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Reviewing the movies of 2014, Part III: X-Men: Days of Future Past
X-Men: Days of Movies Past
Back in 2000, director Bryan Singer was best known for a little crime thriller a few people might have heard of, The Usual Suspects. He was slightly out of his element, therefore, tackling a big-budget superhero movie involving a large and complex team with lots of potential villains and a massive, deeply convoluted backstory with so many cooks over the pot over the years that it was rife with errors and inconsistencies. In other words, there was no possible way the film X-Men would have been flawless, and some fanboys' toes were going to be stepped on. That said, Singer nonetheless fashioned an entertaining and rather well-made movie that did reasonable justice to its origins while setting the template for something that did not exist at the time and yet has come to be almost taken for granted in this post-Iron Man, post-The Avengers world--the successful Marvel Comics summer blockbuster. When X-Men came out, rival publisher DC comics had had some success at the movies with Superman and, notably, Batman, though both franchises were moribund after soaring high and then being drilled into the muck by bad sequels. Marvel itself, however, had some cheesy attempts involving the Hulk, Captain America, the Fantastic Four and Howard the Duck. In fact, the FF movie by Roger Corman was supposedly so bad it was never officially released; supposedly, Corman himself blocked it, and you know something's bad if HE doesn't want his name on it. Admittedly, Saban's early-90s X-Men animated series was not bad, though it was cheesy as all hell, and other TV series had shown moderate success for Marvel, but it's easy to forget what a big deal X-Men was for the company when it first came out. When Singer followed it up with X2: X-Men United, everyone was talking about that awesome opening sequence with Nightcrawler, and the movie overall proved the series to be on an upswing. Most promisingly, the ending teased an adaptation of probably the most famous and beloved X-Men story arc, the "Dark Phoenix Saga." The title of the second movie may have sucked horribly, but luckily the movie itself was worthy of an 8/10 rating. Then... Singer departed to direct Superman Returns, a good movie that nonetheless received lackluster reviews (at best) and failed to restart the franchise. In the meantime, Brett Ratner(?!?!?!??!?!) was handed the reigns to X-Men III: The Last Stand, and proceeded to do for the franchise what Joel Schumacher had done for the Batman franchise. And I mean that in a bad way. He not only squandered the Dark Phoenix setup, he inexplicably made Juggernaut a mutant (though Vinnie Jone's take on the character was amusing), and he took the already controversial portrayal of Rogue (Anna Paquin) and made her downright insufferable. The only true saving grace of the film is that Ellen Page was perfectly cast as the greatest Marvel character of them all--Kitty Pryde--and that it was nice to see Shadowcat finally have some sort of role, rather than just the walk-on cameos of the first two movies. However, in the wake of The Last Stand and the badly mishandled X-Men Origins: Wolverine, not to mention two horribly mishandled Fantastic Four movies, fanboys were left convinced that FOX had anything but their best interests at heart. In the meantime, Sony was building up a decent Spider-Man franchise, and DC was on the upswing with a fine Warner Brothers reboot in Batman Begins, and it was looking like the X-Men franchise had found the wrong home. When Paramount partnered with Marvel and released Iron Man, and DC/ Warner Brothers put out The Dark Knight, it became painfully obvious to all that freaking awesome comic book movies were indeed possible, and the day looked even darker for FOX. But then, in 2011, they rebooted the franchise with Matthew Vaughn's lively, well-acted, well-directed X-Men: First Class. True, the filmmakers continued to completely thumb their nose at canon, but at least they understood how to make a nearly great movie, and First Class became only the second X-Men movie to warrant an 8/10 rating. It also added two rising stars to the franchise who--surprise, surprise--can ACT; in fact both Jennifer Lawrence and Michael Fassbender are starring in Days of Future Past having just this year been Oscar nominees, and Lawrence's nod was her third (she's already won an Oscar, for Silver Linings Playbook). So, that brings us to the present, and the movie that not only brings back Bryan Singer, but also incorporates practically the entire major cast of the first trilogy (Hugh Jackman/ Wolverine, Halle Berry/ Storm, Ian McKellan/ Magneto, Patrick Stewart/ Charles Xavier, Ellen Page/ Shadowcat, Shawn Ashmore/ Iceman, Anna Paquin/ Rogue, Famke Janssen/ Jean Grey, James Marsden/ Cyclops, Daniel Cudmore/ Colossus, Kelsey Grammer/ Beast) and much of the reboot (James McAvoy/ Charles Xavier, Michael Fassbender/ Magneto, Jennifer Lawrence/ Mystique, Nicholas Hoult/ Beast, Lucas Till/ Havok), and also manages to find room for new characters Bishop (Omar Sy), Sunspot (Adan Canto), Warpath (Booboo Stewart), Blink (Bingbing Fan), Quicksilver (Evan Peters) and Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage). Throw in a cameo from Chris Claremont, writer of the original "Days of Future Past" story arc, and you've got one overstuffed movie. But you know what? They handled it well. And now, on to the review...
X-Men: Days of Future Past
First, a major disclaimer; as noted above, I do not feel that the makers of the X-Men franchise have ever TRULY cared about the meticulous level of faithfulness to the comics most fanboys EXPECT, and this film is no different. Personally, I was irritated that they mucked about with my favorite character. Yes, Kitty Pryde was a central figure in the original "Days of Future Past" story arc; that they decided to give her a pivotal role here was a nice nod to the comics. Also, given the timeline changes, the justifications given for sending back Wolverine instead of Kitty made perfect sense. That said, Shadowcat DOES NOT HAVE THE POWER TO PROJECT PEOPLE'S CONSCIOUSNESS THROUGH TIME! Just sayin'. Anyway, other than the sheer randomness of X-characters chosen to appear in the future sequence (Bishop makes perfect sense, Blink also, but freakin' Warpath?), the film's most notable departure from the comics is likely the decision to make Bolivar Trask a midget. That said, I've read Bryan Singer's comments on the issue, and Peter Dinklage delivered an excellent performance as the character, so I personally am happy to let that one slide.
In fact, the performances of this film were great across the board, and one of the chief reasons this was one of the best installments yet in the X-Men franchise. In addition to Dinklage, fine character work from James McAvoy (the young Charles Xavier), Michael Fassbender (the young Eric Lensherr/ Magneto), Hugh Jackman (Wolverine) and especially the lovely Jennifer Lawrence (Raven Darkholme/ Mystique) helped raise up the past sequences in particular; a special shout-out to Evan Peters, whose take on Peter Maximoff (Quicksilver) was quite the scene-stealer. The special effects, camerawork, editing and the like were all well-done, though I'm not the only one a bit underwhelmed by Colossus' metal form. Also, the cameos peppered through the film were a nice treat, particularly Chris Claremont, Michael Lerner and the three surprise ones at the end; strange, though, to not see Stan Lee this go-round.
Anyway, in case you're wondering about the plot, the movie is loosely based on the classic 1981 "Days of Future Past" story arc by Chris Claremont, John Byrne and Terry Austin, which ran in Uncanny X-Men #141-142; in this story, the Kitty Pryde of a dystopian future run by mutant-hunting robots called Sentinels had her consciousness sent back to her younger self, so that she could prevent the assassination of U.S. Senator Robert Kelly by Mystique and change the future. In the movie, Mystique is still the assassin, but her target is the creator of the Sentinels, Dr. Bolivar Trask, and Kitty sends Wolverine back in time to prevent these events from occurring. That's it, in a nutshell. Once in the past, Wolverine must somehow convince a Charles Xavier who is a slave to depression that all is not lost--that he must learn to hope again. Then, with the aid of Hank McCoy (Beast) and Peter Maximoff (Quicksilver), they break into the Pentagon in order to free Eric Lensherr (Magneto) whose help they need to convince Raven (Mystique) not to go through with her plans. There has been a great deal of buzz about the scene in which we get to really watch Quicksilver in action, and for good reason--this scene may be even cooler than the scene in the second film wherein Nightcrawler broke into the Oval Office. There is a lot of shuffling back and forth between the past and future in this film, but sadly the future characters don't get enough screentime or development. That said, surely I'm not the only one who got a twisted thrill at the fate of Halle Berry's Storm? I would have liked it if Ellen Page had been given more to do as Kitty, however; the same is also true of Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart and newcomer Bingbing Fan (Blink has had a fascinating history as a character, and it will be nice if she is given more to do in the upcoming X-Men: Apocalypse, especially since her character's revival was thanks to the "Age of Apocalypse" comics).
X-Men: Days of Future Past: 8/10 Oscar-worthy for Best Supporting Actor (Peter Dinklage), Cinematography, Production Design, Costume Design, Makeup, Visual Effects, Film Editing, Sound Mixing and Sound Effects Editing. Nominated for Best Visual Effects.
Will Puchase? Absolutely, though maybe not right away.
Overall, this was a good movie, very nearly a great movie. However, even in a movie intent on "fixing the chronology," the filmmakers still saw fit to tell a story VERY DIFFERENT from the comics. They got a lot right, but they also got a lot wrong. Fans of X-Men comics beware; however, action fans with little knowledge of the franchise outside of the movies will probably find this a great film, and I for one am willing to take it for what it is and simply hope that when the inevitable true reboot of this series happens it'll hew closer to the source material. Incidentally, one point of interest about Quicksilver: the character was primarily active as an Avenger (minus a short stint on X-Factor) but he and his twin sister Wanda (the Scarlet Witch) were introduced in the pages of X-Men, as the cohorts of their old man Magneto. Soooo, all sorts of rights issues surrounding these two, keeping them out of both X-Men III (probably a good thing) and The Avengers (shoot). Eventually, FOX and Marvel/ Disney worked out a deal, allowing for their use in both companies' franchises, following certain strict guidelines. Wanda missed the cut for the X-Men film, but will be played by Elizabeth Olsen in Avengers: Age of Ultron (I can't wait). As for Peter, is it not hilarious that he is played in this film by Evan Peters and will in the Avengers be played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who co-starred in Kick-Ass under Matthew Vaughn (who went on to direct X-Men: First Class)? Fun bit of trivia there. Anyway, I do recommend this film, but I also recommend you temper any expectations you may have towards faithfulness to canon. As always I welcome your comments, and thank you for reading. Happy viewing!