Friday, May 23, 2014

X-men: Days of Future Past review

    The X-men franchise had, with the exception of The Wolverine, seemingly run its course by the time this movie was announced. X-men: The Last Stand was widely believed to have killed the franchise and X-men Origins: Wolverine was beating nails into it. X-men: First Class was good but didn't reverse the damage done to the franchise's reputation.

    This one is a time-travel story.

    Hmm, dare they actually press the retcon button in-universe? That was the question which hung in my mind during all of this. I got my answer at the end of the movie but it doesn't really matter as the larger question of the movie is--is it good? All the retcons in the world won't fix bad storytelling.

    Short answer: Yes.

Ellen Page is awesome and a perfect Kitty Pryde. My teenage self is crushing on her.
    Long answer: It's the best of the X-men movies so far, better than X-men 2 and First Class put together. I'd argue that it's about middle-of-the-road for the Marvel movies, which is a great accomplishment given the Fox movies had been running on autopilot for some time now. Certainly, it's better than Thor: The Dark World.

    The premise of Days of Future Past is one of the classic stories of the X-men comic series. The robotic Sentinels have taken over the world and established a Nazi-influenced rule where humans are herded into camps, separated from 'pure' into groups based on the possibility of producing a mutant, exterminated, and that's it. It's a wonderfully dark future where the sun never shines ala The Matrix and humanity is on its last legs.

Charles Xavier as a stand-in for traumatized Vietnam vets is a clever bit--inappropriate, but clever.
    How bad have things gotten? Magneto and Charles Xavier have banded together, both of them putting aside their differences to realize the other had a point. Unfortunately, it's too late for such an alliance to have an affect.

    In a contradiction of every depiction of Amazo, the Super-Adaptoid, and other robots possessing the powers of multiple X-men--the new Nimrod class of Sentinel is capable of killing heroes. They really ARE too powerful for the X-men to fight. While we know they'll all get retconned away, the danger of the Sentinels is brought home by the number of mutants we see killed on-screen.

    I liked the band of mutants assembled to serve as the de-facto X-Force of the films. Blink, Kitty Pryde, Colossus, Bishop, Iceman, Sunspot, and Warpath were never a team in the comics but they work well together in the movie. Even if most of them barely have any dialogue, their fight scenes are a visual treat to behold. We also get a sense of a generation growing up in the aftermath of an apocalypse (no, not the big blue one).

The fact Fassbender is wearing that outfit unironically shows this movie has the courage of its convictions (it's actually better than the last movie's).
    Well, one of the mutants (Ellen Page's Kitty Pryde in this case) has developed the ability to send people back in time telepathically. I'm not sure what this has to do with phasing through walls but we'll chalk it up to secondary mutation. Charles Xavier and Magneto immediately hit on the idea of reversing this hopeless future but find the only one of them who can solve things is, of course, Wolverine. They need to stop the assassination of Bolivar Trask and Mystique being captured to harvest her DNA to build the Nimrod-type Sentinels.

    The 1970s portion of the movie is just as good as the future one, giving us both hilarious fashions as well as insights into the political situation of the time. Peter Dinklage's Bolivar Trask, sadly, remains a mystery. We never get a real sense of why he wants to destroy the mutant race, only that he considers them dangerous enough that he's conducting horrific experiments on them with Major Stryker. Also, whoever put Peter Dinklage in that mustache has committed a crime against fashion.

If I had that mustache, I'd want to kill a quarter of humanity too.
    The standout character of the past is Evan Peter's Quicksilver. He plays only a short role in the movie but leaves such an impression and has such cool powers, you have to wonder why the protagonists leave him behind. Superspeed is presented as so useful, you think they'd want to keep him around to make sure the world doesn't end. Yes, he has an annoying attitude but that's what you get when you're a teenager with superpowers.

    The continuity-welding between the First Class portion of the franchise and the original movies is well-done. You can see how Fassbender's Magneto transformed into Ian McKellens' and how James Mcavoy's Charles Xavier turned into Patrick Stewart's. Jennifer Lawrence's Mystique was always dissonant with the near-emotionless assassin played by Rebecca Romjin but manages to become a unique character in her own right.

The Sentinels are about as well-designed as I imagined they could be. A good compromise between function and iconic imagery.
    A part of me feels "iffy" about a touchy-feely Mystique when she's one of the meanest femme fatales in the Marvel Universe but this one was raised by/with Charles Xavier so that's bound to leave a mark. Besides, it was inevitable Jennifer Lawrence's "It" girl status would bleed into the movies and lead to an expanded role. She looks far more confidant playing Mystique this time around and I loved several of her "outfits."

    The Sentinels, villains we've been waiting to see in the franchise from the beginning, have only a limited role in the past section of the story. Thankfully, we get more than our share of robot-bashing action in the future part of the story but I prefer the retro-looking Sentinels to the modern ones. I also give kudos to the movie for showing that Magneto is not just a bunch of powers but is just as much a genius as Charles Xavier.

    The relationships are really the heart of the movie and while I question Beast serving as Charles Xavier's butler in the 1970s for years or the latter being devastated by the Vietnam war drafting his students (no insult intended to those who were), I really liked the way everyone was portrayed. Magneto and Charles' relationship has continued to disintegrate but there's still an underscore of respect. Raven has started to question Magneto's choice in methodology, not quite hitting the Stormtrooper fanaticism she has in X-men 1&2.

    Raven's respect for Charles hasn't completely evaporated either. Jennifer Lawrence really knocks it out of the park with her interpretation of the First Class Mystique.  Even though they have a short role to play, Ellen Page's Kitty and the rest of X-Force come off as good friends--something direly missing from the rest of the movies. There's also a moment where two versions of a character meet and it's awesome.

    I expect some fans will be divided by the ending but I think, as retcons go, it was earned. The whole "immutability of fate" concept is touched upon and I say 'boo' since there's no point to the story if nothing can be changed. It felt like a love letter to an exceptionally-long movie series and I'm glad Bryan Singer is back onboard.

    In conclusion, it's X-actly what the Professor ordered.


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