May 26, 2014

[Movies] X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

When it comes to the splintered Marvel movie universe, the biggest reminder of major properties being beyond Marvel's full control remains to be the X-Men film franchise, as controlled by Fox. The movies have been a mixed bag of great translations of the original comic book characters to really horrible spin-offs and bastardizations of key stories. You win some and you lose some, I suppose.

X-Men: Days of Future Past is quite the ambitious movie that attempts to somewhat join the two major segments of the X-Men movie franchise - the original trilogy of movies that began in 2000 and the sort of prequel that was X-Men: First Class, that had been released in 2011. And this was fairly important to figuring out a path forward for the franchise given the disparity of fan reactions to the various films.

The original trilogy had started out decently enough but degenerated into a horrible mess (think X-Men: The Last Stand) and equally bad spin-offs (hello again X-Men Origins: Wolverine). X-Men: First Class was generally praised as a better movie and an interesting path forward for everyone. So putting the bad together with the good will result in a good movie, right?

Synopsis: X-Men: Days of Future Past is a 2014 superhero movie based on the comic book story arc of the same name. It was directed by Bryan Singer with a screenplay by Simon Kinberg.

In some far off dystopian future, mutant-killing robots known as Sentinels roam the planet, searching down the last remnants of mutant kind. They are nearly unstoppable given their ability to adapt to almost any attack against them. We first meet a small band of mutants who have been on the run from the Sentinels for quite some time. Their ultimate defense is a unique one - Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) now has the ability to send someone's consciousness back in time into their past bodies. She has been using this technique on Bishop (Omar Sy) in order to warn their past selves of the next Sentinel attack (while it is happening in the "present") and thus they are able to relocate before the attack.

In time, they meet up with Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellan) in a monastery in China in order to discuss a new plan forward. They hope to send someone back far back in time - all the way back to the 70's in order to try and stop what they interpret to be the pivotal event that shifted the tides against mutantkind. Apparently the past version of Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) assassinates Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), creator of the Sentinels, and this death prompts the passage of the necessary legislation to authorize the Sentinel program. But given this is a significant jump in the use of Kitty's powers, only Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) with his healing abilities is able to survive the journey. Thus he must find a way to convince the past versions of Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) to work together to stop Mystique before it's too late.

On the whole, the movie manages to feature a significant number of mutant characters, but still manages to handle to them decently enough. Most are really just combat fodder for the future Sentinels while our core case pretty much consistent of the characters based in 1973. As much as I would have loved to have more active involvement from some of the other characters and getting to know more of their in-movie back story,
this was still a pretty smart decision in order to keep the storytelling a lot more focused.

So that brings us to the crux of this movie - that for the most part it's about the philosophical differences between Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr - better known as Professor X and Magneto. The end of First Class had them as antagonists for one another given their different interpretations of how to progress the fight for mutant rights. But somehow things get worse for the world right under their noses with the Sentinel program and by the time that they do reconcile in the future, it's too late. And the movie spends a fair amount of time exploring their differences and their past disagreements over Raven / Mystique that are sort of a key linchpin in things.

Wolverine in many ways is positioned to be the lead character since he's the link between the past and the future. However the way he was handled in the movie nicely kept him as part of the greater ensemble instead of forcing him into too many "star moments" as it were. And while he does get a lot of screen time, it's not like he's engaged in solo missions all the time - he constantly has to work with other cast members to bring the story to life. And I'm really glad for this since I've been getting a little sick of his character between how the original trilogy ended and of course his two spin-off movies.

The movie is not quite as action-packed as you'd expect given the number of mutants involved. Plus most of the fighting tends to happen in the far future side of the movie as opposed to those in the past. To add insult to injury, Charles Xavier has temporarily lost the use of his powers due to an experimental treatment that Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult) has been administering that allows him to walk for limited periods of time. So the world's most powerful telepath often does not have the use of his powers and Magneto remains pretty awesome.

I really enjoyed Michael Fassbender's portrayal of Magneto in this movie. He was already great in First Class, but this time around he really pushes the character further and shows how despite his good intentions for mutants, his plans for the world are pretty creepy. And he's certainly one for grand displays of his mutant abilities as needed, something that Xavier has never really advocated in his effort to better integrate mutants with the rest of human society.

Bryan Singer is great with setting up individual scenes, regardless of whether or not they fit together well with the rest of the movie. Just look at the grand opening of the movie (which has been teased online for some time now) where we have all the mutants trying to defeat the Sentinels in vain. It's a fantastic fight scene where the mutant refugees get to use their powers as a unit as opposed to simply trying to fight the Sentinels on a strictly one-on-one basis. And yes, I join the cries for declaring just how awesome Blink (Fan Bingbing) is now that her powers have been aligned with that of the Portal video game franchise.

In contrast, there's the kitchen sequence that features a significantly overpowered Quicksilver (Evan Peters), whose speed powers seem to have evolved to full manipulation of time and kinetic energy, or something along those lines. Nitpicking aside, it's an awesome sequence that is visually memorable and pretty badass overall. However, it's a disposable sequence that includes leaving Quicksilver behind instead of involving him in the rest of the adventure for unknown reasons. Then again, his character's true power in this movie is to move with the force of the plot, and thus had he been involved in the latter scenes, he probably would have made for a much more boring movie.

On the whole, X-Men: Days of Future Past is an awesome movie and a great way to redeem the X-Men movie franchise through the benefits of time-travel, the ultimate in-universe retcon device. And they handled the reboot pretty well, quite frankly, thus only time will tell how the next X-Men movie will fare in this new story environment. In terms of ratings, I'm generous enough to give this movie 4.5 humorous nods to Wolverine's future consciousness trying to appreciate his past self out of a possible 5.

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