Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Movie Review - X-Men: Days of Future Past

  I knew I’d been lax in my super hero movie watching but I didn’t realize how lax until I realized that I had missed the last five Marvel Super Hero movies. I caught a bit up the past two weeks by renting DVD’s of “Thor:The Dark World” and “The Wolverine”. While the Thor movie had cool special effects I thought it had very little plot, was very slow developing, and didn’t have nearly enough Loki. The Wolverine had less action than the Thor movie but had a great spy movie type of plot that made the movie seem to run quickly.“ Captain America: The Winter Soldier” and “The Amazing Spiderman 2” were long gone from the Marshalltown movie theaters last weekend but on a recent Sunday afternoon Kathy and went to see the latest X-Men movie “X-Men: Days of Future Past”. The movie has done very well nationally with over $200 million in sales and exceptionally well internationally with over $600 million in sales, although on the Sunday afternoon matinee I attended during the 3rd week of the movie's run we were joined by only 12 other moviegoers.

  The movie is loosely based on the 1981 2 part X-Men comic book which has Kitty Pride (aka Shadowcat) being sent from a future where mutants are being exterminated by the government army of robotic Sentinels to the present to prevent the mutant assassination of Senator Robert Kelly that sparked the mutant genocide and the creation of the Sentinel program in the first place. The plot is twisted greatly for the movie and naturally, the popular Wolverine is sent back to inhabit his past self to prevent a similar assassination, this time an assassination perpetrated by the shape shifting mutant Mystique against the founder of the Sentinel program, Bolivar Trask.

  The first 3 X-Men movies were set in the present day with Patrick Stewart as super-psychic Professor X, Ian McKellen as Magneto the master of all things metal, and elevated the career of Hugh Jackman as the iconic Wolverine to the level of mega superstar. The fourth X-Men movie called “X-Men: First Class” wasn’t a reboot but an older adventure set in the 1960’s showing one of the first adventures of the X-Men and outlining the origins of the complicated Professor X – Magneto friendship/rivalry/bromance.

  The new X-Men is set in the distant future with the old Professor X (the same one that was obliterated by Jean Grey in the third movie of the series) and the old Magneto (who lost the grand majority of his powers in the same movie) as part of a hunted band of mutants whose only way to escape the shape shifting Sentinels is by sending a mutant a few minutes into the past before the attack to warn the rest of the band about the attack before it happens. This leads them to try to send Wolverine 50 years backwards into his 1970’s body to stop the assassination from ever taking place.

  The Wolverine of the 1970’s isn’t nearly as powerful as the current day Wolverine. He has no adamantium claws and skeleton – just his bone claws and healing powers. He manages to traverse the world of long hair, turtleneck sweaters, bell bottom pants, paisley shirts, and wide lapel suits to find Professor X in his shuttered school for gifted mutants. Professor X is in a drunken state, having become addicted to a serum that allows him to walk at the expense of his psychic powers and all that is left of the X-Men is the Professor and the Beast (who provides the Professor with his serum). The Professor, Wolverine, and the Beast then head to Washington to break Magneto out of his concrete prison 13 stories below the Pentagon and then all four head to Paris and Washington in an attempt to stop the assassination and the mutant genocide of the future.

No matter what the era, Magneto's mutant control of metal seems to inspire filmakers like few others...

  The action scenes set in the 1970’s are really good. There is something about Magneto’s power that seems to inspire X-Men movie makers and it doesn’t matter who is playing Magneto. In “X-Men: The Last Stand” the McKellen Magneto uproots a section of the Golden Gate Bridge to get his mutant army to Alcatraz island in an awesome display of mutant power but the Michael Fassbender Magneto tops that in Days of Future Past when he uproots RFK stadium and slams it down over the White House to cut it off from the rest of Washington. Fassbender is a worthy Magneto, exuding confidence, power, and a healthy attitude of arrogance to all the non-mutants he sees as no different than Neanderthals. The best action scenes in the movie belong to Evan Peter who steals the movie in his role of QuickSilver, the superfast punk teen mutant that breaks the team into the Pentagon and breaks Magneto out of his concrete prison. In a scene set in the Pentagon kitchen, with bullets and food and pots and pans flying everywhere, everything stands still except Quicksilver who seems to be in slow motion diverting bullets, tasting food, and positioning the soldiers to be in the way of fists and food. Normally super speed in the movies is portrayed as a person disappearing and instantaneously appearing somewhere else but this was a great take on super speed and I hope the makers of the new Flash TV show are watching.

  Mystique is always interesting to watch since you never know when she’s going to show up and Jennifer Lawrence does a nice enough job in the role. Nicholas Hoult's Beast is completely forgettable - I can't remember one memorable scene with him. I was left cold by James McAvoy’s version of Professor X. I suppose he was written to be weak and ineffectual so he could find himself during the movie but he seems to portray the Professor as an ineffectual weakling even at the end of the movie when he leaves Wolverine in the clutches of Major Stryker when he and the rest of his team escape.

  The action scenes set in the future seem to be spliced into the movie to show the desperation of Wolverine’s mission in the past to highlight how time is running out. The Sentinels are appropriately fearsome but all the CGI makes the future action scenes look poorly lit and blurry. It was nice seeing the return of Storm, Iceman, and Colossus from the original movie but overall I thought the futuristic action scenes detracted from the main story instead of adding to it since the only future scene needed in the movie was the initial scene to introduce the reason for Wolverine’s return to the past.

  Once the assassination was prevented and the future saved, Wolverine ends up in an entirely different future with the original X-Men cast members and the future is presumably bright and unwritten except now we know at the least which characters made it to the future without getting killed. Days of Future Present had some great action scenes but the switching between eras was more confusing than helpful and there was entirely too much soul-searching and angst on the part of Professor Xavier for my tastes. It is a movie for the time-travel and X-Men aficionados but as a super hero movie I though it lacked a focused story line. I rank this movie ahead of “X-Men” and “X-Men: First Class” but well behind “X-Men: United” and “X-Men: The Last Stand”.

  Is the future of the X-Men movie franchise in the past, present, or future? Based on the teaser introducing the time traveling mutant super-villain Apocalypse, it could be any or all. I wish the X-Men franchise had used the Days of Future Past storyline to get the younger cast into the present time (much like the Star Trek reboot). It seems like a lost opportunity but since Days of Future Past had better than a 50% increase in the US box office (and double worldwide) over the First Class movie there is a solid financial reason to give Wolverine a large role in future movies as well as provide for cameos for the other members of the original cast of mutants. Having a single movie set in the past has novelty value but it limits what technology can be used and the whole nostalgia angle can get pretty old pretty fast. Failing that, having time travel storylines is the next best thing to keeping the franchise as fresh as possible and I hope the X-Men can pull it off without confusing the moviegoers.

There may be mutant activity near the Randhawa's travel center in Melbourne, Iowa if you count the ability to put up countless signs on convenience store windows as a mutant power and there may have been a mutant with the power to mangle language...note the 'Please Hold Unto Door' sign.