Tuesday, May 27, 2014

X-Men: Days of Future Past

Out of the few comic book movie franchises that are not Marvel Studios properties, the X-Men series is the one that is flourishing the most.  Since 2000, 20th Century Fox has released seven movies based on characters from the X-Men comics and it looks like they’ll continue to do so for quite a while.  With the latest chapter receiving a significant amount of positive appraisal from critics, looks like this X-Men train is going to be moving down the track for a long, long time.

I, for one, have never been a big fan of the comic book series, maybe purchasing a few of their books here and there over the years of my collecting, but was always intrigued with the X-Men line of books.  I was familiar with some of the characters, namely Wolverine, and was somewhat interested when their first movie was released 14 years ago.  It gained recognition for Bryan Singer as the director of this comic book actioner and may have started this boom of superhero movies we’ve had since the turn of the century. 

I have one or two friends who are comic book extremists and have big opinions on what the X-Men movies should include and why they think Fox shouldn’t own the franchise and what they did wrong, etcetera, etcetera.  The bottom line is…Marvel Comics—before they had established their own studio production—sold the rights to some of their comic book lines to have live action movies made, fair and square.  If it weren’t for these transactions, and the money made from them, Marvel wouldn’t have been able to have their own studio.  Additionally, the whole cinematic universe they’re producing their films in (Iron ManThor, etc.) would never have been created.  I understand their gripes on how the characters have been mish-mashed and their personalities have been toned down or changed, as well as the timelines for the introductions of these characters have been altered or ignored, but the movies have been successful and entertaining.  As long as the movies make money for Fox, the X-Men franchise is there to stay.

With all that said, on Friday, May 23rd, I took a couple hours of vacation to see an early screening of X-Men: Days of Future Past on its opening day and loved what I saw.

The film opens in the future, a desolate time for all mutants and any normal human who helps or will conceive a mutant in the future, where Sentinels are dispatched all over the world to search and destroy them.  At one such location, some familiar mutants—Iceman (Shawn Ashmore), Shadowcat (Ellen Page), and Colossus
Daniel Cudmore)—go up against these large robots that can adapt to any power the mutants use to counter them and can even absorb their powers.  Along with some new mutants—Sunspot (Adan Canto), Bishop (Omar Sy), Warpath (Booboo Stewart) and Blink (Bingbing Fan)—they all start losing the battle, resulting in Shadowcat taking Bishop into a safe-room to use her evolved power to transport his conscience back in time to warn them of the attack.  Just as a Sentinel is about to kill the two remaining mutants, they all disappear.  Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart), Magneto (Ian McKellen), Storm (Halle Berry) and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) meet up with the mutants and discuss why this dystopian future came to be.  He then introduces a plan to have Shadowcat send Wolverine back to 1973 to try and get help from the younger Professor Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) to prevent this bleak future from happening.   But with the Sentinels able to close in on all mutants, it’s a race against time—both in the future and in the past.

So, before going in this movie, I remembered the after-credits scene inThe Wolverine which led us all to believe that X-Men: Days of Future Past would take place right after.  However, this movie supposedly takes place in 2023, or around that time, so that extra scene was a tease for nothing really.  I wanted this new film to discuss or explain three things: How exactly did Professor Xavier get his identical body back after he was torn apart and killed in the third film?  How did Magneto get his powers back?  And how did Wolverine get his claws covered in adamantium again?  I can assume that Professor Xavier took over that brain-dead body, as it’s teased during an after-credits sting in X-Men: The Last Stand, and Magneto just slowly regained his powers back at the end of that movie as well, but how did Wolverine get his metal claws back?  If you’re a comic book fan, you’ll know that Magneto has manipulated Wolverine’s adamantium many times, removing it and reapplying it, so I guess we can assume he had a hand in it.  It just would’ve been nice to get some minor clarification about it.

If there’s another complaint I can make is the absence of character backstory for the new mutants we haven’t seen before in the X-Men series of films.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s only a very trivial criticism, but these new additions to the group have some very cool powers displayed and I wish we were able to get to know them a little.  From what we see in the beginning of the film, the mutant Blink is able to create portals to teleport anything from one place to another; Bishop looks to be able to absorb energy and has a special armament to discharge the energy in blasts; Sunspot is probably the coolest of the new mutants as he seems to be just like the Fantastic Four’s Human Torch, able to be covered in flame and expel the flames as a weapon; Warpath seems to have enhanced strength and superior fighting abilities.  Maybe they’ll be showcased a little more in later films, and since they really weren’t that important to the main story of this film, I can wait to see them characterized in the next chapter.

Like most of the X-Men films thus far, Wolverine is front and center in the first third of this film, taking a back seat to the story in the second act, but coming around, full circle, to bookend it.  Coming straight off The Wolverine, Jackman, once again, embodies the character both physically and verbally.  To date, however, these X-Men films haven’t shown his full berserker mode as he sometimes goes into in the comic books, going absolutely crazy and nuts on his enemies.  But he’s here, once again, chewing on cigars, throwing in a “bub” here and there, and just looking his bad-ass self.  Wolverine was very important to be featured in this for the beginning as he’s the only one of the characters who can take having his conscience being transported back to his younger self 50 years in the past.  Which brings me to ask, what is Fox going to do when Jackman doesn’t want to make these films anymore?  Let’s face it, the man is 45 years old and is supposed to be playing an ageless character—he won’t want to play a superhero too much longer.  But if anything X-Men: Days of Future Past proved is that these X-Men films don’t always need to have Wolverine as the main focus.

The film is able to pull off the early 70s pretty damned well, showing us the look and feel of that time with the type of dress people wear and the cars seen driving up and down the streets.  It’s funny, because the audience I saw the film with laughed when Wolverine steps out into 1973 for the first time to see people wearing these outfits of the era.  Although some of the getups were a little exaggerated, they were pretty much how I remembered everyone dressed back then.  The biggest chance the filmmakers took on this film was including President Nixon (Mark Camacho) in the story.  Although he looked like the late president a little, it still seemed like a funny caricature being played out for laughs.  I guess it doesn’t help that we’ve seen countless impressions of Nixon in the same vein for years, so you can’t help but laugh when you see someone depicting him in a film.

Having the Sentinels finally featured in an X-Men movie was sort of satisfying—although their addition was only featured as the possible future and isn’t featured as the main threat throughout the movie.  Introducing Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) as the inventor of the search and destroy program that will rid the world of the mutants in the dystopian version of the future was a little dry in my opinion.  Although I’ve only seen Dinklage in the Christmas movie, Elf, I’ve heard he’s quite a talented actor and there are pretty good reviews out there regarding his role on HBO’s “Game of Thrones.”  His role, here, as Trask, however, seemed a little dry and boring. 

Certainly, the stand-out of this film is Quicksilver (Evan Peters), the fast-moving mutant who can’t stand still for a minute in this film.  Although he’s the comic relief in a poignant scene near the beginning of the film, his power was represented so well in this film that I’m starting to worry Marvel’s version in next year’s Avengers: Age of Ultron may look silly or banal in comparison.  Bryan Singer captured his powers beautifully in the Pentagon scene and Peters acted it out so well.  I’ve known since seeing him in the first season of “American Horror Story” that he was an actor to be reckoned with.  He plays Quicksilver with such an innocent and self-indulgent demeanor, as if he really doesn’t understand his full potential just yet.  Definitely one of the highlights of the film and I wish they featured him a bit more than they had.

Returning from the First Class version of the X-Men universe are James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender as Professor Xavier and Magneto respectively.  If there was any reason why the character of Wolverine took a back seat to the film’s storyline was because of these two actors.  They’re portrayals of the lead mutants of the good and bad side was undeniably superb, but both have their reasons for their downfall since the First Class film.  You can actually understand why Xavier chose to live the life he had and see Magneto’s points as well.  There’s clearly no definite line between them to gauge who’s the protagonist and who’s the antagonist.

Finally, Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique was pretty awesome.  When we first saw her in X-Men: First Class, it was hard to think that she’d ever turn into the conniving version of the character that we see in the first three films.  After seeing her reason for becoming the antihero she’s portrayed as in this film, it’s hard to imagine we wouldn’t do the same.  In fact, you almost cheer for her in this film in spite of what the futuristic results may be.  But much like Rebecca Romijn’s depiction of the character in the first two films, Lawrence is able to equal her bad-assery in this film, taking center stage in most of the fighting sequences.

So, before I let out any spoilers, let me give you my final “bit” on X-Men: Days of Future Past.

Time travel is always a good subject to put in a film and making it an X-Menfilm makes it that much more awesome.  The added mutants in the beginning was a blast, the storyline moving to the 70s was great and gave us sort of a sequel to X-Men: First Class as well as to the franchise as a whole, bringing the young and old together in one film was just great writing and solved the problems created by The Last Stand.  I loved it all the way through and feel this is the best X-Men movie so far.  Go see it!

As a side note…surprise, surprise…there’s an after-credit scene that you may, or may not, understand.  I, myself, had to Google it after getting home, but it’s still pretty cool to see…maybe not worth waiting through ALL the end credits to see.

Edge of Tomorrow comes out June 6th.  I may check that one out.  But anyway…thanks for reading!

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