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Friday, May 23, 2014

‘X-Men’: Logan’s Run Back To The Future (Movie Review)


X-Men: Days of Future Past: 3 ½ out of 5

Professor Charles Xavier:  What’s the last thing you remember?

How do you bring everyone together?  That is the question returning X-Men director Bryan Singer must have been set on answering in his attempt to not only combine the casts from nearly every previous X-Men film, but find a way to satisfy everyone with what is basically the biggest X-Men film ever.  The results are fairly strong, as Singer manages to get past the overwhelming nature of having an incredibly large cast, two timelines, and providing emotional resonance in a film that is almost completely made up of forward plot momentum, expositional dialogue, and mutant action.  Fans of the franchise should be mostly pleased, as it takes one of the iconic comic storylines and uses the cinematic versions of established (and some new) characters to truly deliver an exciting spectacle.  Overcrowding is pushed aside in favor of eradicating previous story elements to make a focused and gratifying X-Men film, even if that means risking continuity coherence for the most devoted of fans, as well as some casual viewers.


When you are this far into a franchise, there must be a level of acceptance in terms of knowing who a lot of these characters are and what they are capable of.  For X-Men: Days of Future Past, the 7th film in the X-Men franchise, (counting both Wolverine movies), one basically needs to understand a few things: mutants are people with special abilities; Hugh Jackman is the delightfully gruff and immortal Wolverine, a mutant with healing abilities and claws; Professor X (Patrick Stewart/James McAvoy) is able to read and control minds; Magneto (Ian McKellan/Michael Fassbender), the maestro of magnetism, sees mutants as superior to humans.  This is a story of these three working together in an effort to stop a series of events that lead to a dark future resulting in the extermination of mutant kind.

There are plenty of other characters in this film as well, some featured more prominently than others.  Whether it is because of her rise in star-power or because it was an idea from the start, Jennifer Lawrence has plenty to do as the shape-shifting Mystique, who plays a pivotal role in this film’s plot.  Fortunately, given that I was not a huge fan of Lawrence’s performance in X-Men: First Class (despite a good arc surrounding the character), it was nice to see her really step it up for a film that needs her to be an emotional center, as far as telling us what she is fighting for and what that could lead to.  Given that these X-Men films generally stack on so many characters, only to have trouble balancing them, having a quick story setup and laying out exactly who the key players need to be really did calm my thoughts on how to pull off a story with this kind of scope and variety.  That said, we do get a lot of support from this ensemble and the blockbuster theatrics constructed by Singer and his team.

 
While this is yet another X-Men movie where the plot is forwarded by Wolverine being key to keeping things moving, he is largely held in check (more of an audience surrogate), in favor of delivering on one of the greatest strengths of First Class, the relationship between Young Prof. X and Magneto.  McAvoy and Fassbender continue to be terrific in their respective roles and seeing Stewart and McKellan reprise their older equivalents provides a nice sense of balance to what these characters mean for each other.  With that, there are still plenty of other characters with just enough to do.  Nicolas Hoult is the ‘Q’ of this film, but he also gets to dig into his ferocious Beast character as well.  The returns of some characters like Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) and Colossus (Daniel Cudmore) are also welcome, along with new editions of future mutants Bishop (The Intoubchables Omar Sy) and the most visually impressive, Blink (she plays Portal as her mutant ability).  Even Halle Berry decided to show up for a few scenes as Storm.

Many of these returns and new editions are more or less cameos designed to show off their powers or deliver key pieces of information, i.e. everything involving Ellen Page as Kitty Pride (the character that goes back in time in the comic equivalent of this story), but there are a couple new standouts.  Many mocked the appearance of Quicksilver, when his look was revealed online many months ago, but Evan Peters’ performance and the scenes built around his character, the mutant that moves at supersonic speeds, is easily one of the biggest highlights of the film.  I cannot express as much praise for Peter Dinklage, who plays Bolivar Trask (the younger version, before growing into Bill Duke), but he does fine with what he is given.  Trask is essentially the human villain of this film, but while he speaks of the threats he wants to stop, little is really given out to explain his motivations.  It makes little difference though, as his creations are certainly frightening enough.


As the geekier fans know, Sentinels play a huge role in this film.  For the uninitiated, Sentinels are large robots designed by Trask, with the sole purpose of finding and either capturing or destroying mutants.  The storyline in this film is largely set in the past (1973), where Wolverine is sent to stop events from taking place that will allow Trask to delve deeper into his Sentinel research, which goes from early, but effective designs, to something truly terrifying in the future.  As I stated at the beginning, something I really admire about this film is its balance.  Despite dealing with a potential apocalyptic future and seeing some dark imagery, the film is never too full of angst and avoids feeling too earnest to have fun with what it still is at its core:  a comic book movie.

With Bryan Singer returning as director, I cannot say that this series necessarily got what it truly needed, but at the same time, ‘Days of Future Past,’ certainly feels like a film handled by someone comfortable at the wheel.  The return of certain musical cues (Singer brought his pal and longtime editor/composer John Ottman back as well), some of the visual tricks (Singer’s longtime cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel also returns), and plenty of other aspects do enough to bring together what Matthew Vaughn (who receives a story credit) was able to do for ‘First Class’ and what Singer started with X-Men and X2.  Even with the film’s minor flaws in mind, ‘Days of Future Past’, is easily Singer’s best film since his last foray into this world.


There is something to be said for how this film wants to service everyone that may see it.  Given the return of many actors, characters, and basic story ideas, tying a film like this into the larger universe established by the previous films means doing a lot of work to ideally do what is best for the audience.  Continuity can be a major asset to franchises that adhere to it, which is something I truly admire about the Fast & Furious franchise, which will also be 7 films deep by this time next year.  The X-Men films have only done so much to keep continuity intact over the years, but mainly due to confusing prologues and epilogues for X3 and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, a lot of that has basically gone out the window for this film, in favor of simply taking what casual fans know and throwing that into a whole new story.  This negates the partially rebooted elements of ‘First Class’ and disregards major aspects of certain films entirely, but it can basically get away with it, because a majority of people do not care for the films that had major events occur or the portrayal of certain characters.  It is almost as if the studio found a way to give in to fan pressure and use the wonderful tool of time travel (and presumably multiverses) to justify their actions.  I could personally be overdoing it on this, but my line of questioning certain decisions come from respecting the franchise, warts and all.  Regardless of quality, looking over the impact that big decisions have on an ongoing franchise, with only presumptions serving as explanations, seems like poor regard for those that have come back to these films again and again.  

With that said, there is little to complain about in terms of the film delivering on being an exciting spectacle that utilizes many mutants and their abilities in ways that are crowd-pleasing, thoughtful, and refreshingly non-reliant on Wolverine to save everything.  This is an action/science-fiction film that spends plenty of time debating the ‘why’ of it all, before attempting to dazzle the audience in impressive ways, fitting of modern superhero films.  A true hats off goes to the editing work by John Ottman, who does a great job of balancing both timelines and keeping things coherent.  For all the heavy-lifting X-Men: Days of Future Past has to do to please so many different types of viewers, it seems that organization must be the mutant power of some of the people who worked on this film, because the excitement to be found is practically uncanny, when the film is at its best.  

Professor Charles Xavier:  So many battles waged over the years…and yet, none like this.  Are we destined to destroy each other, or can we change each other and unite?  Is the future truly set?






Aaron is a writer/reviewer for WhySoBlu.com.  Follow him on Twitter @AaronsPS4.
He also co-hosts a podcast,
Out Now with Aaron and Abe, available via iTunes or at HHWLOD.com.

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