Tag Archives: marvel

Doctor Strange dazzles with mind-boggling visuals

No affinity for superheroes or familiarity with Marvel mythology is required to enjoy the visual spectacle that is “Doctor Strange.” Being open to mysticism and the possibility of parallel dimensions might help, though.

Benedict Cumberbatch plays the title character in this origin story, where plot is secondary to dazzling special effects that invert gravity, reverse time and twist buildings like blocks in a Rubik’s Cube. It’s worth it to watch the film in 3-D, and on an IMAX screen if possible (as this critic did), for an immersive, almost psychedelic experience. Two spectacular action sequences in the third act are enough to justify the ticket price.

Dr. Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch) is a brilliant, arrogant neurosurgeon. He’s a know-it-all about medicine and music; a materialist with an expansive apartment and a drawer full of designer watches. His commuter car is a Lamborghini, and he’s speeding around curves in it when he’s distracted by a text and flies off a cliff. He awakens from surgery to finds his hands shattered and held together with a series of metal pins.

Despondent because he can’t work, Strange travels to Nepal, where he believes a healer may have cured someone from complete paralysis. He ends up at a palace where he meets the mysterious Mordor (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), warriors who introduce him to magical powers and mystical realms. As a scientist, Strange dismisses their teachings (“I do not believe in fairytales about chakras”), but desperation – and a bizarre trip down a third-eye wormhole – make him a believer.

Meanwhile, one of the Ancient One’s former students (Mads Mikkelsen, always an excellent villain) has gone rogue, using the mystical teachings to connect with dark forces. He and his minions believe they’ll receive eternal life if they destroy the sanctums of the Ancient One’s power, which are conveniently located in New York, London and Hong Kong – all dynamic settings for destruction and mind-bending magic.

Each of the city sequences look great, but the New York scenes are truly phenomenal. In the hands of director Scott Derrickson and the special-effects artists who worked on “Guardians of the Galaxy,” the Big Apple becomes mesmerizingly Escher-esque: a disjointed, gravity-ignorant collection of streets and buildings.

While some of the magical elements may be far out (a levitating cape, for example), the Ancient One’s messages are grounded in contemporary pop psychology and spirituality. She says things like, “We never lose our demons, we only learn to live above them,” and “Silence your ego and your power will rise.” Coming from a bald Tilda Swinton, it sounds more insightful than preachy.

The film addresses such sweeping concepts as death and time, but only to define the characters’ motives. Some of the messages may be worth contemplating, but “Doctor Strange” is not a message movie. It is a visual delight, where the spiritual notion that not all can be explained by science allows for an “Inception”-like unraveling of reality.

Be sure to stay through the credits for two delicious Marvel “Easter eggs.” One involves a massive, self-refilling beer and the other teases a possible “Strange” future.

“Doctor Strange,” a Walt Disney Studios release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for “sci-fi violence and action throughout, and an intense crash sequence.” Running time: 115 minutes. Three stars out of four.


Chris Evans returns as a conflicted Captain America in ‘Civil War’

images - wigout - 050516 - ChrisEvansPosterChris Evans is a proud Bostonian with the kind of All-American good looks that Hollywood loves. So it’s hardly surprising that he was chosen to play Steve Rogers — aka Captain America — in Marvel Comics’ multi-billion dollar superhero films.

In person, Evans is about as down-to-earth as you can get, much like his comic book character alter ego. Evans’s chiseled features and straight-arrow personality are ideally suited to playing an iconic comic book figure known for his deep sense of virtue and responsibility, in contrast to the often conflicted or troubled superheroes fighting alongside him.

In Captain America: Civil War, that contrast provides dramatic tension with serious consequences. Steve Rogers finds himself in a moral dilemma when he and Tony Stark/Iron Man take opposing views about whether the world’s superheroes should agree to be placed under control of an international governing body. Their conflict grows to include other heroes; some fall into line behind Iron Man and others go rogue with Captain America.

“Cap…is a good man and his moral compass is probably the cleanest,” Evans explained about the rift. “This is a tough thing. This is what made it so interesting while we were filming, and hopefully what will make the movie great is that nobody’s right, nobody’s wrong. There’s no clear bad guy here. (Steve and Tony) both have a point of view, which is akin to most disagreements in life and politics.”

Civil War marks Evans’s fifth time in the role of the true blue Captain America, which leaves him only one more film left in his six picture, mega-million contract with Marvel. In the meantime, however, he realized his long-time ambition to direct when he helmed the romantic drama Before We Go. Released last year, the film told the story of two strangers (Evans and British actress Alice Eve) who meet by chance in New York City and whose relationship plays out over the course of an eventful 24 hours. When his days as Captain America are over, Evans intends to pursue his directorial ambitions more intensely, describing himself as “the kind of guy who likes to do everything on the set.”

Evans, 35, grew up in comfortable surroundings in Boston, Mass. where his mother served as the artistic director for a theatre company and his father was a dentist. As a teenager he began nurturing serious ambitions of becoming an actor and after finishing high school he moved to New York City and eventually landed a role in the TV series, Opposite Sex. Before becoming Captain America, he played a different superhero — The Human Torch in Fox’s original Fantastic Four franchise — and has since earned critical acclaim for his role in the cult action film Snowpiercer as well.

Chris, what is the core of the dilemma facing your character in Captain America: Civil War?

In the previous films, Steve Rogers knew who the enemy was and who to fight against. But this time, Cap is struggling in different ways and trying to figure out his responsibilities. He just doesn’t know who to be and Tony doesn’t make it easy for him.

What makes it so interesting for me is that for the first time Cap is thinking about his own needs because in the past he’s been so selfless. He’s always been this very noble and sympathetic character but now he’s wondering whether he should keep putting himself last. I was glad that he gets to have a more personal agenda.

Has it been exciting for you to see Captain America and all the other characters evolve over the years in the Marvel Comics universe?

Marvel has an incredible ability to bring all these characters together and make the stories work and make great movies. It’s been exciting to watch how Marvel is evolving the characters and bringing their different universes together. They know how to weave it all together.

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Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr., left) and Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) clash in ‘Civil War’ over a proposal to make the Avengers subject to government oversight.

What is the basis of the conflict between Tony Stark and Steve Rogers?

Tony actually thinks we should be signing these accords and reporting to somebody. Cap, who’s always been a company man and has always been a soldier, actually doesn’t trust (in that) anymore. Given what happened in (the previous film), I think he kind of feels the safest hands are his own.

These are understandable concerns, but (Cap also) agrees with Tony in a way, and I do agree that to make this work, you do need to surrender to the group. It can’t just be one person saying this is right and this is what we’re going to do. But Cap has his reasons… Tony and Cap are friends, but on this issue, like it happens so often in life, they disagree as friends and that makes it even more dramatic and difficult.

You’re good friends with Chris Hemsworth (Thor). It must be fun for you to keep getting to work together?

What’s been great for us is how we’ve bonded over the years. We’ve been through this journey together and we were both kind of apprehensive and nervous when we started out in these films. Neither of us knew how things would turn out and we’ve been able to kind of talk about it and have this brotherly support for each other. I’m very glad to have been able to get to know Chris and become good friends with him.

You seem to be a pretty gregarious guy. Does that make it more interesting for you to play a more reserved personality like Captain America?

I’m very different from Cap. He’s very inward-looking and not very comfortable being open with his emotions. I’m very honest and direct with people and I don’t like hiding what I think about things. It’s not very tough to get to know me.

You’ve long been nurturing ambitions as a director and recently you got a chance to make your directorial debut with Before We Go. What was that experience like for you?

Directing is something I’ve been aiming toward for a long time. I love acting and I will always love that. It’s very fulfilling. But as an actor you’re only a small piece of the overall puzzle and I love being in control when it comes to the process. If I could, I would get involved in every aspect of a film — the lighting, the camera work, the sets. I love all of it. As a director, you get to put all the pieces together and the trick is to bring all that creativity into one satisfying whole.

But I also love the process of collaboration with people who are all very talented at what they do. I wanted to do this film because I felt the story was intimate and small enough that I wasn’t taking on too big a challenge the first time out.

Your character Nick in that film is also very different from your Captain America self.

That was another thing that interested me about the story. Nick was very articulate and expressive. He loves to talk and charm people and is very open about his feelings. That was a nice change for me from playing Cap who keeps his emotions and thoughts much more to himself.

Do you want to direct more films?

That’s my goal. I love acting from the creative point but I’m not very comfortable with the celebrity that comes with it. The media attention can be tiring at times and also you have to train for months and go on special diets. As a director you don’t have to do any of that. You can just throw yourself completely into the process of telling a story and bringing all the creative elements together. That’s why directing means so much to me.

I want to be able to tell stories that capture small moments between people that everyone can relate to. I especially love stories about families which explore relationships between fathers, mothers, sisters and brothers. That’s why one of my favorite films is Legends of the Fall. I think that film tells a beautiful story about loyalty and pride and family. I would love to make movies like that where small moments have such profound meaning.

‘Captain America: Civil War’ debuts at CinemaCon

Batman and Superman aren’t the only superheroes at odds this year, but while the setup might be similar, their messy “Dawn of Justice” showdown doesn’t even compare to the pure blockbuster joy of “Captain America: Civil War.”

Walt Disney Studios showed the film Wednesday morning to a rapt audience of theater owners and industry types at CinemaCon in Las Vegas in advance of its theatrical bow on May 6.

The film, directed by Joe and Anthony Russo (“Captain America: The Winter Soldier”), finds the Avengers divided over their guilt about the peripheral body counts that always seem to be a consequence of their attempts to save the world. It’s a theme — the real life costs of supersized powers — that is permeating more than one story line in this age of ongoing superhero movies.

Thus in “Civil War,” half of the Avengers decide to submit to international oversight, including Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and War Machine (Don Cheadle). They get an assist from two new characters, too — Spider-Man (Tom Holland), who gets a big, quite funny and impressive introduction before debuting in his own film, “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” out in 2017, and Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), who has a stand-alone film coming in 2018.

The other side, anchored by Captain America (Chris Evans), includes Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd). They’re not into the whole regulation thing, and would rather be outlaws — especially when a conflict arises involving Captain America’s old friend Bucky Barnes, aka Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan).

The first few acts tread water in the lead-up to the climatic battles (there are a few). The absence of former “Avengers” director Joss Whedon is most felt in these early scenes that could have used a little more wit and banter. The essence of the conflict feels like a bit of a MacGuffin, too — but that barely even matters once the fighting starts and you’re reminded just how enjoyable these characters are when they’re together — even in conflict.

Marvel gets by with a lot of deficiencies on the strength of its characters’ charisma, and “Civil War” is no exception. It doesn’t matter how iconic the superhero is if they can’t keep an audience’s attention for nearly a decade of movies. You’d be hard pressed to find someone who wouldn’t rather spend a few minutes with Ant-Man, a character most of us hadn’t even heard of three years ago, than an entire film with this iteration of Superman.

‘Age of Ultron’ is an Avengers overdose

It will surely stand as one of the most peculiar and possibly ironic entries in a director’s filmography that in between Joss Whedon’s two “Avengers” films there reads “Much Ado About Nothing”: a low-budget, black-and-white Shakespeare adaption sandwiched between two of the most gargantuan blockbusters ever made.

In “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” there is definitely aplenty ado-ing. Too much, certainly, but then again, we come to the Avengers for their clown-car excess of superheroes, their colorful coterie of capes.

What binds Whedon’s spectacles with his Shakespeare are the quips, which sail in iambic pentameter in one and zigzag between explosions in the others. The original 2012 “Avengers” should have had more of them, and there’s even less room in the massive — and massively overstuffed — sequel for Whedon’s dry, self-referential wit.

As a sequel, “Age of Ultron” pushes further into emotionality and complexity, adding up to a full but not particularly satisfying meal of franchise building, and leaving only a bread-crumb trail of Whedon’s banter to follow through the rubble.

The action starts predictably with the Avengers assaulting a remote HYDRA base in the fictional Eastern European republic of Sokovia. They are a weaving force: Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man, Chris Hemsworth’s Thor, Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk, Chris Evans’s Captain America, Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye.

Their powers are as various (supernatural, technological, mythological) as their flaws (Iron Man’s narcissism, the Hulk’s rage, the Black Widow’s regrets). Downey’s glib Tony Stark/Iron Man is the lead-singer equivalent of this super group and, I suspect, the one Whedon likes writing for the most. “I’ve had a long day,” he sighs. “Eugene O’Neill long.”

What “Age of Ultron” has going for it, as such references prove, is a sense of fun, a lack of self-seriousness that persists even when things start going kablooey — something not always evident in other faux-serious superhero films. (See: “Man of Steel,” or rather, don’t.)

In Sokovia, they encounter duplicitous twins: the quick-footed Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and the mystical Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). The real villain, though, is the titular Ultron, an artificial intelligence that the Scarlet Witch slyly leads Stark to create, birthing not the global protection system he hopes, but a maniacal Frankenstein born, thankfully, with some of his creator’s drollness.

Ultron (James Spader) builds himself a muscular metallic body and begins amassing a robot army to rid the planet of human life. Spader plays Ultron who is too similar to other mechanical monsters to equal Tom Hiddleston’s great Loki, the nemesis of the last “Avengers” film. But Spader’s jocular menace adds plenty. He wickedly hums Pinocchio melodies: “There are no strings on me.”

But the drama of “Age of Ultron” lies only partly in the battle with Ultron. The film is really focused on the fraying dysfunction of the Avengers and their existential quandaries as proficient killers now untethered from the dismantled S.H.I.E.L.D. agency.

There’s not a wrong note in the cast; just about anything with the likes of Spader, Ruffalo, Johansson, Hemsworth and Downey can’t help but entertain. But the dive into the vulnerability of the Avengers doesn’t add much depth (is the home life of an arrow slinger named Hawkeye important?) and saps the film’s zip.

All the character arcs _ the Avengers, the bad guys and the new characters _ are simply too much to tackle, even for a master juggler like Whedon. The movie’s hefty machinery _ the action sequences, the sequel baiting — suck up much of the movie’s oxygen.

In the relentless march forward of the Marvel juggernaut, “Age of Ultron” feels like a movie trying to stay light on its feet but gets swallowed up by a larger power: The Franchise.  

A female Thor and a Muslim Ms. Marvel? Comic books embrace diversity

For decades, comic books have been in color, but now they truly reflect all the hues of American society.

The new Captain America is black. A Superman who is suspiciously similar to President Barack Obama recently headlined a comic book. Thor is a woman, Spider-Man is part-Puerto Rican and Ms. Marvel is Muslim.

Mainstream comic book superheroes — America’s modern mythology — have been redrawn from the stereotypical brown-haired, blue-eyed white male into a world of multicolored, multireligious and multigendered crusaders to reflect a greater diversity in their audience.

Society has changed, so superheroes have to as well, said Axel Alonso, editor-in-chief at Marvel Comics, who in November debuted Captain America No. 1 with Samuel Wilson, the first African American superhero taking over Captain America’s red, white and blue uniform and shield.

“Roles in society aren’t what they used to be. There’s far more diversity,” said Alonso, who has also shepherded a gay wedding in the X-Men, a gender change from male to female in Thor and the first mainstream female Muslim hero in Ms. Marvel.

The change to a black Captain America is already having an impact outside of comics.

Even before the first issue was published, unauthorized images of the black Captain America were shown at a town hall meeting in St. Louis following the funeral of Michael Brown, who was 18 and unarmed when he was killed by a white police officer. This Captain America had his hands up saying, “Don’t shoot,” a slogan protesters have used to highlight the number of African Americans killed by police.

“When you take an African-American man and dress him in the red white and blue of the flag, of the United States flag, there’s symbolism in that, that is more potent and more thought-provoking, evocative” than other kinds of changes, Alonso said.

The new diverse comic characters are far from the first: Marvel introduced the world to Samuel Wilson as the Falcon, the comic’s first African-American superhero, in 1969 as a sidekick to Captain America. In 1977, DC Comics introduced Black Lightning, a schoolteacher who gains electrical powers and becomes a superhero.

And Marvel isn’t the only company looking at diversity. An alternative black Superman, one who is president of the United States, is part of a team in DC Comics’ The Multiversity. DC also brags of having more comic books featuring female leads than any other company, including Batgirl, Catwoman, Batwoman and Wonder Woman, the longest-running comic book with a female hero.

“Our goal is to tell the best stories while making sure our characters are relatable and reflect DC Comics’ diverse readership and fanbase,” DC Entertainment president Diane Nelson said.

But not everyone is happy with the changes: A contingent of vocal Internet fans are currently protesting a reboot of Marvel’s Fantastic Four property in the movies, turning one of the quartet — Johnny Storm — from blond and blue-eyed to black.

Noah Berlasky, author of the upcoming Wonder Woman: Bondage and Feminism in the Marston/Peter Comics, 1941-1948, said portions of the largely white, male comic book audience don’t want favored characters to change.

“Changing people’s race or changing people’s gender can feel more threatening or a bigger deal than changing Thor into a frog,” said Berlasky, referencing a popular storyline in which the Norse god transforms into an amphibian. “Characters are always changing, but there are cultural lenses which make it seem like a bigger deal if Johnny Storm is black.”

Movies based on superheroes, like Marvel’s The Avengers, and DC’s Man of Steel, are driving a new audience to comic books. That surge has comic book companies looking to have characters that those fans can relate to, said Cheryl Lynn Eaton, head of the Ormes Society, which promotes black female comic creators and the inclusion of black women in the comics industry.

“The stories of Superman, the story of Batman, we’re going likely to be telling them 40 years from now, and we’ve already been telling them for decades,” Eaton said. “They are telling us sort of how to live life and how we relate in this world, so I think it’s important for everyone, for people of different backgrounds, to have a say.”

Comic books companies need to recognize the impact these characters have before they change them back to their default identities, Eaton said.

“Having Sam Wilson become Captain America and having a woman become Thor, you’re stating that everyone is equal and that race, gender shouldn’t not limit you, and that you’re just as good as the heroes we’ve had. But if you pull these symbols away from them after a short period of time, you’re kind of going back on what you’re saying,” she said.

Alonso said they haven’t written an end to Wilson’s time as Captain America.

“We have not discussed at this point the end of Sam’s journey,” he said. “That’s not been the topic of discussion yet, so we don’t’ have a clean and easy way out. We’ve just got a great landscape ahead of us to tell great stories.”

Entertainment briefs: Remembering Elaine Stritch and more

Legendary performer Elaine stritch dies at 89

Elaine Stritch, the brash theater performer whose gravelly, gin-laced voice and impeccable comic timing made her a Broadway legend, has died at the age of 89. Stritch’s attorney said the actress died July 17 of natural causes at her home in Birmingham, Michigan, where she retired last year after a seven-decade career based in New York City. Most recently, Stritch was known for performances as Alec Baldwin’s acerbic mother on the TV show 30 Rock and Madame Armfeldt in the 2010 revival of Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music. Among theater aficionados, she was most famous for her role as the bitter, alcoholic housefrau Joanne in the original production of Sondheim’s Company. The song “The Ladies Who Lunch,” a cutting dissection of 1960s Manhattan matronhood, became her signature solo.

In 2002, she looked back on her career with a candid one-woman show Elaine Stritch: At Liberty, in which she shared details about her stage fright, alcoholism, battle with diabetes and love life, all interspersed with songs. The show won both a Tony and an Emmy, after being broadcast on HBO.

The actress visited the Milwaukee Film Festival last year for a screening of Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me, a feisty documentary filmed as she prepared to leave New York that reflected upon her mortality. Asked what she thought of the film, she replied in typical fashion: “It’s not my cup of tea on a warm afternoon in May.”

Stritch was the niece of Samuel Cardinal Stritch, former archbishop of Milwaukee and later Chicago.

Wilson Center awarded $50,000 NEA grant for Brookfield park

The Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts announced it will receive a $50,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to be used to create an interactive sculpture garden at Brookfield’s Mitchell Park. The project, titled ArtsPark, will feature a variety of non-traditional sculptures, including one yet-to-be-determined. That work will be chosen by voters at the Wilson Center’s 2015 Hidden River Art Festival after a yearlong competition. The NEA grant is part of the organization’s Our Town creative placemaking initiative, and the Wilson Center is the only Wisconsin-based organization to receive funding from that program this year. Sculpture installation will begin next summer.

Harper Lee says she didn’t OK new book about her

The reclusive author of To Kill a Mockingbird, one of the most acclaimed novels of the 20th century, says she never gave her approval to a new memoir described as a rare, intimate look into the lives of the writer and her older sister in small-town Alabama. “Rest assured, as long as I am alive any book purporting to be with my cooperation is a falsehood,’” Harper Lee said in a letter released July 14, just as the new book, The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee was about to go on sale. The book was written by former Chicago Tribune reporter Marja Mills, who moved next door to Lee and her sister, Alice, in 2004 and remained there for 18 months. Mills’ book describes a friendship that blossomed after she first traveled to Alabama in 2001 to write about Lee and Monroeville for the Tribune and gradually became incorporated into the Lee sisters’ social circle.

Archie’s death latest comic book to inject reality

For fans of Archie Andrews, his heroic death marks a fitting end. The iconic, all-American do-gooder of Archie Comics was killed in the penultimate issue of Life with Archie, a flash-forward series that looks at the lives of Archie and his friends in adulthood. He died saving his best friend, openly gay Sen. Kevin Keller, from an assassin enraged by the lawmaker’s push for gun control. The issue marks the latest in a series of more socially relevant storylines targeted at adult Archie fans, including Kevin’s marriage to his husband and a former love interest of Archie’s battling breast cancer. The story, published July 16, will continue into next month’s issue, in which Archie’s friends will commemorate his death a year later.

Archie will remain alive as a teenager in the flagship comic Archie, as well as in Afterlife with Archie, a similarly self-contained series in which Riverdale is plagued by a zombie apocalypse.

Marvel shakes things up with female Thor, black Captain America and San Fran Iron Man

Iron Man, Captain America and Thor might be the most recognizable Avengers of Marvel’s film universe, but recent announcements revealed the trio will soon look radically different in the comic books. The first release, announced on The View July 15, was that Norse thunder god Thor would be replaced by a female hero after he becomes unworthy of his magic hammer Mjolnir, and Marvel’s chief creative officer Joe Quesada appeared on The Colbert Report July 16 to confirm African-American character Sam Wilson, aka the Falcon, would replace former Captain Steve Rogers, depowered in a recent storyline. Most recently, Marvel disclosed that Iron Man would be reinventing himself as well, donning a silver suit and antihero attitude before moving to San Francisco. The changes will occur this fall alongside a reshuffling of the Avengers team that will prominently highlight many characters set to appear in Marvel films next year, including Ant-Man and the Scarlet Witch.

Natalie Merchant postpones tour, including Pabst Theater dates

The remainder of Natalie Merchant’s U.S. summer tour has been postponed due to illness, with the singer set to miss nine dates including her concluding concert at the Pabst Theater July 25. The former 10,000 Maniacs vocalist had been touring to promote her new self-titled album, her first collection of new material in more than a decade. Makeup dates will be announced for the near future, and Merchant is expected to next perform at the Beacon Theatre in New York in September.

Mutant Pride: Retro style, globe-trotting intrigue in the latest ‘X-Men’

Matthew Vaughn and a superb cast reinvigorated the franchise with cool retro style and globe-trotting intrigue in 2011’s “X-Men: First Class.” The series’ original director, Bryan Singer, continues that momentum in the vigorously entertaining “X-Men: Days of Future Past.” While it’s more dramatically diffuse than the reboot and lacks a definitive villain, the new film is shot through with a stirring reverence for the Marvel Comics characters and their universe. And it ups the stakes by threatening nothing less than the genocide of the mutant population, among them faces old and new.

Hardcore followers will have a geek field day dissecting the challenging pretzel logic of writer-producer Simon Kinberg’s screenplay, from a story by Jane Goldman, Kinberg and Vaughn, who had originally planned to direct. The central premise comes from the 1981 Uncanny X-Men comic “Days of Future Past,” in which Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) uses her consciousness transference powers to go back from a dystopian future and rewrite history.

Echoes of the Holocaust have rippled throughout the series, and Singer opens with present-day scenes of a desolate, burnt-out New York, where mutants and mutant-sympathizing humans have been rounded up in internment camps.

Jumping to a similarly devastated Moscow, we watch Kitty, Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) and a small band of mutants face an attack from the deadly Sentinels. Dropped in from airborne carrier ships, these robots are designed to track and destroy the mutant gene. They resemble towering, muscular versions of the aliens from “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” constructed out of magnetic plates that allow them to change shape and adapt to whatever force is unleashed against them.

The mutants escape and regroup in the rubble of an ancient Chinese monastery with Professor X (Patrick Stewart), Magneto (Ian McKellen), Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and Storm (Halle Berry). The movie is missing an explanation of how traditional adversaries Professor X and Magneto reached a collaborative truce. But within the elastic boundaries of comic-book mythology that seems no big deal, and it’s nice to see their bromance rekindled.

Threatened with extinction, the mutant holdouts hatch a plan to return to the post-Vietnam Paris Peace Accord of 1973, when Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) killed Dr. Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), a U.S. military scientist developing the Sentinels program. Mystique was captured and experimented on, with the transformative powers of her DNA tapped to perfect the Sentinels.

Wolverine’s ability to heal makes him the only one able to withstand the 40-year time jump. Kinberg’s script milks welcome humor out of sending the least diplomatic of the X-Men back to convince the younger Professor X (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) to join forces and stop the assassination that triggered anti-mutant hysteria. Having Wolverine awaken on a waterbed staring at a lava lamp and listening to Roberta Flack lightens the mood at just the right moment.

Looking Christ-like with his 1970s mop and scruffy beard, McAvoy’s Charles Xavier couldn’t be less like that of Stewart, with his steely but benevolent authority. Disillusioned, Charles is addicted to a serum produced by Beast (Nicholas Hoult) that gives him the use of his legs but strips him of his telepathic powers. Professor X is the one character whose younger and older selves actually meet, in a scene that is among the movie’s most emotionally resonant.

There are also affecting moments when Wolverine encounters Major Bill Stryker (Josh Helman), triggering traumatic flash-forward memories of his painful physical transformation and his love for Jean Grey.

Perhaps the film’s standout sequence features the much-discussed new addition of Peter Maximoff, aka Quicksilver (“American Horror Story” regular Evan Peters). The rights dispute that kept the character out of previous films has been resolved, allowing him to appear in both the “X-Men” and “Avengers” franchises, albeit without cross-referencing. His super-speed skills are conveyed by shooting at 3,000 frames per second, notably when Peter runs around the walls during a fabulously staged Pentagon break-in, whimsically accompanied by Jim Croce singing “Time in a Bottle.” With his silver shag, Pink Floyd T-shirt and mischievous sense of humor, Peter is a terrific character who breathes playfulness into the movie, and many will be sorry he doesn’t stick around longer.

Fassbender’s young Erik/Magneto was the revelation of First Class, and the actor again shows riveting self-possession and charisma to burn — not least when he’s standing astride the roof of a moving train in bellbottoms while tearing up railway tracks. But this movie belongs to Jackman and Lawrence.

Logan/Wolverine has possibly never been more compelling. In his seventh turn in the role, Jackman brings powerful physicality, laconic humor and depths of sorrow beneath his gruffness that make him an unusually nuanced figure for a sci-fi action movie.

Switching from her honorable Hunger Games heroine into badass mode with supreme ease, Lawrence is sensational, whether slinking around in Mystique’s body-hugging blue reptilian skin, displaying the shape-shifter’s balletic fight skills or adopting seductive human form. Her romantic friendship with Charles, stretching back to their childhoods, adds poignancy to Mystique’s struggle, notably in a wonderful airport scene during which Professor X gets inside her head via random people in the terminal.

It’s hard to imagine fanboys having too much to grumble about here, as Singer has pulled together an ambitious, suspenseful screen chapter that secures a future for the franchise while facilitating continued reinvention. Audiences should sit tight through the end credits crawl for an enigmatic signoff scene that provides a taste of the next installment, X-Men: Apocalypse.

“X-Men,” a 20th Century Fox release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for “sequences of intense sci-fi violence and action, some suggestive material, nudity and language.” Running time: 131 minutes.

10 things to look for in 2014 at the movies

Hollywood may be hoping for a little less drama in 2014.

2013 was a tale of two cinemas. Intended blockbusters such as “The Lone Ranger” and “After Earth” flopped spectacularly while many in the industry (including Steven Spielberg) bemoaned the increasingly commercial trajectory of the studios. And yet by the end of the year, Hollywood had set a record with nearly $11 billion in revenue, while critics hailed the year’s crop as one of the best in years.

How will 2014 unfold?

The plot, at least, will be unchanged, with Hollywood moving to the familiar pattern of sketchy spring releases, summer superhero blockbusters and fall awards-contenders.

Here are 10 things to look for at the movies in 2014:

STELLAR SCI-FI: Anticipation runs especially high for “Interstellar” (Nov. 7), Christopher Nolan’s deep space travel adventure starring Matthew McConaughey. Nolan, the director of “Inception” and “The Dark Knight,” is one of few directors whose name alone makes fanboys salivate. His imprimatur promises a cinematic experience (he likes to shoot with IMAX cameras) that few today can match.

Nolan’s name also looms large in “Transcendence” (April 18), which he produced. The artificial intelligence tale, starring Johnny Depp is the directorial debut of Nolan’s longtime cinematographer Wally Pfister.

HOLD-OVERS FROM 2013: This year will benefit from last year’s unusually good leftovers. George Clooney’s World War II art rescue tale “The Monuments Men” will open Feb. 7 after being delayed from December.

James Grey’s Ellis Island drama “The Immigrant” (undated), starring Joaquin Phoenix and Marion Cottilard, could emerge as an Oscar dark horse after earning acclaim on the festival circuit.

Bennett Miller’s “Foxcatcher,” featuring a dark turn from Steve Carell, will bow sometime in 2014.

“Grace of Monaco,” with Nicole Kidman as Grace Kelly, opens March 14.

MARVEL’s EXPANDING UNIVERSE: Marvel’s world domination continues with “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (April 4), “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” (May 2), “X-Men: Days of Future Past” (May 23) and “Guardians of the Galaxy” (Aug. 1). The last, the lone non-sequel, represents Marvel’s reach for another ensemble team-up film, and, with a cast including Chris Pratt and Bradley Cooper, perhaps something a little different than its usual output.

MUSICALS SING AGAIN: Though 2013 contained no major live-action musical, several are coming this year.

Clint Eastwood, of all people, directs the screen adaptation of the hit production about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons in “Jersey Boys” (June 20).

“Annie” (Dec. 19), produced by Will Smith and Jay Z, will get a contemporary update with “Beasts of the Southern Wild” star Quvenzhane Wallis as the titular orphan.

Rob Marshall (“Chicago”) will transfer James Lapine and Steven Sondheim’s Grimm fable “Into the Woods” to the big screen (Dec. 25), with Meryl Streep as the Witch and Depp as the Big Bad Wolf.

SURE BETS FROM VETERAN HANDS: Paul Thomas Anderson (“There Will Be Blood,” ‘’The Master”) releases have become the highlight of many a movie buff’s year.

His “Inherent Vice” (not yet dated), adapted from Thomas Pynchon’s novel and starring Phoenix, continues the director’s series of California-set films.

Also hotly anticipated is David Fincher’s version of Gillian Flynn’s best-selling thriller, “Gone Girl” (Oct. 3), starring Ben Affleck.

Other directors to watch in 2014 include Wes Anderson (“The Grand Budapest Hotel,” March 7) and Woody Allen (“Magic in the Moonlight,” undated).

BEARDED MEN OF THE BIBLE: This year will boast not just a Noah, but also a Moses.

First will come Darren Aronofsky’s “Noah” (March 28), starring Russell Crowe and a very big boat.

Ridley Scott will follow on Dec. 12 with “Exodus,” starring Christian Bale as Moses.

Greek mythology will also double up in 2014 with two Hercules movies. The demigod will be played by Dwayne Johnson in Brett Ratner’s “Hercules” (July 25) and by Kellan Lutz in “The Legend of Hercules” (out Friday).

More Greek warfare comes with the sequel “300: Rise of an Empire” (March 7).

SEQUELS, REMAKES AND, AT LAST, A FINAL HOBBIT: Naturally, 2014 boasts a boatload of sequels and remakes including “Godzilla” (May 16), “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1” (Nov. 21), “Transformers: Age of Extinction” (June 27), “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” (July 11), “22 Jump Street” (June 13), “The Expendables 3” (Aug. 15) and “How to Train Your Dragon 2” (June 13).

Peter Jackson will finally close out his lifetime with J.R.R. Tolkien with his final “Hobbit” installment: “The Hobbit: There and Back Again” (Dec. 17).

THAT WAS NOT THE END: Co-directors Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg will quickly follow up their 2013 hit “This Is the End” with “The Interview” (Oct. 10), a comedy starring James Franco as a talk-show host caught up in an assassination plot.

Rogen also stars with Zac Efron in “Neighbors” (May 9), by “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” director Nicholas Stoller, about a young family living next to a frat house.

The 2014 comedy lineup also includes “Dumb and Dumber To” (Nov. 14), with Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels; the one-night-stand comedy “Walk of Shame” (April 25) with Elizabeth Banks; and “Sex Tape” (Aug. 1) with Cameron Diaz.

JOLIE’S RETURN: Angelina Jolie hasn’t starred in a live-action film since 2010’s forgettable “The Tourist,” but she’ll be a large presence in 2014.

She stars as the title villain in “Maleficent” (May 30), the twisted “Sleeping Beauty” tale.

She also directs her second feature in “Unbroken” (Dec. 25), a World War II prisoner-of-war drama co-scripted by Joel and Ethan Coen. Jolie’s famous companion, Brad Pitt, stars in a WWII story of his own, “Fury” (Nov. 14), about an American tank crew in Nazi Germany.

HUNTING THE HUNGER GAMES: The competition is thick for the next hit young-adult franchise. Among the films looking to draw teenage audiences with stories from popular young-adult novels are: the post-apocalyptic “Divergent” (March 21); the high-school vampire fantasy “Vampire Academy: Blood Sisters” (Feb. 14); and the sci-fi dystopia “The Maze Runner” (Sept. 19).

May the odds be ever in your favor. 

Can Superman, Spider-Man rescue the porn business?

We all know he can leap tall buildings in a single bound and bend steel in his bare hands. So perhaps it should come as no surprise that during a time of crisis even the porn industry turns to Superman.

The same week in June that Warner Bros. released the Superman blockbuster “Man of Steel,” Vivid Entertainment Group put out its own superhero flick, “Man of Steel XXX: A Porn Parody.”

Although it’s safe to assume that “Steel XXX” didn’t quite match the $116.6 million opening weekend of the Warner Bros. hit, if it performs anything like 2010’s “Batman XXX: A Porn Parody,” it will become the most-rented and highest-selling porn video of the year. At a cost of more than $100,000, it will also be one of the most expensive porn movies made.

Parodies, once a cheaply filmed niche segment of the adult movie market, are big business these days – filled with expensive special effects, real story lines, actors who can (sometimes) actually act and costumes that even comic-book geeks find authentic.

The movies may also help save an industry looking to rebound from years of Internet piracy, illegal downloads and amateur videos that have caused a serious financial hit, said Mark Kernes, senior editor at Adult Video News. The business has gone from annual revenues of as much as $12 billion a few years ago to about $7 billion today.

“We certainly do have a problem with piracy … and sadly no one seems to be able to do anything about it,” said Kernes.

But now Superman is coming to the rescue, along with Batman, Iron Man and Spider-Man.

All four have taken star turns in full-length, slickly produced films that include hard-core crime fighting and, well, other hard-core scenes – although milder versions were made of some of the same films.

Neither the makers of the mainstream movies nor comic book writer and Iron Man creator Stan Lee wanted to comment. A person who answered the phone at Lee’s office said he doubted Lee had heard of the parodies, and then hung up. Lee, himself, didn’t respond to an email.

Marvel Comics also did not respond to requests for comment. Warner Bros.’ DC Entertainment Division, which makes the Superman and Batman films, had no comment, said spokeswoman Courtney Simmons.

Since the trend toward superhero parodies began three years ago, no porn company making them has been sued. For years the courts have ruled that parodies, like other forms of speech, are protected by the First Amendment.

“Mainstream porn, from a copyright protection, from a First Amendment protection, is essentially the same as any other form of written expression,” said entertainment lawyer David Ginsburg, who is executive director of the UCLA School of Law’s entertainment, media and intellectual property law program.

“The rules of parody apply as equally to porn as they do to any other form of parody, like ‘Saturday Night Live’ or Mad Magazine,” he said.

The porn parody superhero revolution seems to have begun in earnest around 2010, when veteran adult film director Axel Braun, who boasts of having a collection of DC and Marvel comics dating to his childhood, brought his “Batman XXX” film to Vivid Entertainment Group.

The company’s chief executive, Steven Hirsch, initially wasn’t that impressed. But when the film became the biggest-selling and renting video of the year, Hirsch said, he quickly realized there was a core demographic his business was overlooking: comic-book geeks.

Soon Vivid was cranking out four to six of the films a year, timing their release to whenever the mainstream films hit theaters.

Other companies soon followed with their own releases, including: “The Justice League Of Porn Star Heroes” and a parody of the vampire television series “True Blood.”

Production costs can be more than 10 times as high as making a traditional pornographic movie, but the parodies sell for three times as much, Braun said.

They are, said Hirsch, the best-selling movies on Vivid TV, “after our celebrity sex tapes.”

Green Lantern returns as DC Comics’ gay hero

Green Lantern, one of DC Comics’ oldest and enduring heroes no matter what parallel earth he’s on, is serving as a beacon for the publisher again, this time as a proud, mighty and openly gay superhero.

The change is revealed in the pages of the second issue of “Earth 2” out next week, and comes on the heels of what has been an expansive year for gay and lesbian characters in the pages of comic books from Archie to Marvel and others.

But purists and fans note: This Green Lantern is not the emerald galactic space cop who was, and is, part of the Justice League and has had a history rich in triumph and tragedy.

Instead, said James Robinson, who writes the new series, Alan Scott is the retooled version of the classic Lantern whose first appearance came in the pages of “All-American Comics” No. 16 in July 1940.

And his being gay is not part of some wider story line meant to be exploited or undone down the road, either.

“This was my idea,” Robinson explained this week, noting that before DC relaunched all its titles last summer, Alan Scott had a son who was gay.

But given “Earth 2” features retooled and rebooted characters, Scott is not old enough to have a grown son.

“By making him younger, that son was not going to exist anymore,” Robinson said.

“He doesn’t come out. He’s gay when we see him in issue two,” which is due out Wednesday. “He’s fearless and he’s honest to the point where he realized he was gay and he said ‘I’m gay.’”

“It was just meant to be 7/8— Alan Scott being a gay member of the team, the Justice Society, that I’ll be forming in the pages of ‘Earth 2,’” he said. “He’s just meant to be part of this big tapestry of characters.”

It’s also another example of gay and lesbian characters taking more prominent roles in the medium.

In May, Marvel Entertainment said super speedster Northstar will marry his longtime boyfriend in the pages of “Astonishing X-Men.” DC comics has other gay characters too, including Kate Kane, the current Batwoman.

And in the pages of Archie Comics, Kevin Keller is one of the gang at Riverdale High School and gay, too.

Some groups have protested the inclusion of gay characters, but Robinson isn’t discouraged, noting that being gay is just one aspect to Scott.

“This guy, he’s a media mogul, a hero, a dynamic type-A personality and he’s gay,” Robinson said. “He’s a complex character.”

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