Kaiju, Mutants and Robots Oh My! – Godzilla & X-Men: Days of Future Past Reviews

I’m going to make this one quick. The last couple of days have been a drain, but I wanted to at least get a quick review of these movies done. I’m going to do them both in the one post, and they’re going to be short reviews compared to the essays that I normally write. That way I can devote time to some other updates I’ve got in the works without feeling like I’ve got something else I have to do first.

Fair warning, same as whenever I review stuff, there could be some spoilers in here. I’ll try to avoid anything major.

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Godzilla – The most fun I’ve at the cinema had since Pacific Rim

Rating: 5 out of 5 Giant Lizards!

Just like the movie, the poster doesn't give away too much of Godzilla too soon.

Just like the movie, the poster doesn’t give away too much of Godzilla too soon.

I was so excited for Godzilla. After the god-awful mess of it that Roland Emmerich made back in 1998, I’d despaired of ever getting a good modern Godzilla film… and then the day I went to see it, I saw a review stating that the only good thing about this film was that it managed to make Emmerich’s version seem halfway decent. My dreams were crushed, but I already had a ticket, so off I went.

Having seen the film, I have two potential theories about why that critic wrote what he did:

  1. He was on crack, and had no idea what he was watching
  2. He was trying to make the film even more amazing than it already is by making sure people went in expecting the worst.

Those are about the only things that make sense to me, because seriously, this film was awesome. Much like Pacific Rim, I sat there giggling like a school girl (and if you’ve never seen bald bearded guy giggle like a school girl, trust me, it’s a weird sight), overwhelmed with just how much joy I was feeling throughout the whole film. As you’ve probably guessed, particularly if you’ve read my review of Pacific Rim, I have an undeniable love for giant monsters, and I’m unbelievably happy that they seem to be making a comeback at the moment.

The film starts off with a brilliantly designed title sequence showing archival footage that hints at the origins and history of Godzilla, with lots of little bits of information being posted up on the screen then quickly blocked out, as if it was being redacted from official reports. It did a great job of setting the scene for the story, leading into the opening scenes where we’re quickly introduced to the fact that kaiju are still around, and capable of causing massive disasters with little to no warning. The story is a pretty simple affair, but enjoyable nonetheless. Standard “Giant monsters wake up and fight, military tries to figure out what to do” deal, but it’s effective in moving the action along and getting the characters where they need to be.

I’m not going to say anything more about the actual story, since I do want to keep this brief. So let’s talk about the cast. Out of the non-Giant-Rampaging-Radioactive-Monster portion of the cast (because as much as I wish it could be, there’s always going to be a human story to these movies… though I live in hope that Michael Bay will one day realise that the true way to make a Transformers movie is to have one or two token humans, then make way for the goddamn robots!), I feel that the stand outs were Sally Hawkins and Ken Watanabe as the Monarch scientists, kaiju researchers who try to make sense of what’s happening; and Bryan Cranston as Joe Brody, a former engineer at the fictional Janjira nuclear power plant in who lost his wife during an early incident in the film. Bonus points for Ken Watanabe’s character, Dr. Ichiro Serizawa, being a reference to the old films, where Dr. Serizawa was the inventor of the Oxygen Destroyer, a weapon used to defeat Godzilla. Aaron Taylor-Johnson did a reasonable job as Lt. Ford Brody, son of Joe Brody and the protagonist of the film, as did Elizabeth Olsen as Elle Brody, Ford’s wife, but overall they were a bit bland. I’m probably not being fair to Taylor-Johnson and Olsen, but by the time they were front and center I was more interested in the giant monster action that was starting to ramp up.

Now, what we’re all here for. The kaiju. Oh man, they’re glorious. I don’t really want to spoil anything about the non-Godzilla ones, so I’ll just say that they’re beautifully designed, and were brought to life amazingly well. Obviously they’re CGI, but they look like they could be real. They’re also surprisingly adorable for giant rampaging killing machines, but maybe that’s just me. The big G though, Gojira himself… for a lot of the film, you won’t get a good look at him. Some people had issues with this, but I thought it worked really well, like in Jaws when you don’t actually see the shark properly for a long time. The build up makes the reveal that much more exciting. Anyway, suffice to say that Gareth Edwards has really shown his respect for the source material here. The King of the Monsters looks spectacular, with a very traditional design. Thick, powerful lower body, jagged spikes running up his back… it’s a familiar design, but a welcome one. So glad we didn’t end up with another giant dinosaur/iguana hybrid.

Visually, this film is stunning. There’s not much more I can say than that. The monsters look amazing, the fights are beautifully choreographed, and some of the scenery is just astounding. One scene in particular, the HALO drop shown in the teaser trailer, is jaw dropping. I’ll leave it there, since I really will just start rambling and repeating myself if I don’t move on. Give me a break, it’s 1:00 AM here.

So, problems with the film? I didn’t really have any significant enough to put a dent in my enjoyment of it. Okay, Ford and his family were one-dimensional. Yes, there were some cheesy bits. Probably a bit too much focus on the human element. But here’s the thing… all Godzilla films have that. There’s always the human story to give context to the giant monsters fighting.  I think the cheese and so on is an integral part of this kind of film. It helps offset the action, gives the viewer a break. I know the major issue some of my friends had with it was the constant teasing of the big fights, but again, wasn’t an issue for me. Your mileage may vary of course.

So, to sum up, I can’t think of much that would have made me happier with it. More Bryan Cranston maybe, I think he could have been a more compelling lead. More Ken Watanabe as well, but that’s just how I feel about live in general if I’m being honest. Considering that this is Gareth Edwards’ second film, and his first one, Monsters, was a low budget monster film (sometimes described as a “kaiju film with barely any kaiju”), I’m incredibly impressed with how it turned out. If this doesn’t get a sequel, I may just cry.

One final thing. This is going to be my one comment that might be considered an important spoiler, so you may want to skip ahead a little bit to the next review, but here goes…

**** WARNING: SPOILER****

I don’t give a damn what anyone says. The fact that they used the themes of Godzilla as an accidental protector of mankind/nature’s balancing factor is bloody awesome. We didn’t need the first film to show him as a menace before we could have him grow, for those who know the character, all that development is already there in the Japanese films. Plus, it gave us the best line in the whole film…

Dr. Serizawa: “The arrogance of men is thinking nature is in their control and not the other way around. Let them fight.”

**** GODZILLA SPOILER ENDS HERE ****

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X-Men: Days of Future Past Review – Best film in the franchise so far

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Mutants Approve!

I actually really dislike this poster... love the movie though!

I actually really dislike this poster… love the movie though!

**** SPOILER WARNING: I re-read this before publishing it, and it may be considered spoilerific. Sorry, unfortunately sometimes that happens when I’m reviewing stuff. I don’t think it’s too bad, but just in case, you have been warned! ****

It’s a strange thing, but I don’t actually read many superhero comics. Not the ones like X-Men, Batman and so on anyway. I’m more likely to read series like The Authority, Preacher, Transmetropolitan, The Invisibles and The Boys. I like my heroes ultra-violent and, in many cases, barely better than the villains themselves (just look at Billy Butcher from The Boys… Grade A psychopath, and he’s one of the good guys. Though he does have his reasons…). Despite that though, I really love comic book films. Maybe it’s because they’re generally made for more mature audiences. Now before anyone gets started, I realise that’s a big generalisation. The Punisher is obviously not for kids, and a lot of the stuff involving Wolverine is pretty brutal. Then you’ve got your Batman: Arkham Asylum’s and so on. The point is that those are the exceptions, not the rule, and they’re actually the stories that I’m likely to read that involve the big name heroes.

But we’re not here to talk about my taste in comic books. No, we’re here to talk about X-Men: Days of Future Past. The latest in the series, and the connection point between the original cast of the films and the new cast introduced in X-Men: First Class. Not only does it tie the story together nicely, it’s also soft reboot, allowing for previous mistakes to be wiped clean (I’m looking in your direction The Last Stand and Origins: Wolverine). I’m referring to it as a soft reboot because it’s not going down the route that The Amazing Spiderman took by just starting from scratch. Instead, it’s bringing the old Patrick Stewart/Ian McKellan led cast in for one last hurrah, setting up a new continuity, and leaving the path clear for the James McAvoy/Michael Fassbender led crew. I think it was a very effective way to pass the torch, and it paid off. The term critical acclaim isn’t being thrown around lightly for this film, it’s really deserving of it.

So what’s the setup here? Well, as the name suggests, it’s based on the Days of Future Past arc, considered one of the classic X-Men stories. The Sentinels, mutant hunting robots, are committing genocide against the mutants in the future, and Kitty Pryde goes back in time to stop it from ever happening. Which is where we hit our first major change. It’s Wolverine that goes back in the film. Which, when you think about it, is logical… they can’t send Kitty back, because in the timeline the films have established, Kitty wouldn’t have been born in the 70’s, when the Sentinel program got started. So the film opens in a futuristic internment camp for mutants, and sets the scene for Wolverine’s mind to be projected back into his past self, ready to try to save the future. Once he gets there, it’s time to find Professor X and Magneto, and get to work on making sure those Sentinels never go into mass production.

The fact that this is a last-ditch effort to save their people, and time sensitive, gives the story a nice sense of urgency. The film clips along at a fair pace, with plenty of action to keep the audience engaged, while also managing to throw some fascinating character development in there as well. McAvoy’s young Professor X in particular has a great arc, going from wallowing in self-pity to realising that there’s always hope, and that sometimes he can’t control everything. The nature of the story covering future and past also allowed for some interesting contrasts. There are some truly heart-wrenching moments here, and I’m not ashamed to admit that in one scene in particular I teared up a little. There’s a touching scene where McKellen’s Magneto laments all the years he spent fighting Stewart’s Charles Xavier, when they could have been working together for a better world… while in the past, Fassbender’s Magneto is making decision after decision that are turning him further away from the path of the better man. Overall, I think the script is really well put together, and they’ve succeeded in filming it in such a way that it perfectly conveys the story they wanted to tell. There’s some nice little jokes in there as well, including a variation on the Wolverine walking through a metal detector gag.

The cast. What to say here. Well, I’ve already mentioned how much I like McAvoy as Charles Xavier and Fassbender as Magneto. Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen are fantastic, as is to be expected (I actually don’t think either of them are capable of a bad performance). Hugh Jackman is, as always, wonderful as Wolverine, getting the right balance of snark, sarcasm, and wry humour to go with his violent approach to problem solving. Jennifer Lawrence is back as Mystique, and is even better this time around (and I liked her in First Class). Halle Berry return as Storm, but it’s a minor role. To be honest, I’ve never really liked Berry as Storm, except maybe in the original film, so I was kind of glad that she didn’t play a huge role.

Ellen Page is as adorable as ever as Kitty Pryde, Shawn Ashmore plays a decent Iceman (though I can’t take that beard of his seriously). Rounding out the future mutants, there’s a lot of small but important appearances by Bishop (Omar Sye), Warpath (Booboo Stewart), Colossus (Daniel Cudmore), Sunspot (Adan Canto) and Blink (Fan Bingbing, who is confirmed to be reprising her role in the next film, X-Men: Apocalypse). This may sound like a lot of mutants to introduce as minor characters, but it works far better than it did in The Last Stand. In fact the future fight scenes are incredibly impressive, because each of the mutants works together, using their powers to support each other instead of going solo.

Back in the past, Nicholas Hoult is young Beast again, which I approve of. He plays the character in a very earnest, slightly naive manner, which I thought worked really well. There are two actors here who really deserve special mention though. Evan Peters was perfect as Quicksliver/Peter Maximoff, and despite only showing up for a small part of the film, completely stole the show as far as I’m concerned. I really hope he’s going to play a bigger role in later films. But what’s a comic book film without a villain. Bolivar Trask, creator of the Sentinels, is played by Peter Dinklage, and my god is he glorious. I’ve always liked Dinklage’s work, and this is no exception. The character is played with such conviction, and he’s not just a one-dimensional mutant hater. He has motives, he has plans, and he’ll do what he has to in order to meet his goals.

The film is gorgeous to look at, there’s no arguing about that. From the dark, depressing dystopian world of the future, to the bright colours and loud fashion of the 70’s (and on that note, why did we ever move away from that? Just look at what Beast and Wolverine are wearing… I want it!). Peter Dinklage in particular looks fantastic, with his huge 70’s glasses, hair and moustache, and his well tailored suits. The attention to detail is great, with little touches like lava lamps and so on thrown in to really drive home the time period. The set piece battles are suitably epic, but not overblown. I never felt like they were stretching the fights out for the sake of it, everything flowed together nicely and seemed natural. Quicksilver’s big scene was spectacular to watch , and got quite a bit of laughter from the audience to boot. Of course the big thing in an X-Men film is the powers, and they were suitably impressive. The future fights, where Blink is throwing portals all over the place, Sunspot’s doing his human flamethrower act, and Colossus is punching things the way only a bit metal man can, were impressive to behold. Likewise, the Sentinels (both past and future) are really well realised. The future ones make me think a bit of the Terminators, in that they can morph and take on new shapes as needed, while the past have a very cool retro look, paying homage to the comic book version without being a direct translation.

As always, there’s a few minor issues with the story. Continuity wise, I would have liked an explanation for how Professor X got his body back in the future after being blown up by Phoenix in The Last Stand (the stinger for that film shows that his mind has taken refuge in a coma patient, but that doesn’t explain how he looks like Patrick Stewart again), and how Wolverine got his metal claws back after the final scenes of The Wolverine. But those are minor concerns really, and aren’t worth worrying about. Something a lot of people seem to be commenting on is the fact that Kitty Pryde has an ability to send people back through time seemingly out of nowhere. This doesn’t really bother me, since in the comics it’s long been established that many mutants will develop secondary mutations, often in times of stress, as a means of survival. Emma Frost is a good example, initially she was just a telepath, her diamond form is a secondary mutation that she developed while in the middle of a bombing zone. So I don’t find it that unbelievable to think that Kitty’s time-phasing ability is just a secondary mutation. Additionally, any continuity errors that did exist are now void, because the timeline has essentially been reset as of 1973.

Which leads to the future of the series. As I mentioned before, X-Men: Apocalypse has been confirmed, and is to be set in the 1980’s. It looks like the plan from this point on is to tell the altered history of the timeline post Days of Future Past, and I have to admit that I’m really looking forward to it. I can’t wait to see how they continue this. My understanding is that the original cast (except Hugh Jackman) are essentially retiring from the series, with new actors taking on the roles of younger versions of the characters.

To sum it up, I wouldn’t hesitate to say that Days of Future Past is my favourite of the films so far, with First Class and X-Men 2 close behind it. It’s everything I hoped for, and more. Let’s just hope they can keep it up.

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Right, well that’s it from me for now. I’m going to try to get a few hours sleep before work now that I’ve managed to finish this off… but given that I was writing this because I couldn’t sleep, the odds are that I’ll just go to work on no sleep and smash down some coffee again. Ah well. I might come back and see if I can tidy this up a bit later on, since I may have rambled a bit due to tiredness. No promises though, since as I said at the start, I have other updates that I want to get finished.

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Written while listening to Chevelle’s discography on random again. Been going back to them a lot lately, something about them is just grabbing me and won’t let go. Currently I’m listening to their first album, Point #1. Very raw, but still excellent. 

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