Movie Review: X-Men: Days of Future Past

Somehow we’re under two months out from Gen Con 2014. Gah. There’ll be a handful of cosplay posts coming in the very near future, but a bizarre summer cold-type thing and a fun, but time consuming, side project have gobbled up the lion’s share of the past few weeks. The costumes are still on schedule, but some tweaking of the timeline may be in order. In the meantime, there’s a veritable cavalcade of movies and the burgeoning prospect of the Steam Summer Sale just around the corner. <List of Excellent Distractions explodes.>

One such indulgence was a viewing of X-Men: Days of Future Past. Given the mixed track record of the other films in the franchise and the backlash that First Class was subjected to, I was skeptical as to the prospects for Days of Future Past

One of the greatest casts imaginable
Those doubts were largely unfounded. 

Aside from a handful of moments at which a quizzical eyebrow could be raised, Days of Future Past was highly entertaining, expertly acted, and beautifully rendered. In all honesty, it’s one of the better films to come out of the superhero/comic book genre as a whole and lays a solid foundation for any future X-Men movies.

The introduction paints a profoundly bleak picture. The sunless, desolate Earth is policed by the Sentinels, towering robotic constructs that hunt down mutants, human sympathizers, and humans that would one day have produced mutant offspring. The few surviving mutants live in a perpetual game of cat and mouse, managing to escape the unrelenting Sentinels only because Kitty Pryde can manipulate the time continuum enough to arrange for warning to be sent to their days-younger selves.

Yes, Kitty Pryde has the ability to project a person's consciousness back in time. This rather surprising development is never explained and did not appear in the original comic, but serves as the lynchpin mechanism for the entire plot of the movie. It's not a bad thing by any means, just not something that had ever previously been part of Kitty's mutant toolbox, so to speak. Since it's clear from the get-go that this is the new-ish continuity than began with X-Men: First Class, it's easier to accept this alteration as being intrinsic to Kitty and minimizes the deus ex machina potential in the device so the reveal is more eyebrow-raising than eyeroll worthy.

The other "huh" moment in the film was the appearance of the Sentinels themselves. They bore more resemblance to the Destroyer from the first Thor movie than to any of their comic forebears or the glimpses we'd gotten in other X-Men movies (even Last Stand). While this obviously a largely cosmetic quibble, it was a conspicuously strange choice given how much thought clearly went into the vast majority of the rest of the film. Odd appearance aside, the Sentinels functioned just as you'd expect them to, wreaking havoc and providing a very real threat to the superpowered mutants.

This is as close as we get to the Sentinels of the comics
 We learn soon after our introduction to this desolate future that the entirety of what's being experienced was set in motion by the actions of Mystique back in 1973. Played with steely determination by Jennifer Lawrence, Mystique spends the years between the events of First Class and Days of Future Past enacting bloody vengeance on those who have harmed mutants, using her powers with brutal efficiency. The primary target of her ire is Bolivar Trask (adroitly rendered by Peter Dinklage), inventor of the Sentinels. In the first timeline we're presented with, Mystique guns Trask down at the Paris Peace Accord, but is captured in the ensuing scuffle, allowing for Trask's successors to obtain critical data from her DNA. In a last-ditch effort to prevent this from unfolding as it did, Professor Xavier, Magneto, and Storm persuade Kitty Pryde to send Wolverine's consciousness to inhabit his own body back in 1973 in the hopes that he can intercede.

Intercession comes with its own set of challenges, largely embodied by the personalities of the younger versions of Xavier and Magneto. Xavier, still reeling from Mystique's abandonment of him, is a cantankerous drunken hermit who actively suppresses his abilities via a serum developed by Beast, the only mutant who appears to have remained loyal to the School for Gifted Youngsters. Meanwhile, Magneto is in a more literal prison, having been blamed for the Kennedy assassination (just one of a handful of fun tongue-in-cheek bits of history play).

It's tricky for a film to maintain focus and perspective when time travel is what's driving the narrative, but Days of Future Past makes it look easy. This can be credited largely to the all-star cast. The entire rosters of both First Class and all the preceding X-Men films reprise their roles, even down to a handful of very brief wordless cameos.  It's profoundly clear that everyone's committed to their role, be it big or small, and you are invested in the characters from the get-go. The pacing is very brisk, sometimes a bit too much so when certain fairly significant revelations are accepted and acted upon with very little resistance. Still, it's a small price to pay for an overall engaging experience, as the movie didn't seem to lag once in its 132 minute run time.

Add to this a handful of sequences that are simply brilliant. Though the character of Quicksilver only appears in a small portion of the film, he makes a very lasting impression via one extremely entertaining scene. The climax will likely make your jaw drop as we get to see the full complement of Magneto's powers. Despite what the events of the movie accomplish in terms of furthering this new continuity for the X-Men as a franchise, there is still plenty to be explored in future films. It's reassuring to see that other franchises can successfully build continuous movie universes.

In all, some very satisfying cinematic fodder and a must-see for X-Men fans.

Overall Grade: A-

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