Sunday, June 1, 2014

X-Mania: Days of Future Past

"As I told you a long time ago,'re not the only one with gifts."

There's been a bit of hype built up for the newest X-Men film. After nearly a decade of lackluster films that have kept the long-running film series on life support ever since 2003's X2: X-Men United, it seemed like the series was finally about to produce a worthy sequel.  Bryan Singer, writer and director of the first two X-men films, would be returning at last to direct the new film, and nearly all the main cast of the originals would be coming back for cameos (and larger roles), and there would be some series cross-over between the characters in X-Men: First Class and the originals.  And that end-credits stinger at the end of The Wolverine? I know I was sold without a doubt.  But it couldn't possibly live up to the hype...could it?

The story is essentially a we-must-change-the-future scenario that begins with depictions of a pretty grim future for our characters (and, you know, the rest of the world).  We catch up with only a few of the X-Men, including Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page), Bobby Drake (Shawn Ashmore), a.k.a. Iceman, Storm (Halle Berry, who apparently has no problem getting a hair appointment in this apocalyptic future), as well as some newcomers.  Magneto (Ian McKellen) and Professor Xavior (Patrick Steward) have finally put their differences aside and joined together in the war that has nearly wiped out all mutants and humans.  What's been wiping them out? The Sentinels; giant humanoid robots that are programmed to hunt down and destroy mutants. They evolved beyond they're programming, like all the best movie robots, and are now bent on purging the world of not only mutants, but anyone who might be carrying a mutant genome.  They have the ability to change their encoding to counteract any mutant power in order to remain invincible, and they have been all too successful. Professor X informs the other X-Men that the Sentinels are the result of a government program that started in the 1970s, and there doesn't seem to be any way to stop it at the present time.

However, Kitty has a unique ability besides walking through walls; she can transport anyone from their current consciousness back a little while so they can stop a future event from happening.  This is all set up much more cleverly than it sounds.  While a normal person can only go back maximum one month, there is one who might be able to go back far enough to stop the Sentinel debacle from ever happening in the first place; Logan, a.k.a. Wolverine (Eddie Murphey, filling in for Hugh Jackman).  His healing ability makes it so that his mind can stretch further than the average person, so his consciousness is sent back to stop Mystique, the shapeshifter (Jennifer Lawrence) from assassinating the initiator of the program, Bolivar Trask (a pitch-perfect Peter Dinklage), which gets mutant paranoia off to a violent start.

The rest of the story mostly takes place in the 70s and involves the characters from First Class, though we cut back to the future setting on occasion.  This gives this film the fantastic opportunity to bridge the gap between all the previous films. We are treated to wonderful performances from Michael Fassbender (playing the younger Magneto) and James McAvoy (playing the younger Xavior even better than he did in First Class).  Everyone's favorite new mutant seems to be Quicksilver (Evan Peters), the super-fast kleptomaniac, and it's easy to see why.  Every scene with him is absolutely hilarious and the visual effects used to bring his power to life are just stunning.

While the previous two films in the series, First Class and The Wolverine, were no doubt good enough, I found Days of Future Past to be more consistently satisfying.  The pacing is breakneck without feeling rushed, and the story's development (along with the characters') is always interesting and engaging.  Performances are great from everyone, with the original cast giving memorable output during their brief appearances.  Jennifer Lawrence has obviously become a bigger star since the Hunger Games films have literally made her the Girl on Fire, but there doesn't appear to be any ego-stroking abound.  If her pivotal role in the film was the result of board meetings, it wasn't evident onscreen (though it was evident in the film's poster).

While this was certainly the best film in the series to come along since the first two, minor gripes put it just below them.  Certain things are left disappointedly unexplained (Kitty's new time-travel ability, Xavior's body existing after being BLOWN INTO A MILLION PIECES, Logan having metal claws after they were sanded off in the last film, nitpick, nitpick, nitpick...).  From a story perspective, you need to have seen some of the other films to know what's going on, but that can also be punishing because some continuity isn't as consistent as it should be.  In addition, the technology used to make the Sentinels in their 70s form is just ridiculous.  Their mobility and advancement is too futuristic be believable tech from the 70s.  I was pleased, however, that many special effects were done practically, taking place in real sets, locations, and using real actors rather than CGI stunt doubles, so points for that (likely Singer's doing).

It's a satisfying experience that makes some ballsy and unexpected choices, all of which have to be experienced to be fully appreciated.  Visually, the film is beautiful, ignoring the current trend of using shaky-cam for its action scenes and using glossy CGI to accomplish what could be done practically.  The 70s period aspect is so much fun and so spot on that you feel like you really have travelled back in time with Logan.  Not just a great sequel to First Class, but a great addition to the franchise and superhero genre as a whole, Days of Future Past stands out in the crowd because of its commitment to character and story before anything else.  At first I thought that I would be satisfied if this were the last film in the series; a glorious swan song and finale to an (admittedly flawed but fun) film series.  But apparently, the real fun is just beginning...