Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Movie Review: X-Men: Days of Future Past

X-Men: Days of Future Past
Directed by: Bryan Singer.
Written by:  Simon Kinberg & Jane Goldman & Matthew Vaughn.
Starring: Hugh Jackman (Logan / Wolverine), James McAvoy (Charles Xavier), Michael Fassbender (Erik Lehnsherr), Jennifer Lawrence (Raven / Mystique), Halle Berry (Storm), Nicholas Hoult (Hank / Beast), Anna Paquin (Rogue), Ellen Page (Kitty Pryde), Peter Dinklage (Dr. Bolivar Trask), Shawn Ashmore (Bobby / Iceman), Omar Sy (Bishop), Evan Peters (Peter / Quicksilver), Josh Helman (Maj. Bill Stryker), Daniel Cudmore (Colossus), Bingbing Fan (Blink), Adan Canto (Sunspot), Booboo Stewart (Warpath), Ian McKellen (Magneto), Patrick Stewart (Professor X), Lucas Till (Havok), Evan Jonigkeit (Toad), Mark Camacho (President Nixon), Michael Lerner (Senator Brickman).

One could – and lord knows many already have – spend their time drawing detailed diagrams about what the time travel in X-Men: Days of Future Past means for what we have already seen in the previous 7 X-Men movies (basically, that everything that happened in all of them except for First Class didn’t actually happen – or at least happened in a slightly different way) – and whether or not what happened in those previous movies makes sense in light of what we now know happened in the past in the original timeline, which one assumes is the timeline that the other movies took place in (the answer – not really). As with all movies of this sort, it’s easy (and sometimes kind of fun) to get lost down the rabbit hole of alternate timelines, but for me this is more or less meaningless. The real question is whether X-Men: Days of Future Past makes sense and is entertaining as a movie unto itself – and the answer is pretty much yes. Like almost all the previous X-Men movies (and more than most if we’re being honest) this one suffers a little bit by having so many characters – and their powers to keep track of (which is made all the more confusing when they give mutants powers they didn’t use to have – since when can Kitty Pride send people’s consciousness back in time?). The movie then asks us to keep track of multiple timelines simultaneously, in addition to keeping track of all the characters. This sounds like a recipe for disaster – or at least an extremely convoluted and confusing movie – but somehow director Bryan Singer and the writers manage to make it all make sense – at least while you’re watching the movie, and if you don’t spend too much time diagramming everything out afterwards.

The movie opens in the future – 2023 to be precise – which is a dark place. The government has created a new weapon to be used against mutant – known as Sentinels – which are essentially giant robots who are programmed to read the DNA of its targets and wipe out the mutant threat. If this wasn’t bad enough, the Sentinels have evolved to the point where they aren’t just killing mutants – but they have discovered “regular” people who will one day be the parents – or grandparents – of mutants and starting wiping them out as well – essentially meaning that humanity has created a weapon that will exterminate them all. According to Professor X (Patrick Stewart) this dark future can all be traced back to 1973 – when Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) assassinated Dr. Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) – a brilliant scientist, and founder of the Sentinel program. She did this because he was conducting experiments – basically torture that ends in death – on her fellow mutants, and she wants to stop this. All she succeeds in doing however is convincing people that mutants really are a threat, and giving his program the funding needed to bring it to its fruition. And because she was captured, she becomes the most important test subject – and her ability to transform is fused with the Sentinels, giving them almost unlimited power. So essentially, they need to stop Mystique before she can do that, and so they send Wolverine back in time, to talk to Professor X and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) to try and convince Mystique to not kill Trask. They selected Wolverine, because he’s the only one who will survive the journey. His body isn’t really going back, just his “consciousness” – so he’ll wake up in his older body. There are problems when Wolverine arrives. Professor X has grown cynical, and is addicted to Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult)’s serum that will give him back use of his legs – but at the price of his mutant abilities. And Magneto is being held captive way beneath the Pentagon for taking part in the assassination of JFK a decade earlier (“How else could a bullet curve like that?”).

The movie is less action oriented than most of the previous X-Men movies. That isn’t to say there isn’t action in the movie – there are some amusing scenes with Quicksilver (Evan Peters) who enters the movies for the first time, and in the dark future scenes there are battles with the Sentinels as they try to stay alive long enough for Wolverine to get the job done – but for the most part, this is the most plot heavy and character oriented superhero movie I can recall in recent years. For the most part, this works. By now we already know that the likes of Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, James McAvoy, Ian McKellan, Michael Fassbender, Nicholas Hoult and Jennifer Lawrence are fine in their roles – and the new additions (essentially Peters and Dinklage) are also quite good. It was kind of fun to see a lot of the old crew for the previous Singer/Brent Ratner X-Men films come back for what amounts to mainly cameos.

Does the movie make sense? For the most part, while I was watching it, it seemed to. There are a lot of questions about what precisely happened, and how much of what we think we know has now changed in light of Wolverine travelling back in time and changing things. So many questions in fact that I jokingly told my wife that the next movie should be called My Dinner with Professor X, where Stewart and Jackman sit done to dinner (like Andre Gregory and Wallace Shawn in Louis Malle’s My Dinner with Andre) so Stewart can explain everything that happened and everything that has changed to Wolverine. But I think what essentially the movie does is reset the X-Men universe. They have already said the next movie – Apocalypse – will be set in the 1980s, and because Wolverine has changed the past, it frees them up to do anything they want in the future and not be beholden to what has come before. This is both kind of cool and kind of a cop out – but I’m on board for future installments. The X-Men series has been wildly inconsistent over its previous 7 installments – and I still think only X2 and X-Men First Class come close to be great movies – but they all seem more willing than most of the other series to take risks, and do something different each time out. We’ve essentially seen the same Spider-Man movie 5 times now, and all the Marvel movies that feed into The Avengers are having their characters follow similar arcs with different results (the latest Captain America may be the best of all these movies, but they are also starting to fall more and more into the trap of each movie essentially being a trailer for the next movie). The results of the X-Men movies is not always satisfying, but more often than not, they are something a little bit different. That almost passes as daring in the world of superhero movies.

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