Monday, May 26, 2014

X-Men: Days of Future Past


After the enormous success of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, I didn't think it was possible for another superhero film this year to reach the incredible highs of the latest from Marvel Studios. While, I did put this film above Captain America 2 in my most anticipated films of the year list, I also didn't expect Cap to deliver quite as well as it did at the time I wrote it. With all that in mind, I tried to keep my expectations for X-Men: Days of Future Past as tempered as possible (which was difficult considering how impressive the trailers were - see below). While it was impossible to escape some of the plot details, I almost think my experience was benefited from the information I gleaned from marketing and the various news sources I peruse on a regular basis.

In the year 2023, humanity is on the brink of extinction as terrifying robots called Sentinels have all but wiped out the mutant population. The last group of survivors have devised a method for short-term survival from their attackers by sending one in the group a couple of weeks into the past to warn the rest. However, there are fewer and fewer places to hide, and they are eventually joined by high-ranking X-Men such as Charles Xavier, Storm, Wolverine and even Magneto. As a last-ditch effort to save human and mutant kind, Professor X devises a plan to stop the extermination before it ever begins by sending Wolverine into the past to prevent an assassination attempt on the creator of the Sentinel program back in 1973.

Let me just start by saying this movie completely blew my mind from the opening shot of the incredibly dark vision of the future. We see several powerful mutants ruthlessly destroyed by the seemingly unstoppable Sentinels, but luckily they are able to transport themselves back to before the attack began in order to give them a little more time to find a better hiding place. It does a fantastic job of establishing the danger of these monstrous robots, while also setting up the premise of time-travel for the remainder of the story. Not only that, but the devastating depiction of a post-apocalyptic world in which mutants are branded and hunted to the brink of extinction totally pays off the metaphor shown in the first scene of the original X-Men over 14 years ago, where young Eric Lehnsherr (Magneto) is separated from his parents in a Nazi concentration camp. Thankfully the movie doesn't maintain this level of darkness and thematic gravitas, but it's a great place to start this ultimate X-Men crossover.

As this story takes place in the 1970s, we're obviously dealing with the characters from X-Men: First Class, which (until very recently) was my favorite X-Men film. This cast is so talented that I never once find myself wanting to see their older counterparts, even in the most dramatic scenes. Michael Fassbender is so commanding as the younger version of Magneto that I almost forgot about Ian McKellen at times. His twisted logic and merciless nature make him a terrifying villain, but he also brings enough humanity to the role for audiences to share Charles's incessant hope in the ultimate redemption of his former friend. The two characters contrast nicely in their philosophies, and it's actually Professor Xavier who I find myself connecting with the most as the film progresses. His journey of accepting the responsibility of his powers is incredibly meaningful, culminating in a fantastic scene between James McAvoy and the older Patrick Stewart.

There are also a lot of tremendous supporting characters in this film, such as the blue-skinned Mystique (played wonderfully by Jennifer Lawrence). While normally a functional character whose powers are merely a conduit for more important demonstrations by Magneto, this time Mystique is given a pivotal role in the film. In fact, some of the most tense moments involve her specifically, and its her struggle between Professor X and Magneto that fuels her somewhat desperate actions. But with all these returning players, it's incredible that they managed to bring in a new mutant who may be the most entertaining and likable of the bunch. Quicksilver, a mutant with super-speed, could have easily been a cheesy, ridiculous character (which many predicted based on the early marketing materials), but amazingly his brief time on screen has some of the best moments in the entire film. I feel a little bad for Joss Whedon after seeing this movie, as he will be featuring the same character (with a different actor) in the upcoming Avengers: Age of Ultron. I'm sure it will end up being okay, but this is certainly a tough act to follow.

Like many of the other X-Men films, this has a very dense plot with many twists and turns before leading to a well thought out and extremely tense climax. This franchise has a way of upsetting the status quo of superhero films (in a good way) by constantly bringing the unexpected. Much of the credit has to go to director Bryan Singer, who also directed the first two X-Men films. His focus on complex characters brings a whole new dimension to what could easily be a schlocky action film franchise. The relationships are complicated, and the metaphors and philosophies are expertly woven into the story. As much as I enjoyed other superhero films like Avengers and Spider-Man, Singer touches on more thought-provoking and even culturally significant subject matter that most in the genre have neither the confidence nor the skill to achieve.

The whole symbolic meaning of going back in time to change something is also reflected in Professor Xavier's character arc. His unyielding hope that the people around him are not lost or beyond help, but that they can change for the better is a powerful message and one that I think I needed to hear. It's always great when a movie brings something a little deeper than you were anticipating, and this one certainly did that. Apart from the incredibly well-done visual spectacle of the action set pieces, this is a story where the character interactions are on par with if not even better than the mind-blowing effects.

It's pretty obvious that I thoroughly enjoyed this film, but how much did I enjoy it? Well, it's easily the best film I've seen so far this year. It's also the best of the X-Men franchise, and is even in the running for my favorite comic book movie of all time (at least in the top 5). However, it should be said that this isn't a film for children, so I would definitely think twice before bringing anyone under the age of ten or so. There's a lot of violence, and the future Sentinels are so scary that I almost got a little spooked after the film, wondering whether they were about to pop out of the darkness in my back yard. Stay after the credits as well, though you might not understand what it means (hint: search for "Apocalypse (comics)" on Wikipedia.org). I completely loved this movie and I give it a very solid four stars.

X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi violence and action, some suggestive material, nudity and language



***What did you think of X-Men: Days of Future Past? Is it the best in the series or an overrated jumble of characters? Let me know in the comments section below!***