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Latest ‘X-Men’ displays how far superhero movies have come

Date: 5/29/2014

By G. Michael Dobbs

A summer blockbuster and a science fiction film that will make you think are featured in this week’s film review column.

In theaters: X-Men: Days of Future Past
In 1940, Republic Pictures released the first live action film adaptation of a superhero comic book: “The Adventures of Captain Marvel.” The black and white serial was aimed squarely at a juvenile market and Variety’s reviewer didn’t know what to make of it.

For decades, any superhero was the subject of either a serial, an inexpensive B-movie feature or a television series. The idea of risking millions of dollars on such subject matter wasn’t considered until Christopher Reeve’s “Superman” in 1978.

The latest installment in the “X-Men” franchise, based on the Marvel Comics series, has a budget that would have been inconceivable in the 1970s and features two highly respected Shakespearean actors in lead roles. The superhero movie has come a great distance.

In this film, set in the near future, Professor X (Patrick Stewart and Magneto (Ian McKellen) and what is left of the X-Men are trying to hide from the Sentinels – robotic killers designed to detect and destroy mutants. They are able to send the present consciousness of Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back to his 1973 body in order to prevent Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from accidentally setting the events that culminate with the creation of the Sentinels in place.

By the way, if this is your first “X-Men” movie, you may get a little lost. Director Bryan Singer elected not to present any recaps or introductions and throws the audience straight into story.

Much of the heavy lifting of the drama is left to Jackman, Lawrence, James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender (as the youthful Professor X and Magneto, respectively).  The film is more than two hours long, but the pacing is great and the narrative advances well.

A new character, Quicksilver (Evan Peters), a mutant with super speed is introduced and there is one remarkable scene with him that had my jaw dropping.

I greatly enjoyed this time travel film that unites the cast members from the first three “X-Men” films with those from the last “X-Men” film, but let me warn those people who want all of these films to somehow link together into a seamless continuity: it doesn’t happen. Rob Bricken on the io9 website wrote a great piece detailing eight ways how the timeline doesn’t make sense.

Although Singer clearly washed his hands about timeline issues, it’s clear he wanted to create a standalone film that seemingly concludes the series. Of course, there is a short scene after the credits that implies another “X-Men” outing is in the works.

If the continuity issues don’t bother you, you’ll probably enjoy this action and special effects laden summer film.

On DVD: The Machine
This thoughtful science fiction film will be out on DVD shortly and it’s one you should seek out.

This low budget British film tackles the concept of robotics and what happen when a device develops consciousness.  Vince (Toby Stephens) is a researcher who is working on an artificial intelligence project but is missing a key element until he is exposed to the work done by a young programmer Ava (played by Caity Lotz).

Ava has a lot of questions about the project, which turns out to be one developing a robotic weapon the government can use in its latest war. The realization costs her dearly, but she is reborn – in a way – as the prototype robot known as The Machine.

Director and writer Caradog W. James knows how to get the most out of his budget and has cast a remarkable young actress in the dual role of Ava and The Machine. Lotz was the lead in one of my favorite reason horror films, “The Pact” and has been showing off her action skills as The Black Canary in the television series “Arrow.” Here she gets to combine her considerable acting skills with her background as a stunt performer.

“The Machine” has a compelling script matched with solid direction and performances.