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X-Men: Days of Future Past
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Not Quite First Class"
3 stars

While watching "X-Men: Days of Future Past," the latest installment of the long-running franchise on the equally resilient Marvel Comics superhero series, I found myself having more or less the same reaction to it that I did a few weeks earlier to the competing comic book adaptation "Captain America: The Winter Soldier." On the one hand, it is a film that has clearly been made with an undeniable sense of skill and ambition (all the more surprising since it is the seventh such film to arrive since 2000), contains a number of good performances and deftly mixes elaborate action sequences with moments of genuine wit and relatively complex storytelling--that alone puts it head and shoulders above the insipid and insultingly lazy likes of "The Amazing Spider-Man 2."

On the other hand, however, no matter how well-crafted and ambitious it may be, it is still just another superhero epic when all is said and done and I must confess an undeniable sense of weariness regarding such things at this point. Granted, I am not inherently opposed to such things but unless they somehow manage to transcend the boundaries of the genre, as was the case with the original "Superman," the Ang Lee "Hulk" and the Christopher Nolan Batman films, I now find it almost impossible to work up much enthusiasm for such things at this point.

This is especially true in the case of the X-Men because this is a series that I have never quite warmed up to over the years. Having never read the comic books back in the day, I have almost always found myself behind the 8-ball to a certain extent with their film adventures--by the time I am finally up to speed on the ever-changing cast of characters and their elaborate powers, the stories are almost over aside from the usual carnage and chaos of the final reels. Adding further to my confusion is the fact that the screen mythology is now so sprawling--this is a series that has already seen not only sequels but prequels and spinoffs as well--that I often feel as if I need an interpreter to guide me through the increasingly labyrinthine storylines.

To date, the only film in the series that I have really enjoyed was "X-Men: First Class" and I suspect that a good part of the reason for that is that by turning the clock back to the early days of the characters to show how they came together (and apart, in certain cases), it was maybe the first time that I felt as though I were on the same page with the people on the screen and sitting in the audience with me. Of course, my fondness might have also had something to do with the inspired casting of Jennifer Lawrence as the increasingly dangerous shape-shifter Mystique, a move that meant that any character on screen at any given time could morph into her at a moment's notice--a notion that other films, regardless of genre, should consider employing themselves in the near-future. (Imagine how much more interesting "Mom's Night Out" might have seemed if there was the possibility of J-Law suddenly appearing from out of the strident woodwork?)

But I drift. Anyway, with "Days of Future Past," director Bryan Singer (returning to the franchise for the first time since "X2") and screenwriter Simon Kinberg have attempted to top all the previous installments with a storyline that encompasses the entire history of the characters by bringing together both their past and present incarnations to join forces to defeat a common enemy that threatens to destroy them for good in the not-too-distant future. For devotees of the characters, the notion of double the usual array of X-Men (including some in both their younger and older versions) may seem like superhero nirvana of the highest order. To dopes like me who have enough trouble keeping things straight without throwing the rending of the time-space continuum into the mix, it means that there will be long stretches of time in which it is virtually impossible to fully grasp what is going on and that can get frustrating after a while, especially when it seems that others in the audience are in on what is happening and having more fun with it as a result.

Near as I can tell, and my grasp of the narrative may be a tad shaky even though it has only been a couple of days since seeing it, "Days of Future Past" begins in a not-too-distant and largely apocalyptic future in which a plan to eradicate mutants through the use of Sentinels, giant flying robots designed to track down and eliminate them, slightly backfired when the kill list is expanded to include any humans that dare to help them. Eventually, some of the best-known surviving mutants from the first series of films, including Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), his arch-nemesis Magneto (Ian McKellan), Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Storm (Halle Berry) and Kitty Pride (Ellen Page), reunite to launch a last-ditch plan to stop the Sentinels once and for all.

It seems that they were developed in 1973 for the U.S. government under the auspices of the evil Dr. Trask (Peter Dinklage) and became even more powerful when Mystique was captured during an attempt to assassinate the doctor, an act that causes the acceleration of the then-dormant Sentinel program, and her DNA was used to refine the machines even further. Using Kitty's powers, the idea is to send Wolverine back to 1973, find the younger versions of Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and use them to prevent Mystique from carrying out the hit, thereby preventing the Sentinels from ever being launched in the first place and stopping the war before it even starts.

Unfortunately for Wolverine, hurtling back in time nearly a half-century proves to be the easiest of the tasks at hand. Xavier, having lost his legs, his school and former best friend Magneto following the events in "First Class," is now a self-pitying drunk who has stripped himself of his own powers in exchange for the ability to walk. Magneto, on the other hand, is imprisoned in a cell far beneath the Pentagon as the result of his apparent involvement in one of the most infamous crimes of the 20th century. Eventually, Wolverine gets through to Xavier and busts Magneto out of prison, with the help of super-fast teen punk Quicksilver (Evan Peters) and they are off to Paris to stop Mystique and save the day. Without giving away anything further, things don't go according to plan and their efforts to save their future selves may wind up dooming them instead.

Like I said before, if you have a strong working knowledge of the X-Men and their various powers and intertwining relationships, "Days of Future Past" may be a perfectly lucid and exciting generational mash-up that plays like a dream come true and that is the assumption that Singer and Kinberg have taken with their approach--they plunge right into the action without hesitation on the assumption that they are playing largely to those who have already been converted to the cause. For those who aren't, the plunge is more like a deluge and the first 20 minutes or so will come across as a mass of confused action in which it is difficult to impossible to figure what is going on or even who we are watching in the case of several second-tier mutants who turn up with nary an introduction or explanation.

Once the film shifts its focus to 1973 and the "First Class" crew, the film settles down and finally begins to work. Part of this is due to the fact that the characters and actors in this iteration are frankly more interesting--McAvoy and Fassbender are inspired casting as the two arch-rivals whose confrontations inspire some of the most dramatic moments, Lawrence pretty much steals the show every time she shows up to throw things up for grabs and there are smart, showy turns from Dinklage as Trask and Peters as Quicksilver. Part of it is because the storyline in this stretch is clear and concise while having a lot of fun with the period setting, including the unexpected deployment of Richard Nixon (Mark Camacho) as a character. In addition, the action set-pieces are fairly spectacular, especially the Pentagon jailbreak, with its nifty use of slo-mo imagery and the chaos that unfolds just as the Paris peace accords ending the Vietnam war are about to be signed.

Towards the end, however, the film tries to officially unite the two era with a final battle that somehow spreads out across the two different timelines and the confusion kicks in once again. It is as elaborately staged as can be and concludes in a manner that fans of the series will most likely appreciate but when all was said and done, I couldn't help but feel somewhat underwhelmed. After all that huffing and puffing, it just seemed as if the entire story was nothing more than an excuse to eliminate dangling loose ends from the previous films, bring previously departed characters back into the fold and, presumably of the greatest importance, set the stage for another sequel that will presumably require me to learn all this stuff all over again. (Yes, there is a post-credit sequence that presumably leads into the next film and no, I don't have the faintest idea of what it is supposed to mean, though most of the people at the screening I attended seemed thrilled with it.)

"X-Men: Days of Future Past" has its share of moments, is easily the best work that the chronically overrated Bryan Singer has done in a long time and is, to these eyes at least, better than any other film in the series with the exceptions of "First Class" and last year's spin-off "The Wolverine." Many of you out there are no doubt clamoring to go see it and I am pretty sure that it will live up to your expectations. I only wish that it had made a little more of an effort to let those who haven't committed every detail of the saga's history to memory join in the mutant reindeer games. Hopefully when the next one comes around, the filmmakers can hammer out a story that will satisfy fanboys and outsiders in equal measure--if that is not possible, I can only hope that they make up for it by sticking Jennifer Lawrence in every single scene. See, I'm easy.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=23886&reviewer=389
originally posted: 05/22/14 16:09:56
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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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