Tag Archives: X-Men

Space Operatic: An Interview with Stephen van Vuuren by Kent Hill

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I applaud anyone who makes their way on this crusade, some might say foolish crusade, to make a film. It can be a long, arduous, laborious. And thinking on that word laborious, now consider making a film that has to be stitched together using over 7 million photographs with animation techniques pioneered by Walt Disney on Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. No CGI. And I know that sounds sacrilegious in this day and age where a film without CGI is like a day without sunshine.

However, the film that Stephen van Vuuren has, albeit laboriously, constructed In Saturn’s Rings, is a unique master-work that is as beautiful and immersive on the small screen I watched it on as I can imagine it being played in its large format form.

Sparked by Cassini‘s arrival at Saturn in 2004 and the media’s lack of coverage, van Vuuren produced two films. Photos from space missions — including images of Saturn taken by Cassini — were included. But van Vuuren was not satisfied with the results so he did not release them.

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While listening to the Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber one day in 2006, van Vuuren conceived the idea of creating moving images of Saturn based on a pan-and-scan 2.5-D effect. The technique involves creating a 3-D perspective using still photographs.

After discussion with audiences at IMAX conferences, van Vuuren decided the film title Outside In (the title of the short version) was not a good match for the film’s sensibility. The Giant Film Cinema Association had been publicising the film and surveys it conducted supported this. It was during a discussion in 2012 about the film’s climax where he was describing Earth “in Saturn’s rings” that van Vuuren realized he had found his new title.

Although narration had originally been removed in 2009, by 2014 van Vuuren realized that a sparse narration was necessary for the film. This amounted to 5 pages and about 1200 words in total. After listening to many voice actors one stood out and he asked LeVar Burton (Star Trek: The Next Generation) to be the narrator for the film.

The culmination of these elements, plus a lot of hard work, has resulted in something that is essentially more than a film. Like Kubrick’s 2001 which inspired him, van Vuuren has crafted an experience of what it may by like to drift through the far reaches of space to the planet that has always been the physical embodiment of his childhood fantasies. And I for one am grateful he stuck to his guns and made a movie that, even though it’s not a tale from a galaxy far, far away, it is the universe at its most wondrous…

The Puppet Master: An Interview with Kevin McTurk by Kent Hill

They say in the film business, never work with children or animals. Of course you may find yourself working with dinosaurs, aliens, lions, beast-people, scrunts, kothogas, ghosts, morlocks, Batman, Spiderman, Hellboy, kaijus, wolfmen, clones, cliffhangers, vampires, giant crocodiles, homicidal maniacs, killer sheep, Predators, cowboys and mysterious brides out to Kill Bill.

Sounds ominous, doesn’t it? But that’s just some of the astounding creations and magnificent beasts that Kevin McTurk has encountered in his eclectic career in the realms of special effects.

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Working under the banners of legends like Stan Winston, Jim Henson and the new titans like Weta Workshop, Kevin has had his hand in erecting and simulating everything from the real world as he has from empires extraordinary. And, while I could have spent the entirety of our chat talking about his adventures working on the countless films, which are favourites of mine, he has in his CV, his impressive effects background is only part of the story.

For Kevin McTurk is a bold and visionary filmmaker in his own right. His puppet films, The Narrative of Victor Karloch, The Mill at Calder’s End and now The (forthcoming) Haunted Swordsman are exercises in capturing a style from a bygone era with modern filmmaking techniques. The results are beautiful, not only in their aesthetic quality, but in the level of excellence from the many different disciplines on display.

There is still time for you to join Kevin in his latest cinematic offering (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/935772123/the-haunted-swordsman-a-ghost-story-puppet-film), and to listen in now to the man himself talk about his movies, influences and career.

I give you the talented Mr. McTurk.

Visit Kevin’s website for more: http://www.thespiritcabinet.com/

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The Making of: A Conversation with Robert Meyer Burnett by Kent Hill

I love behind the scenes documentaries – always have. What began as 60 minute specials and from there graduating to EPKs (or Electronic Press Kits) have become full-blown features, at times several hours long. And the longer the better I say.

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Robert Burnett has been that guy. The guy behind the scenes. Armed with light-weight equipment and a small crew, he has captured the people who make the magic and the war it is to bring a dream to life on film.

He has been there to witness the making of the multi-Oscar winning Lord of the Rings trilogy. He has seen what it took to orchestrate Superman’s return. He has ventured back in time and brought us wonderful retrospective looks at films like Disney’s cult classic Tron.

But Robert is also a passionate filmmaker in his own right. Having made his own film Free Enterprise, directing episodes of the TV series Femme Fatales along with short films as well. He is a prolific producer having shepherded films like The Hills Run Red and Agent Cody Banks 2. And, just when you’re about to say, “Stop it Rob, you’re just too talented,” he is also an experienced editor; often times chopping his own work, whether it be for DVD special features content or the films he has worked on.

Beneath all of his success, Robert is a massive film lover, citing The Right Stuff, All That Jazz and The Godfather among the countless films he adores.

It was a real pleasure to chat with him about all he has seen behind the scenes, but more so to simply chat movies with a man who knows his stuff. Turns out he loved his time here in the great southern land (Australia), along with our beer and music. It is my hope Rob finds his way back so that I might take him up on my invitation to share a cold VB (Victoria Bitter) and talk movies…

…but until then, enjoy our chat.

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Lunch with the Equalizer: A Conversation with Richard Norton by Kent Hill

Richard was a young lad from Melbourne, Australia plagued by asthma who loved martial arts.

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As he grew in skill, he would eventually catch the eye of the legendary Chuck Norris, who extended an invitation to the young Norton to come and train with him. It was while working as a celebrity bodyguard that he finally found his way round to the home of Norris, and from there he was offered a part in The Octagon as the masked ninja, Kyo.

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This would be the first of more than sixty screen appearances for the action film star, stuntman, stunt/fight coordinator/choreographer and martial arts trainer. He has worked on fights for “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, joined Suicide Squads, trained Scarlett Johansson  for the Manga turned motion picture Ghost in the Shell. He even braved the heat, dust and high-octane insanity on George Miller’s Fury Road.

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As a respected member of the martial arts community, Norton has remained close friends and has shared the screen with fellow industry luminaries such as Jackie Chan, Don “The Dragon”  Wilson and Cynthia Rothrock.

When I spoke with him, Richard was on his way to train the X-Men for another big screen outing, so there is no sign that the humble 67 year old from Melbourne is slowing down.

Richard Norton is a man who remembers well his origins and what it took to climb the mountain of success, upon which he stands, victorious. It was really cool to chat with him. I hope you’ll enjoy it.

So, here he is folks, the ‘real’ action man . . .  Richard Norton.

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Episode 38: JACKMAN UNLEASHED

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This is a big episode for a few reasons.  No, we didn’t get to talk to Hugh Jackman, but joining Frank is an array of PTS contributors: Joel Copling, Kyle Jonathan, and Ben Cahlamer.  We spend an hour discussing James Mangold’s LOGAN, Hugh Jackman’s seventeen year; seven-year span playing Wolverine, and an overall assessment of Hugh Jackman’s filmography!  We hope you enjoy!

Jackman Unleashed Week: Gavin Hood’s X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE

The idea behind this film was to franchise origin stories, including a Magneto film that turned into a soft reboot of the X-Men films with FIRST CLASS.  We were also supposed to get a solo Gambit film that is still currently in development limbo, and a Deadpool film with Ryan Reynolds that eventually took seven years to get off the ground.  What ended up happening was an unintentional Wolverine trilogy.

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This film has some major flaws and is an imperfect picture.  The two sequels, THE WOLVERINE and LOGAN, remain superior films to this, yet Origins still remains my favorite Wolverine film warts and all.  The X-Men franchise has never taken continuity into consideration.  Actors were recast in important roles, most notably in this film Danny Huston as William Stryker and Liev Schreiber as Victor Creed/Sabertooth.  Timelines get blurred, especially after the hard franchise reboot of DAYS OF FUTURE PAST, and what ends up happening is reinvented origins for Wolverine.  Basically, the takeaway here is that the timeline continuity of the X-MEN films is almost as confusing as the TERMINATOR saga.

What saves this film for absolute failure are two important factors and why this remains my favorite Wolverine centered film.  Firstly, the opening credits sequence is phenomenal.   Spanning the course of every major American war from The Civil War to Vietnam we watch Jackman and Scheiber, brothers in arms, relentlessly fighting and almost single-handedly winning each war for America.  As the wars rage on, Logan observes and acknowledges Creed’s bloodlust and morality eroding.

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Secondly, which is encompassed in the opening credit sequence, the relationship between Logan and Creed.  They’re brothers, they share the same mutant powers.  Freakish regeneration and organic weapons from their hands.  What sets them apart is important.  Creed isn’t as strong as Logan when it comes to regeneration, he would not be able to survive the Adamantium process as Stryker tells him.  Most importantly, Creed lacks the morality that Logan attains.  Logan has empathy, Creed does not.

Violence is what both of them were born into, what their sole purpose became as they aged into warfare.  Creed’s bloodlust overtook him and what little compass of morality he had was disbanded, while Logan was more sensible – more in touch with humanity.  This comes full circle in the botched third act of the film that turns Wade Wilson into this super mutant Weapon X.  It is a silly ending that promises the future reconnection of Logan and Creed.  Regrettably, that never happened; which is a total and complete shame considering this year’s LOGAN was the perfect opportunity to do so.

Casting the dated CGI and third act aside, this film is still steeped with fertile X-Men lore.  We get a cool glimpse at Taylor Kitsh as Gambit, which leaves us wondering what could have been had he reprised his role in future films.  Taskforce X led by Stryker (who does Brian Cox’s original turn absolute justice) is a very fun aspect of the film yet is underutilized.  Aside from Logan and Creed, the team is made up with Reynolds as Wade Wilson (pre Deadpool), Daniel Henney as Agent Zero, Kevin Durand as Fred Dukes/Blob, Will.i.am as Wraith, and Dominic Monaghan as Bolt.

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This film could have been monumentally better, but if you take it for what it is, it remains an incredibly enjoyable picture.  Had the film focused more on Logan and Creed fighting their way through major wars, or made Taskforce X the focal point, this film would have been fantastic.  What we’re left with is an at times clunky vehicle with an easter egg packed third act that left most Wolverine diehards disappointed.  Regardless of keyboard warriors trolling of this film, it’s a lot of fun with colorful dialogue, heavy adult themes, and a once in a lifetime performance from Liev Scheiber as Victor Creed.  ORIGINS: WOLVERING rightfully earns its keep as the starter for one of the most beloved superhero trilogies in recent memory.

‘Logan’ Review: Hugh Jackman’s final Wolverine film is a bloody, heartfelt farewell to the last X-Man- by Josh Hains

Before I break into the review portion of this piece, special mention must be made of the alleged cut scene from Deadpool 2 that serves as a preview or teaser of sorts for the upcoming sequel to the R rated smash hit. I greatly enjoyed experiencing the company of the darkly comical Merc With A Mouth once again, to the tune of John Williams’ epic Superman: The Movie score, and the song that closes out the late Tony Scott’s underrated True Romance. What a fun little riot, a pleasant albeit all too brief little tease of the pleasures to come. Cue the music!

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In 2029, the ageing James ‘Logan’ Howlett (Hugh Jackman) is a pale shadow of the once iconic mutant hero he used to be, Wolverine, popularized in comics that both exaggerate and sanitize the truth. Mutants are extinct save for Logan, Professor Charles Xavier (Sir Patrick Stewart), and the albino mutant Caliban (Stephen Merchant). A mutant birth hasn’t been recorded in 25 years either. Logan is an alcoholic, sporting a visible limp and a frequent cough, and a cynical, cantankerous, almost always pissed off demeanor. He’s kind of an asshole now. His body is slowly breaking down thanks to the cancerous adamantium that covers his entire bone structure and trademark claws, his wounds healing slower and leaving big ugly scars. He’s also plagued by nightmares if the brutal acts committed against and by him. At 200 years old, Logan has experienced multiple lifetimes of violence, tragedy, loss, heartbreak, and grief, the result of which coupled with his age, has broken the poor guy’s soul. He lacks the conviction and strength to get through each day, hence his worsening alcoholism and overbearing cynicism. Life has truly beat the hell out of Logan, yet he presses onward. If an adamantium bullet doesn’t kill him, time, our own worst enemy, surely will. Eventually. By this juncture in Logan’s life, violence isn’t just a way of dealing with other violent beings, it’s become a part of who he is, as if a genetic code for violence is coursing through his veins.

Logan works day and night as a limousine driver in Texas for the kind of drunken party girls who like to flash the driver, and foolhardy guys that dickishly chant jingoistic phrases. His work provides him with just enough cash to afford him the medicine he and Caliban require to help control a neurodegenerative disease that produces seizures Charles is suffering from, the result of which if left untreated renders anyone in the vicinity, save for Logan, temporarily paralyzed, or dead. They live in seclusion in a dingy private smelting plant in Mexico, until their relatively peaceful existence is shattered by the arrival of a merciless cybernetically enhanced assholes called the Reavers. They’re led by Wolverine fanboy and henchman Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook), and Zander Rice (Richard E. Grant), a bioengineer and Donald’s boss. They’re seeking the mute Laura aka X-23 (newcomer Dafne Keen), an 11 year old mutant who bears eerie resemblance to Logan. I think we all know why. A brutal encounter sends the trio on their way to Eden, a supposed place of salvation for young mutants in North Dakota, with the Reavers hot on their trail. Yes, this is a road movie but don’t worry, it’s a great one.

I’ve been an X-Men fan since I was a little kid, watching the ’90’s animated series on television, watching every live action movie adaptation, and collecting action figures and comic books along the way. I don’t have anything against PG-13 movies or comic book movies, with the sole exception that the rating limits on-screen violence. I’ll gladly watch jokey, fun superhero flicks any day of the week, a few of which even populate my own favourite films list. But Logan required an R rating to get across the precise tone director James Mangold and Hugh Jackman have been aiming for over the last few years. Just like many other fans, I’ve been waiting 17 years to see Wolverine finally cut loose and tear people to shreds the way I’ve always known he can, because foot-long metal claws from the strongest metal on the planet (in their reality), don’t just poke the bad guy – they dismember, disembowel, and decapitate. Rest assured, he finally does in Logan.

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The rumours are true, Logan is packed with plenty of bloody violence, far from tame, and with enough blood soaked carnage to satisfy even the most bloodthirsty gore-hounds. Heads roll, limbs fly off, threats are ripped open wide, and buckets of blood are spilled as Logan finally delivers a whopping heap of berserker rage fuelled killings throughout its 135 minute runtime, especially in two scenes of 100% pure classic Wolverine berserker rage that will blow minds. Two fight scene in particular, one midway through the movie, and the other the bloodstained finale, offer up some of the most intense, brutal, and graphic comic book movie violence committed to film. These two scenes in  particular are stand-out action set pieces due to the physical and dramatic weight the R rating allows them to possess. When Logan becomes physically drained, weakened by multiple gunshots (*spoiler alert* or stabs wounds from an experimental clone of himself *end of spoiler*), we feel his exhaustion through his body language and facial expressions. When he or Laura are dispatching foes left and right, we feel the primal anger and blood lust. A PG-13 movie could never have that dramatic heft to it. Logan also bears a significant amount of profanity, enough to rival last year’s similarly R rated comic book movie hit Deadpool, but unlike that movie, profanity isn’t used like a comedic tool to up the wattage of vulgarity as was needed. Rather, the frequent uses of the f-bomb accentuate the anger and frustration the characters (Logan in particular), are experiencing at any given moment. Logan isn’t for the faint of heart, but there’s more to Logan than just gory violence.

Hugh Jackman deserves an Oscar for his performance as Logan. I’m not just saying that for the sake of it. Hugh has never given a more layered, meaningful, naturalistic performance in the 17 years I’ve been watching his movies. If Logan is a truly his final outing as the iconic character, I don’t think he could have given a better performance than what you’ll see in Logan. The script by Mangold and co-writers Scott Frank and Michael Green, along with that R rating, affords Jackman the opportunity to work with dialogue and scenes that at ask for more of dramatic work than physical, allowing Hugh to go to places he wouldn’t otherwise be able to reach. It’s the work of an actor who knows this character better than anyone else outside of his creators, who isn’t simply playing a role, but living within the skin of him. He is our Logan, through and through in every way in this subtle, deeply human performance. Sir Patrick Stewart has never been better as Charles Xavier, and acting on the assumption that this is also his final turn as his iconic character, as reported in recent days, I couldn’t have asked for a more fitting end to his reign. Dafne Keen needs an X-23 movie pronto, she’s so good for such a young newcomer. Boyd Holbrook makes for a menacing villain, his smooth talking Texas accented Donald acting as quite the ice cold delight in a sea of CGI, oversized doomsday super villains, and Richard E. Grant gives multiple dimensions to his Zander, bringing a welcomed honesty, tenderness, and sheer cruelty to what could have otherwise been a thinly developed villain.

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At first glance, Logan is a comic book movie meant to bring a satisfactory yet heartbreaking end to a 17 year long career and story arc spent on the iconic hero. Peel back the layers and it’s a redemption through justice and revenge western tale, the kind kind of story carried through history books for centuries to come. Logan is right from the get-go, a classic western yarn, and the best kind too. The kind of western where a tired gunfighter has to take up their guns one last time in the name of frontier justice. The western frontier may be gone, but the idea of the stubborn hero who needs persuading still exists, right down to the classic Shane appearing on a hotel television.

That Logan uses a couple of the same tropes seen in westerns decades ago doesn’t mean the film is a slave to those tropes, as Logan firmly stands on its own two feet as a unique amalgamation of comic book fantasy, the classic western, and the modern family road trip drama. Remove the use of mutant powers and you have a modern day western about a tortured soul waiting for death to end his suffering, until his skills are called upon to assist those in need, one last time. Hollywood hasn’t run out of fresh ideas, rather they’ve just found creative ways of reinventing the wheel from time to time. Taking the fantastical world of the X-Men and grounding it in the themes of the classic American western is a brilliant manner of humanizing and personalizing Logan’s story. Logan has more in common with Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven than any of the X-Men movies that precede it. The presence of X-Men comics in the film (real comic books with newly commissioned art by their original artist Dan Panosian), seems to suggest that the world in which the previous 9 X-Men movies occupied may also have been a sanitized embellishment of the grim world Logan inhabits. I quite enjoy the notion. 

Last year Deadpool proved an R rated comic book movie about a fourth wall breaking, profane, crudely humourous, violent mercenary out to rescue his lover and not look like an avocado had sex with an older more disgusting avocado, could out perform multiple other comic book movies released this past decade, if the correct amount of love and respect are applied to the material. This year, Logan has proven that Deadpool’s success wasn’t just beginner’s luck, but that lightning struck twice because just as much love, passion, and respect were applied in all the right places. That they had the balls to make a commercial comic book movie about a broken man learning to love one last time, proves they broke the mould when they made Logan. That we’ll likely never see another comic book movie that treads these waters again is fine by me. I wouldn’t want it any other way. This final ride was perfect.

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Top Five Hugh Jackman Performances

With LOGAN being a gigantic hit at the box office, after seventeen years and seven turns as the Wolverine, Hugh Jackman is done with his most seminal character.  I imagine we’ll see him again, at some point down the road, but time will tell.  Jackman is so much more than the rough and tough Canadian mutant, he’s a wonderfully rounded actor that can mix brute blood lust with musical performances and soul bearing dramatic performances.  While Jackman is just hitting the sweet spot of his career, I wanted to take a look back at his finest performances.

 

THE FOUNTAIN 2006 Dir. Darron Aronofsky

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This is a film that has accrued such a following over its lackluster release, that one day, this will be looked at as not only one of Aronofsky’s finest films but also one of Jackman’s best performances.  Here, he plays the same soul over a course of three different centuries.  It’s apparent he’s a different man with each new becoming, yet he still is able to remain the same person.  It’s an incredibly heartfelt and touching performance in a film that needs more acclaim.

LES MISERABLES 2012 Dir. Tom Hooper

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Hugh Jackman has gone through a bounty of physical transformations playing Wolverine on screen, but nothing like his turn as Jean Valjean in LES MISERABLES.  Here, he embodies a fugitive, for decades, on the brink of the French Revolution – well, I’m pretty sure everyone knows the story.  But here, Jackman is able to pivot back to an area of performing that he loves: musicals.  While the contemporary Hollywood musical comes back in fads, I think this film stands out due in part to the actors are all singing live while being filmed.  This not only enhances their performances but makes them feel honest and organic, particularly Jackman.

LOGAN 2016 Dir. James Mangold

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This is it (maybe).  Jackman in his last turn as Wolverine.  He brings his all to this film, not once coasting in a character he’s played seven times in seventeen years.  Here, Logan is broken, surrendered, and wanting his life to finally be over.  Bravo to Jackman for going all out for this role.  He didn’t have to, and it is incredibly admirable of him to treat this character with such fondness and respect.  While the overwhelming echo chamber of hype is loud, I imagine this is the film that everyone is going to remember Jackman for.

THE PRESTIGE 2006 Dir. Christopher Nolan

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Jackman has an incredible knack for taking all of his affability and rolling into ambiguous characters that are cast in the greyscale of morality.  Here, Jackman’s obsession takes him down a rabbit hole of darkness where he ends up doing things so unforgivable, there is not really much of a shot at redemption, but I suppose that’s the point of this dark and twisted tale of magicians bent on obsession.

PRISONERS 2013 Dir. Denis Villeneuve

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In the role of a grieving father, blinded by revenge and rage, Jackman plays his most complex character.  The brilliance of the film, but in particular, the development of Jackman’s character, is that we’re given clues to who this man in before the events of the film unravels at a rather rapid pace.  While some of the clues are aesthetic choices or shot composition, a majority of them are cued in by subtle actions Jackman takes.  While his character becomes more and more vested in revenge and violence, the path to atonement becomes more and more opaque, and Jackman eventually gets the ambiguous end that he deserves.  Or does he?

 

X-MEN: APOCALYPSE – A Review by Frank Mengarelli

X-MEN APOCALYPSE completely forgoes and abandons the immense promise we were given with DAYS OF FUTURE PAST. The entire film is a bloated and dull calamity. It is misguided at every turn. The direction, poor writing, and uninspired performances lead us to yet another third X-Men film that unintentionally tries it’s hardest at undoing the smart entertainment from its former two films.

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The setup, is yet another rehash of the idealist Professor X uniting with his former best friend and now arch nemesis, Magneto, to save humanity from yet another unstoppable force.  There is little to like about this film. Evan Peters as Quicksilver is the best part, but even his slow-motion scenes become a mundane walk-through. Hugh Jackman shows up in a forced and out of place cameo that leaves you wishing he wasn’t even in the film.

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Unlike the previous two X-Men prequel films where each story capitalized on it’s time period, APOCALYPSE does absolutely nothing to remind us that this film takes place in the 80’s aside from Jean Grey having shoulder pads and a trio of them seeing RETURN OF THE JEDI.  There is not any character progression for an of the existing characters, or any of the new ones.  They just exist.XA

FIRST CLASS wasn’t a great film, but it built a solid foundation for the epic and remarkable DAYS OF FUTURE PAST that brilliantly and organically rebooted the entire X-Men franchise. This new film completely squanders the fresh start we were promised. I loved DAYS OF FUTURE PAST, but pertaining to X-MEN APOCALYPSE, there ain’t nothing good about this shit at all.