Sunday, May 25, 2014

"X-Men: Days of Future Past" redeems the past

Time has gone by fast. My top two most anticipated movies of the summer have come and gone, and they were both amazing. Here is my review of the second one (the other was "Godzilla"). I remember really becoming an X-Men fan in 2003 around when "X2" came out in theaters. At the time, it was probably the best superhero-film out. It had good acting, good writing, and a sense of mystery because of the Weapon X flashbacks and the Phoenix teaser at the very end. I wanted the next one to be awesome so badly. Too bad it wasn't because Bryan Singer made the boneheaded decision to direct "Superman Returns" instead of the third "X-Men" movie. The result was a double-feature crapfest that most fans don't want to forgive not forget. Well fans, "X-Men: Days of Future Past" will make you both forgive AND forget "The Last Stand."

The aforementioned movie was based around X-Men's most beloved story arc of all time: The Dark Phoenix Saga, a story so beloved that it's #1 on my greatest comic book stories of all time. If that's #1, then Days of Future Past is probably #2 in Chris Claremont's unprecedented run on the series. Well, they basically took a shit on #1 with its screen treatment. And then they redeemed themselves with #2. They redeemed the shit out of themselves.

The storyline may sound familiar, but at the time it was written, it was ahead of its time for several reasons which are discussed in that comic book storyline post. Basically, it's a dystopian future not unlike the one portrayed in "Terminator 2." Mutants and the humans who support them get rounded up in concentration camps while those who resist are exterminated. By machines called sentinels. The X-Men are one such faction actively resisting the sentinels' oppression, but to do so they must be careful because those things literally cannot be stopped. They're like an entire army of terminators on steroids. So one day, Professor X gets tired of jumping from safehouse to safehouse and decides to do something about it. One member of the team, Shadowcat, somehow has the ability to transfer a person's consciousness back in time to said person's younger body. So they do it with none other than Wolverine in an attempt to prevent an assassination that will literally screw everyone over. Hijinks ensue.

The most common praise of the first 2 X-Men movies was their dark, cerebral tone along with well-developed characters. In contrast, #3 kind of felt rushed in an attempt to sacrifice plot and characters for pants-shitting moments (it didn't succeed ... ok it kind of did in some aspects but mostly not). DOFP returns to the glory days of the original movies while retaining the breakneck pacing and wit that "First Class" had. And actually, the humor is quite strong with this one, but it manages to still be rather dark and serious. It's a good balance, and that's part of what makes it such a strong movie.

The acting is also extremely top-notch for a superhero film. Literally everyone involved does an outstanding job. Special praise goes to Jennifer Lawrence, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender and of course, Hugh Jackman since those are the main players (also of note: he may be the time traveler, but DOFP actually does not at all focus too much on Wolverine). Evan Peters also did a good turn, stealing every scene he was in despite not being in the movie for all that long. I know the acting was good because this was the most emotional X-Men movie yet. This was the polar opposite of "First Class." Especially with Professor X. When the man actually drops an F bomb in anger, you know he's not a happy individual. And if you saw "First Class," you'd know why. Either way, DOFP does an extremely good job at picking up those pieces of that break-up. The acting in the future scenes was about as good as you'd expect from the cast of the original movies, but the focus here is on the newer cast members. However, the scene in which Patrick Stewart and James McAvoy meet onscreen is a must-see and arguably the highlight of the film from an acting standpoint.

The effects were also top-notch. From the way they handled Quicksilver's speed to Magneto using a stadium as his personal mothership, everything was just mind-blowing. And the Blink portals in the future. Holy shit. Iceman using his abilities like never before? I need a new pair of pants. The sentinels were good, too. The past ones were kind of ho-hum robots, but the future ones were genuinely frightening and a legitimate threat to the X-Men. Think of them as, yes, an army of T-1000s. Everything was just so well-done, but I wouldn't expect anything less after hearing what the budget was. Hell, even the way they implemented the iconic theme music from "X2" was just awesome. When a movie's theme music playing in the title crawl gets my adrenaline pumping and makes me want to start yelling the way I do when the Texas Aggies enter Kyle Field, I know I'm in for a hell of an awesome ride.

But the reason for DOFP's perfection to me is as much what it accomplishes as it is the content of the movie. Like I said, the third movie was bad, and coupled with a disappointing Wolverine first solo outing, that left a bad taste for a lot of fans. And then look at what Marvel Studios and Warner Bros. accomplished. One managed to win a freaking Oscar, and another made the first shared cinematic universe that actually worked. While I don't think anyone is going to be winning Best Actor here, the performances were certainly a high enough caliber. But what it truly accomplished, without too many spoilers is a case in which a movie actually erased the continuity of a previous film and possibly established not one, but several potential alternate continuities in a franchise. Correct me if I'm wrong, but that usually only gets done in actual comic books. I won't say how, but it did. It's incredible. If I recall from an earlier post, Fox put all their cards on the table for DOFP because they wanted to compete with Marvel and Sony. I think it's about to pay off. The balance of humor and seriousness is good, the performances are extremely strong and most importantly, the bad taste from "The Last Stand" was literally wiped out.

"X-Men: Days of Future Past" gets a 10/10. This is the X-Men movie I wanted immediately following "X2." It took Bryan Singer and Co. 11 years to make that happen, but they made it happen.

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