Movie Review: “X-Men: Days of Future Past”

xmen-days-of-future-past

Bryan Singer’s “X-Men: Days of Future Past” mutates all the right genes.

Bryan Singer had his work cut out for him with his new X-Men movie, X-Men: Days of Future Past. I’m not necessarily referring to the tricky subject matter—which involves time-travelling and alternate histories and multiple Wolverines—as much as I am Singer’s reputation as the original big-budget superhero guy. His last film, Jack the Giant Slayer, didn’t slay crap at the box office.

But Singer’s forte has always been the superhero genre. Yes, he botched Superman Returns, but, to be honest, I actually preferred that film to the lazy, over-saturated CGI fest that was Man of Steel; in Superman Returns, Singer at least demonstrated a tonal understanding about what made the Chris Reeves pictures work. His biggest mistake was simply picking the wrong guy to play Superman, and that’s the one thing they got right with Man of Steel.

Still, Bryan Singer has shown in the past that he can make flying, super-powered men and women seem pretty reasonable. I’m still amazed he managed to pull off a film about the X-Men in the first place. Back in 1999, before Hollywood fell head over heels in love with the super-hero “event” movie, the idea of a credible, big-budget X-Men film didn’t inspire me with much confidence.

I anticipated a unintentionally corny movie chock-full of awkward wirework and super lame crotch-bulge costumes. But Singer pulled it off. And with the sequel, X-men 2, he gave us a superhero film that has yet to be topped in overall quality of direction, story, and production. Really, Singer is one of the major founding fathers of the ongoing superhero gold rush.

Then Brett Ratner showed up for X-men: The Last Stand and pretty much stunk up the whole franchise. I didn’t hate the third X-Men film as much as most people do, and maybe that’s because I’m only a casual X-Men fan in the first place (much of the hate concerned the fact that Ratner took too many liberties with cherished X-men continuity). For me, the fact that Ratner killed Cyclops at the beginning of the movie—and kinda offscreen, too—was one of that movie’s few strengths.

One of my problems with the X-Men in general is that they’re all basically invincible. It never feels like they’re in any real danger because they can regenerate or transport to safety or freeze time or whatever. Whenever they fight a similarly invincible foe, it reminds me of some of the pillow fights I used to have with my little brother—the worst thing that happens is you fall down and have to get back up.

After Ratner had killed Cyclops so heartlessly, I was suddenly scared for all the other X-Men. Geez, who else is gonna bite it in this film? Brett Ratner knows not the difference between right and wrong! No one is safe! In the end, however, X-Men: The Last Stand left the series in a sort of dark, unsequelable place. Seemed like the franchise, in it’s original incarnation, had run it’s course.

Thanks chiefly to great casting and chemistry, 2009’s X-Men: First Class, directed competently by Matthew Vaughn, gave the franchise a much-needed shot in the arm. We got to see our favorite characters when they were younger and just getting the band together. The movie worked, and sequels to the prequel were soon promised. It was good news for X-Men fans, though we figured these adventures would pretty much take the place of any proper sequels to the Patrick Steward-led X-Men films.

With Bryan Singer’s excellent X-Men: Days of Future Past, we got both. As the movie opens, we find the survivors of the original X-Men trilogy struggling to survive in a desolate and dangerous future. Mutant hunting robots, Sentinels, have basically gone Skynet and turned the planet into a crisped war zone. The Sentinels are no pushovers. When they show up, none of your wacky mutant powers will save you. It’s only a matter of time before every last remaining mutant on Earth is dead.

The new X-Men movie gets right into it with an edge-of-your seat Sentinel attack on a mutant bunker hideout. As the endangered mutants—some of which we recognize from previous X-Men films—do their best to fight back, but we discover right away that our heroes are out of their league. Patrick Stewart’s X-Men show up—those that survived Ratner’s movie, that is—and they come up with a bold plan to fix everything.

They will utilize Kitty Pryde’s (Ellen Page) special mutant ability to send a chosen person’s consciousness into his or her past self. They figure they’ll send Wolverine, because he’s the only one who can survive the transfer, and also because he has the most box office draw. His super-resilient consciousness will be transferred into the body of 1970s Wolverine, and he will then team up with the characters of X-Men: First Class to basically fix the timeline.

What’s to fix? Well, turns out that back in the 70s Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique is waging a one-woman war against a mutant-racist weapons developer named Dr. Bolivar Trask, played wonderfully by Peter Dinklage. In response to what he feels is a threat to the purity and future of the homo-sapien species, Trask has built a small regiment of giant killer robots he fondly calls “Sentinels”.

They’re pretty much like Terminators, except much taller and much more hateful of Stan Lee-created mutants. How did the future get so messed up? Well, in the original, doomed timeline, Mystique successfully assassinates Trask in cold blood before he can really get his program off the ground, but her doing so initiates a chain of events that leads to the end of the world. Future-Wolverine and his First Class allies must stop Mystique from making this catastrophic error in judgement. But will Michael Fassbender’s young Magneto play ball?

I really enjoyed XMen: Days of Future Past. It wasn’t quite on the level as X-Men 2, but it’s the best sequel we’ve seen since. Bryan Singer is more talented than many give him credit for, and, with his reputation sort of on the line this time, he pulls it off. It was loads of fun seeing the two generations of movie X-Men work together through the common denominator of Wolverine. This movie isn’t afraid to get dark as hell, as it does in our glimpses of the Sentinel-plagued future, nor does it pass up an opportunity to make us laugh.

There’s an amazing sequence where a young Quicksilver, played by American Horror Story’s Evan Peters, uses his super-speed to mess with a bunch of guards during a rescue mission in the Pentagon. It’s a great bit of fun, and perfectly executed. But Singer delivers the suspense too. The fight sequences between the future X-Men and the future Sentinels are quite satisfying and inventive, if a bit lazy in the CGI department. These aren’t typical mutant-on-mutant eye-laser fights where no one gets killed. These Sentinels are scary dudes.

Across the board, the cast nails it. It’s great to see Team Patrick Stewart together again, doing their black-uniform thing. This time Hugh Jackman gets to play two different versions of the character that made him famous, and he does it with gusto. I keep expecting the whole Jackman-as-Logan thing to start feeling old, but it just isn’t happening. Halle Berry’s Storm is unfortunately reduced to a handful of lines. Too bad. She’s still looking hot, and I’d like to get into her mutant jeans any day of the week. It’s fun to see Ian McKellen do his Old Magneto schtick, though he’s getting up there in years and starting to look a bit silly in a big long cape. As for the younger crew, they’re all fantastic.

The James McAvoy/Michael Fassbender chemistry that’s ensured the continued survival of the X-Men franchise is present here in full force. As nostalgic as I am for Team Stewart, I’m totally okay with the franchise eventually switching over completely to James McAvoy and his band of young whippersnappers (as if apparently going to be the case in the announced “X-Men: Apocalypse”).

And let me be among the first to say that Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique, as was the case when Rebecca Romijn had the gig, is just a total grade-A nerdgasm. It’s right up there with Slave Girl Leia. There’s just something about almost-completely naked women surrounded by monsters and freaks…

This movie is not without it’s flaws. The existence of so desolate a future sort of retroactively suggests that the first three X-Men movies took place in a doomed timeline, which suddenly makes those films seem less important. Like, what’s the use of all that Jean Grey sacrificing and Logan self-discovery if it all just pretty much leads to the ruin of the planet, which, might I add, is EXACTLY what all those movies’ mutant-phobic villains had feared?

The time travel conceit, as is always the case, gets a bit confusing. I wondered where, exactly, the Trask character fits into the universe of those first three X-Men movies. If he was so important—and such an obvious future risk to Team Stewart—why didn’t we hear about him and his sentinel program at some point during the original trilogy? I remain confused about how Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique manages to grow up to become the even hotter Rebecca Romijn Mystique.

There’s plenty of strange “timeline weirdness” in this movie.  As was the case with JJ Abram’s Star Trek reboot, X-Men Days of Future Past relied on a hokey time-travel conceit to connect two different generations of the same characters (and to make craploads of money while doing it). And, like with Star Trek (2009), I was pleased enough with the end product that I was ultimately willing to forgive the worst of the timeline weirdnesses. I had so much fun watching this movie, I decided I wasn’t going to fault it for the very time-travel that made the story possible in the first place.

A much less forgivable, albeit nitpicky, gripe? The freaking cinematography! This is apparently one of the more expensive superhero movies ever made, yet there are a number of scenes that seem, to my eyes, poorly lit and distractingly grainy. The scene where recently time-travelled Wolverine first shows up at the X-Men mansion to recruit young Professor Charles Xavier is particularly inconsistent, on a shot-to-shot basis, with “camera grain/noise”.

One shot of Wolverine might look crisp and clear and perfect, while the next shot is all digital camera-y. What’s worse, this film suffers quite a few moments of motion streakiness, where fast-moving characters or vehicles sort of have this weird 1980s Rescue: 911 motion blur thing going on. I know this is all nitpicky as hell, but I’ve been noticing this kind of thing more and more in big-budgeted tentpole movies and I think more people need to join me in calling it out.

For all those millions and millions of dollars they couldn’t get this film to look as crisp and clear as, say, X-Men 2 was? This kind of thing, even in isolated doses, really knocks a movie down a notch, is all I’m saying. Looks all cheap and stuff.

Still, film-snob cinematography gripes aside, I really dug this movie. Fans of the X-Men—or just of the super-hero genre in general—will have a lot of fun with this one. And, perhaps even better, X-Men Days of Future Past opens the door to all kinds of exciting sequels that I’d actually want to see. To me, that’s the mark of a damn good super hero movie. The “mutant menace” isn’t going anywhere any time soon, and that’s a good thing.

Check out the Xmen Days of Future Past Trailer

For a much more spoilery xmen days of future past review, follow the link.

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