Tuesday, May 27, 2014

X-Men: Days of Future Past

"Well, It's Complicated..." (All My X's Live in Excess)

Bryan Singer returns to the super-hero franchise he started 14 years ago, and abandoned to make the almost fetishistic Superman Returns leaving "The X-men" in the hands of director Brett Ratner to the series' detriment. It was given a shot of mutated adrenaline a couple years back with Matthew Vaughn's spirited re-boot, X-Men: First Class, which had fun re-tooling the series' DNA, featured some inspired re-casting, and also had a bit of fun poking fun at the film's 60's setting .

Now, as if to atone, Singer is back and has combined both versions of the X-men series (Vaughn was going to direct, but begged off to helm previous collaborator Mark Millar's new The Secret Service adaptation) in X-Men: Days of Future Past—somewhat based on the storyline by writer Chris Claremont and artist John Byrne (the major difference being that Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) does not go back into the past to set things right, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) does, presumably because the character is so popular—popular enough to have his own rather unexciting film series—that the film-makers hedge their bets by using their "big gun." Page's Pryde merely provides the transportation, spending the entire movie hovering over Jackman in what seems like a waste of the character and the actress.
"I see bell-bottom pants!!"
The movie revolves around events that we've not been privy to in the previous "X-men" movies. Since 1973, the American government has had a program in place to take care of the "mutant" problem; an American industrialist, Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage, at rather low wattage) has designed a squad of robots, the Sentinels, to eradicate all "muties," using information he's acquired studying the blood of one mutant in particular, "Mystique," the shape-shifting assassin Raven Darkhölme, originally played by Rebecca Romijn, and for the past played by Jennifer Lawrence.  Her murder of Trask in '73 accelerated the program, and has led to a genocide of all mutants...and quite a few humans suspected of it. 
Pres. Nixon (Mark Camacho) rolls out the Sentinels in 1973
Now, in the present day, when the Earth is devastated by the results of the Sentinel war, only a solid paragraph of them are left, led by Professor X (Patrick Stewart), Magneto (Ian McKellan), Storm (Halle Berry), Wolverine, Pryde, as well as previously seen X'ers Collossus (Daniel Cudmore), Iceman (Shawn Ashmore), Sunspot (Adan Canto), Warpath (Booboo Stewart), Blink (Bingbing Fan) and a new member, Bishop (Omar Sy). We watch as most of them are taken out by Sentinels with the ability to absorb mutant powers, giving Kitty and Bishop enough time to transport their consciousnesses back in time to warn their younger selves that the attack will take place to avoid it.
Sunspot takes on a Sentinel: Forget this ever happened because it didn't.
A neat trick that.  But one wonders where the duplicate Kitty's and Bishop's are. (Answer: there aren't any, their consciousnesses only went back and erases all presence of their existence at that point in time and place, but then the Sentinels shouldn't be there, either, as there's no reason for them to be). One wonders, also, why we've never heard of any Sentinels in the previous X-movies, considering they've been around since 1973. One can explain it away by saying, it only happened because X-Men: First Class happened—even though it should have happened, anyway—or one can presume that each movie is its own pocket universe, separate and distinct from the others, except that we've seen events from this series affect other events in subsequent films (they're even reprised here in flash-backs) and...

Well, it's about this time that one should suffer a headache like you have an adamantium claw stabbing through your skull—I began to ponder why Daniel Craig has never run into Sean Connery, but that's another series and another alternate universe—and one should really focus on the film, despite the fact it has worm-holes and fluctuations in the space-time-film continuum you could drive a Sentinel transport through.
This did happen in X-Men: First Class because they mention it in X: DOFP
Besides, you could miss some neat stuff. Let's just say that Wolverine goes back in time (his consciousness, katra, ch'i, whatever) to try and talk some sense into Charles Xavier/Professor X (James McAvoy) and Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and maybe knock Mystique's Trask-targeted bullet out of the air, to stop the Sentinels before they start. Going back to the overgrown School for Gifted Youngsters, he finds a disengaged Charles Xavier, giving up his powers for the use of his legs by way of a serum taken from the blood of the Beast (Nicholas Hoult), who is care-taking him. Wolverine being Wolverine, this leads to a fight—he seems to fight with everybody here—before persuading Xavier, Beast and a young mutant named Peter Maximoff (Evan Peters) to break Magneto out of a non-metal high-security prison deep underneath the Pentagon. This leads to the best sequence of the film: Maximoff is "Quicksilver," a teen-aged speedster who does everything very, very fast; in the blink of an eye, he can do dozens of things while we, the normally-paced, are just starting the thought of it.
The Quicksilver messenger service
In the midst of the Magneto-break, Pentagon guards burst in with their plastic guns (which Magneto can't manipulate). As Maximoff puts the ear-buds of his Walkman (not invented until 1978, but then he's very quick) into his ears, the guards fire, and Maximoff takes off, running around the room, literally around the circular room, the images super-slowed down, so we can see everything he's doing to foil the guards. Set to a dreamily perfect song (from 1972 and I won't spoil it, although I'm not so sure Maximoff would listen to it), the scene is perfect and may be the best representation of super-speed put on film (and hey, I was a fan of The Flash, growing up), done with a reckless glee and amusing execution. 
The nearly-nude Mystique's action scenes need to be very carefully 
choreographed, even in the Nixon Oval Office.
Would that the rest of the film live up to that sequence. But, as you can guess from earlier in the review, there's a lot of stuff going on, some of it rather arcane, a lot of which we have to take on faith. And Singer is not the most reliable director for that, quite deliberately. His M.O. is to withhold information, to disguise intentions, and, often, to go for the highly dramatic just to pull the plug on it, ramp up the tension...and needlessly. Watch how he handles Wolverine's slashing and stabbing of victims (off-screen), how he shows the nearly naked Mystique in battle (mostly from the top, and if any leg action is required, everything waist-level is kept in darkness (even in well-lighted rooms—one can't veer from a PG-13 rating) Time-travel is his perfect trick, because he can do something over-the-top and then say "see, it never happened." 
Meeting of the X-minds: McAvoy and Stewart play the same role in different times.
Which leads me to suspect the motivation for doing this film—and this story—to begin with. Why this one, and why now? The answer must be with Singer's presence directing. It's been stated that this one is the "last hurrah" for the original "X-men" cast (they'll continue with the "First Class" McAvoy, Fassbender and Lawrence) and one must admit that Ian McKellen is indeed getting a little long-in-the-tooth to be cavorting around and levitating. I suspect that this was Singer's chance to "make things right," using the time-travel scenario as the catalyst to tweak the X-men Universe. He does more than that, for this film and the entire series, in a coda that cures all sorts of Wolverine's flash-backs from this film. Maybe it is atonement, after all.*  

But, in its sloppy rush to a satisfying ending, it left me with a bunch of questions. Does Wolverine have his metal claws back (he had the adamantium sucked out of him in the last "Wolverine" movie, and has bone claws throughout this one)? Is this the last we've seen of the Sentinels? Did Magneto cause the gaps in Nixon's secret tapes? Just how many people can they pack into an X-men movie (including cameo's?) Do I toss the old X-men movies in my DVD collection since this one makes them mute..uh, moot? 

To paraphrase The Usual Suspects: Is the greatest trick Bryan Singer ever pulled to convince the world they don't exist?**
Roll-call (L->R): Colossus, Blink, Sunspot, Quicksilver, Rogue, Charles Xavier (the younger), Iceman, Magneto, Wolverine, 
Magneto (the younger), Mystique, Professor X, Beast (the younger), Storm, Kitty Pryde, Warpath, Bishop
 (and believe it or not, they left "a couple" out).
Clip and save for reference in the theater.

* Which makes it doubly appropriate that James McAvoy is here.

** And, oh yes, there is an "End-Credits coda" but unless you brought a "Marvel-zombie" to the theater with you, there is no way you will understand it.


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