Saturday, 31 May 2014

Movie Review: X-Men: Days of Future Past

It’d be very easy for me to compare the comic book two parter, originally published in Uncanny X-Men 141/142 (Volume one, of course). After all, it’s one of my favourite stories. But, the movie stands on its own and is more of a sequel to First Class than the previous X-Men movies.
That said, as this is a feature review, I will just mention the cool bits of the original story. What draws you immediately to the comic books are the covers. Uncanny X-Men has had some of the best covers and also some of the worst; the X-Babies comes to mind. The Days of Future Past delivered on the tag lines. Issue 141 is my all time favourite X-Men cover, with an older looking Kitty Pryde, and Wolverine (wearing a fur lined flight jacket) standing in front of a wanted poster, illuminated by a search light, that includes mutant and “normal” superheroes pictures, with either “Apprehended” on the face, or “Slain”. The second issue, 151, shows Wolverine being blasted by a Sentinel energy beam, with a tagline that says; “This Issue everybody dies!” Grim stuff.

The opening images of hundreds of bodies being discarded into pits, showing the extent of a Genocidal policy is another Singer representation of a World War 2 atrocity that has even more resonance now, with extreme Right-wing views getting more support. With the ever increasing developments in A.I. and the potential for it to run amok, this story is still timely. Imagine 20 foot robots hunting down immigrants. It’s not difficult to do. In America alone they could be used along the Mexican border.

The threat of the Sentinels, and the damage that they’ve caused, is conveyed very quickly in the opening act. Future X-Men, including Blink and Bishop are protecting Professor X, and Magneto (the old timers, basically) and working out ways to outwit the Sentinels. But, their days are numbered. It’s clear that the Sentinels are learning and adapting too damn quickly. Converting their current strategy, of sending people back in time to work out how to avoid the robots, it’s decided to use Wolverine for a much longer trip in order to change their future. Dodgy time travel theory aside, it makes sense for Wolverine to travel back in time, instead of another character due to his healing factor. Logan is also the most popular and interesting character for this to happen to. What follows are opportunities for humour, peppered along the way, such as his “first” meeting with Hank McCoy.

Peter Dinklage is one of my favourite character actors alive today. I first noticed his skill, as an actor in Nip/Tuck. Then, like everyone else, I enjoyed his performance as Tyrion Lannister, in Game of Thrones. In this he plays Bolivar Trask, the creator of the Sentinel program and (unknowingly) the cause of such a bleak future. Like William Stryker, Trask thinks he’s saving humanity but he goes about it in such a misguided amoral way; carving up mutants on lab tables is not a benevolent way of addressing the matter. Nor is creating an army of killer robots. So, Mystique takes it upon herself to stop him. Logan is out to stop her. What follows is an entertaining and slightly thought provoking movie. I say “slightly” because the audience is sophisticated enough, now, for it. Back in 1981, the comic book story caused a fan boy stir.

Later in the movie, the future X-Men are dispatched in quite grisly ways. Whilst there’s no blood, that I could see, the brutal efficiency in the way the super-sentinels stab, spike, tear and decapitate is a little disturbing if you’ve seen the characters in the three movies.

Highlights for me included the Quicksilver sequence, which was just as innovative as the Nightcrawler scene was in X2 , where he invaded the White House. I liked the comedic moments with Logan but was disappointed at a limited battle with Sentinels. His claws did not get a work out. The movie was more a sequel to First Class than I initially suspected. Both McAvoy and Fassbender put in strong performances; McAvoy spitting out “I don’t want your future!” and Fassbender with his pained cry about how he didn’t do something that I’m not going to spoil. Logan takes a bit of a back seat. Just as he’s about to get all feral, he’s taken out of the picture. It reminded me of the Fox animated series, from the early 90s. Every time, Wolverine was about to get violent, they’d take him out of the story with a laser blast or something.

I’ve seen comments about continuity, but there’s always been a problem with that. The obvious example being X-Men Origins, with the Director refusing to acknowledge stylistic references from X-1 and 2 despite the movie being a prequel. Continuity goes wrong in comic book form, too, so my advice is to ignore that aspect of Days of Future Past and enjoy it for what it is; an attempt to right some previous wrongs (in Last Stand, that is).

Days of Future Past was always a cautionary tale, with an explicit message about what can happen if the wrong decision is made. The film doesn’t shy away from this but to its credit it does exactly what comic books do. For those who want an action film, although there’s a wait for a big battle, there are battles beforehand, you get it. If you want something deeper than a blockbusting action flick then you can look deeper and find nuances of character that show that many of the main characters are going through some exploration of what it means to be who they are. The dilemma facing people is that of might over mental ability, at times.

Is this the best X-Men movie yet? I’m undecided as I love X2. Only repeated viewings of a, hopefully extended, Blu-ray release will tell that.

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