Friday, August 8, 2014

Short reviews: X-Men Days of Future Past, Edge of Tomorrow, 22 Jump Street

Ah dammit Ken, just get on with it! Review the damn movies you saw this summer!

Ok fine! I've seen five movies since June 1st. Here's my thoughts on the first three.

X-Men: Days of Future Past

Whenever a good superhero movie comes along, it's very easy to anoint its status as "the superhero movie of the summer." And while I have been granted the gift on hindsight, it's still telling how less than three months later, nobody's really talking about Days of Future Past. Now, was it a good film? Sure, it had its high points, but people talking as if this movie worked on every level were clearly drinking the hype kool-aid.

And there was much hype surrounding this X-Men film. Not since X2, probably, has there been as much hype surrounding the longest-running superhero 'chise that has yet to have been rebooted. After the success of 2011's First Class, this was the movie where we'll see Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Hugh Jackman (among others) act alongside James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, and Jennifer Lawrence! Except, that's not really what happened...

While you certainly get to see nearly every X-Men character (past and present) on the big screen, the story is framed so that the "old" characters are in one storyline and the "young" characters are in another. Utilizing time travel, Hugh Jackman's Wolverine is given the task to go back in time to the 1970s where he must save Austin Powers's mojo... no wait, that's another movie. Wolverine goes back in time to find young Professor X and Magneto so that they can stop Mystique from making a big mistake that has had a horrific effect on humanity.

Once Wolverine finds X and Magneto, the character more-or-less takes a backseat. So, basically, Days of Future Past is more like a direct sequel to First Class with a little bit of the old X-Men cast thrown in there in the beginning and end (except for Wolverine). Don't get me wrong, the 1970s scenes are entertaining as hell and I really really enjoy seeing this X-Men world in the '70s backdrop. Bryan Singer also seemed eager to play with his new X-Men action figures, it's just a shame the "future X-Men" storyline just isn't as entertaining.

All-in-all, it's an enjoyable film, but I didn't like the way the ending kinda pieced things together a little too perfectly. By the end, pretty much everyone's come back to life. And while it's nice to see that everyone is back, alive, and in good health, I couldn't help but ask myself... how much more of this franchise can I take?

Grade: B

Edge of Tomorrow

I had my doubts on this Tom Cruise-led actioner for a few reasons. First of all, I'm getting tired of Tom Cruise doing action film after action film. He's one of the most entertaining actors of my lifetime and it kills me to see him appear in such middle-of-the-road films. Secondly, the similarities between the plot of this film and movies like Groundhog Day and Source Code just didn't make this movie seem like a must-see.

And apparently, I wasn't alone as the rest of America also seemed to have put that same idiotic stigma against the film. The movie has been out over two months and has still not crossed $100 million domestic. The shocking truth of Tom Cruise's recent movie career: the dude has had only one film gross more than $100 million domestic since 2007. Unless you count his appearance in Tropic Thunder, but we're talking films starring Cruise.

That's insanity. You know why? Because the movie actually turned to be the best action-blockbuster of the summer. It may not have been the smartest or brainiest film, but goddamn it's entertaining. It never takes itself or its premise too seriously. Something happens to Cruise's character early on in the film which prevents him from dying. He gets sent out to the battlefield and when his character is struck by a fatal blow, he wakes up that previous morning. Each time he wakes up, he has to adjust his daily routine in order find a way to survive (and most importantly, for all of humanity to survive).

What also helps this movie is the incredibly badass performance from Emily Blunt, who previously proved her badassness in Rian Johnson's "Looper" two years earlier. With "Edge of Tomorrow," Blunt actually makes a pretty convincing case that she should be a legitimate action star as she holds her own pretty well against Tom Cruise, who has a larger than life presence in any movie he appears in. Cruise and Blunt actually have great chemistry together and the screenplay allows time for them to grow as characters even if they are constantly going through the same motions of the day.

Director Doug Liman has the chops to make a great action film. He directed "The Bourne Identity" after all. But we can't forget that he's got a humorous side too. Remember, he directed "Swingers." So with "Edge of Tomorrow," we get the perfect combination of great action and humor. There are legitimate laugh-out-loud moments in the film. And for once, Tom Cruise doesn't seem like he's mailing it in. He really seems to dig the world his character is in and because I enjoyed him so much in this film, it saddens me to see that the rest of this country is no longer responding to him the way that they should. Tom Cruise may be a bit of an egomaniac, but goddamnit, he's entertaining as hell to watch on the screen when he's in the right movie. If not for an ending that felt a little weak compared to everything else, this would be an "A" movie.

Grade: B+

22 Jump Street


When "Anchorman 2" came out to kind reviews and a strong box office return, the subsequent conversation among critics and fans alike was just what you'd expect it to be... was it as good as the first film? Well, no. Anchorman 2 wasn't as good as the first. This got people thinking... are there any good comedy sequels? Why do so many comedy sequels fail?

Leave it to Jonah Hill, Phil Lord, Chris Miller, and the movie's screenwriters to answer that question. Instead of "22 Jump Street" being a straight-up sequel to the successful 2012 comedy. "22 Jump Street" moreso plays out like a dissection of all the bad comedy sequels that have come out before. Don't get it twisted: there is an actual plot and plenty of great jokes in the film. Hill and Channing Tatum do get to go to college. But there are many hilarious instances where "22" makes this point clear: it knows it's a comedy sequel.

That's right, "22 Jump Street" is a hilarious comedy that's 100% self-aware. Thanks to the success of "21," the sequel has been given a bigger budget. Why? "For no fucking reason," explains Ice Cube. And there's a great chase sequence in the film where Hill/Tatum are tracking down the bad guys, after being warned by their boss that they're on a tight budget, and every time something breaks, the characters cringe because of how much money they're wasting. It's so meta, but it all works so wonderfully and the movie has this great infectious energy to it... which is most definitely thanks to the Lord/Miller directing duo (who also directed The LEGO Movie that came out earlier this year... I mean, c'mon, these guys are on a roll).

Much like Seth Rogen and Zac Efron in "Neighbors," the combination of foul-mouth comedian and stud works wonders here. Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum are a hilarious team, and while the ending of "22" suggests that there probably won't be a "23 Jump Street," I sure hope these guys team up in another movie at some point in the future. As for Phil Lord and Chris Miller? Yeah, they have made it clear that they are the new directing duo to watch. Combined, they are like Edgar Wright of America, but I consider what they do to be a little more challenging because, between Jump Street and Legos, they are re-working popular franchises and putting their own stamp on them. Even though I'd always prefer such talented filmmakers to do original material... honestly, if Lord and Miller were behind a "Rock'em Sock'em Robots movie," I'd see the film on opening day. "22 Jump Street" is easily the best comedy of the year thus far. And it's a sequel! What a feat!

Grade: A

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