Monday, May 26, 2014

These Are The Best Days of Our Lives



 
X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST

Timey-wimey. 

That famous phrase (or infamous, depending on your thinking) came to me as I thought on X-Men: Days of Future Past.  We have a major character going back into the past to alter the future.  Would it all work?  Would it make sense?  I am too honest in saying that how Days of Future Past fits into the previous X-Men movies I cannot answer for certain.  What I can answer is that DOFP holds up well on its own, has some thrilling and well-crafted action pieces, and has incredibly intelligent acting and directing behind it, making this a rare comic-book adaptation that both die-hard fans and those generally unaware of the mythos will enjoy.

It is 2020, and the world is devastated by a war between humans and mutants, with the latter about to be exterminated completely.  Those mutants and their human allies not already captured have been killed by Sentinels, machines that can counteract any mutant power and kill them.  There are a few mutants left to make a last stand.  Among them are Professor X (Patrick Stewart), his erstwhile ally Magneto (Ian McKellen), two instructors from Professor X's school, Storm (Halle Berry) and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), and a former student, Iceman (Shawn Ashmore).  Along with younger mutants such as Warpath (Booboo Stewart, no relation to Patrick), Bishop (Omar Sy), Blink (Bingbing Fan), and Colossus (Daniel Cudmore), they manage to hole up in China.  It is decided that the best way to end the war is to stop it before it began.

With that, Wolverine (the only mutant who could possibly survive time travel), goes to 1973 to stop the even which triggered the war, the assassination of Dr. Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) by Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence).  When she murdered Trask as vengeance for his experiments on other mutants, she was captured and her DNA used to create the Sentinels (and Trask's murder the rationale for striking at the mutants).  Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) is the only mutant who can send him back (though his body remains in the 'present' as well). 

Wolverine lands in 1973 and is surprised by what he finds.  His mentor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) has become distraught and disillusioned by the Vietnam War and the loss of his friends Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) and Mystique (the former imprisoned in the Pentagon for having assassinated President Kennedy).  He can walk thanks to a serum by Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult) which controls McCoy's transformation into Beast, but it takes his telepathic powers away.  After some convincing that Wolverine (aka Logan) is telling the truth, Charles agrees to rescue his frenemy from the Pentagon with the help of a cocky young mutant named Peter (Evan Peters), soon to be known as Quicksilver.

After Erik escapes, it is off to the Paris Peace Conference that ends the Vietnam War to stop Mystique's killing of Trask.  However, soon other motivations from others start taking over and the future appears to have not been altered despite their best efforts.  More wild twists and turns take place until we get a wild climax.

Simon Kinberg's script is highly reminiscent of The Terminator (down to when we see Jackman when he arrives in the past for the first time...fully nude from the back and showing he is amazingly fit at 46).  However, despite the similarity DOFP is based on an X-Men graphic novel.  I haven't read it so I can't say how close or far it strays from the film (though I suspect things were altered).   However, credit should be given that the script managed to keep things flowing and balanced between the past and present.

The bulk of DOFP takes place in 1973, which has the effect of giving the original X-Men Trilogy cast not much to do apart from sit and talk while attempting to hold off the Sentinels.  As a result, with the exception of Jackman (who now not only owns the role of Wolverine but has earned his place alongside Christopher Reeve's Superman as an actor who has made his interpretation of a character iconic) it is the First Class cast that handles most of the story.

I have always believed that if you cast actual actors in these roles, you will have excellent performances.  DOFP confirms my belief.  As Xavier, McAvoy's evolution from a man who has given up on hope to one who rises by acknowledging the goodness in humanity and other mutants showcases just how good an actor he is.  He is matched note for note by Fassbender, whose Magneto is not necessarily evil but who himself is motivated by fear and anger towards non-mutants.  The scene aboard Charles' plane when Erik reprimands his friend shows that in his mind, Erik is doing more for mutants by having humanity be dominated by them than Charles' peaceful coexistence worldview.

The other performances are also solid.  Lawrence's Mystique is placed at the center of the cold war between Erik and Charles, and she herself shows a mixture of both: her desire to avenge her fellow mutants mixed with intellectual acknowledgement that escalating a war will lead to more mutant and human deaths.  Hoult's Hank/Beast is in many ways the calm, intelligent creature required to think of solutions, but when unleashed his fury (such as when he goes after Erik) he is fierce and dangerous.

As for Jackman, well, as stated he is now the face we see when we think 'Wolverine' (even though technically he is all wrong, Jackman being much too tall to fit Wolverine's description).  Jackman as Wolverine still has a way with sarcastic quips and dismissive attitude.  However, when calls for emotion are needed (such as when he has a flashback that temporarily jeopardizes the mission), Jackman can deliver those moments too.


Of the newer members, Evans is the standout as the cocky Quicksilver, and his scene in recovering Erik is perhaps the highlight of DOFP. To Jim Croce's Time in a Bottle, we see things from Quicksilver's perspective as he rushes past everyone while fixing the guards.  He does what is needed (divert the bullets) but he also has fun (stealing the guard's caps, taking a quick taste of the soup flying in slow-motion through the air).  Evans' Quicksilver is a kid who loves his powers and has a good time using them, so this chance to stick it to the Pentagon must have been a highlight in his life.  He isn't deferential to his elders (Erik is not amused and a little stunned at having this kid hold him, warning Magneto of whiplash down to repeating the words, "Whip...lash..." as if he were talking to an idiot), and of the newer cast members Evans' brief turn is one of the best.

However, the jury's still out on his costume.

The song fits into the time period, the ironic message of the song to Quicksilver's fast-paced abilities, and even the sadness of the tune lends a touch of pathos to a beautifully shot scene. 

Other cast members like Dinklage does well with making Trask less overt villain and more highly concerned of mutant takeover (though his motives as to why he was so afraid of mutants were a bit vague). 

As stated earlier, because the bulk is in 1973, the past cast didn't play a large role in the film.  However, there is a scene where past and present meet, and it was beautifully acted by all parties.  Bryan Singer brought out not just great performances from his cast, but also kept a solid balance between past and present.  The editing whenever we had to go back to the future was another solid part of DOFP, where it ramped up the tension as to whether either side would live to tell the tale.  

The score and musical choices (such as Croce and Roberta Flack's The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face) fit every moment.  John Ottman's music could be tense and exciting to almost New Age (the past and present meeting sounding like something from Music From the Hearts of Space).

If I were to find faults in Days of Future Past, it is in that one has to know greatly the minutiae of X-Men lore to figure out everything going on.  We don't get a real introduction to the newer mutants and if one doesn't remember Ashmore or Page we wouldn't know who they were (I didn't).  Same goes for the post-credit scene, which I had to have explained to me.  While I don't think you have to know all things X-Men to follow the plot, it does help.  The film does a good job establishing characters for those who don't know a Rogue from a Sunspot, but the rush to get things going may leave some people puzzled.

Without being too philosophical, X-Men: Days of Future Past is not just a fun action/comic-book film (thought certainly it is that).  It is also about intelligent themes: the fear of 'the Other' that leads to tragedies on both sides, the struggle between peaceful coexistence among groups or loyalty to 'one's own kind'.  Ideas like these rattling around in an escapist picture?  That is something to contemplate.

X-Men: Days of Future Past may not be the best X-Men movie ever, but it comes pretty close to it.  However, any movie that erases the bad memories of both The Last Stand and Origins: Wolverine (and maybe renders them obsolete in terms of continuity) already has our eternal gratitude.   X-Men: Days of Future Past does much to restore the luster and potential of the franchise, and one hopes that the Apocalypse will be as good as the future and the past. 



DECISION: B+

2 comments:

  1. I do agree with you that the viewer will have the best time if they remember all of the characters from the previous X-Men films. For me, it wasn’t hard since I watch X1 and 2 once every couple of years, and I have seen all of the X-Men films at least twice. A lot of people, brother included, did not catch the reference to Striker’s son Jason, which I caught immediately, and Iceman (Ashmore),is one of my favorite characters so, *SPOILERS* his first death in the beginning of the movie was very unexpected.
    So, from what I understand from your review, the only real problem you had with the movie is the somewhat confusing elements if you do not remember the prior movies.
    As a fan of anything and everything time-travel related from Steins Gate to Back to the Future, the time-travel logic actually make sense for the most part, or at least as much sense as a time-travel story can make.
    Good review, I am glad that you enjoyed the movie. By the way, after rewatching and revaluating my opinion of the X-Men movies, I would say that X2 ranks higher than First Class on my list.

    -James

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I put X2 as the best myself.

      Yes, since I don't know some of the characters (particularly the newer ones) I can't get excited about their appearances (and will wonder who exactly they are). That is a minor point, but a point nonetheless.

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