Sunday, June 8, 2014
FILM REVIEW OF "X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST" (2014)
Those immersed in all things Marvel, particularly Twentieth Century Fox’s “X-Men” film franchise, should scrutinize “X-Men: Days of Future Past” (**** OUT OF ****) several times for its larger-than-life spectacle, global adventure, and sterling performances. Director Bryan Singer, who helmed the first two “X-Men” outings and scenarist Simon Kinberg of “X-Men: The Last Stand” bring the popular Marvel franchise full circle. This time around fans can savor the best of both worlds, with the original cast in the futuristic scenes while their youthful counterparts flesh out the flashbacks. Furthermore, Singer and company spring some audacious surprises and provide a whole new future for the franchise. Clearly, Singer and Kinberg hold “The Matrix” and “Terminator 2” in high regard because they take cues from these seminal science fiction films. Indeed, as this elaborate time travel tale takes place, some characters suffer from shortage of screen presence for a variety of reasons not altogether clear. Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Fame Janssen, Kelsey Grammer, Anna Paquin, and James Marsden don’t garner the amount of screen time reserved for Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, and Jennifer Lawrence. Nevertheless, they make an indelible impression in spite of their respective brevity. Of course, if you missed either “X-Men: The Last Stand” (2006) or “X-Men: First Class” (2011), you may have trouble keeping up with both the plot and characters. Singer and company splice in scenes from earlier “X-Men” epics to refresh our memories when allusions are made to certain characters that do not appear in “Days of Future Past.” Although it lacks a villain as deliciously despicable as Kevin Bacon’s Sebastian Shaw, this striking ensemble superhero saga eclipses “X-Men: First Class” in virtually every respect.
Comic book fans should prepare themselves for some major surprises. Singer’s “X-Men: Days of Future Past” shares selectively with issues 141 and 142 of Chris Claremont & John Byrne’s “The Uncanny X-Men.” The “Days of Future Past” comic book appeared in print January thru February of 1981. Originally, Kitty Pryde plunged back in time in the graphic novel rather than the Wolverine in the film. Moreover, some villains in the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants are conspicuously AWOL, notably The Blob and Avalanche. Meantime, the assassination plot remains intact, but the individual marked for death differs. The assassin’s target is no longer a politician, but an eminent research scientist who wants to eradicate all traces of mutants. The Sentinels show up and pose a threat not only to the mutants, but also mankind, too. Despite these changes, Singer and Kinberg have created an exciting, imaginative, but acerbic opus. The “X-Men” movies have always been a notch above the other Marvel film properties. We learn that President Kennedy was a mutant and Magneto tried to save his life. Singer and company depict President Nixon as a buffoon and excoriate the government for the debacle in South Vietnam. For those who enjoy “X-Men” movies simply as an avenue of escapism, the political commentary may be as extraneous as it is pretentious. Meantime, we have a movie that isn’t strictly devoted to urban renewal. The Marvel film franchises at Walt Disney emerge as hollow-minded crowd-pleasers by comparison. They shun any form of political commentary. Singer takes “X-Men” seriously, with a smirk every now and then to keep us poised on our collective toes. Interestingly enough, despite its fidelity to “X-Men: First Class,” “Days of Future Past” unfolds after a gap in time has occurred since its predecessor. When we last saw Magneto, he had assembled his own team. Some of those members met with calamity between “X-Men: First Class” and “Days of Future Past.”
“Days of Future Past” unfolds 50 years into a dystopian future. Menacing robots known as ‘Sentinels’ have dominated mankind. Everything lies in ruins. The skulls and skeletons of millions of mutants and men litter the barren landscape. The Sentinels are implacable foes. These towering robots have been programmed to eliminate all mutants with extreme prejudice. A lesser group of X-Men, led by Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page of “Whip It”), have managed to evade the Sentinels, but they realize they are living on borrowed time. They retreat to a camp in remote China. Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart of “Star Trek: The Next Generation”) wants Kitty to project him back in time, so they can rewrite history and avert the rise of the Sentinels. Wolverine (Hugh Jackman of “X-Men 2”) volunteers to time-trip back to the 1970s, so he can contact the younger versions of Xavier and Magneto. Wolverine is the only X-Man who can travel that far back in time. His body can adapt to the hostile conditions of time travel. As it turns out, the Sentinels are the pride and joy of their inventor, Dr. Boliver Trask (Peter Dinklage of “Game of Thrones”), who has captured and tortured mutants.. Somehow, he managed to capture, torture, and kill most of Magneto’s gang after the Cuban missile crisis. Trask approaches Congress about his Sentinel project, but the politicians refused to fund him. Meanwhile, Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence of “The Hunger Games”) plans to murder the diminutive Trask at the Paris Peace Conference to prevent him from launching his Sentinel program. Coming from the bleak future, Wolverine confronts both a reluctant Xavier (James McAvoy of “Atonement”) and a treacherous Magneto (Michael Fassbinder of “Prometheus”) about the necessity of thwarting Mystique from assassinating Trask.
Despite its two-hour plus running time, “Days of Future Past” neither wears out its welcome nor bogs down in a labyrinth of complications. Singer and Kinberg conjure up considerable tension and suspense. They keep throwing obstacles into the path of our heroes so that Wolverine and company have to struggle against incredible odds. Indeed, the box office triumph of this “X-Men” escapade has already prompted Twentieth Century Fox to green-light a sixth installment, “X-Men: Apocalypse.” You should linger and patiently watch the end credits for a glimpse of the awesome adversary who awaits our mutant heroes in the next outing. Don’t skip “X-Men: Days of Future Past.”