Thursday, 12 June 2014

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) Movie Review

This week, I traded in my spandex for some cool black leather, strapped some kitchen knives to my wrists and flew down to the local cineplex to see Bryan Singer's X-Men: Days of Future Past starring most of the cast of the original X-Men franchise and some of the rebooted X-Men: First Class franchise.

This installment sees our intrepid heroes from the original X-Men franchise in the not too distant future fighting for their survival from the evil and all-powerful Sentinels. They're losing. With only a few scattered mutants left, they come up with an idea; send Wolverine (Hugh Jackman making his record-breaking 7th appearance) back to the 1970s when the Sentinel program began and stop it from happening. Encouraging Wolvie to take this leap is returning aged thespians Ian McKellan (Magneto) and Patrick Stewart (Professor X), who've managed to put aside their differences for this one chance to rewrite history. Wolverine's consciousness is sent into the past where he meets up with some of the characters from the X-Men: First Class franchise including James McAvoy (Professor X), Michael Fassbender (Magneto) and Jennifer Lawrence (Raven/Mystique). Some new characters are also introduced. Most notably, Peter Dinklage as Bolivar Trask and Even Peters as Quicksilver.

I'm going to say this now to avoid a lot of confusion. If the above synopsis and character names made little-to-no sense to you, this is not the movie for you. I can't put together a primer for you as this review would end up being 14 pages long and you'd probably fall asleep around page 3. No, you're just going to have to trust me on this. If you've not seen the previous 6 films in this franchise or, at the very least, the 4 X-Men films (you could reasonably skip the two standalone Wolverine movies, which I'd recommend you'd do anyway since they're both awful), you're not going to have a clue what's going on. 

Having said that, I'll do my best not to delve too deep into the backstory and focus on the merits of the movie.

First, it's important to note that this movie heralds the return of Bryan Singer to the director's chair. He directed the first two X-Men films, both of which were financially and critically successful. He basically ushered in the modern age of tentpole superhero movies. He's also an amazing director when it comes to ensemble casting. His first major film, The Usual Suspects, as well as the first two X-Men films show off this talent, and this movie is no exception. Remember, this movie is a blending of two distinct casts; the cast of the first three X-Men films and the cast of the reboot X-Men: First Class. There's also at least 5 new mutants introduced as well as additional supporting cast members. How on earth was Singer going to be able to handle all these old and new and not-so-familiar faces?

By placing the focus on the characters. That's how.

Don't get me wrong, the movie has plenty of mind-blowing action set pieces. Most of them, though, serve as a means to further the character development and the story, not take away from it. This, coupled with making sure nearly every character has their moment to shine, leaves you identifying with the characters and their plight in a much more personal manner.

In fact, the real fight in the third act for this movie is not against a monster or another mutant or the Sentinels or anything like that. The fight ends up being for one person's soul. I know, I know, that sounds totally cheesy, but it's also totally true. The entire point and purpose of the main plotline of the movie is the redemption of a single character.

Cool, huh?

Nearly every actor turns in a great performance in this one. In particular, James McAvoy is amazing as a drug-addled, guilt-ridden Charles Xavier. Sure, you know he's going to pull himself together and help save the day, but his portrayal of that journey reminds me of why he's one of the most under-rated actors working in Hollywood today.

Hugh Jackman also gets a nod here, but more for what he didn't do rather than for what he did. It's safe to say that, in the first three X-Men films, Wolverine stole the show. In fact, those movies could've been called "Wolverine and his Amazing Friends" rather than "X-Men" since most of the action and plot revolved around him. Essentially, it's the role that made Jackman a household name. The character was so popular that he spawned two solo efforts, which exactly none of the other characters appearing in the same franchise got. At first, it looked like the same thing was going to happen here when it was decided that Wolverine would be the one to go back in time. However, Jackman takes a step back from the intensity and grittiness that made the role famous and plays a much calmer, cooler, mentor style character. It actually works very well and gives the other characters a chance to shine. In fact, at the penultimate moment of the third act when all is decided, he's nowhere to be found. 

Then there's Quicksilver. Evan Peters steals every scene he's in. The character isn't overused, but isn't under utilized either. It's kind of a one-note character, which clearly the writers and directors realized, so they kept him to a few scenes and that was it. And absolutely nailed it. The speed effect associated is done superbly as well and made for some of the funniest moments in a movie that was a little lacking in the levity department.

I'd be remiss if I didn't also mention all the cool cameos. For fans of the previous films, I'm not going to name names, but I think you'll be pleasantly surprised by who all manages to turn up, even briefly. I know I was.

Not all is well in the land of mutants, though. This movie, due to the time-travel nature of it, serves as something of soft reboot moving forward in the franchise. Because the previous movies had different directors and writers and maybe weren't really meant to co-exist in the same movie universe, there were some serious continuity issues throughout. While this film saw fit to address some of those, a lot of them are still lingering. I can't go into a lot of detail without giving away some major spoilers. I will say that the next movie in the franchise, called X-Men: Apocolypse, is going to have some serious explaining to do. Just like Lucy.

Oh, and this is more of a general gripe than specifically aimed at this movie, but can we all just agree that having a movie shot or converted into 3D does almost nothing to enhance the viewing experience? It was a lovely experiment, but I'd like it to go away now, please. This film had some very dimly lit moments, especially at the beginning of the film. This dim lighting becomes even dimmer when putting on the shaded 3D glasses. Unfortunately, there was no way for me to see this movie without seeing it in 3D unless I wanted to see it in a shoebox. And I didn't want to see it in a shoebox. I'm fine if the format sticks around for those that seem to enjoy it, but please make sure there's a non-3D alternative for those of us who like to be able to tell what the hell is going on when a scene in a movie is shot at night.

4 out of 5 stars
X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
Reviewed by The Bitter Critic on Jun 12 2014
Rating: 4

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