Monday, May 25, 2015

Film Review: X-Men: Days of Future Past

"X-Men: Days of Future Past"  *** (out of ****)

"X-Men: Days of Future Past" (2014) is the X-Men movie I had hoped the first "X-Men" (2000) movie would have been.

I have been terribly slow coming around to comic book movies. I completely disregarded them ever since the movie studios started releasing them on a daily basis, to the public's delight, with the release of the first "X-Men" movie. The success of that movie brought with it an avalanche of superhero themed movies including, "Spider-Man" (2002), which spawned several sequels and eventually a re-boot series of movies, "Hulk" (2003), which was also re-booted, "Iron Man" (2008) and two sequels, so far, "Captain America" (2011), Christopher Nolan's "Dark Knight Trilogy" and two "Avenger" movies.

I initially disliked nearly all of them, but, for the past few years I have tried to make amends and re-watch some of these movies a second time and give others a first viewing. There are some I don't like such as "X-Men", "Iron Man 2" (2010) and three and "Daredevil" (2003) but I have stumbled upon some I have liked such as "The Dark Knight Rises" (2012), which I placed on my top ten list of 2012, and most recently "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" (2014). And now to that list we may add "X-Men: Days of Future Past".

My problem with "X-Men" was I felt there were too many mutants which weren't given enough screen time to explain their origins. As someone who doesn't read comic books and therefore I am not familiar with these characters, the movie seemed to glance over too much and not explain its characters and the idea behind X-Men. My suggestion in that review was to limit the mutant characters, explain their background stories, and end the movie with the suggestion the X-Men, as a group,has been started. "X-Men: Days of Future Past" nearly does just that and it truly helped me, as a viewer, understand the X-Men and this Marvel Universe being created. For me "X-Men Days of Future Past" serves as a sequel to "X-Men", though I understand that was not the intention. This movie was meant to be a sequel to two other movies in the X-Men series, which I have not seen. But, having seen both movies recently helped me understand characters much better.

In "X-Men: Days of Future Past" we learn the future is a bleak place for mutants. They are being killed off by Sentinels, robots created to recognize a mutant's power and make themselves immune to it, rendering the mutant helpless and incapable of defending itself.

The Sentinels were created by Dr. Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), who initially had difficulty convincing congress that the next great threat facing not only America but the world after the Vietnam War, would be mutants. Mutants, congress believe, are peaceful. If mutants do exist, they have not harmed humans so far. They mainly live in the shadows. They keep to themselves, not wanting to be exposed and shun from society. As a result, Dr. Trask's program is not given funding. But, when a mutant called Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) kills Dr. Trask, the government now fears mutants and sees them not only as harmful but a possible government threat. Mystique is captured and experimented on. She has the ability to change her appearance to anyone or anything. Her DNA is needed to be used in the Sentinels.

This all happened in 1973 and brings us to the modern day as mutants are unable to survive. If only there was some way to go back in time and stop Mystique from ever killing Dr. Trask and preventing the Sentinels from being used. But there is a way! We learn from Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) of a way to send someone back in time. Kitty has the ability to do this but she can only send someone back a few days, possibly a month. To send someone back further in time may cause harm to their body. Because of this Professor X, as he is known, cannot go back to 1973 to stop Mystique, who was at one time his friend. Instead Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is sent because one of his powers, besides claws emerging from his knuckles, is his ability to rapidly heal himself. He would be able to withstand any damage which occurs to his body through time travel.

Wolverine must now find a young Professor X (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbinder), convince them to join forces, and help him find Mystique and prevent her assassination of Dr. Trask.

Yes, it may all sound silly but we must remember we are dealing with mutants and superheroes here. You walk into a movie like this and have to suspend believably and accept the movie on its own terms. You can't question the accuracy of events. Because even if superheroes weren't involved it is still a time travel story. If you are going to question this movie on its science then I also suggest questioning "Back to the Future" (1985) and its sequels. Those movies have quite a following as well and those fans seemed to have accepted the merits of that trilogy.

But that is what makes me like "X-Men: Days of Future Past". Like "Back to the Future" the movie presents everything as realistic. It follows it's own logic and creates a world the audience can believe in. Everyone plays their parts as real characters, facing real issues. Characters caught in complex moral dilemmas. All of these characters have something at stake. That creates an interest in the plot and keeps you watching until the end.

The source material for this movie comes from the comic book "The Uncanny X-Men" and a storyline published in 1981 called "Days of Future Past" in which it is Kitty Pryde who travels back in time to acquire the help of X-Men to assist in preventing Mystique from assassinating a U.S. senator. What some may find interesting is the story takes place in the future of 2013.

I did not know any of this prior to watching this movie nor have I seen all of the seven movies in this series but in the end it doesn't matter because I was able to follow the events of this movie and knew some of the characters. For me "X-Men: Days of Future Past" is a stand alone movie. In fact maybe it is the movie you should watch before watching any of the other movies in this series.

One of the reasons I enjoyed "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" so much was because I was surprised the movie made a social commentary on issues currently going on in society, namely government surveillance. That, I felt, gave the movie something extra. The first "X-Men" movie I thought was making a subtle commentary on illegal immigration. "X-Men: Days of Future Past", one can argue, comments on America's military-industrial complex. This movie takes place at the end of the Vietnam War. As that war is coming to an end Dr. Trask is trying to start another one with a new enemy. America always needs a enemy. The military always needs society to face a threat.

Some viewers have also tried to make the argument that "X-Men" is also a parable for the civil rights movement. Outsiders trying to find their place in society and fighting for acceptance. Some believe Professor X is a Dr. Martin Luther King type of character, believing through peace mutant will find acceptance and Magneto a Malcolm X type of character who believes a more forceful, perhaps violent approach, is necessary.

That is a little heavy-handed to me. I don't see that in these movies but do accept the idea the movies do make the argument for living in a world were all class of people are accepted.

What bothers me though is why do we need superhero movies to make these statements? Why can't Hollywood make movies about humans that discuss these issues? And, do fanboys and teenagers that see these movie acknowledge some of the social themes brought up?

When I first saw "X-Men" I thought what a fascinating character Mystique is and it was a shame the movie did not provide us with her background story. It was one of the reasons I didn't like the first movie. There is still a lot about this character I would like to know but what is so wonderful about this movie is it allows this character to be an integral part of the story and allow some background. The character was first played by Rebecca Romijn in three X-Men movies and played by Lawrence in the previous "X-Men: First Class" (2011), which I have not seen.

The other interesting character in the X-Men series is Wolverine, who has been played by Jackman in all seven movies. Wolverine has a very interesting storyline that has not been clearly explained in any of the X-Men films I have seen. Wolverine though, from what we can tell, was experimented on by the military. He has seen much in his life and is a troubled soul. There are a lot of personal demons this character must overcome.

The performances however by all the actors are quite good. All the characters seem believable. The actors are able to flesh out these mutants and give them dimension. They are all presented as people first. People with background stories and clearly defined motivates.

This movie also marks the return of Bryan Singer as a director for the X-Men series. Singer directed the first two movies and is scheduled to direct the next movie in the series "X-Men: Apocalypse", which will be released next year.

At its worst "X-Men: Days of Future Past" is a enjoyable Hollywood big-budget popcorn action/sci-fi movie. At its best it is one the highlights in the superhero genre.