By MrMazz 3 Comments
14 years ago Brian Singer directed the first X-Men film, kicking off a new age of comic book cinema. Now 7 films later, the franchise about the slightly altered genes that divide humanity has been indelibly linked to how modern comic book franchises function. The first film is a bit of a surprise and proof of concept. Its sequel is a classic and appeared to signal the fact that entry number two would likely be the highpoint for franchises going forward. The third entry utterly crashed and burned (for myriad of reasons) and seemed to kill it, signaling the hardships third entrees face the majority of the time. It had a spin off film that really seemed to kill it. There was the reboot that studio 20th Century Fox wouldn’t really call a reboot, stretching the ideas of film cannon to logical breaking points. Than The Avengers came out and there was a new hill for the X-Men franchise to conquer: the team up movie.
Over a decade since the last ‘X’ film Singer directed, the original director returns with the seventh entry in the franchise, Days of Future Past. Based on one of the most popular storylines ever “Days of Future Past” from Uncanny X-Men #141-142, its feature film adaptation uses the time traveling conceit to try and reconcile the franchises contradictory continuity and erase the two major black marks on its record. Fox clearly sees this has a pivot point towards a bright new chapter in the franchise. It’s that last part that easily could make one cynical about the films prospects towards critical quality. Days of Future Past is the type of film I would normally dislike immensely. It is highly plot driven with the emotional arc of the film, like it’s lead, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) flung miles away at the flick of wrist in the name of grandstanding blockbuster DRAMA. Yet on the strength of the performances from the First Class crew largely and the time travel conceit inescapably linking it as a part of a long running franchise with a history, Days of Future Past manages enough emotionally earned moments and block buster fun to be a highly enjoyable film. For viewers who haven’t seen the first two films, The Wolverine, or First Class it’s hard to say if they’ll even be able to pick up these emotional threads. Days of Future Past quality may make me to reconsider my attitudes to some of the more serialized (and commercially minded) ways of structure these features have.
Boasting a cast that is easily describe as “everyone in an ‘X’ film plus some new mutants”, the huge cast (and demanding stars that come with it) could have crushed the film, whose screenplay is written by X3 scribe Simon Kindberg. Logically the cast is largely thrown to the side in the form of fantastical scenery or cameos. Fans of the original trilogy will be left wanting, Ian McKellen is largely silent, Halle Berry says perhaps 20 words the entire film. The original trilogy members are there more as a frame device and one last hurrah in the black leather.
Simon Kinberg, who shares story credit with First Class writers Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman, screenplay is a spiritually faithful adaptation of the Claremont and Byrne arc. The present(?) X-Men along with the rest of the mutant race find themselves on the edge of extinction and forced into one last gambit involving a newly developed ability by Kitty Pryde. She has the ability to project consciousness back in time and thus change the future. Don’t waste any sort of brain power trying to figure out how this mcguffin works, it is a nice homage to the source. Wolverine elects to have his consciousness sent back over 50 years to 1973 in order to stop Mystique from assassinating a high ranking official that starts the domino effect that leads them to their dystopian present.
Yes, this is could be classified as yet another Wolverine and The X-Men film. But in sending Wolverine back, Days leverages the franchises original breakout star as the emotional keystone for original trilogy viewers and the film (at first). Even though he is literally flung miles away at the flick of the wrist later, Days of Future Past sending Wolverine on a mission of rehabilitating a young Professor X(James McAvoy) has a surprising amount of earned emotional resonance. This foundation mixed with some given time travel humor and chemistry between McAvoy, Fassbender, and Hoult make for an enjoyable team up of generations.
First Class’ exploration of the relationship between Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr was touching and more than carried by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender. Getting to see two separate pairs of X and Magneto both bounce off of each other at different times in their lives made for an interesting mirror in which to view the franchises foundational relationship.
Inevitably with a cast this large, characters are left underexplored and ask viewers to bring in emotional weight to little sustained shots of eye contact. Mystique, played by the franchises other clear breakout star Jennifer Lawrence, is one such character. Xavier and Magneto talk to her about how she has changed, if she is Xavier’s “Raven” or Mystique now. But other than moments of plot and history ordained action, viewers are never given the sense of history or conflict within this key player in Days of Future Past. The same goes for Sentinel creator Bolivar Trask ably played by Peter Dinklage. Dinklage gives the military scientist a passion and fire but he fails to stand out as true villain real or imagined. The failure in casting Trask as a villain with social conviction beyond some talk of uniting humanity and commercial gain is yet another film in this franchise where for all the talk of humanities discontent with mutants, fails to really show them as a threat. Where are the Purifiers?
As they have aged, the Singer films clearly show themselves to be of a time and place where bright and colorful uniforms were thought to camp and unbelievable. Honestly they still are, but the cold sci-fi by way of Spielberg aesthetic Singer brings to his ‘X’ films is the nail that locks the first 2 films in temporal place. Singer as a director is just very cold; he’s the cold cousin of Ron Howard filmicly. First Class director brought some real fun to that film, casting it as a 60’s Bond thriller. Singer takes some of that fun found in First Class and runs with it during the 1970 segements.
With a cast this large and power set this varied, Days of Future Past is perhaps the best translation of mutant powers from page to screen. Singer has found a crew that can make some absolutely stunning set pieces. The opener that explains the conceit lives up to the headline from #142 “Everyone Dies”. New mutants like Blink(Fan Bingbing) with her portal ability create a great sense of scale for the small areas of combat. Then there is the inclusion of Evan Peters as Pietro Maximoff aka Quicksilver. Issues you may have with his outfit, it does look really dumb, they cannot be had with his involvement in breaking Magneto out of the Pentagon (long story).That sense of fun Vaughn had is mixed with Singer’s cold methodical way of showing action, making for a hilarious example of the power of inertia.
Days of Future Past is one part of a continuing franchise of films, it isn’t the end. Not when Bryan Singer has announced X-Men: Apocalypse for 2016 (stay for requisite post-credit stinger). If this isn’t the end, emotionally it at least feels like the end of a chapter. The fond farewell to the original trilogy cast who can now regale Wolverine with whatever happened in the 1980’s.