Saturday, May 31, 2014

Movie Review: "X-Men: Days of Future Past" by David Pretty

The Elevator Pitch

In the second phase of his campaign to restore the X-Men franchise back to its former glory (phase one being 2011's X-Men: Mad Mutants, er...First Class) Bryan Singer personally helms this adaptation of the classic and much-beloved "Days of Future Past" storyline from the original comics.

In a stark and dystopic future all of mutant-kind have been identified, captured and exterminated by a horde of adaptive, man-made robotic watchdogs called the Sentinels. At the behest of Professor X and Magneto, Kitty Pryde uses her phasing powers to send Wolverine's consciousness back through time to 1973. His mission: to get the two arch-rivals to reconcile in a bid to thwart Mystique's assassination of the Sentinel's creator Bolivar Trask.

In The Wheelhouse 

Comic book and, more specifically, X-Men nerds will be all over this like Mr. Fantastic on Sue Storm during their honeymoon. The movie is also a must-see for anyone interested in watching a talented ensemble of actors preside over a brain-twisting time travel story with plenty of thoughtful plotting, solid dialogue, creative direction and colorful spectacle.

The Pros
  • Even though the original "Days of Future Past" storyline is only two issues long, Singer and his writing partner Simon Kinberg manage to flesh out and update the original plot without dragging in a bunch irrelevant mush. Instead of treating their previously-established X-continuity like an albatross around their necks, they took these limitations as a challenge to forge a new timeline. The manage to color within the lines and knit together a bunch of disparate plot threads while dispensing with the problematic ones. 
  • Notwithstanding the creative license provided by all those wacky mutant powers, the action scenes are incredibly colorful, dynamic and thrilling. Then when you throw visually compelling characters like Blink (Fan Bingbing) into the mix, these centerpieces become even more engaging. Believe it or not, this is one of the very few comic book movies that actually shows a team of super-powered heroes using their abilities in tandem to defeat a common foe. 
  • I'm pleased that the unexpected success of First Class gave the producers of this film enough clout to properly bankroll the epic scope of Days of Future Past. The flawless special effects, myriad of real-world locations and 70's era props and costumes look pretty durned convincing, even with l'il ol' Montreal standing in for Paris.  
  • Matthew Vaughn and Bryan Singer's scheme to inexorably link the X-Men's origins with real historic events and personages continues to pay dividends. Not only does this honor the original source material by respecting Magneto's concentration camp internment and the genesis of the original comic book back in 1963 but it also grounds these wildly fantastic stories in reality. Bonus points for the conspiracy-licious JFK mention, by the way.  
  • The principal actors alone make this film compulsively watchable. Logan, a.k.a. Hugh Jackman completes his journey from violent wildcard to responsible leader. Young Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) presides over a tremendous character arc that sees him go from a self-pitying mobility addict to a selfless and resolute idealist. For this stage in Mystique's life, Jennifer Lawrence is a good fit: she's lithe, dangerous and passionate yet still betrays a hint of fragility and self-doubt. Peter Dinklage is also wonderful as Bolivar Trask. His casting and performance are both inspired, leading the audience to suspect that Trask's mindless goal of quantifying, curtailing and eliminating mutancy may be driven by a healthy dollop of self-loathing. I kinda wish Nicholas Hoult's Hank McCoy / Beast was more Kelsey Grammer and less Terry the Toad from American Graffiti but his Jekyll / Hyde take on the character is still kinda cool. Personally, I would have cast him as a young Scott Summers / Cyclops but that's my own personal hang-up. Finally, a subtle and nuanced performance by Michael Fassbender as Magneto keeps us guessing right up to the very end. I love the fact that the screenwriters had the cajones to remain true to the character's bleak world-view.  
  • The film is loaded with tons of insular comic book lore and geeky visual minutia. Since the film takes place back in 1973, Wolverine is pre-"Weapon X" here so he's still sporting bone claws and downright giddy whenever he passes through a metal detector. Having said that he still experiences a well-timed panic attack when confronted by his future tormentor William Striker, played here by Josh Holman. We also get some welcome appearances by Halle Berry as Storm, Omar Sy as Bishop, Daniel Cudmore as Colossus, Adan Canto as Sunspot, Booboo (!) Stewart as Warpath, Evan Jonigkeit as Toad and others that I wouldn't reveal if I was water-boarded. Bonus points: Shawn Ashmore finally gets to go full-on Iceman!
  • Like a young Jack White on a cocaine bender, Evan Peters of American Horror Story fame deserves special mention as Quicksilver. Blessed with a truly-memorable fight scene that showcases the proper creative application of top-notch digital special-effects, Peters sets the bar pretty darned high for any future incarnations of the character. I'm lookin' at you Aaron Taylor-Johnson. The gauntlet has officially been thrown down, my friend. 
  • Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen and Ellen Page are all great. In other news: bears are still shitting in the woods.
  • Just by its very existence, Days of Future Past justifies all of the venom and derision that's been heaped upon the brain-damaged head of X-Men: The Last Stand over the years. Instead of assuming that the audience has the attention span of a toddler at a portrait studio and cramming two (or even three!) completely separate plot-lines into one script, Singer and company pick one angle and go with it. In fact, the highest praise I can give to Days of Future Past is that it retcons the justifiably-loathed X3 right out of existence.
  • Bombastic and confrontational scenes between McAvoy and Fassbender contrast nicely with some great, smart introspective moments. Investing in quiet moments of character development like this pays off in spades when things go completely batshit nuts during the climax and large chunks of A-list real estate starts flying around.  

  • In their mad quest to redact X3 it looks as if the events of the first two X-Men flicks were also "Bobby Ewing-ed" into oblivion. This endows upon me the mutant power of UNCONTROLLABLE RAGE. 
The Bottom Line

Ever since Bryan Singer made the mistake of throwing over the X-Men franchise to produce the slavishly-unmemorable Superman Returns, it seems as if he's been on a one-man crusade to set things to rights. Thanks to an engaging, tight and well-groomed script, I'm pleased to report that Singer has succeeded in fixing the time line in more ways then one.

  Tilt: up.

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