by Steve Habrat
Since its debut in 2000, the X-Men series has been a bit of a rocky superhero franchise. 2000’s X-Men was a likeable enough effort that emerged just a year before Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man ignited superhero fever at the box office. Three years later, X2: X-Men United would be hailed by both comic book fanboys and critics as one of the best superhero films ever made, but that praise would fizzle when they laid eyes on 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand, which was a hollowed out finale that sent a wave of disappointment through X-Men nation. Things didn’t improve in 2009 with the release of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, a tacky solo outing for the franchise’s most popular character. Just when everyone thought all hope was lost, along came X-Men: First Class, a Cold War epic that thrilled moviegoers with a fresh cast and a clever script. Last year, the momentum created by X-Men: First Class slowed a bit with The Wolverine, a second solo outing that was marginally better than the Origins. So as you can see, X-Men fans always have a reason to be concerned whenever a new installment in the franchise is announced. As it turns out, X-Men: Days of Future Past is just as thrilling and exciting as X2: X-Men United and X-Men: First Class. With Bryan Singer (X-Men and X2: X-Men United) back in the director’s chair, this time-travelling adventure creates fireworks by smashing together the young talent of X-Men: First Class with the veteran cast of the original films.
X-Men: Days of Future Past picks up in post-apocalyptic 2023, with humans and mutants hunted and exterminated by hulking robots called Sentinels, which were originally designed to exclusively hunt and exterminate mutants. A small band of mutants including Professor X (played by Patrick Stewart), Magneto (played by Ian McKellen), Wolverine (played by Hugh Jackman), and Storm (played by Halle Berry) hatch a plan to use the time traveling abilities of young mutant Kitty Pryde (played by Ellen Page) to attempt to travel back to 1973 and prevent the creation of the Sentinels. The volunteer for this dangerous mission is Wolverine, who is tasked with stopping the shape-shifting Mystique (played by Jennifer Lawrence) from assassinating pint-sized scientist Bolivar Trask (played by Peter Dinklage), the creator behind the Sentinels. As the Sentinels bear down on the mutants in the future, Wolverine must mend the friendship between a young Professor X (played by James McAvoy) and a young Magneto (played by Michael Fassbender) so that they can join forces and stop Trask together. This proves extremely difficult as Magneto once again attempts to break off from the group and embark on his own villainous path.
What ultimately made X-Men: First Class such a standout was the way that director Matthew Vaughn cleverly inserted familiar X-Men characters into the nuclear drama of the Cold War. It was the creative breath of fresh air that the franchise was in dire need of. Returning director Singer took note of this and catapults audiences back to the early ‘70s, during the last days of the Vietnam War. While the gunmetal action is certainly smooth and zippy in the future (the opening battle is one for the ages), what makes X-Men; Days of Future Past such a delectable treat is the way Singer mirrors Vaughn and seamlessly weaves these characters into American history. Throughout the course of the film, we hop over to Vietnam to meet a few grotesque mutants that have been fighting in the jungles of Saigon, and take a trip to the center of the Pentagon where Magneto is being held for the death of JFK. We also get to meet a pre-Watergate Richard Nixon, who hunches over his desk in the Oval Office and gruffly agrees that Trask’s Sentinel program is essential after witnessing mutants savagely show off their powers in Paris during a negotiation between the Americans and Vietnamese. It’s true that the ‘70s material overshadows the futuristic stuff every step of the way (even the Sentinels look much cooler in the past), but the gloomy apocalyptic destruction that Singer shows off does leave viewers curious about this perpetually dark dystopian future. Maybe he will dive in further down the line?
By now you are well aware of what makes this X-Men film particularly special for comic books fans. Singer has recruited nearly every single actor or actress that has appeared in previous X-Men films, and boy, do they seem tickled to be back. While you could fill a book with the cast list, it would be criminal not mention some of the performances here. McAvoy once again reminds us that he is a silent talent in Hollywood, as it’s nearly impossible to take your eyes of his shaggy-haired hippie take on Professor X. Coming off his vile turn in 12 Years a Salve, Fassbender remains in villain mode as Magneto, a shaky ally in the quest to track down Mystique and stop her assassination attempt. Hugh Jackman’s enthusiasm for Wolverine remains in tact, seeming as cool and calm as ever while chomping on those cigars and waving around pre-metal claws. Jennifer Lawrence is all sexy confidence as Mystique, the deadly shape shifter who tirelessly fights for her fallen mutant brothers and sisters. Nicholas Hoult’s nebbish Beast still snarls and chomps with blue fury, and Evan Peters steals the entire movie as the speed demon Quicksilver. Every fan that made such a stink over the look of his character is going to instantly eat their complaints after they watch him dart playfully around the inside of the Pentagon. It’s the film’s best moment.
As far as veterans Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart go, both seem to be floating on cloud nine to be back in their respective roles. Stewart’s Professor X continues to give the series the emotional charge that he brought to the original three films, and McKellen remains as unpredictable as the master of metal, Magneto. The small-but-mighty Peter Dinklage proves to be a formidable foe for the X-Men, always using his commanding voice to give him an intimidating authority. With eyes that scream exasperation, he warns Congress of the mutant threat, and he watches grainy newsreel footage of Mystique with cold intrigue, desperate to get his hands on her blood, brain tissue, and spinal cord fluid to convert his devastating Sentinels into killing machines that can adapt to any threat. The ever-welcome Ellen Page returns to big budget blockbusters as Kitty Pryde, the girl who possesses the power to make this entire mission possible. Though she is given limited screen time, she makes the most of what she has. This limited screen time carries over to multiple other mutants, including Halle Berry’s Storm, who is basically handed an extended cameo to conjure up a wicked lightning storm. Berry is just one of the many familiar faces that pop in to say hello. I won’t spoil any of cameos here, but believe me when I say fans will walk out beaming with delight.
Though X-Men: Days of Future Past arrives in theaters with a budget of $200 million, the film remains surprisingly modest for a good majority of the runtime. The scenes set in 2023 are breathtaking and the fight scenes are buffed up with the expected CGI. The action set in the ‘70s seems plausible and practical, only really getting flashy during the final battle outside the White House. Much like the confrontation at the end of X-Men: First Class, the confrontation between good and evil has a slow burn approach. There is quite a bit of dramatic conversations and pleas, which proves to be just as thrilling as the fistfights and explosions. Just to add an extra layer of excitement, Fassbender’s Magneto shakes RFK stadium from its foundation and drops it over the White House, enclosing all the characters inside for colossal showdown. Another moment you’ll be talking about on the way home is Quicksilver’s giddy Pentagon infiltration, which wields a wicked sense of humor as he dodges bullets and dares to dip his finger in a pot of soup. Overall, X-Men: Days of Future Past is teeming with delights—it’s got the dramatic pull that the fans demand, it’s got the rollicking action that gets your gets your heart racing, and it’s fueled by stunning A-list cast that plays off of each other beautifully. While other challengers lay in waiting, X-Men: Days of Future Past is positioned to be the best superhero film of the summer.
by Steve Habrat
As if Batman & Robin didn’t do enough damage to the Batman name, Warner Bros. and DC Comics then came up with 2004’s Catwoman, a film so bad it left the Batman legacy in ashes. Even though the Dark Knight isn’t anywhere to be found in Catwoman, the fact that this character stems from his universe does enough damage. Directed like a miniseries for MTV and set to music that sounds like it was lifted from a perfume commercial, Catwoman is under the impression that it is a sleek and sexy thrill ride that will drive the ladies wild on girls night out. No matter how many sexy actors and actresses director Pitof (yes, that is the name he goes by) throws into the mix, nothing about the film is sexy. Furthermore, Catwoman attempts to be a lioness roar of female empowerment, one that howls at the thought of aging but declares war on the evil cosmetic companies that promote everlasting youth. Confused yet? With a terrible story and some of the worst dialogue you are likely to hear in a movie, Catwoman tosses the comic book character’s origin story in a box of kitty litter and then proceeds to defecate all over it. It does all of this while wearing the most laughable superhero getup you can think of and battling what has to be the lamest villain ever thought up by Hollywood. Does it make sense why I was ashamed to admit I was a Batman fan for so long?
Catwoman introduces us to Seline Ky… Patience Phillips (Played by Halle Berry), a geeky graphic designer who works for a cosmetics company called Hedare Beauty, which is developing a new skin cream called Beau-Line. Beau-Line is supposed to help preserve youth but the side effects are extremely dangerous. One evening, Patience stumbles into the Hedare laboratory where she overhears her boss, George Hedare (Played by Lambert Wilson), and his wife, Laurel Hedare (Played by Sharon Stone), discussing the horrific side effects. Patience is quickly discovered and George orders his goons to kill her. She tries to escape through a conduit pipe but George’s goons have it sealed and flushed out. Patience’s body washes up on a nearby island where a mysterious cat named Midnight finds her and breathes new life into Patience. Armed with new cat-like abilities and crazy skills with a whip, Patience dons a silly leather outfit and takes to the city rooftops as Catwoman. After she commits a robbery, the persistent Detective Tom Lone (Played by Benjamin Bratt) is on Catwoman’s tail, but the two end up locked in a steamy romance. Catwoman also begins setting her sights on the people who were responsible for trying to kill her and exposing the dirty little secrets of Hedare Beauty while she is at it.
While the first half of Catwoman drones on and on about how much of a plain-Jane Patience is, the second half of the film spits out a unconvincing sex kitten that struts along the rooftops of a CGI city (Gotham City?) like she is working a catwalk. She throws her hips around in an unintentionally hilarious costume that is completely absurd, especially when she begins hoping around in a fight scene. Catwoman herself seems to lack a real motive or direction as she prowls the streets at night. She slinks around robbing jewelry stores and when she gets bored, she slips over to the Hedare laboratory to pick off one of George’s goons. Berry tries desperately to own the role while giving it plenty of sassy attitude that would make all the other actresses that have donned the cat-ears double over in laughter. She never once becomes a true threat to the bad guys here, but that may be because every time a fight breaks out, Berry is replaced with a CGI double that jumps around like Spider-Man. If she isn’t making you groan during a fight scene, her origin most certainly will. What makes it even worse is that Pitof tries to sell this outlandish rebirth angle with a straight face.
Then we have Sharon Stone as Laurel Hedare, an aging beauty queen who is addicted to Beau-Line. This addiction has made her skin as tough as concrete and allowed her to feel no pain (I wish I was making this up). She bitches and moans about how she was once the beautiful face of Hedare and now a younger, prettier model is replacing her. Laurel becomes truly evil due to her husband’s infidelity and she ends up murdering him, something that she frames Catwoman for. While the source of Laurel’s rage is clear, it just comes off as idiotic and evil for the sake of being evil. We then learn that Laurel plans to unleash Beau-Line on the public yet she is angry because younger girls are replacing her. Riiiight. Also in the mix is Benjamin Bratt as Detective Tom Lone, who suspects that Patience is Catwoman. Berry and Bratt have little to no chemistry and each meeting they have just screams scripted. Just wait for the scene when they play basketball together and Berry begins jumping around like, well, Catwoman. It never occurs to Bratt that something is up when she begins pulling off moves like she does! Come on! We also have Lambert Wilson’s smug and arrogant George, who is about as intimidating as a mouse. It is okay if you forget he was ever at this fashion show.
When Catwoman isn’t limping by on its poor excuse for a plot, the film is busy trying to wake us up with one overdone fight scene after another. Pitof was the visual effects supervisor of Alien Resurrection and he just can’t seem to resist piling on needless effects here, all of which look rubbery and done on a laptop. It is even worse when he insists on multiple overhead shots of this unknown metropolis, all of which boast absolutely awful CGI to match the fight scenes. Catwoman is anxious to send a message of female empowerment and assure its female viewers that you are beautiful just the way they are, yet the hero struts around in a bra and leather pants with tons of make-up caked on her face and not an ounce of body fat. I’m starting to think that the screenwriters did think that aspect though too well. No matter how low your expectations are going in to Catwoman, they just simply aren’t low enough. A tissue paper thin origin story mixed with forced girl talk, awful performances, sloppy romance, terrible music, and stuck up villains, Catwoman is perhaps one of the worst comic book movies ever conceived. It is a film with little respect for its source material and for the fans of the source. A real hairball!
Catwoman is available on Blu-ray and DVD.