Monday, May 23, 2016


As of this writing, nearly 16 years have passed since 20th Century Fox adapted one of Marvel Comics’ iconic and – at the time, leading – superhero franchises to the big screen. 

X-Men film came out July 2000, wowed critics and audiences, earned oodles of money and made superhero flicks cool again. The passing of years saw the rise of other big-budget extravaganzas, most of them featuring characters from the vibrant and varied Marvel stable. 

Ultimately this culminated in Marvel itself taking charge with its own in-house production studio and crafting a record-breaking multi-title film universe starring the other characters they have kept the movie rights to. And all the while Fox, and Singer when schedules permitted, built up the X-Men film series with a number of sequels and spin-offs; yet it seemed as if the story and characters seemed to be losing luster compared to their competition. Singer sought to revitalize the franchise by triggering a continuity reboot with 2014’s “X-Men: Days of Future Past”; now we get to “X-Men Apocalypse” the first X-Men flick set in the new timeline replacing the events of the first three films in the line. And despite having seen “Captain America: Civil War” mere weeks ago, I was still totally blown away.

Taking place story-wise some 10 years after the past events of “Future Past” (sounds complicated but bear with me), it is now the 1980’s and, at least on the surface, the super-powered mutants of the world now seem to have a chance at living together and getting along with ordinary humans that used to hate and fear them. This is thanks to the heroism displayed on national television by the blue-skinned shape-changing Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) who not only called off her own assassination attempt on anti-mutant government officials but protected President Nixon against the mutant supremacist and terrorist Magneto (Michael Fassbender). Wheelchair-ridden mutant telepath Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) has been able to reopen his school for the gifted – mutants – where he enjoys happily teaching his mutant pupils how to master their powers and be responsible people. But discord still lingers in the shadows, and a chain of events in Egypt awaken an ancient multi-powered body-snatching mutant with a god complex, En Sabah Nur (Oscar Issac). Having ruled the world eons ago, he is very unimpressed with the world of that time with its superpower nations and nuclear weapons etc., so he sets in motion a plan to destroy the world and recreate it according to his wishes, a place where only the strongest survive. 

It is in this background that the storyline drives itself forward. Lawrence’s character of Raven travels the world protecting discretely persecuted mutants, but due to the notoriety of her natural form is constantly going about as a hot blonde – serving the dual purpose of banking on J-Law’s star power by constantly showing her real-life face, and minimizing the time she spent in the blue makeup and scaly bodysuit which she has confided in interviews to be uncomfortable. Whatever the reason, it does work as Lawrence gets emotions across better without the constricting facial prostheses, though comic book fans may raise eyebrows, along with how divergently heroic she is compared to the comics and even the original film trilogy (where she did go through with her assassination plan and eventually became the monstrous Mystique played by Rebecca Romjin-Stamos). Fassbender’s Magneto tried to go low-profile and even start a family, but a tragic consequence of using his powers to help others quickly revert him to a violent and vengeful misanthrope, the perfect pawn for En Sabah Nur to turn into one of his four lieutenants in destroying and remaking the world. This includes weather-controlling Cairo thief Ororo (Alexandra Shipp), winged fight clubber Warren/Angel (Ben Hardy) and psychic-telekinetic bodyguard Psylocke (Olivia Munn). These three are mostly there to provide muscle for their overlord Nur and while portrayed competently enough are pretty much relegated to elite mooks for the heroes to fight.

Fassbender meanwhile plays his character with the tempered fury of one who seems to find himself forced into and stuck in a fixed role of being a bad guy to the audience. There’s even a scene where he uses his supercharged magnetic powers to destroy the Auschwitz death camp where he suffered as a boy in past film flashbacks, serving as a taste of what he’s set to be doing in the movie’s climax.

Set to oppose these would-be harbingers of the Apocalypse are McAvoy’s Xavier, who finds his optimism for the future broken again by Nur’s plan and the involvement of both his old friend and ideological counterpart, as well as his foster sister who once took his frenemy’s side against him. 

Here is where the film sort of stumbles: this has happened before. The struggle of ideals between Xavier and Magneto has been happening since 2000. Every X-film has touched on it, with the added wrinkle of Raven/Mystique’s involvement since the 2011 distant prequel “X-Men: First Class” and “Future Past”.

Every time it has been a rehash of their conflicting views and even here, where En Sabah Nur is supposed to be the main villain the old argument seems to steal the spotlight. It’s to the film’s good fortune that it never does, completely. Subplots abound with the various student mutants caught up in the battle. Tye Sheridan plays a younger version of another iconic X-Man, Cyclops. This time he is no “boy-scout” leader as in the comics and the original trilogy, but a rebellious teen slacker. Kodi Smit-McPhee is the demonic-looking teleporter Nightcrawler who comes off more as a sweet kid. Evan Peters reprises his one-scene wonder from “Future Past” as the super-fast Quicksilver (with an effects-driven action sequence here that is both awesome and hilarious). Rounding the cast are Lucas Till, Nicholas Hoult and Rose Byrne who, at times, were just there for the sake of being “there”.

But perhaps the most compelling performance comes from Sophie Turner – aka. Sansa Stark from “Game of Thrones” – as the young telepath Jean Grey, who has yet to reach the maturity portrayed in past films by Famke Janssen and is therefore still deathly afraid of losing control of her powers. She gets something of a kindred soul in Cyclops who also has problems with his non-stop eye beams, and thankfully Professor Xavier is avoiding the mistakes he made in the original movie timeline by encouraging her as she goes. Her development while not the focus is a significant portion of the movie’s best parts, and plays off magnificently in the final battle of the story, a truly global calamity unlike anything seen before in the film franchise, with fantastic visuals and fight choreography. This certainly proves that Fox and Singer can still tangle effectively with the Marvel Cinematic Universe juggernaut. X-fans ought to be rightly pleased.

Clocking more than two hours, “X-Men Apocalypse” is jam-packed with events yet does not feel lengthy or dragged-out. It hits all the appropriate emotional buttons at one point or another and gives audiences the kind of comic-book superhero fights they’ll enjoy. Fox and Singer may have retread some familiar ground once more to tie things up, but at least they were able to make it interesting. The X-Men film franchise is still up and running so stay tuned for the follow-up to the post-credits scene next year in the third “Wolverine” movie. Speaking of which, the Hugh Jackman appearance was a highlight. Almost forgot about that.

Dawn of Justice: Batman vs. Superman

Lets talk about the Dark Knight fighting the Man of Steel. Can’t go wrong, right? Millions of moviegoers would agree but if you step back and look over it again very carefully, you might see a hiccup or two.

This highly anticipated superhero extravaganza is a direct sequel to 2013’s Superman film franchise reboot, and the second part of a planned multi-picture epic by the production collaboration of Warner Brothers and DC Comics, the so-called DC Extended Universe (DCEU). Under the direction of 21st century SFX-CGI epic maven Zack Snyder, the movie follows an original storyline taking choice bits and pieces from classic comic yarns featuring its two super-characters such as Frank Miller’s “Dark Knight Returns” mini-series and an early 90’s Superman comic storyline. The end result however, comes off as being something of a disjointed mishmash of separate events that are united by a generally dark atmosphere coupled with somber and brooding dialogue.

Now this is understandable considering it has always been how Batman was portrayed in movies, but the same grimness that is his bread and butter has also bled into the other half of this crossover. I suppose it doesn’t help that its predecessor “Man of Steel” did inject some darker and edgier into Superman and his supporting cast, but now this double whammy ends up making the film less an exciting action adventure that is expected when superheroes are involved and instead grinds down into a tedious slog.

We start off with a cliff’s notes flashback prologue of Batman’s origins to bring the audience up to speed since he’s coming in without his own introductory solo flick – that’s for in the future apparently, but as a sequel. Fast forward to a sequence where a grown Bruce Wayne portrayed brilliantly if not comic-accurately by Ben Affleck, gets involved in the climactic battle in Metropolis in “MoS” that sours his impression towards the godlike Superman for being such a destructive saviour. Said alien unbeknownst to him is living a double life as well-meaning country boy and now newshound Clark Kent, played by returning actor Henry Cavill with the same not-great but not-bad middle ground performance from 2013. 

More attention thus goes to Affleck whose character has actually been an active hero for far longer story-wise than Supes, and must now gear himself as an ordinary if highly fit and trained man against a super-powerful being that he believes to be a threat to humanity. In the role of main antagonist for the story we get Jesse Eisenberg as young CEO and genius Lex Luthor who secretly manipulates the Cape of Metropolis and the Cowl of Gotham City into open hostility against one another. Contrary to his comic counterpart, this Lex is pretty manic and excitable with a dash of eccentric mad scientist, although his quirky comments and mannerisms, if they were an attempt at humor, were sadly not up to snuff.

Anyway, due to circumstances and plotting, we get Batman and Superman finally coming to blows, but this money shot grudge match is a noisy and shadowy affair, while Bruce Wayne’s dream sequence where he imagines himself as a rebel leader fighting against a tyrannical Superman in a post-apocalyptic Earth turns out all dusty and drab, like it got lifted from cut scenes of “Mad Max: Fury Road”.

Almost every scene just seems to drag on as if to extend viewing time. Zack Snyder’s subpar directorial control over the story is usually compensated by lush visuals like in many of his previous films but here it’s just too dark most of the time.

Some good can be found in the brief appearances of Gal Gadot as the third of DC’s hero trinity, Wonder Woman. She makes her small role effective at least. Also look out for cameos of other would-be DC superheroes all over the place; it’s all setup for the “Justice League” movie that would be the highlight of the DCEU. In summary, “Dawn of Justice” was a surprising letdown given the hero vs. hero subject. 

CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR Hits $1 Billion Worldwide

To start off, I am TEAM CAP all the way!

This year, moviegoers with an appetite for superhero films are getting to experience on the big screen a trend in comic book storytelling that has been making waves – and I mean that both positively and negatively – in the original print form for several years now. I am talking of course about large-scale conflict and battles between superheroes, either as individuals or as groups, usually over opposing views on what being a superhero is really about or how to do superhero-ing right. 

We got our first taste this 2016 from the tandem of Warner Brothers and DC Comics in “Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice”, their second offering in what both companies hope to be their very own “story universe” of films featuring the many costumed personalities from the DC stable, but all presented as dark, edgy and kick-butt violent.

It was a practical choice on their to release this epic showdown between two of the world’s most well-known superheroes when they did, so as not to be steamrolled by the blockbuster juggernaut that is “Captain America: Civil War”, the latest chapter of the by-now well-established ‘Marvel Cinematic Universe’ from WB-DC’s very own rivals, the partnership of Disney and Marvel Comics through their Marvel Studios label.

This big-budget SFX flick, loosely adapted from the controversial comic storyline of 2006, is put together by co-directors Joe and Anthony Russo, and stars Chris Evans in what is also to be his final contractual lead role in a solo film as Captain America – barring future team movie appearances – alongside Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, who now finds himself at odds with Evans’ character over the issue of international oversight over superhero action, and finally outright come to blows over a dark and terrible secret. While Evans has already expressed willingness to extend his contract for more Cap films, he definitely gives his A-game performance as Steve Rogers, who must deal with the fallout of an Avengers mission gone bad that leads to numerous civilian deaths. In the wake of this debacle comes a UN accord designed to place his team at the whims of a committee that would decide when and where they would be called into action to fight future threats.

Cap refuses to sign this accord, having bad memories of government agencies being corrupted by evil organizations from “Captain America: Winter Soldier”; the incredible Downey Jr. however, portrays like only he can, a Tony Stark who is wracked by tremendous guilt over his responsibility for creating the super-villain they fought during “Avengers: Age of Ultron”, as well as the destruction left by this and their other battles across the MCU films, and thus sees government control as the only way they can properly do their hero work. This initial disagreement spirals out of control when the UN summit to ratify the accord is hit by a terrorist attack, seemingly at the hands of the Winter Soldier, who is also Steve’s old pal Bucky Barnes played by Sebastian Stan. Cap must protect his friend from the authorities and help prove his innocence even as Iron Man and the “registered” heroes come after them both, dividing the Avengers in preparation for an epic clash.

That’s not to say that all is grim and serious from here on. In true Marvel Studios fashion, a lot of humor can still be had. Particular mention goes to Paul Rudd as shrinking superhero Scott Lang from last year’s “Ant-Man”, and 19-years- old Tom Holland as Peter Parker, a.k.a. Spider-Man, finally joining the MCU after five Sony Pictures films. Between the two of them we get the lion’s share of laughs with Ant-Man’s fighting tactics and Spidey’s motormouth. Speaking of the fight scenes, kudos goes to the production team for the action pieces. They easily transition between gimmicky shenanigans to brutal beatdowns.

Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige had said that this film would change the MCU, and with the bittersweet ending, it would be difficult story-wise to put the band back together in time for the next Avengers outing. Despite, or perhaps because of the dark shadows hanging over the end, “Captain America: Civil War” cements its place as one of the most solid instalments of the MCU. Warner-DC sure wishes their DCEU could be this.

By the way, if you are only ever a Marvel movie-watcher and are curious as to what is going on in the actual comics now, there’s actually a “Civil War II” brewing on the horizon of some Marvel titles at present. Again the super community in the comics is on the verge of suffering the hassles of another hero vs. hero divide. And you’re not the only ones to catch on the timing of another comic Civil War on the heels of the movie Civil War. But that’s another story outside of this review.

As of press time, CIVIL WAR already hit 1 Billion Dollars Worldwide.

Photo Credit to

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Philippine Elections 2016: What's Changing and What's Staying

Last week, the Philippines went to the polls in order to once again choose new leaders on both the local and national scenes for the next three and six years. Well I might have said new, but in this country that means “same old, same old”. This has been how elections tended to go for generations, that last part also being a key word. Government officials almost always go for re-election, and once they hit the consecutive term limit, they could run for another office then leave their previous post to spouses, children, or relatives, only to return later. Politics in this case is both lifetime career and family business; no laws are in place against such practices and likely never will. Yet somehow, even in this status-quo- driven landscape, there are some openings which have given way to changes and new faces that can affect the future in some different ways from what the Philippines is used to.

Nowhere else is this change more plain to see than in the now certain victory of presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte. While in terms of local government he is not exactly “fresh”, being the long-running mayor of Davao City for the better part of three decades, upon answering calls to join in the presidential race his relative “newness” in the national campaign has enjoyed unprecedented popularity in regularly conducted surveys up to the May 9 Election Day. Duterte has also gained an immense number of guaranteed votes from the Mindanao and Visayan electorates, having been born in Leyte but living in the Davao region since age three, and thus inflamed desires all over the Philippines’ southernmost island group to see one of their own leading the whole nation. Personality-wise he is one of the most assertive, abrasive and sharp-spoken people you could meet, sort of like a Samuel L. Jackson character who just happens to be Filipino and a politician. Never hesitating to lambast people and events he does not like and cultivating a harsh law enforcer image and may condone extrajudicial “hit squads” to cut down on crime, such is his charisma with the Filipino people that despite criticism for numerous verbal jabs and ill jokes, for every instance his survey ratings actually jumped. Another factor of his success was his different political platform; voters tired of the same poverty alleviation espoused by the other candidates were willing to give his law and order focus as well as possible change to a federal government system a try.

Compared to the presidential race, the vice-presidential one has turned out to be hotly-contested, with Camarines Sur – Third District Rep Leni Robredo and Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. fighting for domination, Robredo leading over Marcos by only hundreds of thousands or a vote percentage of 1.5%. This had sparked calls of possible tally shenanigans when the formerly leading

Marcos was overtaken by an upsurge of Robredo votes, but nothing has been found to substantiate these claims. So it was that the battle for the second highest national position has been picturesquely described as a “remake match between a Marcos and a Widow in Yellow”, calling to mind the Senator’s father, the late strongman Ferdinand Sr. against Corazon Aquino, now embodied by Leni, widow of former Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo and herself a newbie for national office.

On the senatorial front however, it was “more of the same”, mostly a who’s who of familiar faces who just never seem to go away. But a big new name on the Top 12 is Sarangani Rep and recently retired champion boxer Manny Pacquiao. Having capped off his professional career with an impressive unanimous victory over American Timothy Bradley, as well as coming down from two consecutive congressional terms since 2010 – second one unopposed – Manny is set to take his political career to a higher level. Other senatorial rookies among the veterans are Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Technical Education & Skills Development Authority (TESDA) head Joel Villanueva and Valenzuela City Congressman Sherwin Gatchalian, with the latter two zooming up the senatorial survey ratings from under 20’s to a solid “magic 12”.

To give an idea of a local election scene, in Mindanao’s General Santos City, most elected officials are re-electionists and old hands. Most of the winners are under the People’s Champ Movement party led by Manny Pacquiao, who also saw two of his brothers getting local offices in the polls. The city voters have voted overwhelmingly for Duterte as President over anyone else, despite Pacquiao’s alliance with incumbent Vice-President Jejomar Binay’s Presidential bid.

It’s been said that “the more things change, the more they stay the same”. As the 2016 Philippine Elections showed however, it’s more “some things change while others stay the same”.

Hopefully what changes there are will be good for this country’s tomorrow.

Photo Credits to Comelec Website