X-Men: Days of Future Past – A Review

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“Let’s do the time warp again”

It seems like a required rule that at some point in a long running franchise or series there will be some mucking around in the space/time continuum. It may be something as simple as a flashback scene that helps to flesh out a story, fill in some missing information or help to round out a character that doesn’t have any lasting impact on the larger story arc. These momentary peeks into the past or future do not ultimately alter the timeline of the story. The more adventurous forays into time travel are more complicated, but they also have longer lasting consequences. While Friends flashing back to the high school prom served only as a reminder of how long Ross has love Rachel, films like Back to the Future and Looper illustrate the butterfly effect of moving through time – change anything while in the past and there is a ripple effect that can greatly impact the present.

I was excited for X-Men: Days of Future Past, since I greatly enjoy this franchise, but I was also a little wary. I don’t have the best track record with movies that involve time travel and there is always the very real possibility that moving through the past is just a gimmick to basically reboot the franchise. Characters can be brought back to life and existing characters may be altered. I don’t have a problem with that per se, except when it is done in a lazy manner, which I was not particularly concerned about for this film since the plot is loosely borrowed from a very popular storyline in the comic books. Execution in and of itself wasn’t as worrisome as the inherent complication that comes with these sorts of narratives – the rules and regulation for time travel and its impacts vary from movie to movie (and occasionally within a movie), often resulting in a confusing mess that is difficult to keep track of. So I went into Days of Future Past anxious to see the X-men again, but skeptical that I was going to be able to keep track of everything that was going on. Add in a very large cast of characters to draw from and the fact that I was going to a late screening when my mind was tired and this was a legitimate concern. I just didn’t want to be confused.

I am very happy to report that it wasn’t an issue; there may be some moments in the story that stretch credibility and logic, but for the most part Days of Future Past is such a fun and entertaining ride that it doesn’t much matter. The time travel aspect is fairly easy to follow and allows the filmmakers to figure out how to bridge the original X-Men trilogywith X-Men: First Class. It also permits them to cherry pick the biggest stars from both periods of the franchise – I call this the Jennifer Lawrence effect – and the audience gets to have its cake and eat it too, with two versions of Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr. It’s obviously very early, but I have to say that X-Men: Days of Future Past is the early frontrunner for my favorite movie of the summer. I just had a really good time.

When we first meet up with the X-men in the film, the future is looking pretty bleak. Mutants and the humans that support them are being exterminated by Sentinels, giant robots that are able to morph and adapt to various mutant powers. A small band of X-men have been able to elude capture by using Kitty Pryde’s (Ellen Page) ability to send people’s consciousness back into their younger selves to warn them of imminent attack. Magneto (Ian McKellen) and Professer Xavier (Patrick Stewart) hatch a plan to send Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back to stop the Sentinels from being created by Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) and prevent this dystopian future from happening. He’ll need to recruit the younger versions of Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and Xavier (James McAvoy) to help him, a difficult prospect as the two were not exactly pals back in 1973. However, he’ll need them both to reach Mystique/Raven (Jennifer Lawrence), who is the key to everything. This all may sound a little confusing, but I assure that it is easy to follow on the big screen.

What I liked in particular about X-Men: Days of Future Past is that it does a really nice job of balancing both action and story. There are some fun and engaging fight scenes in the film, as to be expected from a summer comic book movie and the effects are top notch. It’s a thrilling ride and well-executed. But none of the explosions and battles would mean much if there wasn’t something behind it – that’s something that a lot of summer blockbusters still haven’t figured out. This is not a problem in Days of Future Past because the characters are so well defined and there is still room for additional character growth and real emotion. These mutants might be able to control people’s minds or instantly heal themselves, but they are also going through some stuff. It also doesn’t hurt that Days of Future Past has a pretty stellar cast, boasting multiple Oscar winners and other excellent thespians. When you have that kind of bench to draw from, you can go deeper with your characters and trust that your actors will be able to deliver – which they uniformly do. Many of these actors have also played these characters in multiple films – I think this is Jackman’s seventh time out as Wolverine – so they understand who these characters are and their motivations. That added dimension helps invest you in all the action sequences, because you actually have some investment in what happens to these mutants. The visual imagery never outweighs the story.

I also appreciated the more pared down focus of this film – there are a lot of X-men and it is easy to get bogged down with so many characters to juggle. Days of Future Past is smart about it; while many members of the X-Men universe turn up throughout the film, a lot of them are simple role players. It’s a nice way to have the best of both worlds – we get to see some old friends, but the film doesn’t worry about giving everyone a story line or a moment to shine. All the characters are there to support the greater good, which is a tight and fun action movie. The obvious candidates take center stage, but other characters get some smaller individual moments. This paring down is essential – failure to do so would result in a sprawling story that in attempting to service everyone wouldn’t do right by anyone.

This leaner and meaner X-men story means that there is room to introduce some new characters. While the character of Trask isn’t particularly well defined, Peter Dinklage is such a freaking force of nature that it really doesn’t matter that he is just “evil scientist guy.” He lights up the screen in every scene that he is in and has such charisma that he makes way more of Trask than was probably on the page. That man is a national treasure. Evan Peters, best known for American Horror Story, also steals most scenes that he is in and provides some fantastic comic relief. I don’t believe they ever call his character by his mutant name, but fans of the comics (or people who read the Internet like I do) will know who he is. A great addition to the cast.

Some other thoughts:

  • Hugh Jackman gets naked in this one for no real reason, but it was much appreciated.
  • I do have one bone to pick with Marvel – Evan Peters character is ALSO played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson in the upcoming Avengers movie. That is way too confusing; I have enough to keep track of without two different actors playing the same guy in movies that are released pretty close to one another. Stop hurting my head, Marvel!
  • I enjoy The Pete Holmes Show sketches where he fires the X-Men. The latest is Magneto:

 

The bonus of having a large junk of the film set in the 70s? We already know from American Hustle that J-Law looks great in the clothes!

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All in all, X-Men: Days of Future Past was a very enjoyable cinematic experience. The return of director Bryan Singer brought a steadying hand to a franchise that was starting to wobble and the end result is an entertaining and action packed film that breathes some fresh life into the series. The cast, writers and director have figured out how to balance the humanity of these characters with their inhuman abilities and create a well-rounded film. There are some moments that slightly defy logic, but you are having so much fun that you don’t even care that everything might not hold water under closer examination. Definitely one of the better X-men entries in the film canon; not only did I like Days of Future Past, but I am more excited for X-Men: Apocalypse. Go see this film, bub.

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