The Top 15 Movies I Reviewed in 2017!

List by Derrick Carter

Throughout the course of 2017, I posted 206 movie reviews on this blog. Though about a quarter of those were rewatches (covering the SAW and CHILD’S PLAY franchises before their latest installments, and also paying tribute to the passing of genre legend George A. Romero), I managed to catch plenty of fresh new films, forgotten flicks, and classics that I simply hadn’t gotten around to watching. As with last year, 2017’s “Best of” list will cover movies that I watched for the first time in my life. This means that old and new films are on the table, regardless of what year they came out. If a film was new to me and I loved it, then I’m including it with my favorite films that I watched in 2017!

Before I get into my 15 favorite films that I reviewed this year, there are some honorable mentions. I had previously seen THE EXORCIST, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, THE THING, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, and ALIENS before this year. Otherwise, they would be on this list. As far as first-time watches, I truly enjoyed the groundbreaking drama MOONLIGHT and adored the 80s throwback STRANGER THINGS. Concerning new horror films, THE EYES OF MY MOTHER seriously disturbed me, THE VOID was a phenomenal Lovecraftian nightmare, and THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS was one hell of a zombie film! WONDER WOMAN also wound up as my second-favorite superhero film of 2017. As for indie thrillers, WIND RIVER was a gripping ride and GOOD TIME was a neon-lit throwback to Martin Scorsese’s early work.

Now, without further ado, onto my top 15 favorite films that I reviewed during 2017…

15. MY FRIEND DAHMER: Most serial killer films focus on chilling murders of their subjects, but MY FRIEND DAHMER is not like most serial killer films. Based on the graphic novel of the same name, MY FRIEND DAHMER is a chilling drama that chronicles the pre-murderous life of Jeffrey Dahmer and examines him as a high school weirdo. By somewhat “humanizing” this psycho, the film doesn’t attempt to elicit sympathy towards its titular cannibal killer and instead shines a light on the fact that people we went to high school might very well turn into monsters seen in news headlines. Though there isn’t a single (human) murder to be found, MY FRIEND DAHMER joins the ranks among the best films about real-life serial killers (MONSTER, ZODIAC, HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER, and THE SNOWTOWN MURDERS).

14. FOUR LIONS: The idea of tackling Islamic terrorism through a darkly comic lens might sound completely misguided on paper, but FOUR LIONS is the best comedy that I sat through all year! The film follows four idiotic would-be terrorists as they attempt to execute a devastating attack, but constantly fumble over their own stupidity and reveal themselves to be bumbling morons. In my opinion, painting Islamic terrorists in this ridiculous light strips some of the power away from them in a similar way to what Charlie Chaplin did to Hitler in THE GREAT DICTATOR or what Rogen/Franco did to Kim Jong-Un with THE INTERVIEW. If you’re down for dark comedy and don’t mind totally offensive punchlines, you should give FOUR LIONS a watch in the near future!

13. HARD BOILED: Last year, LADY SNOWBLOOD wound up being one of my favorite movie-going experiences as I saw it in a packed cinema pub screening. This year, that cinema pub moviegoing experience belongs to HARD BOILED. This shoot ’em up actioner is over-the-top to the point of being ridiculous. Ridiculously awesome! Each gun fight plays out like a carefully choreographed dance and the film features one of the most jaw-dropping single take sequences that I’ve ever laid my eyes upon. Though it relies on a few cop movie clichés, it utilizes these in a loving way that makes the familiar material seem fresh. If you’re into action films and you haven’t seen HARD BOILED, then you need to remedy that immediately!

12. T2 TRAINSPOTTING: In all honesty, I didn’t know what exactly to expect from a sequel to TRAINSPOTTING. I love that film and I know that novelist Irvine Welsh wrote a follow-up novel, but I didn’t know how that might translate into a cinematic sequel. Over two decades after its predecessor’s release, T2 TRAINSPOTTING serves as an amazing companion piece to the original. Using the same cast and experimental visual style (albeit through a much more polished lens), TRAINSPOTTING 2 delivers stellar performances and naturally follows the lives of the four ne’er do wells from the previous film. If you loved the first film, then you’ll probably love this one too. For a full experience, it’s best to watch both of them back-to-back in the space of a single night!

11. NORTH BY NORTHWEST: This may be blasphemy for a cinephile, but I actually haven’t seen many Alfred Hitchcock films. I love PSYCHO, THE BIRDS, and DIAL M FOR MURDER, but the rest of his filmography is basically a mystery to my movie-craving eyes. My first viewing of NORTH BY NORTHWEST took place in the best possible environment (a packed movie theater) and I was blown away by how thrilling this film is. This is basically a James Bond film before Bond ever hit the screen. Cary Grant serves as a charismatic leading man who’s on the run for a murder he didn’t commit. Over the space of his death-defying adventure, we gets lots of suspense, action, and unexpected plot twists. I was on the edge of my seat for this entire film and walked away extremely satisfied. If the rest of Hitchcock’s filmography is anywhere near this great, then I’m in for a real treat as I continue to watch his work.

10. I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE: Blending a Coen brothers style of humor with indie thriller sensibilities, I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE might just be the most underseen and underrated film of 2017! This movie won an audience award at Sundance and then went directly to Netflix, where some people talked about for a couple of weeks and then it just kind of seemed to vanish out of the public eye. This is a vigilante thriller that’s believable in how inept real-life wannabe vigilantes might be and frequently dishes out shocking spurts of graphic violence. This might be the best Coen brothers film that the Coen brothers never made and I can’t wait to see what first-time director/writer Macon Blair cooks up next!

9. BABY DRIVER: What can I say? Edgar Wright consistently makes great films. BABY DRIVER is a passion project that Wright had in the works for years. In a similar fashion to how George Miller carefully planned out every scene, shot, and effect in MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, Wright constantly lets the viewer know that they’re in the hands of a visionary storyteller. This stylish crime tale about a getaway driver who (ironically enough) wants to get away from his criminal lifestyle is loaded with colorful characters, hilarious humor, and adrenaline-pumping action that’s synced up to one of the best damn soundtracks you’ll hear all year. I gushed over this movie back in June and I am still gushing about it now. If you want a joy ride of pure fun, BABY DRIVER will satisfy your cinematic craving!

8. THE DISASTER ARTIST: Never in a million years did I think that anything to do with Tommy Wiseau’s so-bad-it’s-good THE ROOM would ever wind up on any “Best of” list. Yet, here we are. James Franco lovingly adapts the nonfiction book about the creation of THE ROOM to the big screen in a way that’s not only hilarious, but also genuinely touching. THE DISASTER ARTIST doesn’t take the easy route of being a goofy comedy about a loser who fails so spectacularly that he kind of succeeds. Instead, this film takes a more complicated drama-comedy approach and shows us the more serious side of oddball Tommy Wiseau…and his strange friendship with would-be aspiring actor Greg Sestero. THE DISASTER ARTIST is a moving must-see for ROOM fans and cinephiles who just love great movies in general.

7. BLADE RUNNER 2049: I’m saying it right now, BLADE RUNNER 2049 is one of the best sequels to ever hit the silver screen. Over three decades after its predecessor’s debut, BLADE RUNNER 2049 recaptures the bleak sci-fi/noir spark that made the original into the cult classic that it is today. 2049’s cast all deliver amazing performances across the board, with supporting actors making the biggest impressions in their small minutes of screen time and Ryan Gosling serving as a fascinating new antihero. Besides delivering a complex mystery that unpredictably shifts directions as it goes along, 2049 also has one of the most beautiful romantic subplots in years and it features a literal “one-dimensional” character. For those who were bummed out by this film’s disappointing box office returns, remember that the first BLADE RUNNER was a box office flop and is now considered to be one of the greatest science-fiction films of all time. A similar classic status will undoubtedly follow BLADE RUNNER 2049 in future years!

6. WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES: Seven years ago, if you had told me that a PLANET OF THE APES prequel trilogy would be one of the best cinematic trilogies ever, I would have laughed in your face. It turns out that’s exactly the case though. 2014’s DAWN drastically improved upon the minor flaws of 2011’s RISE, but 2017’s WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES is stellar storytelling from beginning to end. Themes of revenge, survival, and forgiveness are examined throughout the film’s ever-changing plot. Performance wise, WAR fully shapes out intelligent ape Caesar (played wonderfully by Andy Serkis) as animal protagonist who’s more compelling than most human protagonists in films and also introduces Woody Harrelson as a monstrous villain who we want to see die in the most painful way possible. WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES was the best possible way to conclude the APES prequel trilogy and is one of the best summer blockbusters I’ve ever sat through!

5. IRREVERSIBLE: I originally heard about Gaspar Noe’s rape-revenge drama from a podcast in 2008, but hadn’t bothered to give it a look until earlier this year. Though not strictly a horror film by any means, IRREVERSIBLE is a terrifying cinematic experience as events are told backwards. Unlike other linear rape-revenge stories, we see the revenge come first and travel backwards through the moments that eventually lead up to the violent act of justice. As the film plays out in reverse (ironic considering its title), we put pieces of this depressing puzzle together for ourselves and this already tragic event becomes even more tragic with each new revelation. This isn’t a film for the faint-hearted and it’s about as bleak as they come, but IRREVERSIBLE is an uncompromising masterpiece that deserves to be seen by anybody who loves the serious artistic side of cinema!

4. LOGAN: There will never be a better Wolverine than Hugh Jackman. I’m saying that right now. Over a decade has been spent watching Jackman in the role of this weaponized mutant, so LOGAN serves as a suitable final chapter for Jackman’s reluctant do-gooder. The future X-MEN films have a tough act to follow, because LOGAN is a special kind of superhero story. Relationships between the small cast of characters drives the emotional core of this film forward, whilst the R rating finally delivers something that X-MEN fans have wanted to see since 2000: a bad-ass Wolverine slicing and dicing his way through bad guys. This film also has shades of Cormac McCarthy’s THE ROAD crossed with a comic book story that’s about as unconventional as they come. Now that Disney is in talks to own the X-MEN franchise, we likely won’t see another film like LOGAN coming from this mutant-based series. LOGAN is a one-of-a-kind superhero film and one of the best comic book movies ever made!

3. EYES WIDE SHUT: Stanley Kubrick’s final film is an underrated masterpiece about the way in which people delude themselves into believing that they’re happy…and also there’s a creepy sex cult involved too. The entire film has a dream-like atmosphere as we watch the main character (Tom Cruise) venture through a single night odyssey that explores the sexual possibilities of cheating on his wife. Kubrick masterfully shows the dire consequences that might result from following our instinctual desires, whilst also putting us into the place of Cruise’s character. This is especially true of the ending which offers two distinct possibilities: one of them is easy and comforting…and the other one is ambiguous and dangerous. Whatever you might think of it or how you might interpret it, EYES WIDE SHUT is sure to keep you talking about it long after it’s over.

2. YOUR NAME: Eat your heart out Studio Ghibli! YOUR NAME just might be one of the most beautiful stories I’ve ever sat through. This film has gorgeous animation from beginning to end, while also delivering an entrancing tale of emotions and body-swapping. It’s initial set-up sounds like the anime equivalent of FREAKY FRIDAY, but drastically becomes something far more charming and moving as its complex plot moves along. This might be one of the strangest love stories ever put to the screen, but its emotional resonance is undeniable! The characters are all built up to the point where the viewer feels for their struggles and deeply cares about them. This makes the film’s final third into a very suspenseful and gripping ride. Also, the climax is utterly perfect. YOUR NAME is a masterpiece and deserves every bit of praise it has received so far (and will continue to receive)!

1. MOTHER!: Much like my favorite film of 2016 (HIGH-RISE), I know that there will be people who loathe and downright detest MOTHER! Some will hate it for its sheer artsy nightmare-logic style and others will despise its controversial message, but I adored every single frame of this fucked-up little ditty. The film follows a woman and her husband in an isolated countryside house. After a strange couple pop in and just decide to stay, their lives are shifted in horrifying ways. I can’t get too into details, because it would spoil some of the film’s nasty surprises and metaphorical madness. I will say that MOTHER! is my favorite horror film of the 2010s so far and one of the ballsiest films to ever receive a nationwide theatrical release. People either really love this film or totally hate it. There isn’t much middle ground to be found and you will likely walk away with a very strong opinion about it. One of the film’s trailers promised that “you’ll never forget where you were the first time you saw MOTHER!” and that statement is completely accurate. I’ve been thinking about this unforgettable horror film since its release and I can’t wait to dive into it again and again in future years to come!

Well, 2017 was a wild year for me…both on this site and in my personal life. I’m currently in the process of moving, so reviews will resume sometime in January! I plan to keep this little movie blog rolling, with plenty of reviews (both old and new) being pumped out on a mostly regular basis! A huge “thank you” to anyone who’s read this blog at all during the past year or any new readers who are discovering it for the first time. There was plenty to love in the world of film during 2017 and here’s to a just as great (if not better) 2018!

LOGAN (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time:  2 hours 17 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Brutal Violence and Language throughout, and for brief Nudity

Directed by: James Mangold

Written by: Scott Frank, James Mangold & Michael Green

(based on the WOLVERINE comic books by Ray Thomas, Len Wein & John Romita Sr.)

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Richard E. Grant, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant & Dafne Keene

Out of the 21st century superhero cinema boom, the X-MEN films are among my favorites. Besides having a vast catalog of colorful heroes and complex antagonists, these movies utilize smart social commentary through mutants and paranoia. I don’t think that anybody could argue against the series’ biggest highlight being Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine. This character is a fan favorite for plenty of reasons. He’s brash, straddles the line between hero and antihero, and has a strong moral compass (even if he won’t admit to it). LOGAN marks the tenth X-MEN film and the final time that Jackman will portray Wolverine. This is a dark, mature, excellent closing chapter to the saga and a fitting final film for Jackman’s character.

The year is 2029. Almost all of the X-Men are dead and mutants have pretty much gone extinct. Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is past his prime and succumbing to old age. He works as a limo driver and takes care of an ailing Professor X (Patrick Stewart) in an abandoned factory off the Mexico border. Logan just wishes to live out his final years with the Xavier on the ocean, away from people. However, his plans change when he meets 11-year-old Laura (Dafne Keen). Laura is a mutant (very much like Logan) and some very bad people are hunting her. In an effort to save a life and do some good, Logan makes a dangerous cross-country journey to get Laura to a safe haven…but the healing-impaired Wolverine may be in over his head.

In the course of seventeen years, Hugh Jackman has given us an iconic big-screen superhero. It’s pretty much impossible to imagine someone else playing Wolverine. I mean, just try to think of someone else in the role. Try it right now. You can’t do it, can you? Jackman’s final outing as Wolverine provides an intensely dramatic and emotional side to the character that was seen in previous films, but never to this extent. Wolverine’s smart-ass sense of humor and animal-like nature is still in play, but he becomes an all-out tragic hero in this film.

On the supporting side of things, Patrick Stewart reprises his role as Professor X and gives us a grim look into what happens when a deteriorating disease attacks the world’s most powerful brain. Stewart’s latest outing as the wheelchair-bound psychic is easily one of his best stints as the character, while also serving as X’s saddest story ever. Stephen Merchant stars as an albino mutant, whose power is tracking other mutants. Though he mainly seems to be a means to an end, Merchant’s Caliban is a colorful addition to the X-MEN cinematic cannon. Newcomer Dafne Keene is a stand-out as preteen mutant Laura and delivers one of the best child performances that I’ve ever seen (right up there with Jacob Tremblay in ROOM).

As far as the villains go, Richard E. Grant has a small, but powerful role to play. I won’t go into specific details for fear of spoilers, but he’s memorable for most of his screen time. The bigger antagonist is Boyd Holbrook as the psychotic leader of a mutant-hunting team. Holbrook sports a country bumpkin accent alongside charisma that quickly becomes a downright despicable attitude. I was rooting for Holbrook to die a horrible death. That’s how good he was in this role as a robotic-armed baddie.

Besides stellar performances, LOGAN’s screenplay smartly sets up a near-future that doesn’t seem too futuristic. Instead, this is a grim look at the fate of mutants and nicely sets up potential for some interesting future installments (assuming the studio is smart enough to greenlight more dark, mature mutant stories). LOGAN’s R-rated approach is refreshingly grown-up. The film feels like an adult superhero story that was made for adults. We get Wolverine cursing (much like he does in the comics), mature themes being tackled (age, life, purpose) and lots of graphic violence.

Further encapsulating on the film’s R rating, Wolverine and Laura rip through armed thugs like paper and it’s so cool to watch. Limbs and blood cover nearly every action scene, making for some of the best serious R-rated action since MAD MAX: FURY ROAD. This is Wolverine doing what he does in the comics…and now we get to see it in all of its gory glory on the big screen. The plot’s darker tone almost seems like a violent Western that happens to star Wolverine and is set in the near-future. While DEADPOOL‘s cheeky over-the-top violence was fun and entertaining, LOGAN’s approach is darker, bleaker, and played with a straight face. Every kill has weight behind it and a few deaths left me shocked.

I still can’t decide if LOGAN is my favorite movie in the X-MEN series (it’s definitely in my top three), but this was the perfect way to end the original saga. This isn’t a happy, fun superhero movie, but rather a depressing and emotional final chapter in a long-standing film legacy. Hugh Jackman will always be Wolverine to me and this was a fitting film for him to end on. LOGAN is fantastic and stands out as one of the best superhero films that I’ve ever seen! If you’re a fan of X-MEN at all, then you owe it to yourself to see this film!

Grade: A+

THE WOLVERINE (2013)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 6 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sequences of Intense Sci-Fi Action and Violence, some Sexuality and Language

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Directed by: James Mangold

Written by: Mark Bomback & Scott Frank

(based on the WOLVERINE comics by Chris Claremont & Frank Miller)

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Hiroyuki Sanada, Tao Okamoto, Rita Fukushima, Famke Janssen, Will Yun Lee, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Haruhiko Yamanouchi & Brian Tee

Wolverine is one of the biggest badasses in comic book history and is arguably the most popular character from the X-MEN franchise. It’s no wonder that studios seemed eager to give him his own big summer blockbuster with 2009’s X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE…which turned out to be a terrible film and was trashed by fans. In an effort to properly bring Wolverine to the big screen, 2013’s THE WOLVERINE attempted to right the wrongs of ORIGINS and served as a proper sequel to X-MEN: THE LAST STAND. Though it’s not the best X-MEN film by a long shot, THE WOLVERINE is a lot of fun!

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After killing the love of his life (see the events of X-MEN: THE LAST STAND), Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) has become a rugged, cave-dwelling mountain man. Through a few twists of fate, Logan runs into katana-wielding bodyguard Yukio (Rita Fukushima). She’s been looking for Logan because he has been summoned to Tokyo by dying friend Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi). However, there are suspicious motives behind the unexpected invitation. Logan soon finds himself in the middle of a deadly conspiracy that includes: ninjas, yakuza, a highly dysfunctional family, and poisonous mutant Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova). To make matters even worse, something is seriously wrong with Logan’s healing abilities and he finds himself struggling with painful limitations.

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The major improvements that THE WOLVERINE makes over its prequel predecessor are smart writing, an intense mystery, and high stakes. The first two qualities come from Logan being thrust into the plot of a thriller that requires him to do some digging into Yashida’s highly dysfunctional family. The script also captures the trauma that Logan suffers from as a result of the Dark Phoenix hijinks in THE LAST STAND. Though there may be a bit too many of these nightmare sequences, it was a nice way to see this film attempt to repair some of the damage done by the third X-MEN.

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THE WOLVERINE also sees Logan facing weakness and potential death due to his sudden mysterious mortality. Though the film lays obvious groundwork early on and those with a careful eye will be able to correctly predict what is happening, it doesn’t make Wolverine’s struggle any less intense. Logan’s lack of healing abilities make the intense action more gripping to watch. Every bullet or hit he takes has an impact this time around, so he simply can’t take his usual approach rushing into the violent fray. This was a smart move on the part of the filmmaker and writers. It certainly helps that the action sequences are awesome anyway, with set pieces featuring ninjas, knife-wielding yakuza on the roof of a bullet train, and a giant silver samurai.

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Hugh Jackman jumps right back into his iconic role as Wolverine and seems to be doing the character just as well as ever. New additions (a mainly Japanese cast of supporting characters) range across the board. Rita Fukushima is a badass, receiving her time to shine in action scenes and well-placed comic relief. Hiroyuki Sanada and Brian Tee play their characters with all the subtlety of moustache-twirling villains, but this makes their eventual showdowns even more satisfying.

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Haruhiko Yamanouchi is mainly regulated to flashbacks, but gives a solid enough performance in his brief screen time. Tao Okamoto is good in her role as a girl on the run with Logan, but the romance between them feels forced. Finally, Viper (played by Russian actress Svetlana Khodchenkova) is lame villainess. She’s basically X-MEN’s hammy equivalent of Poison Ivy and one of her powers is the ability to shed skin (through not very convincing CGI). Also, Khodchenkova chews the scenery and goes into clichéd villainess territory with her performance. I cannot fully describe how terrible Viper is, but she’s the second-worst antagonist that I’ve seen in the X-MEN series (the first being the mouthless bastardization of Deadpool in X-MEN ORIGINS).

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THE WOLVERINE is a far better Wolverine solo story than 2009’s lame X-MEN ORIGINS. Much of the positive qualities stem from a better script, better action scenes, high stakes, and better performances. This is a conspiracy-thriller that happens to have a clawed mutant as the main character. That concept is pretty neat by itself and when you throw in the idea of Wolverine losing his healing abilities, you’ve got yourself something special. The film stumbles in obvious foreshadowing, excessive dream sequences and a lame villainess. However, THE WOLVERINE’s positive qualities far outshine its problems. This is the fifth-best X-MEN film and the best WOLVERINE movie thus far (unless LOGAN tops it in two weeks).

Grade: B+

X-MEN: THE LAST STAND (2006)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 44 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Intense Sequences of Action Violence, some Sexual Content and Language

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Directed by: Brett Ratner

Written by: Simon Kinberg & Zak Penn

(based on the X-MEN comics by Jack Kirby & Stan Lee)

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Ian McKellen, Famke Janssen, Anna Paquin, Kelsey Grammer, James Marsden, Rebecca Romijn, Shawn Ashmore, Aaron Stanford, Vinnie Jones, Patrick Stewart, Ellen Page, Ben Foster, Dania Ramirez & Eric Dane

After directing X-MEN and X2, Bryan Singer decided to put his filmmaking talents towards another superhero franchise in SUPERMAN RETURNS. X2’s final shot teased the Dark Phoenix storyline in the next installment and Bryan Singer seemed eager to return to the franchise after his Superman film, but 20th Century Fox eventually grew tired of waiting and wound up giving the third X-MEN film to Brett Ratner. Fox’s impatience and Ratner’s incompetence (this was his first huge-scale blockbuster) both sunk the X-MEN series for a number of years before an eventual prequel/reboot repaired the damage. It’s not as if THE LAST STAND is all-out horrible, but blandness and mediocrity make it all the more disappointing.

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Shortly after the events of X2, mutants have become slightly more accepted in society. There’s even a blue-furred Cabinet member in Washington, but some politicians still aim for mutants to assimilate to “normal” human culture. Scientists have discovered a cure for mutations, which has caused a controversial rupture in the mutant community. Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and the other X-Men seem split on scientific breakthrough, with Storm (Halle Berry) becoming furious and Rogue (Anna Paquin) showing genuine interest towards curing her deadly touch. Other dangerous mutants see the cure as an attempt to drive them extinct, resulting in metal-bending Magneto (Ian McKellen) forming the terrorist group known as the Brotherhood of Mutants. The Brotherhood aims to wipe out the source of the cure: Leech (Cameron Bright). Meanwhile, Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) has returned from the dead…and has brought an uncontrollable force back with her.

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X-MEN: THE LAST STAND is a superhero story that’s more driven by its script’s needs, rather than a natural progression of events. This opens up lots of plot holes and leaves many moments feeling like they came right out of nowhere for no apparent reason. To give specific examples without diving deeply into spoilers, the movie needs a character to return so they just sort of bring her back with no explanation. The story also requires a few important characters to die along the way, so Ratner just throws in a couple of death scenes that feel forced instead of devastating. Wolverine needs to stumble upon the Brotherhood of Mutants, but the movie doesn’t feel the need to give us a reason for that…so here’s a quick psychic vision.

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LAST STAND’s disjointed narrative can be summed up in one scene that features a conversation about whether or not Xavier’s School should be shut down and this complex issue is resolved with a couple of half-assed sentences. A complex problem that could have filled the latter half of this film (and given the protagonists more to fight for) is simply thrown away with a shrug. Of course, this movie still need a final battle though, so here’s Magneto using the Golden Gate Bridge to raid Alcatraz…which is admittedly pretty cool. If only the rest of the movie could put some weight behind the special effects heavy final showdown.

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LAST STAND has the odd problem of feeling too full and too empty at the same time. This third X-MEN installment was (supposedly) intended to be the finale of the superhero trilogy and therefore, lots of new characters were thrown into the mix. So many new mutants were included that this movie feels overcrowded and makes its Brotherhood antagonists look like throwaway thugs. The old mutants are back with Professor X, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Storm, Cyclops (James Marsden), Iceman (Shawn Ashmore), Rogue and a few others. However, most of these performers seem to know that this follow-up isn’t anywhere near the level of the first two installments and seem to be returning out of contractual obligations and big paychecks (reasons that are more than understandable, but still remain depressing).

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Ratner’s X-MEN introduces three new protagonists into the series. Shadowcat (who was a brief background character in the first two films) is played well by Ellen Page. Out of trio of new X-Men, she seems to get the most development as there’s a blooming romance/friendship between her and Iceman (which makes for some annoying drama from Rogue). Ben Foster’s Angel is given four brief scenes and culminates in an obvious cliché between him and his father. On a side note, Angel’s thin story arc seems far more developed when compared to the two-scene-long conflict between Iceman and Pyro (Aaron Stanford). Finally, Kelsey Grammer is perfectly cast as Beast and receives a few good moments, even if his character mostly exists for exposition.

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Shadowcat, Angel and Beast are miles better than any of the antagonists. Mystique has a couple of brief scenes, but her part is overshadowed by the far lamer Pyro as Magneto’s newly chosen second-in-command. Most of the Brotherhood consists of bastardized mutants from the comic books with rather cheesy powers. There’s Spike, who uses his own bones as weapons and takes on Wolverine in one tiny scene. There’s a nameless guy who can regenerate limbs and only exists for a “kick in the balls” joke, also delivered by Wolverine. Multiple Man isn’t given much to do, while three stupid emo mutants (one of which is a human porcupine) are annoying beyond all reason. The only standout antagonist (aside from Magneto) is Vinnie Jones as Juggernaut. The character’s only purpose is muscle, but Jones is clearly having a blast.

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X-MEN: THE LAST STAND is a bland, disappointing sequel that tries way too hard without ever realizing why the previous two installments worked so well. It’s clear that a fumbling director and studio interferences were the main reasons why this third X-MEN film fell apart, as demonstrated by a bored returning cast and a sloppy narrative. Still, there are a few redeeming things in THE LAST STAND. Though they aren’t exactly great characters, Shadowcat, Angel, Juggernaut and Beast are fun to watch. The action has some good spectacle (the Golden Gate bridge scene remains very cool). When compared to the rest of the series though, THE LAST STAND lies alongside ORIGINS: WOLVERINE at the bottom of the X-MEN totem pole.

Grade: C-

X2: X-MEN UNITED (2003)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 14 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sci-Fi Action/Violence, some Sexuality and brief Language

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Directed by: Bryan Singer

Written by: Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris & David Hayter

(based on the X-MEN comics by Jack Kirby & Stan Lee)

Starring: Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry, Famke Janssen, James Marsden, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Brian Cox, Alan Cumming, Bruce Davison, Anna Paquin, Shawn Ashmore, Aaron Stanford & Kelly Hu

Sequels rarely manage to rise above their predecessors, but X2: X-MEN UNITED is on the short list of titles that have accomplished that cinematic feat. 2000’s X-MEN laid a lot of ground work for future installments and introduced us to the world of mutants, so X2 is granted much more narrative freedom right off the bat. Though this sequel runs over two hours in length, not a single minute of screen time is wasted. Partially based on the graphic novel GOD LOVES, MAN KILLS with incorporated bits of the WEAPON X storyline, X2 is among the best superhero films of all time.

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Picking up a short while after the events of the first film, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) has returned to the X-Men base/Xavier’s school with no new information about his past. Wolverine’s dilemma seems small though, because mutant Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming) has attempted to assassinate the President of the United States. With prejudice, hatred and fear towards mutants growing across the nation, the President has green-lit a questionable operation led by Colonel William Stryker (Brian Cox). When he raids Xavier’s school and kidnaps Professor X (Patrick Stewart), it becomes evident that Stryker has something very dangerous in mind. Good and evil mutants must unite if they wish to save the mutant race from genocide-happy Stryker, who is also linked to Wolverine’s forgotten past.

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X2 features a lot of returning cast members and all of them slip right back into their roles with ease, even improving on the previous performances. Patrick Stewart as Professor X and Ian McKellen as Magneto are equally perfect. Wolverine is a major player in this sequel’s script, but only receives one plotline of the complicated story. This allows plenty of room for the rest of the mutants to be further developed. More time is given to Cyclops and Jean Grey, while Storm is allowed to bond with newcomer Nightcrawler. Even Anna Paquin (one of the first film’s biggest problems) redeems her character of Rogue with less unconvincing over-the-top accent and more believable emotion put into her line delivery. Rebecca Romijn is also given a bigger part of as the sexy, deadly Mystique.

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There are many new, interesting characters brought into this sequel too, including a couple of big-name mutants making a grand entrance into the film series. Iceman (Shawn Ashmore, who was a background character in the first film) is given a real relationship with Rogue and has one hell of a heart-breaking story arc. Aaron Stanford (who didn’t go on to do much after the X-MEN series) is solid as violent Pyro. Alan Cumming is perfectly cast as blue-skinned, hook-tailed Nightcrawler and receives a fantastic storyline about redemption. I wish that Cumming had appeared in other X-MEN installments as well, but alas, this was to be his only stint as the unforgettable fan favorite mutant.

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Two fearsome antagonists come in the forms of a hate-filled human and his deadly mutant sidekick. William Stryker is played fantastically by Brian Cox. As a complex villain motivated by personal baggage and the belief that he’s doing the right thing for the human race, Stryker might be the best performance of Brian Cox’s career. Clawed sidekick Lady Deathstrike is played by Kelly Hu. Though her appearance and origins are considerably changed from the comic book lore (which I’m sure pissed some fans off), Lady Deathstrike serves as a scary villainess and a threatening equal to Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine. The eventual confrontation between them is one of my all-time favorite movie fight scenes. The stakes are upped by both characters’ metal claws and rapid healing abilities, and also makes the vicious action insanely fun to watch.

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While the first X-MEN used themes of prejudice to craft a simple superhero tale of good vs. evil, X2 opts for a smarter route. We are given windows into each of these characters and the idea that the world is stacked against them. X2 weaves a positive perspective of understanding and forgiveness from Charles Xavier’s point of view, while Magneto’s hatred and fear-mongering also reveal a lot about his character. The world of mutants and humans is greatly expanded upon as this story’s scope is much larger than the first film. There’s also a final shot that ranks among the best cliffhangers of all-time, even though THE LAST STAND was a disappointment and didn’t deliver on X2’s promises.

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As a whole, X2: X-MEN UNITED is where the X-MEN franchise separated itself from clichéd superhero fare. There are tons of enjoyable and great superhero movies in existence, but it takes a lot to rise above any overpopulated film genre. The X-MEN series is something special and this is fully demonstrated by how phenomenal this second installment is! Though I’d rank DAYS OF FUTURE PAST and FIRST CLASS slightly higher than X2, this second installment is one of the best superhero films ever made and a perfect entry in one of the smartest superhero franchises of all-time!

Grade: A+

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