X-Men: Days of Future Past
(131 minutes, Rated PG-13)
Honestly, X-Men: Days of Future Past was one of my least anticipated films of 2014; after countless entries ranging from bad to mediocre, the series has left me jaded. My hopes for a sequel to surpass or achieve the greatness of X2 were beginning to wane: fan favorites like the highly overrated X-Men: First Class had a great cast but failed with its execution. Now, finally Twentieth Century Fox did the right thing and rehired the series initial director Bryan Singer. On top of this, add a fantastic script written by the improved Simon Kinberg and the result is not only the best X-Men picture, but also one of the greatest comic book films of all time.
The plot follows the X-Men on their last leg in the apocalyptic present; as the sentinels continue to dwindle their numbers, the group makes a last ditch effort by sending Wolverine to the 70s to prevent a key event that triggered the ‘sentinel program.’ And this use of the famous comic book storyline allows the writer to cleverly blend the best elements from the original trilogy and the First Class universe, which allows this picture ‘to fire on all cylinders.’
This sequel had all the earmarks of a failure: it has an abundance of mutants, it attempts to tell a treasured storyline, and it brings back a fading director. Yet somehow these elements are a recipe for success and one of the reasons is the fantastic acting from its robust cast. Yes, there are some mutants that are shoehorned in; I do wish that Blink, Bishop, Warpath, and Sunspot were properly introduced. Yet fans will not feel slighted because the little time devoted to them present stunning visuals and cool designs. Yet it is important to sacrifice these mutants’ screentime to keep the fast pace of the 131-minute runtime.
With that said, Days of Future Past makes up for this by presenting an engaging story that happens to be more contained then the average superhero yarn. Yes, the storyline has fan favorites traveling around the world, but the story arch of the main players reflect a personal story of Shakespearean-like pride and betrayal, which has not been seen in most comic book films. The gut wrenching scenes between McAvoy’s Professor X and Fassbender’s Magneto are just as enticing as the wonderful action spectacles.
And for once the audience understands the motives behind all the characters; unlike The Amazing Spider-Man 2 who over saturates a movie with villains to establish a universe, X-Men: Days of Future Past perfectly balances a handful of characters and successfully tells a cohesive story. While the fan favorite Wolverine could be seen as the main protagonist, younger Professor X, Magneto, and Mystique are all three dimensional and given their opportunity to shine. So the ability to give the four characters a proper motivation and an arch, while also maintaining an above average plot, enables me to forgive the one-dimensional mutants from the apocalyptic present.
But again, I did not have as much of a problem with the present day characters as some critics; in fact, Warpath, Blink and Bishop’s fight scenes are extremely satisfying despite their limited writing. With that said, the tight focus that constricts these aforementioned mutants severely restricts the comedic relief Quicksilver. I was very vocal about my dislike of Quicksilver’s outfit and despite my egotistical inability to retract my previous statements, the quick-footed mutant stands out in a movie with standout performances. His humor is not overly cheesy and it does not sacrifice the intent of the story, which happens in most other superhero flicks. Yet after one of the most entertaining and ‘slap-sticky’ action sequences in recent memory, the character quickly departs from the storyline with very little payoff; and it feels that Evan Peters, who was perfectly casted, gets robbed of becoming a fan favorite.
Now, the wonderful performances of the leads further enhance the overall product. While Jackman has become synonymous with Wolverine, the other three actors have had only one movie to shine; and even though Fassbender and McAvoy’s performance reiterate why they were so good in First Class, Lawrence has finally settled into the role as the shape-shifting acrobat. Her awkward and somewhat annoying performance in the original has suddenly changed to reflect the superstar that she has become.
And to reiterate, McAvoy and Fassbender’s chemistry highlights this already robust film; I was hoping for more scenes between the two but was satisfied with their intense verbal standoff on Xavier’s private jet. However, the most disappointing performance comes from Peter Dinklage’s Dr. Trask, who never comes off as menacing or intimidating, which has nothing to do with his smaller stature: something that can be clearly seen in Game of Thrones. Not only is the character under-written, he seems like a pawn instead of the ‘sentinel program’s’ mastermind.
Either way, the story does not seem to suffer in the past or present; yes, it certainly hinders the impact of the villain, but again, the way the main X-Men are written helps the audience forget about these minor inconveniences. Also, this time travel superhero flick is the closest thing the world will ever get to a performance driven comic book film; it is a rarity when the motivations of the characters are placed before the action set pieces. And speaking of the time travel, the constant time jumb does not feel like a cheap ploy designed to bridge the different generations of X-Men; in fact, it serves to remind the viewer the hopelessness of the situation, which further drives audience’s emotional investment.
The only drawback to the time travel story element is the necessity to load the beginning with ‘exposition-heavy dialogue,’ which attempts to aid the everyday moviegoer. Usually I ignore it, but the dialogue gets so ludicrous that the actors are spouting out paragraphs of details that could have been written better or effectively shown. Despite this minute problem, which temporarily slowed the flick, it does hinder the overall pace. The aforementioned pacing results in tension that starts at a ‘fever pitch’ and quickly escalates to ‘Godzilla-like’ proportion: something that helps keep the viewers engaged throughout. Yet the destruction is not on the scale or as exploitive as other summer blockbusters. It avoids the overwhelming ‘destruction-porn’ by somewhat containing the action until its massively satisfying ending.
Now, this does not mean that the pre-finale action is neutered; on the contrary, each set piece is memorable in its own right. The opening fight scene is both effective and brutal; the lack of blood does not make decapitations and amputations any less gruesome. And for the most part, the intense nature of the fights is present throughout, except the wonderful Quicksilver sequence. Also, minus Beast’s transformation, the CGI blends with the action seamlessly; the jaw-dropping finale has one of the best uses of CGI in recent memory, but the computer images never feel overwhelming.
With that said, all of the action works because Bryan Singer does a fantastic job setting up and shooting it. On top of this, the visually appealing director creates an atmosphere with the cinematography; the dark colors of the apocalyptic future are off set by random shades of bright colors, which visually helps the bleakest imagery. Furthermore, his choices with costumes and even the sentinel design, which has been divisive among fanboys, compliment the director’s distinct vision: a uniqueness that has been lacking in the series since X2. It is good to see Singer back on his ‘A game’ and it is even better that he decided to make this comeback with X-Men: Days of Future Past. The movie has so many moving parts that it could have failed with another filmmaker.
It is safe to say that I absolutely loved this flick; this is the return to form for a series that was starting to lose my interest. Personally I cannot wait to see what Bryan Singer does with the announced sequel X-Men: Apocalypse. Now, Days of Future Past perfectly distinguishes itself by blending a summer blockbuster with optimistic reasoning. Even with the apocalyptic storyline, it avoids the nihilistic interpretation of recent blockbusters, which contradicts the 9/11 imagery that has become an uncomfortable blockbuster mainstay.
Its happier ending did not feel cheap because the darker tones blended flawlessly with the lighter moments, something that seemed like an impossible feat with comic based films. This means that it was simply a fun film that also made the audience think. Now, mix this with fantastic performances and it results in one of the best comic book films of all time: and a film that could certainly crack my top ten at the end of 2014. This is a must see for X-Men fans, as well as, casual moviegoers; if you are going to spend your money on mindless summer fodder, you might as well spend it on an excellent flick.