For the past 14-years, the X-Men movie franchise has been churning out stories loosely based on Marvel’s seminal comic book series. X-Men: Days Of Future Past (DOFP), the 7th instalment in the movie franchise is without a doubt the most “comic-booky” chapter, which immediately places it in the top tier of the X-movies. Although this is a film that will certainly appeal to a very wide audience, I suspect that die-hard X-Men fans may still be left wanting.

The film kicks off in the not too distant future where mutant hunting killing machines named Sentinels have decimated the mutant population as well as turned on the human race that created them. Knowing that their defeat at the hands of the Sentinels is inevitable, and proving that at least one member of the team was familiar with the plot of The Terminator, the remaining band of X-Men rally together for a last ditch effort to save humanity. The remaining X-Men send Wolverine’s (Hugh Jackman) consciousness back into the past so that he may prevent the assassination of Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), the individual whose murder is the catalyst that leads to the initiation of the Sentinel program.  Wolverine returns to 1973 only to find the era’s team of X-Men fragmented and the remaining members emotionally defeated. Armed with the knowledge of the future apocalypse (as well as terrifying bone claws that protrude from his knuckles), it is up to Wolverine to reunite a young Charles Xavier/Professor X (James McAvoy) and young Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (Michael Fassbender) at the height of their rivalry.

In movies based on comics, directors often feel that they have to put a unique spin of their own on their superhero film’s mythology and in the process, often strip the film of the familiar elements of the series that fans connect with. This time however, Bryan Singer (returning to the series after a 10-year absence) has lifted a classic X-Men story straight from the pages of the comics and translated it about as well as can be expected in a 2-hour film. Sadly, the majority of the mutants in the film have Lilliputian character arcs. The majority of X-characters in DOFP mostly just get to show their range of quickly bad-ass leather clad poses before quickly producing agonizing death faces at the cold dead hands of a Sentinel. Regardless of their limited screen time, it is still cool to see so many characters given a moment to shine on screen. Including so many characters in the film adds to the scale of the conflict and makes me feel like there are other stories going on in this expansive world while we happen to focus on this particular band of villains and heroes.

The true heart of the movie lies in the scenes shared between Xavier and Magneto and it is in these few moments where DOFP transcends being just another action flick. McAvoy and Fassbender leave it all on the table and their opposing terrorist versus freedom fighter philosophies convey enough earnestness to both their causes that much of the audience will leave the film questioning who the heroes and the villains of the film really were.

DOF is n extraordinary visual smorgasbord of commotion, and exactly what a comic-book movie is meant to look like. Seeing Iceman create a track of ice and slide across the screen was a dream that I had given up on after viewing X-2. CGI has advanced to the point where it is cost effective to render the powers of even C-list characters like Blink and Sunspot without the risk of bankrupting the studio. The battles between mutants and sentinels are just as epic as anything inked on a comic panel. What particularly stood out was the clever way that the film depicts the ingenuity of each character in the way that they use of their powers. A C-list character like Quicksilver was able to hi-jack the movie with his frantic prison break antics while Magneto ripping a baseball stadium from its foundation and using it as a barricade was as epic as anything seen on film this year. This is clearly the antithesis of the hyper realistic take on comic books displayed in Christopher Nolan’s Batman films.

The weakness of the previous X-Men films has always been an inability to capture the camaraderie shared within the X-family and sadly this movie is no different. I can understand the complexity of trying to script a film with such a multitude of beloved characters without giving someone the short end of the stick. Earlier films the eschewed the family dynamics of the X-Men completely, making the series into what felt like the Wolverine show. Fleshing out Wolverine and placing him as the anchor of the franchise relegated everyone else to the roles of mere asteroids in his planets orbit. Fans that are familiar with the X-Men universe understand that singling a character out to such an intense degree conflicts with the team components that are essence of the series. The X-men tales often cover complex themes about coming of age and finding out how important finding your true family is when you exist in a world that doesn’t understand you. Fans have adored X-Men stories for over 50-years for the soap opera type plot twists as well as the tender moments amongst characters that take place between all of the action. When opening up an issue you are just as likely to see a story about an uneventful Friday night spent on the couch, eating pizza and discussing break ups, as you are to see spandex clad heroes fighting maniacal villains. In DOFP, the stakes always feel so high that the film never takes its foot of the gas pedal to explore the quieter moments. Last summer’s Guardians of the Galaxy blended several unconventional yet compelling characters together into one dysfunctional superhero team that carried the weight of saving the universe on their shoulders, resulting in a hit film that completely out “X-Men’d” the X-Men movies.

Despite being the franchise that ushered in the age of the blockbuster superhero movie, in terms of being good overall films the X-Men series is a very late bloomer. As someone familiar with the X-Men universe, I found the film to be a fine superhero movie but not a great X-Men movie. As much as I enjoyed this film, I still couldn’t help but wonder if the X-Men, with their vast array of characters and numerous social themes might just be better suited for an HBO miniseries.  The franchise seemed to have corrected course with 2011’s First Class reboot and refocusing the series attention on the dynamic relationship between young versions of Erik and Charles seemed to help the series find its narrative groove. Now that the films now have an engaging emotional centerpiece to go along with its stories about a ragtag group of misfits co-existing in this expansive mutant world, I feel like the foundation for an authentic X-Men story is now properly set in place. Although this is not the version of X-Men that I have been waiting to see represented on the big screen, I walked away from DOFP with a smile on my face and optimistic about what will come next.

When episode 1 of Supernatural first launched no one could ever predict this first episode would grow into the franchise it is today. The series has continued to grow to this day, and this author at Zone 6 has decided to take a look at each and every episode “sense” then!

This pilot episode does a good job of intriguing the viewer right from the start. A man and his wife, living the American dream in a beautiful home. He hears something weird and goes to check on his wife. Only to find her stuck to the ceiling right before she bursts into flames.

Now you cut to the scene where Sam, a smart and upcoming young man, is at a Halloween Party. Not to soon after his brother, Dean, breaks into his house once Sam leaves the party. This is the first look anyone gets of the Winchester brothers. Dean hints at their father went on a “hunt” and has not called back home yet. Despite not seeing each other for years, Dean asks for Sam’s help.

The woman in white on the bridge in this episode is both classic and cliché. While the woman’s story is sad, it’s easy to see the writers needed a fast away to introduce the brothers into the job they do. One of the best parts of this episode was actually seeing the interaction between Dean and Sam. The brothers are awkward around each other, but that’s to be expected for guys who have not seen each other for years. Sam teasing Dean for his choice in music, and Dean arguing since it was his car only classic rock is on the menu for the radio.

Dean gets arrested after he and Sam investigate the bridge. The local police suspect Dean is responsible for the kidnappings. When the police leave Dean grabs his Dad’s journal and breaks out of the police station. He has nothing more than his father’s journal to guide him as he goes to find Sam.

Towards the end of the episode Sam and Dean end up solving their case less than gratefully. Sam crashes the car into the home of the white woman who drowned her children. Thus forcing her to accept her loss and pass on as a spirit. This is where you also get to learn about Dean’s love for his Impala. Once Sam returns home what happened to his mother has happened to his girlfriend as well. She is on the ceiling, blood dripping down onto Sam, and she bursts into flames only a few seconds later.

Episode 1 does a good job of getting the viewer to wonder what happens next. It gets its message across that Sam and Dean are “Hunters.” Hunters are people who have been exposed to the supernatural, and solve cases. However, the first episode of the series can quickly become boring for anyone not interested in ghosts, demons, and other things that go bump in the night. Sam and Dean’s constant bickering is tiresome and stiff. In all fairness, the actors were young back then and just starting out. They are not as close then as they are today and have grown into their roles quite well.

In the author’s opinion, while this first episode is interesting the first time, when watching it a second time it’s easy to forget. The story starts out with a bit of a cliché start and some classic bad boy tropes going on when it comes to Dean. However, for an episode that has been able to catch thousands of fans it has of the series it does win itself a little justice. It’s interesting if you’ve never seen it before, but after re-watching it the first episode can usually be skipped to watch the more interesting episodes.

I’m probably going to to go a slightly different path on this review versus my previous film reviews about the Hobbit and not give you a standard walk-through.  I mean lets be honest, most people have read the book now anyways and know the story based on where the previous movie ended and what happened at the beginning of the Lord of the Rings (for those that have no clue … here’s a hint – Bilbo lives!) and for those that haven’t there are lots of other sites online that will do this for you.  I think in this review (which will still contain *SPOILERS*) I am going to focus more on my opinion and thoughts and while I might at times refer to specific elements of the movie, that won’t be the primary way throughout this guide.

OK, with all that out of the way, lets get down to it shall we?

The Battle of the Five Armies is the 3rd part of Peter Jackson’s rather epic trilogy of the Hobbit.  The Hobbit (book) while only a relatively short book (especially in relation to the Lord of the Rings) was targeted more towards a younger audience than its successors and that is evident in the first two films also.  There is singing & lots of humor in the earlier films and while there are some darker sequences and scenes the earlier films manage to balance this out.  By contrast however the Battle of the Five Armies is much darker in context and scope.  It focuses a lot on “lust” – in this case, the lust for gold and how that can drive even the strongest of willed (Thorin Oakenshield) to ruin.

English: Replica of the One ring from The Hobb...
English: Replica of the One ring from The Hobbit and The Lord of the rings trilogy. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By the end of the 2nd film – The Desolation of Smaug – there was really only 65 pages remaining to the Hobbit … basically a sequence in which Smaug the dragon sets fire to a town built on a lake; another sequence in which some dwarves, elves and humans bicker over which of them gets to keep the dragon’s gold; and a battle between these bickerers and an orc army. It’s not much material for a two-and-a-half-hour film. So how does Jackson fill the running time?

Well I think its fairly obvious that Peter Jackson also has realized that he won’t be revisiting Middle Earth again (unless of course he is able to do something with the Silmarillion) – he has perhaps gone a bit overboard in this movie as to some extent it almost feels like a travelogue of/for New Zealand while at the same time its very obviously a going away present for himself.

Some key complaints that I had are probably as follows:

  • Legolas – while I know in my previous post I indicated that his inclusion while not necessary didn’t really detract from the book, in this film it really did.  His scenes were pointless really and overly complicated.  The fight sequence on the bridge was way too long and the whole sequence with the bat was a bit ridiculous.
  • Dain the dwarf – Thorin’s cousin was actually really funny & both myself and the children laughed as he knocked the orc’s out right and left … but doing it by headbutting them?  That seems to be a bit silly doesn’t it?  Is he only hard headed dwarf?  If it was that easy, why bother with an axe or hammer?
  • Thorin’s whole fight sequence too was perhaps overly belabored and could have ended sooner
  • Bilbo & Smaug – perhaps my biggest complaint about them was that we didn’t really get enough time with them.  Smaug specifically appeared only to die in the opening minutes of the film – this should probably have been concluded in the previous film as it simply didn’t have the same impact.

Now lets talk about the positive – this movie was epic.  The fight scenes while long were glorious & the CGI is immeasurably better than it was in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  While the sequence with Gandalf and Sauron was perhaps also a bit contrived, it showed in no uncertain way, why these wizards and Elf Kings and Queens were paramount in the land.  While you would not expect a wizard to be a martial arts expert at the same time, their skill is evident and they have power!

However with that being said could this have been shrunk to two movies and retained its impact?  Overall I’d have to say yes.  While the fighting was glorious – it was also long and in parts your mind tended to wander.  As scary as the villains may be (as ever in the Middle Earth films, beauty is equated with virtue, and ugliness with evil), they’re awfully easy to kill. In one scene, Bilbo throws three stones, one after the other, and each time he hits a towering orc between the eyes, leaving it stone dead. I’ve already mentioned my complaint about Smaug and I think if he’d died in the previous film, it would have definitely had a much greater impact as with a year in between films you lose the awe that he inspired.  Legolas as a whole could have probably been cut from this film without it hurting the continuity in any significant way (although I do have to admit the final line where he’s told to seek out a ranger in the west are quite cool).

So why did he do it?  Why did he take a small childrens’ book and transform it into this huge 3 film epic?  Its probably a question that only Peter Jackson can truly answer, but he has stated that he wanted all of his Middle Earth films to work together in one cohesive whole.  This is why he’s transformed a children’s story into a darker and more grim tale … one that works well with the Lord of the Rings.  Personally I’m not sure if he was successful and I can see that this might be the first (& only) time that a Director’s cut of a film will actually shrink the length of a film versus increasing it.  I know that if he doesn’t do it – someone else will & will also give us the film we all really want to see.