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Friday, May 23, 2014

Days of Future Past Review: What X-Men Should Have Been All Along

X-Men: Days of Future Past is a sound superhero flick that dares to admit, "We did it wrong."

20th Century Fox's X-Men franchise is a study in inconsistent frustration. Riddled with canon issues from 2000's X-Men through the highly controversial The Last Stand, comic fans and newbies have come to woefully accept that their vision of the Marvel comic is no longer their own. After a refreshing reboot in First Class, hope was aroused that Fox had finally gotten its act together, and then The Wolverine arrived and that hope seemed dashed once more. But Days of Future Past re-establishes the universe, cleaning up several (but not all) major plot holes while delivering an excellent superhero character study that doesn't need a lot of big effects to sell itself.


The future is a dark and dreadful existence, as both humans and mutants suffer under the thumb of The Sentinels - massive robots initially built to target mutants. Unfortunately, their programming has determined that humans are just as dangerous, and have spent the last 50 years eliminating everyone. Only a few X-Men remain, including Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart), Magneto (Ian McKellen), and Iceman (Shawn Ashmore), but they have a plan: use Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) to transport Wolverine to the past to confront Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence). Her assassination of the human military scientist Dr. Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) has led to her capture and experimentation, which now allows the Sentinels to adapt to any mutant power. He connects with the 70's Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Micahel Fassbender), only to learn that the two still hold deep resentment towards one another. As humanity stands on the brink of elimination, 70's Wolverine must work to bring an end to Mystique's plan while his compatriots in the future desperately try to hold off a Sentinel attack destined to end their race.

Director Bryan Singer cares about these characters unlike any director that's come since. Sure, Matthew Vaughn righted the ship with the happy accident that was First Class, but DOFP actually corrects major mistakes in the movie canon. What's more, the core characters of Magneto, Xavier, and Wolverine engage in some masterful discussions of impending disaster and man's place in orchestrating it. To them, both mutants and humans are to blame, but their chemistry suggest that only they can pull the world back from the brink. Seeing Stewart and Jackman back together is nothing new, but adding McAvoy and Fassbender to the mix here has yielded significantly tastier fruit. The action is also improved, and the arrival of the super-speedy Quicksilver (Evan Peters) instantly steals every scene he's in. Once mired for his odd-looking appearance, Quicksilver turns in one of the best action pieces of the film, taking a page out of Nightcrawler's book to stop a squad of Pentagon lawmen.

First Class' Vaughn is given writing credit along with Simon Kinberg and Jane Goldman, crafting a story that minimizes the hazards of unavoidable inevitabilites inherent in time travel. They even wrap up key questions left over from Kinberg's diastrous Last Stand and the two Wolverine movies. Essentially, the last five minutes of DOFP has now become the new history, with various heroes returning from the grave while providing new questions for Logan that only Xavier can answer. The main thrust of the story - that time might be at once immutable and create infinite outcomes - serves as an effective anchor throughout the picture. Characters see alternate versions of themselves and pontificate on a future that may or may not include them, while others battle to keep their former selves alive long enough to make a difference in the past.

As one would expect, not all of the large cast gets enough time in front of the camera, but there's lots to like regardless. Lawrence's Mystique is a tortured soul, whose emotional wounded eyes speak loads about her reasoning for targeting Trask, while McAvoy tries to communicate with his former childhood friend through a series of travelers at a crowded airport. Fassbender is also conflicted throughout DOFP as both apologetic for Xavier's troubles but focused on killing Mystique to stop a larger conflict. His big scene in the third act involves wielding nothing short of a football stadium at The White House, while also trying to come to grips with man's hatred of Mutants. We never tire of Jackman's Wolverine, his yoked physique and sardonic tone so dialed in to the character's essence that anyone else trying to mirror it would seem entirely unsuited for the job. The same goes for Stewart, whose monologued exchanges with McAvoy and Jackman have always made him the perfect Professor.

That's not to say moviegoers might not have a ton of continuity questions afterwards: Why does Logan have Adamantium claws in the future, when he lost his at the end of The Wolverine? How did Professor Xavier return from death after The Last Stand? And where's hottie January Jones' Emma Frost? Sure, McKellen's Magneto and Storm (a pregnant Halle Berry) could have enjoyed more screen time, but it's clear that a director's cut of DOFP should and must be forthcoming. More importantly, Singer has brought the series back to respectability, forging a bright future that Sony's The Amazing Spider-man 2 suddenly seems incapable of doing. Where ASM 2 was bogged down in a crushing amount of plot details, DOFP effectively blends the two timelines while throwing in plenty of 70's pop culture oddities. Whenever someone can use the penultimate time travel reference - Star Trek TOS' episode of The Naked Time - without totally confusing things, you know our team has a handle of the importance of doing the film right.

X-Men: Days of Future Past is what X-Men should have been all along: a solid story respectful of the comic's past, with some of the best superhero action we've seen, while just being funny enough to still take itself seriously. Sure, there are plenty of times in which we wished for more Storm or less convolution, but Singer does press the 'Reset' button on a franchise that sorely needed it. The result is an intriguing, reinvigorating, and a surprisingly good chapter that sets up the after-credits Age of Apocalypse.

X-Men: Days of Future Past is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi violence and action, some suggestive material, nudity and language. and has a runtime of 131 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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