uh oh. But no. As I said, you never know who’s going to win a fight in God’s Pocket. Peets sends both men back, and one (Sal’s brother) without an eye. This sends an enraged Sal back at Arthur; but Arthur’s Aunt Sophie (Joyce Van Patten), running the register at their flower shop, takes out a gun, misfires, then kills both Sal and his brother. Then she and Arthur skip town.
Meanwhile, Shellburn’s investigation turns into more of an investigation of Jeanie. Meanwhile, the cops ... Well, they’re cops. They don’t factor.
Mickey is on his own, hapless, downward spiral. At the local bar, the Hollywood, run by McKenna (Peter Gerety, Judge Phelan on “The Wire”), a collection is taken up for Leon’s funeral, but Mickey blows it at the racetrack and then struggles to hide all this from Jeanie and the town. Unfortunately, the local funeral director, Smilin’ Jack (Eddie Moran), doesn’t accept half payments; and after losing a fight to a disappointed Mickey, locks both him and Leon’s corpse out in the rain. Mickey then: 1) loads up Leon in his meat truck; 2) tries to sell the stolen meat to make up the rest of the funeral charges; 3) winds up selling the truck instead, but 4) in the process, the truck is driven away for a testdrive, which Mickey didn’t agree to, and, chasing the truck, he spooks the driver into traffic, and Leon’s corpse winds up an accident victim: dead a second time.
There are small pleasures in “God’s Pocket,” not least all the alums from the great HBO, etc. shows of the last 10 years. It’s sad watching Philip Seymour Hoffman, of course, but his performance still gives off small pleasures. On the phone, the doubtful raise of his eyebrow he gives when he says of Leon, “They say something fell on him.” Mostly, though, I just like his head-shaking disappointment in everything and everybody. Sal unnecessarily decks a guy, a civilian, and Mickey shakes his head. Smilin’ Jack takes a swing at Mickey, Mickey shakes his head. Mickey is the guy not from God’s Pocket, and sometimes folks forget. “Oh right, you’re not from here.” He’s hardly a moral exemplar (gambling, etc.) but in a way he is. When he learns Jeanie is schtupping Richard Shellburn, he’s not enraged; he just sighs. Way of the world. Basically: What a disappointment everyone is turning out to be. In fact, when Shellburn shows up at the local bar, and the patrons object to one of his sappy columns—he describes them as dirty-faced—it’s Mickey who tries to come to his rescue. To no avail. Shellburn is taken outside and beaten to death. The second funeral is his. Someone else will have to write about it.
That’s how this all began, actually. “God’s Pocket” is based upon the novel of the same name by Pete Dexter, a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News, who, in 1981, was nearly beaten to death in Schuylkill by locals who objected to one of his recent columns about a drug deal gone wrong. He suffered a concussion and gave up the newspaper business for writing novels. He won the National Book Award for “Paris Trout” in 1988. “God’s Pocket,” from 1983, is his first novel.
Why did it attract Slattery? Who knows? It’s not a great story but at least it surprises now and again. I didn’t walk away from it, as I do with most Hollywood movies, shaking my head.
Movie Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)
“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” begins with a map of the world, where thousands of people, represented by red lines, travel between great cities, while newsreports intone about a virus, dubbed “the simian flu,” that’s spreading quickly. This virus is eventually traced to San Francisco (shades of AIDS!) and Patient Zero (again!) and the synthetic drug ALZ-112 and 113, created, in the last movie by Will Rodman (James Franco) to cure Alzheimer’s, although it actually led to a few apes becoming supersmart. Humans? Millions are dying. Then billions. Then, gradually, all of those lights, signifying great cities, go dim, and the newsreports stop.
Way to go, James Franco.
We don’t see him in this movie except on an old video recorder, so we don’t know how he felt about causing the end of civilization as we know it. One imagines badly. Thank god he didn’t have to act it.
We see about as much of Franco, in fact, as we do of Pres. Obama, who, in news footage culled from some other crisis (2011 flu? 2012 GOP debates?), warns people to protect themselves. It’s interesting seeing Pres. Obama here because I was thinking about him before the movie began. Specifically this question: Is it a coincidence that the first “Planet of the Apes” movies (1967-1973) occurred during the rise of black power, and this one coincides with our first black president? I’d like to think so but I’m a cynical SOB.
An edict introduced in the first act ...
“Dawn of ... ” is the eighth “Planet of the Apes” movie but the second in this series, following 2011’s “Rise of ...” and it leads to a semantic argument. How much further along is “dawn” from “rise”? Isn’t it actually a step back? Don’t you get the dawn before the sunrise?
It starts, anyway, with a few steps forward. Not only are humans decimated, but our first supersmart ape, Caesar, (Andy Serkis, finally getting top billing), leads a village of apes in the Redwood forests of Northern California. They’re basically a primitive tribe. They use spears, ride horseback, and hunt game. They have huts in the trees, the children are educated (mostly by Maurice, the orangutan, played by Karin Konoval), and moral lessons are handed down to the next generation. Chief among these is: Ape shall not kill ape.
Hollywood truism: a moral edict introduced in the first act always gets broken in the third.
Into this idyllic, primitive ape society wanders a doofus, Carver (Kirk Acevedo, Joe Toye from “Band of Brothers”), who, in panic, shoots and wounds an ape, Ash (Laramie Doc Shaw), friend of Caesar’s sad-eyed son, Blue Eyes (Nick Thurston). Angry apes gather. A few humans gather, too, to bargain for Carver’s life, chief among them, Malcolm (Jason Clarke), whose team, part of the remnants of San Francisco society, includes, Ellie, a CDC doctor (Keri Russell), and their adopted son Alexander (Kodi Smit-McPhee, all halfway grown-up from “Let Me In”). They’re in the area to try to start a water generator so S.F. will have power. But will the shooting lead to war?
Not right away. First, Caesar looks down imperiously with a sneer. Then he yells “Go!” Then he sends his right-hand man, former science experiment Koba (Toby Kebbell), to follow the humans to see what’s what. To see what’s become of them. Bad move. All the deaths that follow stem from this move.
Koba, you see, wants war. “From humans,” Caesar says, “Koba learned hate and nothing else.” But Caesar allows the humans, even the doofus Carver, to return, to try to start the generator. They do. Koba, though, knows that the humans, huddled together in their decrepit buildings, have an arsenal in preparation for a potential war with the apes—or simply because they’re scared to death. After pleading with Caesar, then losing a fight to Caesar, Koba infiltrates the target practice of two rednecks (including Kevin Rankin, making a career out of rednecking: see “White House Down” and “Breaking Bad”), who, oddly, are the only ones taking target practice. They freak at his presence, so Koba plays the clown to get close. Then he steals their semi-automatic. Then they dead. Then Koba have gun.
What does he do with it? He shoots Caesar, blames the humans, and leads the apes into battle against same. It’s a war based on false pretenses. Imagine.
After the war, won by the apes, humans, as well as potential allies of Caesar, are forced into cages. Koba is the new leader and he’s not exactly benevolent. At one point, he tells Ash to kill a human but Ash can’t do it. He says Caesar wouldn’t have wanted it. Koba nods. He understands. He puts his arm around Ash’s shoulder. Then he pushes him down, drags him up the stairs by the top of his head, and throws him over the City Hall balcony. Ape shall not kill ape? No, without cause. Remember?
It’s not a bad scene—I got a whiff of “Animal Farm”—and there are other not-bad scenes as well. But the movie doesn’t have particularly memorable scenes, either. And by this point, what’s the tension?
The tension is whether the truth will out. Will the other apes find out that Koba led them falsely into war? That he accused his victims of his own crime?
There’s a chance because Caesar lives. He’s found by Malcolm and company; but he’s weak and bleeding and Ellie needs supplies to save his life. So they drive to San Francisco.
At this point, the tension is: Can Caesar live long enough to tell the truth about the shooting?
Except, at Caesar’s directive, they go to the house he grew up in, Will Rodman’s house, with the circular window in the attic; and from there Malcolm is sent out to search for supplies so Caesar can be operated on.
Really? That’s a bit of a gamble, isn’t it? Why not drive, with Caesar, to find the supplies, so that if apes find you he can talk to tell them? He can call off the war? “They didn’t shoot me. Koba shot me. Stop it already.”
The short answer, the movie’s answer, is that apes care less about truth than strength, and right now Caesar is weak. It’s not a bad answer—we don’t care about truth, either, particularly in the wake of victory—but the real reason we go back to Will’s house is we need the pause, the moment of reflection, and the moment of bonding between Caesar and estranged son, before the final big battle between Caesar and Koba at the top of City Hall. Which Caesar wins. He has a chance to save Koba, too. You know the bit: Koba hanging by his fingertips, asking for help, Caesar reaching down, Koba reminding him of the first edict of ape society: “Ape not kill ape.” Caesar, with his imperial sneer, decides: “You ... not ape,” and lets him go. Seriously, Hollywood has to stop giving us this scene. It’s boring no matter which way the hero chooses.
More, we’re hardly getting to a planet of the apes, are we? I mean, if this is a dawn it’s a false dawn. It’s actually “One Step Back from the Planet of the Apes.” It begins with a village of apes and humans decimated. It ends after a costly war and ape society fractured. Plus they’re still one small village on a large planet in which humans are still plentiful; and the remaining ones seem immune to simian flu; and they still have guns.
Matt Reeves (“Felicity,” “Let Me In”) directed this one, taking over from Rupert Wyatt, and we get good performances not only from Serkis but from Clarke and Gary Oldman as a shaky leader. Reeves is supposedly directing the next one, too, as yet untitled. Votes? So far we’ve had “Beneath the ...” “Escape from ...” “Conquest of ...” “Battle for ...” “Rise of ...” and now “Dawn of ...” Maybe “Midmorning of ...”? “Tea Time on ...”? “Lazy Sunday Before ...”? I’m a fan, anyway, of a new preposition. Of has just been done to death.
Movie Review: Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014)
Here are the final words Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) intones in his stentorian, 1950s-Disney-nature-film voice at the end of the last “Transformers” movie, after he, the Autobots, Sam Witwicky (Shia LeBeouf), his hot, hot girlfriend (Rose Huntington-Whiteley), and a ragtag team of Army men save Chicago, and thus the world, from Megatron and the evil Decepticons:
There will be days when we lose faith, days when our allies turn against us. But the day will never come that we forsake this planet and its people.
“Transformers: Age of Extinction” begins five years after that promise. As Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), your average junkyard inventor with biceps like pillars and a hot, hot teenaged daughter, Tessa (Nicola Peltz), drives through magic-hour light to his ranch home where U.S. and Texas flags forever wave, he passes a billboard with the following message: “REMEMBER CHICAGO: Report alien activity.”
It seems the U.S. government has repaid the Autobots for saving Chicago, and thus the world, by, um, hunting them down. Why? Cuz government. Cuz Congress stoopid. Just as, in the last movie, Congress succumbed to terrorist demands that Autobots leave the planet, so here it abruptly ends our alliance with the Autobots, allowing CIA chief Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammar) to step into the power vacuum. The CIA is supposed to be hunting down Decepticons but Attinger has something more all-encompassing in mind. “Alien combatant—here illegally,” he says of Optimus Prime. “It’s not their planet. Never was. Time we take it back,” he says. “The age of the transformers ... is over,” he adds.
Oh, if only, I thought.
Executive oversight? None. Just a visit from the President’s stammering Chief of Staff. Cuz weak executive. Cuz black helicopters. Cuz gummit.
Again, it would’ve been interesting if Attinger’s deception was strictly in the national interest—if he just hated transformers as much as I hate “Transformers”—but screenwriter Ehren Kruger (“Transformers 2-4”) and director Michael Bay (you know) stack the decks. Attinger is trying to protect America from giant robots by secretly aligning us with ... a giant robot: Lockdown (voice: Mark Ryan), an intergalactic bounty hunter, who wants to bring Optimus Prime, and only Optimus Prime, back to its creator. But apparently he’s so incompetent in locating OP he needs the CIA’s help. That’s why the CIA is hunting Autobots as well as Decepticons. It’s a traitorous quid pro quo. Lockdown gets OP from us and we get, from Lockdown, “the seed,” which will allow another Attinger ally, Chicago tech billionaire Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci), to create “transformium” and thus his own, or our own, Transformers. He’ll corner the market, and we’ll have a superstrong military without a need for Army men.
Military-industrial machinations aside, you can make an argument for Attinger here, too. He still has the national interest in mind. Except not completely. He’s actually getting a multimillion-dollar kickback from Joyce. He’s just another longtime public servant who betrays everything he believes in for some quick dough at the end of the career. Cuz free market wins.
Wait, it gets worse. Because the seed? It will destroy all of us. An earlier version, 65 million years ago, is what killed off the dinosaurs. What, you thought it was a meteor? Dude. You also probably thought Transformers had nothing to do with the space race or Chernobyl, either.
In other words, Joyce and Attinger, with dollars in their eyes, have unknowingly set us on a course for planetary destruction. Joyce realizes this and tries to set things right. (So he’s not a bad guy.) Attinger doesn’t and doesn’t. (So he is.) Joyce lives, Attinger dies. Etc.
Some part of me is still attempting to unravel the levels of paranoia here. The fear of aliens and the hype of “Remember Chicago”? That’s bullshit, bro. But black helicopters in league with anti-American forces attempting to crush, and possibly kill, freedom-loving Texans on their own property? That shit’s true, yo.
Tech geeks stoopid
I have to admit, Wahlberg and his ridiculous biceps is still an upgrade over the frenetic everymanness of Shia LeBeouf, whose character, Sam, the one true friend the Autobots ever had, goes unmentioned here. Better: shaggy-haired T.J. Miller, recent of HBO’s “Silicon Valley,” plays Lucas, Yeager’s friend and business partner, and provides genuine rather than cringeworthy comic relief. For a time, I thought, “Hey, this ‘Transformers’ movie isn’t as eye-stabbingly awfully as I thought it would be.”
Then it is.
Lucas dies, Optimus, a junkyard reclamation project for Yeager, is defeated by Lockdown, who, because he uses a net to reclaim him (rather than the magnetic beam he uses everywhere else), also scoops up, accidentally, the hot, hot daughter, who cries for daddy, and whose daddy’s tells her not to worry, even as he and the daughter’s Irish stock-car racer boyfriend, Shane (Jack Reynor), race to save her. They do this in Chicago with the remaining Autobots: the fat American one (voice: John Goodman), the Japanese samurai one (voice: Ken Watanabe), and the comic-relief Negro one (voice: Reno Wilson).
But will it matter? Optimus, despite his promise at the end of the last movie, has sworn off helping “the humans.” So Yeager and his biceps not only have to rescue his hot, hot daughter, spar with the boyfriend, and lament (for a second) the loss of Lucas, he has to convince Optimus to believe again.
The big showdown occurs in China, where ... whatever. Running, fights, explosions. Optimus, cheesecake, Bumblebee, BOOM! The series villain, Megatron, reborn as Galvatron (cuz tech-geeks stoopid), survives to fight another day, but Lockdown—one of the more honorable characters in the movie—is crushed; then Optimus takes “the seed” into outer space, where it won’t harm “the humans.” Joyce winds up with the hot Chinese chick (Li Bing-bing), Yeager acquiesces to her daughter’s relationship with the Irish stock-car racer, and the Irish stock-car racer’s Irish accent keeps fading in and out. “Why hire a non-Irish actor to play an Irish character?” I thought. Answer? The actor is Irish. That’s how bad a director Michael Bay is. He can’t get an Irish dude to sound Irish.
A few years ago, when I was railing against the second “Transformers” movie, my friend Laurion, one of the smarter guys I know, told me he loved it. “It’s giant robots battling each other—what could be better?” he said. It’s the best answer—certainly the most straightforward answer—to explain the popularity of this awful, awful series. If you want to watch giant robots battling each other, and many people do, well, Michael Bay is your man.
I get that. What I don’t get is the extra layer of stupidity Bay forces on us. Just as at the end of the last movie, Optimus says the stupid thing he disproves for most of this movie, so, at the end of this one, just before he takes off into outer space, he says one of the worst lines I’ve ever heard anywhere. He says it after a worried Yeager asks him if he’s ever going to return to Earth. Optimus doesn’t know. But he adds, in his stentorian, 1950s-Disney-nature-film voice:
Whenever you look to the stars, think of one of them ... as my soul.
Bay doesn’t need Megatron to crush me.
Movie Review: 22 Jump Street (2014)
I liked the beginning and the end. I was often bored with the rest.
“22 Jump Street,” the sequel to 2012’s “21 Jump Street,” which was itself based upon the 1980s TV series of the same name, begins in the fashion of a TV show: a voiceover intoning “On the last episode of ‘Jump Street’ ...” followed by various scenes from the first movie: how Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) met, how they became friends, how they became members of “Jump Street” and infiltrated a high school to take down the dealer and supplier of a new “designer drug.” Oh, and one additional scene that wasn’t in the last movie: the two men attempting to cook lobster at home and antics resulting from lobsters breaking out of the paper bag and crawling around the kitchen. I burst out laughing. At the same time I wondered how many “Jump Street” fans got the “Annie Hall” reference? Is there crossover between these two movie audiences? What’s the Venn diagram on that?
Anyway, I laughed, and held out hope. Which didn’t last long. Hill and Tatum have good chemistry but most of the movie’s 112-minute runtime is spent on variations of two jokes:
- Schmidt and Jenko’s bromance going through the rituals of a heterosexual and/or homosexual relationship, replete with jealousy, breakup, etc.
- A meta joke poking fun at the movie itself: the sequel that rehashes the plot of the first film, but with a bigger budget.
In this one, as Capt. Dickson (Ice Cube) said at the end of the last one, “You two sons of bitches are going to college!” It’s called MC State (I like that), and there’s another designer drug that’s causing kids to get high and die. It’s called Why-Fhy, or Wi-Fi, and one student has already jumped out a window. She was young, talented and black, which leads Schmidt to awkwardly tell the Captain how much they care. He’s riffing off of MWWS, and it’s not a bad bit: the idiotic, PC intentions of Schmidt meeting the cold scowl of Ice Cube.
In the last movie, Schmidt, the schlubby nerd, became popular, while Jenko, the handsome jock, didn’t, but they abandon that conceit here. Instead, like goes with like. Schmidt impresses at a poetry slam (a good bit), while Jenko tries out for the football team and meets his brother from another mother, Zook (Wyatt Russell, the son of Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn), who is also, of course, a suspect. He quickly becomes a source of tension between the two protagonists: Schmidt is jealous, Jenko is upset with Schmidt’s clinginess and talks of a more “open” investigation, where they might investigate other people. Again, it’s not a bad bit—I laughed at Jonah Hill’s sad, wincing, lonely walk across campus—but it’s done to death. It’s good for a few minutes but half the movie is this joke.
Then we get the meta stuff—the overall stupidity of the movie we’ve paid to see—then a false resolution, then the real one amid a shoot-out during Spring Break in Mexico. Throughout, Schmidt has held Jenko back, so here he has to make the leap, literally, to save the day. Once again, Hollywood winks at us about the idiocy of movies but still gives us the idiotic wish-fulfillment fantasy we bottomlessly crave.
By this point I was bored, horribly bored, but then we got the credit sequence in which a dozen or more potential sequels are imagined—including one (“28 Jump Street”?) in which Jonah Hill’s Schmidt, in the midst of a contract dispute, is replaced by Seth Rogen’s Schmidt as if they were the same person. The sequence reminded me of all of those awful, imagined Adam Sandler movies from “Funny People”: “Merman,” “My Best Friend is a Robot,” “Re-Do,” etc. Again, it’s a joke about how stupid the movies are, but at least it’s a smart joke. I also hope it means there won’t be a “23 Jump Street”; but since this one is making beaucoup bucks, I assume there will be—with Seth Rogen, if necessary.
Movie Review: X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
“X-Men: Days of Future Past” has a slight problem.
Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) needs to go back in time to January 1973 to stop a minor, hush-hush incident from occurring at the Paris Peace Accords. From this incident, see, a fear of mutants will lead to a program, the Sentinel program, which will lead to the destruction of all mutants in the near, monochromatic future. Fine. Here’s the problem. The movie is a summer blockbuster—not to mention a movie. It needs a big, showy climax. So even though Wolverine and friends stop the minor, hush-hush incident—the assassination of a military scientist, Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) by Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence)—the following happens:
- Mutants, specifically Mystique, Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and Beast (Nicholas Hoult), are outed at the Paris Peace Accords and filmed on 8mm cameras by people in the streets. So everyone knows now.
- To calm the fears that the appearance of super-powered beings have understandably engendered, Pres. Nixon (Mark Camacho) announces the launching of the Sentinel program at a live press conference on the White House lawn. However ...
- Magneto rips apart RFK Stadium, drops it like a ring around the White House, and turns the Sentinels on their makers. When Pres. Nixon, the Joint Chiefs and the Secret Service flee to the bunker beneath the White House, he pulls it out, rips it open, and trains all of their guns back on them. He’s about to kill them all on live television. His power is immense. Except ...
- Mystique stops him from killing Pres. Nixon. Then Professor X (James McAvoy) keeps her from killing Bolivar Trask. She puts down the gun.
This last action is what alters the future. Apparently the display of last-minute mercy by two good mutants overcomes the massive destruction and fear caused by the bad one. The U.S. government, and all governments, apparently decide: Well, as long as there are good ones ...
In other words, a minor incident in the original timeline leads to a massive program to protect the human race. A major, earth-shattering incident in the new timeline, in which the White House lies in ruins, leads to a shrug and a “live and let live” attitude.
That’s a more optimistic view of humanity than I have. Or a more optimistic view of outing.
“Days of Future Past” has other problems as well. I’ll get to them by and by.
It’s a pretty good superhero movie, by the way, and finally reunites the X-Men with their long-lost mentor.
No, not Prof. X, killed off by Brett Ratner in the abysmal “X-Men: The Last Stand” in 2006, and resurrected here without explanation. I’m talking Bryan Singer, the writer-director who helped create the first two “X-Men” movies. You could argue that what’s being corrected, what’s being wiped out, is less the Sentinel program than “X-Men: The Last Stand.” And for that: applause.
But are the first two “X-Men” movies wiped out as well? And the two “Wolverine” movies? Does Wolverine have an adamantine skeleton or is he going snkkt! with his all-too-breakable bones?
Questions for the sequel.
The movie opens in a dystopian future—monochromatic, as all dystopian futures are. We see what New York has become, and get shivers of 9/11, as the elder Prof. X (Patrick Stewart), intones about the future (“a dark, desolate world”), and wonders whether it can be changed.
The action picks up in Moscow, where some of our heroes are holed up: Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page), Iceman (Shawn Ashmore), Colossus (Daniel Cudmore), Blink (Bingbing Fan), and Sunspot (Adan Canto). Then they’re discovered by the Sentinels, who fly in and wipe them out fairly quickly. All but Kitty Pryde and Warpath (Booboo Stewart). He’s lying down, she’s holding onto his temples, and just as the Sentinels are about to kill them, they disappear. “Too late, assholes,” she says. Poof.
Cut to: China. There, more mutants are waiting, including the originals, Wolverine, Prof. X, Magneto (Ian McKellen), and Storm (Halle Berry). Wait, isn’t Bobby/Iceman there, too? And Colossus? But didn’t we see them get crushed in the first act?
Turns out when Kitty Pryde said, “Too late, assholes,” she wasn’t teleporting herself to another location. No, she’d been teleporting the other dude back in time a few days. So he could warn everyone. So the first incident never occurred.
When Kitty Pryde mentions this, Prof. X suggests the obvious: Dude, why not just go back to 1973 and prevent the assassination of Trask, and the capture and study of Mystique and her DNA which will lead to the Sentinel program? Kitty Pryde says, no. She can send someone back into their earlier consciousness a few days, a month maybe. But decades? The mind would snap. Which leads Wolverine to state the obvious: What if that mind could repair itself continuously?
And that’s the plan. Wolverine will return to his 1973 body, knowing all he knows now, and stop Mystique from killing Trask at the Paris Peace Accords. Simple.
Except that’s not the plan.
This is the plan. Keep in mind that the length of time Wolverine spends in the past is the same amount of time they need to stay alive in the future. Time is of the essence.
Instead of heading to Paris and convincing Mystique to abandon the assassination (or simply stopping her), Wolverine first goes to Prof. X (in upstate NY) and then Magneto (in D.C.), and only then do the three of them (plus Beast) go to Paris and stop Mystique.
I know. Singer and company need to bring in the principle characters. Time is of the essence within the story but the opposite in creating the story. Otherwise we’d have a very short story.
Worse, Prof. X in 1973 is hardly ready for battle. Hank McCoy/Beast has him hopped up on drugs. Kind of. He’s created a serum that allows Charles to walk again but stymies his mutant powers, and he keeps shooting him up with this stuff. He’s a major enabler here. Meanwhile, the Xavier School for Gifted Students has become dilapidated. Something about 1967 and the draft and losing students. This backstory is a bit weak, to be honest. Not to mention glossed over. But eventually Wolverine convinces Charles to, you know, make a stand by returning to his wheelchair.
Magneto’s situation in 1973 is even more problematic: imprisoned in a concrete bunker beneath the Pentagon. His crime? The assassination of John F. Kennedy. You know the magic bullet theory? How it supposedly bent in mid-air? Well ....
“So wait,” I kept thinking. “Magneto killed JFK? That’s pretty awful for a summer blockbuster.”
Except he didn’t. He tells Charles that he was trying to save JFK.
Because? Charles asks.
Because he was one of us, Magneto says.
“So wait,” I thought. “JFK ... was a mutant? What were his powers? Chick magnet?”
But that’s all we get on that. The story rolls on.
The three of them spring Magneto from the Pentagon, by the way, with the best addition to the X-Men since ... ever. In the comics, at least when I collected (mid-1970s), Quicksilver was the lamest of mutants. He was part of Black Bolt’s Inhumans, brother to the Scarlet Witch, silver-haired, perpetually frowning, and a drag, a well-known drag. Didn’t he also steal the Human Torch’s girlfriend? His power was the Flash’s power—he could run fast—but that power doesn’t lend itself well to the storyboards of comic books. But here? With CGI? Wow. They make Quicksilver (Evan Peters) seem like the most powerful mutant of all: the one who can beat you before you even think about taking him on. Plus he gets a personality upgrade. He’s young, playful, insouciant, and often bored by the excruciating slowness of the world. He’s just trying to keep himself amused, man.
Hey, why didn’t Wolverine just get him to help stop Mystique? Zip across the ocean. Easy peasy. But no. They needed to bring Prof. X back to the side of hope, so he could bring Mystique back to the side of peace, so we could get our reductive lesson about hope and peace. Rather than Magneto’s lesson of vindictiveness and destruction. Which is what we paid to see.
Eventually our quartet (Wolverine, Prof. X, Beast and Magneto) get to Paris in time to prevent the killing. But then betrayal from Magneto. He reasons that if Mystique killing Trask leads to the death of all mutants, then she must die. Except it’s not just Mystique killing Trask, is it? It’s Mystique captured and analyzed for years until the secret of her DNA is revealed. The fear of mutants would be there whether she killed Trask or not. And because Magneto simply wounds her, the X-Men get the worst of both worlds: Trask lives, while the blood Mystique leaves behind offers up the secrets of her DNA to Trask.
And this sets up our grand finale on the White House lawn.
What’s the deal with the ring around the White House, by the way? Is it a grand gesture from Magneto (this is my power: don’t fuck with me) or from Bryan Singer (something about ... marriage equality?)?
Singer has always brought a homosexual aesthetic to the X-Men (“Have you tried not being a mutant?” – X2), but the primary metaphor for mutants is still the civil rights movement: Martin (Prof. X) and Malcolm (Magneto); non-violent resistance and integration vs. segregation, contempt and revenge. And in this struggle, Mystique has always been the key. She was with Charles, even loved him a bit, but she was won over to Magneto’s side at the end of the last movie. Here, Charles wins her back. She puts down the gun. And then? Pres. Nixon stops the Sentinel program. (Right.) And Trask? Trask is arrested for selling military secrets. (Did I miss that scene?) All of which sets up our brighter, non-Sentinel future, where even Jean Gray and Scott Summers get to live. Good seeing you again, Famke. (Call me.)
And Brett Ratner? You’ve been retconned, asshole.
So why didn’t I like this movie more? Were my hopes too high? Am I just a sourpuss? Have I realized that even the best superhero movies are just superhero movies? Do I have franchise fatigue? Genre fatigue?
Because “X-Men: Days of Future Past” is a well-made, pretty smart movie. We get some good lines and some decent history; and there’s a greater verisimilitude with the time period than in “X-Men: First Class”: fashions, language, Roberta Flack and Jim Croce. My favorite bit was probably the wichikoo Isaac Hayes funk beat as Wolverine walks the streets of 1973. Damn right.
Coincidentally, 1973 was also the year I began collecting comic books seriously. I bought Spider-Man #123 that summer, then Hulk #168; then I was off to the races. I was 10. I did this for five years. Then I put away childish things.
Twitter: @ErikLundegaardTweets by @ErikLundegaard