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Saturday, May 24, 2014

DAMN Good Movies -- X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST


It's time once again for another of my movie takes, this time on the film X-Men: Days of Future Past, based on the popular Marvel Comics superteam.  As always, if you haven't seen the movie yet and you don't want it spoiled for you, then please step back from your computer or whatever electronic device you're reading this on and stop reading now.  If, however, you're wise enough to know that movie reviews with spoilers are always more interesting than the ones without them...well...feel free to be mutant and proud...

This fifth X-Men film (not counting the two Wolverine solo films) was originally supposed to be the second of a prequel trilogy that started with 2011's X-Men: First Class that was directed by Matthew Vaughn.  However, the movie only made over $353 million worldwide, over one hundred million less than 2006's poorly-received X-Men: The Last Stand by Brett Ratner, so 20th Century Fox realized something more was needed. 

Plans for Vaughn to return for the next First Class movie centered around the Kennedy assassination in 1963 fell by the wayside, with X-Men: The Last Stand screenwriter Simon Kinberg coming back and loosely basing the storyline around the classic comics story "Days of Future Past" by Chris Claremont and John Byrne.  Vaughn left to direct Kingsman: The Secret Service, while producer Bryan Singer came back to helm the picture, his first since directing the first two X-Men films in 2000 and 2003.

In the original comics version, Rachel Summers, the future daughter of Cyclops and Jean Grey, sends the consciousness of an adult Kitty Pryde back through time into the body of her younger, present-day self.  Kitty's mission is to prevent the assassination of Senator Robert Kelly by Mystique and her Brotherhood of Evil Mutants and change history so that the dystopian future, where mutants are either dead or incarcerated in internment camps, never happens.

But in this Days of Future Past, because Singer and Kinberg are Singer and Kinberg, most of anything resembling established X-Men lore goes right out the window.  Now it's the future Kitty Pryde who suddenly has the mutant ability to send Wolverine back through time into the body of his younger, 1973 self.  Logan's mission is to prevent the assassination of Bolivar Trask, creator of the Sentinels, by Mystique and change history so that the dystopian future, where mutants are either dead or incarcerated in internment camps, never happens.

Singer, rather predictably, ignores what previous directors Brett Ratner and Matthew Vaughn brought to the table and goes back to his familiar comfort zone.  Another narration by Patrick Stewart's Charles Xavier sets the tone, followed by another swirling CGI fest of DNA strands and returning composer John Ottman reusing his theme from X2: X-Men United.  The brightly-colored original X-Men uniforms from First Class are replaced with dull, dark grey uniforms in the future, and even Magneto's crimson costume that was so faithful to the comics is retconned away by a bland, dark grey replacement.

However, even with Singer's apparent issue with vibrant color, he still knows how to make a decent movie with a ridiculously huge cast of characters.  Although most of the film is set in 1973, he goes back -- to the future! -- every so often to remind the audience that things are all kinds of crazy there as well.  But while watching future X-Men being killed off one by one has some impact, it's hard to really feel anything knowing there's a plan in motion to quickly erase those deaths.

And in addition to providing a solid finale for the original cast, this movie addresses mistakes Singer and his various screenwriters have made over the previous four films.  The deaths of Cyclops and Jean Grey in X-Men: The Last Stand?  Fixed.  Kitty Pryde with Iceman instead of Colossus?  Fixed.  Days of Future Past is the solid ending to Bryan Singer's X-Men that he never got to make, certainly much better than The Last Stand, but also sets things up to continue on with the First Class group of actors.  The real question is, will Singer make the most of the opportunity to send the X-Men along a different direction?

The film's huge cast give some decent performances with a lot of great character moments. Here are some of the things that stood out:

WOLVERINE/JAMES "LOGAN" HOWLETT -- Returning for his seventh (!) outing as Wolverine, Hugh Jackman doesn't seem ready to let the character go any time soon.  He's seems more comfortable in the 1973 setting than he does in the future, and has considerable fun playing with Logan's timey-wimey disorientation.  But it's his final scene where he sees Jean and other X-Men alive and well that has the most impact.

PROFESSOR X/CHARLES XAVIER -- While it's just lovely to see and hear 73-year-old Patrick Stewart reprising Professor X one last time, it's James McAvoy who gets to do the heavy lifting.  It's fascinating to watch Xavier as a bitter, broken young man who slowly finds his way to hope for the future once again, even though McAvoy doesn't appear ready to go bald just yet.

MAGNETO/ERIK LEHNSHERR -- The same goes for 75-year-old Ian McKellen, who gets a death scene in the future despite it being quickly erased.  Meanwhile, Michael Fassbender proves again that he's more than worthy of Magneto's helmet, embracing his villainy far more this time out.  The sequence where he drops RFK Stadium around the White House is truly impressive and shows how far the franchise has come since the days of Magneto and his mutation-inducing machine.

MYSTIQUE/RAVEN DARKHOLME -- With Jennifer Lawrence's star rising higher and higher ever since First Class, it made so much sense to use Mystique more and Days of Future Past's storyline was a perfect choice for doing so.  As the assassin of Bolivar Trask, Mystique is absolutely crucial to the plot and Lawrence seems to enjoy embracing her darker side.

BEAST/DR. HENRY "HANK" MCCOY -- Nicholas Hoult essentially serves as Xavier's personal assistant for most of the film, although he's there for all the key fight scenes.  It seems Hank has found a way to switch his Beast abilities on and off at will, making it much easier to save some money on the makeup budget.  And in a nice cameo, Kelsey Grammer returns as his older self, alive and well in the future.

BOLIVAR TRASK -- After impressing everyone on Game of Thrones, Peter Dinklage was an unexpected but certainly welcome choice to portray the creator of the Sentinels.  He doesn't portray Trask as truly evil, certainly not compared to others like William Stryker, but makes him more misguided than anything else.

QUICKSILVER/PETER MAXIMOFF -- Evan Peters plays the X-Men version of Quicksilver before Aaron-Taylor Johnson appears as the same character in The Avengers: Age of Ultron.  There was some initial skepticism online after seeing his goofy hair and silver disco jacket, but the superb "Time in a Bottle" sequence where Quicksilver takes out several Pentagon guards in a kitchen in slow-motion should give The Flash television series more than a few ideas about super-speed.  Oh, and there's a great subtle reference about Magneto being Quicksilver's father that I won't spoil here.

SHADOWCAT/KITTY PRYDE -- As mentioned above, Ellen Page's Kitty Pryde somehow gained the ability to send people's consciousness back through time in addition to walking through walls.  Despite this excessively convenient change, at least Kitty gets something to do that matters to the storyline. 

ICEMAN/ROBERT "BOBBY" DRAKE -- Shawn Ashmore gets a beard to make his baby face look older in the future, and we finally get to see Iceman making ice slides to travel around on.

STORM/ORORO MUNROE -- Halle Berry returns one final time as Storm, but as usual, doesn't get to do very much.  She does get to throw a bunch of lightning at the approaching swarm of Sentinel transport ships, for all the good it does until she ends up impaled through the stomach by one of them.  Which, of course, ends up erased anyway.

COLOSSUS, BISHOP, BLINK, SUNSPOT & WARPATH CAMEOS -- Also known as the Legion of Expendable X-Men.  And for some reason, solar-powered super-strength wasn't enough for Sunspot because Singer and Kinberg decided he's better off as the Human Torch.  Go figure.

WILLIAM STRYKER -- Josh Helman appears as the 1973 version of Brian Cox's character from X2 and Danny Huston's from X-Men Origins: Wolverine.  And as you might expect, he's primarily there to rub his hands and go "I'm going to do all kinds of nasty stuff to you one day, Wolverine, boohahaha..."

ROGUE CAMEO -- In possibly the most pointless cameo, Anna Paquin gets about 0.3 seconds of screen time at the end of the movie where we see Rogue with Iceman once again, while Kitty is off teaching a class with Colossus.

CYCLOPS AND JEAN GREY CAMEOS -- James Marsden and Famke Janssen also return in the It's a Wonderful X-Life happy ending.  It's an important one though, as we see the ridiculousness of their characters being killed in The Last Stand mercifully negated by the new timey-wimey timeline.

CHRIS CLAREMONT AND LEN WEIN CAMEOS -- In a lovely nod to comics fans, the creators/writers of the all-new, all-different Uncanny X-Men appear as Congressmen Parker and Davis during the congressional hearing scene where Trask is attempting to obtain federal funding for the Sentinels.  And thankfully, John Byrne is nowhere to be found.

APOCALYPSE CAMEO -- And lastly, the next film's Big Bad turns up in the post-credits bonus scene as he telekinetically forms the Pyramids of Giza as four horsemen stand behind him and a large crowd of worshippers chant the name of "En Sabah Nur."

All in all, X-Men: Days of Future Past is a great sendoff for the original X-Men cast while expanding the potential of the First Class cast.  There's a lot to keep track of here, and you may have a bit of trouble unless you've watched at least a couple of the previous films, but those who have are rewarded nicely.  And with Singer already lined up to return for the next film, 2016's X-Men: Apocalypse, there's no reason why that shouldn't be just as entertaining.  Just don't expect much in the way of primary colors, okay?

And for those who may be wondering, here's the updated list of my Top 20 Comic Book Films:

1. Superman (1978)
2. The Dark Knight (2008)
3. The Avengers (2012)
4. Man of Steel (2013)
5. Spider-Man 2 (2004)
6. Spider-Man (2002)
7. Batman Begins (2005)

8. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
9. Watchmen (2009)
10. Iron Man (2008)

11. X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
12. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
13. X-Men: First Class (2011)
14: The Wolverine (2013)
15. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

16. X2: X-Men United (2003)
17. X-Men (2000)
18. Thor (2011)
19. Batman (1989)
20. Superman II (1981)


Your friendly neighborhood movie reviewer,

Charles

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