Thursday, June 12, 2014

MOVIE REVIEW: X-Men: Days of Future Past

The summer blockbuster movie season began with The Amazing Spider-Man 2  on May 2 and  Godzilla on May 16  (neither of which I went to see) and continued with X-Men: Days of Future Past which I went to see on opening day. I spent a fair portion of my formative early teen years reading the X-Men and New Mutants comics and I have enjoyed the X-Men films, especially the ones directed by Bryan Singer which play up the metaphorical analogy between having mutant powers and being gay. (In both cases, the person often tries to keep information about their status secret and often has to "come out" and reveal it, and society stigmatizes the status of being gay and being a mutant.)

Anyway, the latest X-Men movie is Days of Future Past and follows events depicted in 2011's X-Men: First Class. The movie starts in our near-future ad life sucks for the mutants because giant, adaptable robots called Sentinels are successfully hunting down and killing all mutants on Earth, making life pretty miserable for everyone on the planet as life as we know it is collateral damage to the ongoing human-mutant war.

Our heroes (from the earlier X-Men movies that starred Patrick Stewart as Professor Charles Xavier, Ian McKellen as Magneto, Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, Halle Berry as Storm, James Marsden as Cyclops, Anna Paquin as Rogue, etc) realize that the only way they can win this battle is to go back in time and prevent the current war from starting. This means that their earlier selves (who were introduced in  X-Men: First Class as James McAvoy as Xavier, Michael Fassbender as Magneto/Erik Lensherr, Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique/Raven and Nicolas Hoult as Beast) are going to have to be convinced to stop fighting each other and save the day.

Time travel stories are often tricky and non-sensical but Singer manages the action deftly, communicating the main details of Simon Kinberg's screenplay effectively to the audience, reveling in the early 1970s setting to depict the funky fashion and other foibles of the era.

It turns out that only Wolverine has the healing ability to survive a trip back in time (technically only his consciousness goes back in time facilitated by the mutant powers of Ellen Page appearing in her first summer blockbuster as a now openly lesbian actress). So he has to convince McAvoy's Charles and Fassbender's Erik to work together to stop Lawrence's Raven from killing Peter Dinklage's Dr. Bolivar Trask and thus precipitating Trask's evil invention of the Sentinel into the future-killing juggernaut it becomes, especially since Mystique's own DNA is a key component of the Sentinel (since in the original time line she gets caught after killing Trask).  Charles is currently addicted to the drug which allows him to walk but eliminates his psionic powers and Erik is in a metal-free prison deep in the heart of the Pentagon, accused of manipulating the bullet that killed President John F. Kennedy. Yes, the plot is complicated, but it is comprehensible.

The film really centers around the performance of 2013 Best Actress Oscar winner Lawrence with Oscar nominees McAvoy, Fassbender and Jackman having the next most prominent roles. Lawrence is more than up to the task of carrying a huge, visual effects extravaganza on her shoulders (as she has shown repeatedly with the Hunger Games movies) and acquits herself well here also. Dinklage and Hoult are both excellent, with Hoult having the added benefit of being very attractive. There's a small but memorable appearance by Evan Peters as Quicksilver during the action sequence to free Magneto.

The film raises some thought-provoking questions such as "If you could go back in time and stop a bad person from doing a bad thing, should you?" and "What would life be like if we had incontrovertible evidence that people with mutant powers existed"?

Overall, X-Men: Days of Future Past is an intellectually stimulating and well-made movie, smarter than the average summer blockbuster, but plenty entertaining.

Title: X-Men: Days of Future Past.
Director: Bryan Singer.
Running Time: 2 hours, 11 minutes.
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence.
Release Date: May 23, 2014.
Viewing Date: May 23, 2014.

Writing: B.
Acting: A-.
Visuals: A.
Impact: B+.

Overall Grade: B+/A- (3.5/4.0).

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