Monday, May 26, 2014
Review: X-Men Days of Future Past
Main characters: Wolverine (played by Hugh Jackman), Professor Charles Xavier (played in the future by Patrick Stewart and the past by James McAvoy), Magneto (future version played by Ian McKellen and past version by Michael Fasebender), Mystique (played by Jennifer Lawrence)
Directed by Bryan Singer
Main story: In the future, mutants are all being hunted down and imprisoned or killed by sentinels, robots that can adapt to mutant powers in battle. To stop this from happening, Xavier and Magneto agree to send Wolverine back to the past to convince the younger versions of themselves to stop Mystique from killing Bolivar Trask, the inventor of the sentinels. The killing of Trask is what resulted in the sentinels being mass produced and put into use 50 years later. Another mutant, Kitty Pryde uses her ability to send people back in time to send Wolverine back 50 years into the past, to 1973, where he has to find Prof. Xavier and Magneto and get them to reconcile long enough to stop Mystique and change the events of the future.
X-Men: Days of Future Past is the fifth X-Men film, and the seventh film set in the X-men cinematic universe. It is also the third part of a three film reclamation project aimed at setting the film franchise back on course after two brutally disappointing chapters, X-Men: the Last Stand and spinoff X-Men Origins: Wolverine, that left audiences with the feeling that the X-Men film world had reached the point of diminishing returns and should be set aside for a while like DC/Warner Bros. did with the Batman series (1998's dreadfully awful Batman & Robin resulted in a seven year absence on screen for the Dark Knight and almost singlehandedly put a bullet in superhero films). The first film in the reset was X-Men: First Class, arriving in theaters five years after Last Stand and two years after Origins. It was received much better by fans and critics, and was followed up in 2013 by The Wolverine, a half sequel to Origins/half bridge from Last Stand and First Class to Days of Future Past. It's success was a perfect setup to this movie, which is supposed to serve as evidence that Bryan Singer and Co. have figured out what went wrong, righted the ship, and are ready to set out on a new course. Whereas First Class and The Wolverine had an undercover objective of making you forget about Last Stand and Origins by focusing on the characters we enjoyed in previous films (Wolverine, Professor X, Magneto, and Mystique) and tossing aside everyone else, Days of Future Past is a two hour acknowledgement of what went wrong before and how it's going to be fixed. So did they succeed? I say largely yes with a huge caveat.
If you're a print version purist and get upset at any major deviations from the source material, then you're not going to like this movie. If you hate the very idea of retconning (changing events from previous issues or films through some kind of magic plot device, usually some altering of the space-time continuum, in an effort to clean up previous missteps or launch a new reality), then you're going to be really pissed off at the ending. (Of course if you claim to hate deviations but loved Captain America: the Winter Soldier then please let me know so I can send a big fat red H for hypocrite to stitch to your clothes, because that movie was NOTHING like the comic version of the story). I am neither a hater of retcons or a stickler for fealty to the comic version of a story, because I think you should clean up your mistakes instead of leaving them there like a big turd in the punchbowl and because the comic versions of a lot of these stories aren't very good. This story is very much of the latter. The comic version of this story is one of the most overrated story arcs in comic book history. Days of Future Past was a two issue story arc sandwiched in between three other stand alone issues, set up mainly to set up and establish Kitty Pryde as the newest member of the team. It stands out so much in people's minds because it was surprise, unannounced dark turn for the series and because it gave us the first look at the sentinel robots that the X-Men would go on to do battle with many times over the years. There is literally nothing else memorable about the story at all. After reading it last year I figured that whatever Bryan Singer and Co. came up with for a movie would be superior, and I feel pretty vindicated.
The changes that seem to have people the most riled up are removing Kitty Pryde as the protagonist (in the comic she is the mutant that goes back in time to stop the assassination that leads to the deployment of the sentinels and the wiping out of all the mutants) and swapping in Wolverine, who casual movie going fans still love but a lot of fanboys are tired of; and giving Kitty the power to send people back in time, which she never had in the comics. To which, I say: get over it already. They people in charge made a business decision. Nobody outside of fanboys care to see an X-Men movie centered around Kitty Pryde. They want their Wolverine, Prof. X, Magneto, and Mystique. It would be foolish to not give it to them. Someday some filmmaker will create a comic book film that caters to every fanboys wishes, and it will bomb at the box office. It's the movie business, and without the business there are no movies. What matters more than anything else is the execution, which went very well. Fasbender and McAvoy pick up right from where they left off in First Class, deftly conveying the difficult relationship between Xavier and Magneto that drives these movies when they are at their best. Jackman does his Wolverine thing without swallowing the movie whole, and the story unfolds in such a way that people who came to see him get what they need but he doesn't eat up all the important screen time. The 15 minutes we get of Quicksilver, centered around breaking Magneto out of a Pentagon prison cell, are one of the highlights of summer movies that you'll take with you. And there are plenty of pop culture references from the earlier time including amusing bits about JFK and Richard Nixon. The other X-Men, save Beast, don't get much time but they at least get to use it in some pretty cool fight scenes.
I give this a 4 out 5, with the understanding that a lot of comic book enthusiasts are going to have major issues with the changes I mentioned and the big retcon at the end, which I won't spoil here. But if you got no beef with any of that then you should enjoy it thoroughly like I did.