Friday, May 23, 2014

X-Men: Days of Future Past

Review by Bob Ignizio

With X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST, filmmaker Bryan Singer reminds us that before Marvel started taking cinematic matters into their own hands, he had already shown that super hero movies that treat their source material with respect can be successful with fanboys, general audiences, and critics alike. The X franchise is where the modern super hero film truly began, and while the series lost its way when Singer left to pursue other projects, the situation for the team of mutant heroes improved considerably with his return (in the capactiy of producer) for 2011's X-MEN: FIRST CLASS. That film was a step in the right direction, and things have only gotten better now that Singer is back in the director's chair.

The film's basic premise is drawn from a fan favorite comic book storyline that flashes forward to a dystopian future where mutants have been hunted to near extinction by giant robots known as Sentinels. In order to save the mutant race one of the surviving X-Men travels back in time to change history. In the original comic books, it was Kitty Pryde who went back. Here, it's Wolverine aka Logan (Hugh Jackman), although Kitty (Ellen Page) still has an important part to play, her powers somehow facilitating the time travel.

From there, things deviate even further from the comics, but make perfect sense in relation to the other films. To avert extinction, Logan must travel back to 1973 where he will have to get Professor Xavier (James MacAvoy) to put aside his differences with Magneto (Michael Fassbender) so the two of them can stop Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from assassinating Sentinel creator Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage). Not an easy task, especially given that the Professor is essentially a drug addict, and Magneto is being held prisoner in the Pentagon. The last of the Professor's students, Hank McCoy aka Beast (Nicholas Hoult) and a teenage speedster named Peter (Evan Peters) provide some much needed assistance.

Meanwhile back in the future, the other X-Men do their best to keep the Sentinels at bay and protect Logan's body. Aside from Kitty, familiar faces include Storm (Halle Berry), Iceman (Shawn Ashmore, finally getting to “ice up” like he does in the comics), Colossus (Daniel Cudmore), and of course the older versions of Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen). They're joined by Blink (Fan Bingbing), Sunspot (Adan Canto), Bishop (Omar Sy), and Warpath (Booboo Stewart).

The future characters get some thrilling action sequences, but little in the way of character beats. The focus is mostly on what happens in the past. While this means that a number of characters are given short shrift, including (yet again) Halle Berry's Storm, it makes for a much more coherent film that knows the story it wants to tell and how to use the characters at its disposal to tell it. That said, I do understand the frustration some fans feel at the way key characters from the comics have time and again been kicked to the background in the films.

But one has to review the movie that is, not the hypothetical movie one might have wanted. And for what it sets out to be, X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST is pretty damn good. It has the audience pleasing action of THE AVENGERS mixed with the more serious, grown-up thriller elements of CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER. And of course, the usual mutant subtext about the dangers of prejudice is there as well, although this feels more like a film that wants to entertain than make the audience think about weighty issues, albeit one that still goes about its business in a way that doesn't insult the viewer's intelligence. I know some folks wish the superhero genre would just die out already, and given the sheer number of the things I can sympathize a little. When the movie in question is as good as this one, though, I say keep 'em coming. 4 out of 4 stars.

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