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X-Men: Days of Future Past
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by Brett Gallman

"An X-ceptional sequel."
4 stars

Bryan Singer's decade-ago stint on the X-Men feels more like a lifetime ago, the films now dusty relics of a landscape that had been otherwise poisonous to comic-book adaptations. These days, their wrinkles are quite evident as they've been lapped by superior adaptations (including their own reboot, "X-Men First Class"); still, it's difficult to completely dismiss these clunky vestiges, if only because Singer proved these films could mean something, as he didn't ignore the property's rich thematic undercurrents, sometimes to a fault--when revisiting those films now, it feels like Singer valued portent over the colorful, swinging uncanniness of the X-Men. With "Days of Future Past," Singer is effectively outrunning his own shadow to an extent, and he does so in spirited fashion by finally embracing the pulpy verve of the original comics.

But, man, do those early films cast a long shadow over the proceedings: we open about ten years in the future, which has become an apocalyptic hellscape that feels like the logical, horrifying extension of Singer's turn-of-the-decade, doom-and-gloom aesthetic: cities have crumbled, sunlight is seemingly non-existent, and mass graves teem with dead bodies, casualties of the long-gestating war between humans and mutants. Patrick Stewart's Professor X gives a solemn voice-over. Some mutants vaguely resembling their comic-book counterparts (Blink! Warpath! Sunspot! Bishop!) battle advanced Sentinels. And the smell of pleather (oh god, the pleather--were you still expecting yellow spandex?) hangs in the air.

Mercifully, our time here is short, and Singer at least taps into the shock promised by the original issues that inspired the film: "in his movie, everybody dies!" seems to be the guiding force behind the opening sequence, which dispatches faces both old and new before revealing Kitty Pryde's (Ellen Page) newfound ability to send someone's consciousness back into their younger body, a trick the X-Men have been employing for some time to survive. Apparently, Xavier and Magneto (Ian McKellen) have finally had enough of this shit and decide to send someone all the way back to 1973 to prevent the pivotal moment that resulted in this bleak future: Mystique's (Jennifer Lawrence) assassination of Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), the war-machine maven who designed the mutant-hunting sentinels.

Predictably, Logan (Hugh Jackman) is the only man for the job since his mind is the only one that can recover itself from such trauma (nevermind that Singer's first film revolved around the exact opposite case, as Wolverine was a nigh-amnesiac there), so he's shipped back fifty decades into the past, at which point "Days of Future Past" springs to life as a surprisingly spry translation of the original story, a pulpy little yarn that only spanned two issues (if it were done today, I'm guessing it'd be a year-long event).

In a refreshing turn of events, Singer opts to key in on the meat-and-potatoes intrigue of the story, so his "Days of Future Past" is a propulsive blast that hurdles forward with a purpose during its 130 minutes. Before Wolverine can properly acquit himself to his new digs, he has to rough up a trio of heavies and steal their Caddy (in the process, the film also blows a golden opportunity for Logan to finally insist that he's the best he is at what he does).

Not to get too hung up on just recapping the plot here (there's a goddamn lot of it, to be honest), but the film endures a getting-the-band-back-together routine that's actually anything but routine. The script gallivants across the world in order to catch up with everyone, spanning from Mystique's adventures in Vietnam and Paris to Magneto's (Michael Fassbender) incarceration ten stories below the Pentagon for killing JFK. Meanwhile, the younger Xavier (James McAvoy) has become a sad-sack junkie addicted to Hank McCoy's (Nicolas Hoult) mutant-suppressing serum (which somehow also allows him to walk again).

With such a disparate, scattered cast of characters and plotlines (hell, the film even occasionally returns to the 2023 frame story), it'd be easy for Singer to get lost in his own tangled web, but he weaves the threads together with a deft ease. It helps that he's inherited much of the stellar "First Class" cast, a group that outshines the old guard (though Singer should be credited with gathering them as producer on the prequel, I suppose). While Wolverine is again a headliner, he's hardly the focus here, as Singer wisely moves him into the background as more of a plot device, which has always been the character's strong suit. Jackman has always been game as the group's hard-ass shit-talker, but he also becomes the wizened soul of "Days of Future Past," shades of the weary Ronin that showed up in last year's "The Wolverine."

But again, despite Logan's somewhat tortured soul and Xavier's initial refusal of the call, "Days of Future Past" is far from an overly portentous affair, and it's particularly far-removed from the film promised by its overly weepy teaser trailer ("in this movie, everybody cries!"). Singer and company have crafted a top-notch four-color blockbuster filled with a string of exciting sequences from top to bottom, with each serving to seamlessly advance the story rather than act as mindless spectacle.

An early jailbreak sequence, which finds the gang getting a lift from a young Quicksilver (Evan Peters) is a show-stopping delight that supplants Nightcrawler's White House raid in "X2" as the best action set-piece of Singer's career. While Quicksilver suffers from Singer's tendency to just cut-and-paste powers onto characters that otherwise barely resemble their comic counterparts, he's cool as hell and injects the film with the sort of adolescent swagger expected from X-Men (something "First Class" absolutely nailed better than any of its predecessors).

Even when the film goes bigger, it's earned it. When Magneto lifts RFK Stadium from its foundation and repurposes it as a giant fence for the White House, the film has worked up to that moment, not only because it hasn't exhausted its audience with unrelenting set-pieces, but also because the weight of this pivotal moment is felt through the characters. If there's one thing Singer ever completely go right with X-Men, it's the Magneto-Xavier relationship, and, after fourteen years and five films, it's still the driving force of this franchise--and rightfully so.

McAvoy and Fassbender have ably stepped in and shouldered the load from their predecessors, with Fassbender particularly capturing the tortured, mad, tortured genius of Erik Leshnner, a man who isn't so much a villain as he is a misguided freedom fighter. The dynamic between him and Xavier has always been more complicated than that of other comic book foes, and "Days of Future Past" further refuses to yield to simplicity--really, these two are two flawed idealists who can't quit each other, and this decades-spanning tale reflects the enormity of their trials and tribulations through the years.

As someone who was initially hesitant about this inter-franchise crossover and who preferred "First Class" as a complete reboot, I must confess to being swayed by "Days of Future Past." Rather than allow the jauntiness of Vaughn's universe to be sagged down by his own, Singer wisely yields to the former--thankfully, the film mostly acts as a sequel to "First Class" and allows the likes of Lawrence, Hoult, and Dinklage to leave an impression instead of serving as background noise to what could have been a gimmicky family (or class) reunion. Meanwhile, Singer is content to allow his own contributions to act as the best sort of window-dressing, as the presence of so many familiar faces adds the right amount of additional gravitas to the proceedings.

After all of these years, Singer hasn't forgotten that these films can still mean something, and his hand has never been lighter with handling the franchise's themes. He's eschewed his heavy-handed preoccupation with allegorical implications, choosing instead to tap into Xavier's optimism and hope for a better tomorrow; as the film rolls on, you can almost feel it shear itself of the earlier franchise's baggage, an appropriate aesthetic turn considering the themes at play. One of the film's codas is a wistful reminder of those old days, but it's somehow lighter and breezier and captures the familial heart of the X-Men in a way Singer never quite did a decade ago.

Because of that, "Days of Future Past" is an unexpected valedictory entry that ties off the Singer-verse in a nice bow--I can't imagine there being any reason to ever revisit it after this. Better to leave the future of the franchise in the hands of the younger crew, which is already expected to report for duty in a couple of years ("Future Past" of course ends with a tease of their next adventure). This film may feature the best of both worlds, but only one's still necessary at this point. Like "First Class" before it, "Days of Future Past" gives us reason to hope for this franchise again, so long as it's able to keep looking ahead rather than behind.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=23886&reviewer=429
originally posted: 05/25/14 20:13:08
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User Comments

10/03/20 DavidV Better than First Class 4 stars
2/13/17 morris campbell a good x men movie even though im not a big fan 4 stars
12/08/14 Lord of all The x men series is dead. 1 stars
9/02/14 Jeff Best X-Men movie yet 5 stars
8/09/14 The rock terrible overlong future scenes sucked 1 stars
6/09/14 Quada These X men movies are beyond retarded 1 stars
6/02/14 Lee Finally a good x-men movie 5 stars
6/01/14 KingNeutron Great movie, but I found the Sentinel powers to be too unbelievable. 4 stars
5/30/14 mr.mike Best of the X-Men films, 4+ stars. 4 stars
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  23-May-2014 (PG-13)
  DVD: 14-Oct-2014


  DVD: 14-Oct-2014

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