X-Men: Days of Future Past | Review | Film

X-Men Days of Future PastAs bands of misfits go, it’s difficult not to relate to the X-Men. As the seventh film in the franchise (depending whether you have a selective memory about X-Men 3: The Last Stand or not), the series has gone the distance without succumbing to the allure of a reboot, and here’s hoping there’s a long way to go yet.

X-Men Days of Future PastHugh Jackman might be typecast as the poster boy for the X-Men, but there’s no hiding that he carries the role well, and this film is no exception. In Days of Future Past, Wolverine is integral to the plot, acting as the time-defying bridge between the ‘current’ cast and that of the 2011 prequel X-Men First Class.

Getting your head around the contorted plot might prove a challenge of you’re someone who needs to understand things rather than take them at face value. The key to the story is Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page)’s new mutant ability, the power to send people’s consciousness back in time.

Like many aspects of the film, no explanation is given for this, but it does give us a good excuse to why there’s two versions of a few characters in the movie, namely Professor X and Magneto.

The past sections pick up 10 years after the events of First Class and the years have not been kind to the Professor (James McAvoy) who has sacrificed his powers for the ability to walk again, thanks to a handy serum developed by Hank McCoy (Nicholas Holt), which explains why you’ll have spotted him walking in some of the trailers.

Herein lies the beauty of what Director Bryan Singer has created. Touches like that which seem like a disregard for the established canon are expertly explained. It’s clear that Singer has a great love for the franchise, and from his track record fans were excited to see him return to the helm.

Even more reassuringly, Singer’s work here is easily up to the standard he set with the original X-Men and X-Men 2. Getting the balance of so many characters right is a tricky skill, one which went awry when Brett Ratner picked up the third installment with disappointing results.

All of this adds up to a film packed with familiar characters – with big name actors to do them justice – and a complex but exciting plot. All it needed to top things off was a devastating new enemy: the sentinel.

Created by Dr. Bolivar Trask (Game of Thrones’ Peter Dinklage on top form), these towering robots, with more than a hint of the fire-breathing titan from Thor, can adapt to the abilities of mutants when they are attacked, and since they soon decided to get rid of most humans as well, a bleak future awaits mankind – unless James McAvoy and the gang cant stop them.

X-Men Days of Future PastBack in the 70s alongside Professor X is Magneto (Michael Fassbender), who has been locked in the most secure building in the world – The Pentagon. Luckily, Wolverine knows someone who can help them, leading to the introduction of the most fun character in the entire film, Quicksilver, who can move at incredible speed. One gripe with this film could be that we didn’t see enough of him.

The stakes are high with this film, not just in the story but for the franchise too, since a critical flop could have led to a loss of faith from fans. Fortunately Bryan Singer has delivered a film which ticks all the boxes and is consistent in a universe wrought with irregularities.

Whether the already announced X-Men: Apocalypse can keep up the standard remains to be seen but for now it’s time to sit back and enjoy the best film of the year so far.

Rating: 5/5

James Michael Parry

The Wind Rises | Review | Film

The Wind RisesAnimated films get a hard time. Sure plenty of them are for children, but just as many – even from the Disney stable – are good fun for adults as well. In anime there is a wealth of great storytelling out there, and few studios can claim the consistent quality produced by Studio Ghibli.

The Wind Rises posterThe Wind Rises is the latest masterpiece from the studio, and I don’t use the word lightly. Following the story of Jiro, a young japanese boy (a fact which we are, somewhat oddly, reminded of a fair few times through dialogue) who wants to design aeroplanes, the film is set between the two world wars and there is an uneasy tension in the air as Jiro begins his journey.

The balance of this film is one of its greatest strengths. The plot is driven by a combination of both Jiro’s development in aviation and his relationship with Nahoko Satomi, and just as you fear one may overpower the other the film redresses the balance – it’s a fantastic bit of filmmaking, and a credit to its world-renown director: Hayao Miyazaki.

Miyazaki, who also wrote the film, is responsible for countless classics to come out of his studio over the years (and has had a hand in the rest), including Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle and Nausicaa Valley of the Wind. It has been said that this will be Miyazaki’s final film (though it has been said in the past), and if that is so then it is definitely a high note to go out on.

The Wind RisesOne aspect of the film which is particularly high quality, is that of the English voice cast. Jiro is played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Inception, Looper and Brick) and the chemistry between him and Emily Blunt as Nahoko leads to a lump in the throat at more than one point through the film. Other big names are involved include Stanley Tucci as inspirational Italian inventor Caproni and even Elijah Wood who pops up briefly.

Visually the film is everything we have come to expect from the studio, with a few 3D-style animation sequences really giving it a contemporary feel, despite its historical setting. Musically the film is a joy too, with soaring swells of strings sending a tingling sensation along your arms and a smile to your face as the sunshine blazes. One stand out piece of sound design is the sounds of the aeroplanes themselves, which are all created using human voices in a style which is SO Ghibli and fits in effortlessly into the film’s world.

As usual, it’s compelling characters which really bring the film to life, and though some might be put off by the fact that it is animation, really the film delivers drama and touching moments just as well as some of the best traditional flicks. The connections between the characters are sincere and you really relate to Jiro in his dedication – and borderline obsession – to creating his masterpiece.

The Wind RisesIn a lot of ways there are similarities to The Aviator, but mostly in the way that the fact that the film is about planes isn’t important, it’s more those characters which you care about.

In all, The Wind Rises soars (pun very much intended) as almost all Ghibli efforts do. This is a film which anyone could enjoy, so long as they give it a chance, and in fact could be the most realistic film from the studio, making it more accessible to those who might otherwise be put off by the eccentricities and surrealist aspects of some of these sorts of films.

Calling it a masterpiece is no hyperbole, the film is undoubtedly one of the strongest films this year.

Rating: 5/5

James Michael Parry