Friday, May 27, 2016

Bryan Singer hasn't lost his mutant groove: 'X-Men: Days of Future Past' film review (flashback)

And now finally, as part of my "X Marks the Spot" series focusing on the X-Men — as well as an Alpha Flight comic-book compilation review and Q&A feedback from "X-Men" writer extraordinaire Chris Claremont, here's my flashback review of "X-Men: Days of Future Past."

"Days" didn't just herald the return of director Bryan Singer; the 2014 film delivered the goods on a very strong X-Men movie, something we hadn't seen honestly since he made the ill-fated decision to ditch the franchise for "Superman Returns." Also, like its predecessor, "X-Men: First Class," "Days" is a period film, set in the 1970s. 

Without further ado, here's my slightly tweaked version of my "Days of Future Past" review, written and posted on the original online home of Cary's Comics Craze shortly after I saw it in the theater …

May 28, 2014 — While watching “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” I had a sudden revelation about the mutants’ cinematic universe. It’s a bit bleak.

Sure there’s Professor Charles Xavier’s philosophy about embracing differences and channeling one’s gifts, but the X-Men’s world is one of persecution, intolerance, oppression and prejudice — issues of biblical importance.

The beginning sequence of “Days of Future Past” is as oppressive and dark as anything audiences have seen in “Blade Runner” or the “Terminator” series. Outside of this bleak opening, "Days" doesn't focus as much on the persecution of mutants as in the previous four "X-Men" films; although as I write that, it's very much a driving force in the storyline.

By the conclusion of the movie, it's clear what Singer's goal is: Clearing up the continuity of what, at first, appears to be a disconnect from the original trilogy he started and Matthew Vaughn's "First Class."

Sometime in the future, a handful-plus of mutants face an ugly reality. The X-Men are constantly on the run from the Sentinels, robots programmed to hunt and kill mutants, which were created by Bolivar Trask based on the shapeshifting genetics of Mystique.

Jennifer Lawrence again is rocking a blue bodysuit/body paint. The character is at her most determined and is every bit as dangerous — needless to say, sexy — as the woman who created the movie role, Rebecca Romijn.

"Days" is as much Mystique's story as it is Xavier's.

It wasn't far into "Days" and I had some questions.

By the end of this tightly told story that makes you pay attention, some of them are answered. And the closing scene raises a few more -- all while attempting to reconcile the original "X-Men" trilogy with "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" and "X-Men: First Class." And largely the story does! (Yes, I'm being vague but to say anything more would spoil the ending.)

The biggest question I had -- and still have is: How is Xavier (Patrick Stewart) somehow back from the dead after being obliterated in "X-Men: The Last Stand"?

Regardless, the older Professor X makes the risky decision to send Wolverine (Hugh Jackman, who is as buff and young looking as ever) into the past to stop Mystique from shooting Trask. And that won’t be easy since Xavier’s younger self (James McAvoy) is addicted to painkillers and emotionally distraught.

Having seen Mystique — whom his family adopted as a youngster — go off the rails more and more, the young Xavier has closed his school for the gifted.

As we know, patience and diplomacy aren't Wolverine’s strong suits, so with Michael Fassbender’s young Magneto always being an unpredictable wild card and the young Xavier's insecure mindset, Wolverine's time-sensitive mission is a tough one. But none of this is a surprise.

Singer, who started the entire “X-Men” film franchise with the first two unforgettable movies — honestly should be credited for making Hollywood realize superheroes and comic books are the basis for a legitimate film genre. He's back in the "X-Men" director’s chair. And he hasn’t lost his mutant groove.

Singer deftly handles the 1970s scenes (which thankfully is most of “Days” and balances out the dystopian future), down to the wardrobe, music and technology. Team Singer masterfully pulls in references to all four “X-Men” films” and the two “Wolverine” flicks, specifically the “Origins” installment.

The director attempts to make the disparities among the now seven-movie franchise cohesive — and honestly by the very last scene, manages to do just that. That is, if you now look at the other installments through revisionist’s eyes.

What “Days” doesn’t explain is how the older Xavier has come back to life, what happened in the interim or why the professor and Magneto (Ian McKellen) reconciled (although there’s a long history in the comic books of Magneto fighting on the side of angels from time to time).

But aside from Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) gaining some previously unseen powers, there’s very little about which to complain. I’d still like to see more from Daniel Cudmore’s Colossus, but I admittedly can’t get enough screen time for the big Russian. It’s a blast to see the X-Men actors from the original trilogy and the younger ones from “X-Men: First Class” in one film.

Continuity freaks like me will really dig the last sequence of “Days,” which takes place during the last few minutes of “The Last Stand” — not to mention three delightful cameos I won’t spoil. 

Speaking of delightful cameos, look out for Chris Claremont, who wrote the original “Days of Future Past” storyline; those two issues (UNCANNY X-MEN Nos. 141 and 142) have become high-priced, hot items on the convention circuit. Claremont gets about five seconds of screen time and a line of dialogue early in the movie as Congressman Parker.

The film is loosely based on his time-traveling concept, but truthfully it’s a reason to make sense of the X-Men’s cinematic continuity.

“Days” has big-screen moments, but just as in Claremont’s iconic run, the greatest moments are the quiet ones focusing on character interactions. Those moments contain great dialogue, sharp acting and especially let McAvoy and Jackman’s characters shine in ways they hadn’t earlier.

At the end of the, well, day, the history of the X-Men is complicated to say the least.

Singer’s film tries to unify the events and fall-out of the previous six films. (There’s a post-credits scene that teases to Singer’s upcoming “X-Men: Apocalypse” in 2016, but the footage reveals a lot of nothing and isn't worth the wait.)

“Days” isn’t a feel-good flick, but definitely is suited for fans who have an eye for detail. Singer’s film will turn cynical X-Men fans — those of the films and comics — into believers again and ensures the mutant’s movie days are far from over.

Grade: A-

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