Movie Review: “Chappie”

Starring
Sharlto Copley, Dev Patel, Hugh Jackman, Sigourney Weaver, Ninja, Yo-Landi Visser, Jose Pablo Cantillo
Director
Neill Blomkamp

There’s still reason to be hopeful about 20th Century Fox’s decision to hand the reigns of the next “Alien” movie to Neill Blomkamp, but the bloom is likely to be off the rose for a lot of sci-fi fans after they take a gander at “Chappie,” which continues Blomkamp’s series of declining returns after the disappointing “Elysium.”

It is in no way surprising that among the first words uttered by an audience member upon the conclusion of the advance screening of “Chappie” involved the phrase “if ‘Robocop’ and ‘Short Circuit’ had a baby.” After all, the film – co-written by Blomkamp and his wife, Terri Tachell – takes place in the not-too-distant future and revolves around the decision by the city of Johannesburg, South Africa to adopt a partially robotic police force. These aren’t cyborgs, a la the officer formerly known as Alex Murphy: they’re 100% robot, designed by programmer extraordinaire Deon Wilson (Dev Patel). Despite what he’s already achieved in his field, Wilson continues to strive for a greater breakthrough, focusing his sights on the goal of cracking the consciousness code, as it were, and creating the first sentient robot.

As you might expect, Wilson achieves this goal in short order, but his boss (played by Sigourney Weaver) isn’t wooed by his pitch to experiment with his consciousness program on a damaged robot marked for destruction and denies his request. Now, in fairness, his pitch is really, really terrible. Who goes to the head of a company that makes police robots and starts off by mentioning that one of the benefits of sentience is that a robot can judge the merits of art and write its own poetry? But as you might also expect, her denial in no way stops him from deciding to swipe the deactivated robot and do his experiment anyway.

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Movie Review: “X-Men: Days of Future Past”

Starring
Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Peter Dinklage
Director
Bryan Singer

Just when it seemed like Fox was engineering a smart reboot of its X-Men franchise with “First Class,” the series’ original director, Bryan Singer, has returned to combine the old with the new in “X-Men: Days of Future Past.” That’s not exactly bad news for fans who appreciate the lengths that Singer has gone to in an attempt to fix the continuity issues within the X-movies, but by doing so, he’s tethered the prequels to the earlier films in a way that ensures they’ll never be able to exist on their own. And considering the potential of where the franchise was headed prior to this “sidequel,” it’s a little disappointing to see Singer turn his back on that initial vision. Granted, there’s still quite a bit to like about “Days of Future Past,” but it feels more like a step backward than the creative leap forward that Matthew Vaughn’s prequel pointed towards.

In the near future, mutants are being hunted down by advanced versions of Sentinel robots that can instantly adapt to any situation, making them impossible to defeat. With only a handful of X-Men remaining, Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) uses her powers to send Logan’s (Hugh Jackman) consciousness back in time to his younger body circa 1973 in order to reunite Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) for a single purpose: stopping Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from murdering the creator of the Sentinel program, Dr. Boliver Trask (Peter Dinklage), in the hope that it will alter the course of history. Meanwhile, the X-Men from the future must hold off an impending Sentinel attack to provide Logan enough time to complete his mission, although that’s much easier said than done.

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Movie Review: “The Wolverine”

Starring
Hugh Jackman, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima, Hiroyuki Sanada, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Will Yun Lee
Director
James Mangold

Hugh Jackman has been pretty vocal about atoning for the disappointment of “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” with his latest (and sixth) appearance as the popular mutant, but while “The Wolverine” is a slight improvement on the character’s first solo outing, it’s kind of like giving someone a less bruised piece of fruit and expecting them to be grateful for it. Though director James Mangold should be applauded for trying to do something different with a superhero movie, it’s still plagued by some of the same problems (and a few new ones, as well), ultimately resorting to an all-too-familiar formula in the end. As a character piece, “The Wolverine” is Jackman’s best performance in the role, but as a summer blockbuster, it fails to deliver the Wolverine that audiences want to see.

Loosely based on the much-loved miniseries by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller, the film picks up sometime after the events of “X-Men: The Last Stand,” with Logan (Jackman) now living in the woods like an animal and haunted by visions of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), the woman he loved but was forced to kill. His past catches up to him once again when a mysterious Japanese girl named Yukio (Rila Fukushima) comes to whisk Logan away to Tokyo to pay his respects to her master, Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi), a dying billionaire whose life he once saved as a young soldier during the 1945 bombing of Nagasaki. Yashida claims to have the technology to free Logan of his so-called curse and transfer his mutant powers to someone else, but when he refuses and the old man dies shortly after, Logan reluctantly agrees to protect Yashida’s granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto) from the local yakuza, despite losing his coveted healing ability after he’s poisoned by an evil, snake-like mutant called Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova).

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