23 May 2014

Review: X-Men Days of Future Past


Bryan Singer's homecoming to the franchise he built is a welcome on. The X-Men series was stagnant after his departure to take over Superman Returns and it wasn't until he and Matthew Vaughn made X-Men: First Class that Marvel's famous mutants got their swagger back. James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence added a spark to the origins of Professor Xavier, Magneto and Raven/Mystique, so it made perfect sense to use that bright spot now to combine casts for one of the best graphic novels that featured Xavier and his team.



Sentinels were created to protect humans from mutant threats by Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) in 1973. 50 years later those same Sentinels are hunting down humans who aid mutants as well. Most mutants are either imprisoned or dead, but Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and a small band of the old X-Men still fighting for another day. Along with Magneto (Ian McKellen), Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and Storm (Halle Berry), Xavier seeks any way to defeat the Sentinel threat.

Dark isn't just a buzzword for this installation of the X-Men franchise. Singer uses Holocaust imagery to frightening effect in creating the future Logan, Xavier and Magneto face. Trask's handiwork is able to adapt to and counteract all mutant abilities, killing mutants like Colossus and Blink in brutal fashion again and again. It's a little jarring at first to see heroes killed in a comic book film, but Singer isn't afraid to go to Days of Future Past's more uncomfortable roots. Especially when it is revealed Sentinels gained those powers from the torture and murder of mutants.

All is not lost yet, fortunately, Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) has created a loophole by sending a person's consciousness into the past to send him/her a warning, but there are limits to her power. She can only send someone back a few weeks before it causes irreparable brain damage. Cue awkward silence before everyone remembers Logan's healing abilities. His journey back will not be easy, Xavier warns him. Rewriting the future will involve getting young Charles, Erik and Raven (James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence) on the same page and in 1973 the three could not be further apart.

Charles lies in the ruins of what used to be Xavier’s School For Gifted Youngsters a shell of his former self, trading in his gifts for the use of his legs. After uncovering the Sentinel program, Raven/Mystique spans the globe seeking to assassinate Trask for his crimes against mutant kind, and Magneto spends his days in a prison underneath the Pentagon. This wouldn't be an easy task even for a saint, but the outcome is doubly uncertain given patience isn't a strong suit for the man with bone claws and a quick temper.

At first glance it's obvious the biggest flaw of Days of Future Past will be the overly stuffed roster of characters it's working with. Singer balances the two timelines well giving McAvoy/Fassbender/Lawrence/Jackman equal due with Stewart/McKellen/Page. Some characters are around only for a one-off display of their powers and it works. Quicksilver's (Evan Peters) inclusion seemed like an odd choice after some of the costume designs leaked, but he easily has one of the coolest sequences in the film.

Previous X-sequels didn't really allow for the type of pathos that James McAvoy can tap into as a younger, disillusioned Xavier who has watched countless friends/peers/students die or lose their way. Action extravaganzas typically ditch character development for sequences depicting city-wide destruction, but McAvoy is given a chance to shine alongside Jackman's typically charming Wolverine.

In a genre known for gritty realism and dark sequels, Singer emphasizes the hope that has made the X-Men franchise so unique. Despite the ignorance, hate and anger, there will always be hope for a brighter day. And if Bryan Singer hangs around, the prospects for future X-Men features looks bright indeed.