Archives for : May2014

Review – X-Men Days of Future Past

x_men_days_of_future_past

I realize that apart from my Best Movies Ever series, the films I tend to review on this site are always the comic book Summer tentpole releases. It’s strange. I wouldn’t say I have a particular affinity for them or the source material on which they’re based, yet I see almost all of them. Obviously I enjoy them more than I actually realize. But I guess that’s a conversation for another time.

And speaking of time (and of amazing segues), Days of Future Past. Talk about pressure. The latest release in the X-Men film franchise needed to be more than just the seventh(!) entry in an ongoing saga. With its time-hopping narrative and all-star cast, it needed to serve as a sequel to both X-Men: First Class and The Wolverine, a prequel to the original trilogy of X-Men films, and a signpost allowing the franchise to continue indefinitely. Furthermore, the expectation was set early on that this film would paper over all the continuity issues raised by X-Men Origins: Wolverine and First Class, while correcting the biggest grievances audiences had with the maligned X-Men 3: The Last Stand.

Still with me? Does that seem like a bit too much responsibility to put on a single movie? Well, Bryan Singer was up to the challenge. He had given us the finest X-Men movie to date (#2, which I refuse to call “X-Men United”), and is essentially responsible for the renaissance of comic book movies that has changed how Hollywood looks at Summer for the past 14 years by directing the very first X-Men movie way back in the year 2000.

Attempting to connect all the threads of the various X-Men spinoffs that we’ve seen since the third film seems to me like utter madness, especially given that First Class was more or less seen as a reboot and wasn’t particularly concerned with maintaining any of the established continuity. Among the many timeline-based complications that movie introduced, we see Professor X sustain the injury that paralyzes him when he is still a young man with a full head of a luxurious hair, even though we see the older Patrick Stewart version walking in both Origins: Wolverine and The Last Stand.

Days of Future Past fully explains some of these errors, partly explains others, and leaves a few completely unaddressed (A biggie – how is Old Professor X still alive after being disintegrated by Jean Grey in The Last Stand?). But let’s face it – coming up with ad hoc excuses for the many timeline glitches this series has created is not why we go to see a new X-Men movie. The basic formula of a great X-Men film is and always has been a diverse cast of characters that we care about, with their own strengths and flaws, their own desires, and of course their powers. We need to see them join forces in a way that makes the best possible use of their individual strengths, battling a credible enemy through well-shot action sequences.

So maybe it’s not such a basic formula.

But still, the blueprint was laid out in X-Men 2, back in 2003 (and used to great effect in The Avengers). And I’m pleased to say Bryan Singer still has it in him. Days of Future Past has some of the best action sequences of the entire franchise, as well as many of the most genuine character moments. Inevitably, with such an enourmous cast, certain characters are bound to feel short-changed, particularly many of the “original” mutants seen only in the future sequences. It’s interesting that Halle Berry would agree to reprise her role as Storm, given that the character is reduced to no more than a single “hero” moment and almost no dialogue. Likewise, Iceman, Rogue, Collossus, and even Old Magneto are given little to do besides look concerned and occasionally turn into fighting special effects.

Yet, after 6 X-Men movies it’s amazing that there is still so much creative juice left over with regard to how certain mutant powers are weilded. Quite simply, I’ve never seen superpowers used in such interesting and creative ways in any comic book movie. New character Blink can open portals in space – which, if you’re a fan of the Portal video games will make you go apeshit to see those physics principles applied in a live action setting. Young Magneto takes his metal controlling powers to unheard of (and shockingly brutal) heights.

But the real revelation here, at least in terms of pure spectacle, is Quicksilver. You wouldn’t expect a relatively mundane power like super speed to be so amazing, but take note, producers of the upcoming Flash TV series – this is how you do it. I won’t spoil the sequence in question, but suffice to say you will wish the character stuck around longer (that’s NOT a spoiler, BTW).

And then there’s the only character to appear in every single X-Men movie to date – that old hand Wolverine – around whom most of the plot revolves. He’s never been better (or more physically astonishing – the dude is beyond ripped). It really makes you wish Bryan Singer had directed at least one of his standalone movies. I noted that even though the character is not supposed to “age” in the traditional sense, Hugh Jackman is looking a little long in the tooth, with just a few more wrinkles and an extra layer of grit. Luckily, this only makes him look even more like the Wolverine from the comics.

HughJackmanYoungWolverineXMenDaysofFuturePast

 

The other major players are, of course, Young Professor X and Magneto (or Charles and Eric among friends) and Mystique. Jennifer Lawrence seems much more at ease in this role than she did in First Class, and has also slimmed down considerably, making her look closer to the Rebecca Romijn version. She is so integral to the plot of Days of Future Past that I think we can all agree the character is hers now.

James MacAvoy and Michael Fassbender provide the vast majority of the emotional content of the film. Their complicated friendship/rivarly is fleshed out greatly here – much more than even First Class, a film that essentially revolved around that one concept. While their performances don’t remind you of Patrick Stewart or Ian McKellan on a surface level, it’s possible to see how their paths might eventually bring them there.

Man, even reviewing this film is demanding. I haven’t even touched on Peter Dinklage as Bolivar Trask, Nicholas Hoult as Beast, or Ellen Page as Kitty Pryde – all pivotal and well-realized characters. There’s just so much content crammed into these two hours.

I’ve intentionally avoided discussing the mechanics of the plot in this review – and if you wish to avoid spoilers, I’d recommend you skip the rest of this paragraph. Time travel plots inherently open up a lot of unresolvable logic problems, and this movie has a slew of them. Quite simply, it doesn’t make a lick of logical sense. Sending someone into the past to prevent undesireable conditions in the future has been done plenty of times before, except here we get to see the past and the future play out simultaneously, with the future being completely unaffected by changes in the past until one pre-determined event is successfully altered, at which point everything “takes”. Apparently the space-time continuum takes individual preferences into account.

That being said, if you are the kind of person who goes into a movie hoping to enjoy yourself, and not to criticize, the strongest recommendation I can make is not to let yourself get too wrapped up in the logic of the plot. Suspend your disbelief, and focus on the things this movie gets right – which, frankly, is most of the really important stuff. It’s the best X-Men movie since X-Men 2, without a doubt. In some ways it even tops that film.

Post Script: The MPAA dictates that films are allowed one use of the word “fuck” and still be rated PG-13, as long as the word is not used in a sexual context. Days of Future Past makes glorious use of their one “fuck”, and I firmly believe every PG-13 movie should do the same.