Thursday, May 29, 2014

Review: X-Men Days of Future Past

Of all the films that are coming out this summer, X-Men: Days of Future Past has perhaps the largest marketing campaign and certainly the longest payroll.  With nearly two full casts (the old guard and the new), original director Bryan Singer has returned to bridge the gap between films.  There is a symbiotic relationship here between the bridging of film gaps and the bridging of gaps between the original comics and this storyline.

Based VERY loosely on Uncanny X-Men #141 and #142, the film picks up shortly after X-Men: First Class with Charles Xavier and Hank McCoy playing odd couple at the now defunct "Xavier's School", Magneto in jail and Mystique on the lamb.  In a parallel storyline (taking place in the not so distant future) a group of renegade mutants try to escape the clutches of sentinels, government owned robots that seek and destroy mutants.  To prevent the future they are living, the team of future mutants send one of their number back in time to alter the course of their lives.

Storm attacks a sentinel - Uncanny X-Men #142

Using the original plot line as a basis, Singer's mutants are again forced into an impossible situation that forces them to alter the fabric of time to try to re-write history and prevent their own experience.  Interestingly rather than using the mutants who were in the original issue (Storm in particular features heavily as does Nightcrawler) Singer chose to introduce heretofore unrepresented mutants Blink, Sunspot, Warpath (who was a first tier x-man in the early comics) and colossus who had a small part in X2: X-Men United.  In fact, as he has done in past films, Singer chooses to change the powers of certain mutants, giving Kitty Pryde (the fabulous Ms. Ellen Page) the ability to project consciousness into the past (rather than using powerful psychic and current member of the all female X-Team Rachel Summers).  It's an interesting practice that often means characters loose out on pretty awesome back stories but in the service of the plot here I don't have a real problem with it as it's mostly successful.

So let's start by talking about what worked.  Obviously Fox led the charge in superhero movies and while I do feel like Marvel has really set the bar for this genre, I will always have a soft spot for the X-Men.  That said, I'm looking forward to seeing what happens when Marvel gets the property back from Fox.  Now as action movies go, this one has a lot going for it: it's funny, exciting, not too difficulty to follow and the characters have real human motivation.  One thing that works particularly well is the complete lack of a major baddie, which once would think would set the plot off kilter but is successful based on the story that's being told.  As comic book films go it was fairly enjoyable throughout but I almost felt as though there was too much attention paid to the original story arc. 

Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) projects new teammate Bishop back in time.
What I enjoyed about the first trilogy (okay the first two films of the original trilogy) was the feeling that these were real people in a real world situation that just happened to be superheroes, this is part of the formula that I think Marvel has been running with so successfully.  And while I enjoyed X-Men: First Class in principal based on the interaction of James MacAvoy and Michael Fassbender, its sequel almost entirely fails to draw on that, losing what I see as the most compelling part of the first film because it's too busy hitting plot points.  Though there is a glimmer during a conversation in-flight between Charles and Eric a third of the way in, by in large the film concentrates on the importance of Jennifer Lawrence's character (given much more prominence, one assumes due to her "it girl" status).  Don't get me wrong, the plot twist involved here is clever, but it seems like a very obvious shift in focus and one that is not wholely welcome in my opinion (no matter how much I love Lawrence).

As I worried during the pre-release promotions, the film feels as though too many characters have been stuffed in, to service the plot (even with the whole scale removal of Anna Paquin's secondary plot line).  While there are many clever, entertaining and even touching moments here, the overall structure feels forced.  Worst of all is Hugh Jackman's Wolverine, who feel shoehorned into the foreground in a way that upsets the balance of both teams.  While I did really enjoy the film, feel it was well made and exciting and am certainly looking forward to X-Men: Age of Apocalypse, the poster above demonstrates exactly what I felt was wrong with the treatment here: X-Men was never about being a star maker, it was about the ensemble, and the ensemble has taken a backseat to the big names.

My rating: 3 out of 4

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