Friday, April 8, 2016

X-Men Days of Future Past (2014) (Movie Review)

       In 2014, the X-Men series was souring higher than ever before, dominating the box office, getting critical praise and standing out among other popular superhero films. It was the first time in years that the X-Men were truly on top of things, and the movie to come out that year was “X-Men Days of Future Past”. Now I’ve been giving some really positive reviews for many of the previous films like “X-Men First Class” and “The Wolverine”, but now we reach the film that I strongly consider to be the absolute best in the entire series. Actually, I’d go so far to say that “X-Men Days of Future Past” is one of my all time favorite superhero movies ... like top 3 easy. This is the one that just hits all the right notes, it has a strong plot, it’s faced passed, it’s got emotional character arcs, stealer action spectacles, underlining themes and subtext, it’s simply as perfect as superhero movies get. Now obviously this isn’t one of the greatest things ever made, and it really isn’t any more than a summer blockbuster, but still it’s a phenomenal blockbuster that’s much smarter than your usual popcorn flick. This is also the first X-Men movie to be directed by Bryan Singer sense “X2: X-Men United”, which is a real treat. John Ottman also returns to compose the music score, and when the title screen comes up in the opening, I got chills hearing his iconic track again.

      This film is based around two of the X-Men’s greatest comics, one of them being “Days of Future Past” and the other being “The Tomorrow People”. I’ve loved both ever sense I started reading comics, and this movie is a respectful adaption of both. “Days of Future Past” in particular is one of the most famous comics ever, and one that every hard core X-Men fan knows, so it was a real treat to finally see this famous story come to life on the big screen. In the future, mutants are being hunted down by advanced killing machines called Sentinels, which can adapt to any mutant power, making them virtually impossible to defeat. At first their only targeting mutants, but then they started killing humans that would eventually give birth to people with the X-Gene, leaving the worst of humanity in charge. It is discovered that the Sentinel’s first took shape in 1973, when the mutant shape-shifter Mystique made her first assassination. With our hero’s facing a massacre, Wolverine is sent back in time to meet the younger professor X, stop Mystique and prevent the Sentinels of the future from being created. Unfortunately, the Professor X of the past no longer has his powers and has virtually given up all hope in securing peace. So now it’s time for Wolverine to be the teacher and mentor for the very man who pulled him out of the gutter, which is a great concept. As if our hero’s didn’t have enough problems, Magneto from the past discovers the plans for the Sentinels and reprograms them to hunt down humans, which leads to him launching a full blown attack on Washington D.C.

      The brilliance of this film is how it combines the cast of “X-Men First Class” with the cast from the original X-Men trilogy. It’s the most crowded ensemble cast of any X-Men film, yet every character new and old is given just the right amount of attention and focus. Wolverine is thankfully a star again, making this Hugh Jackman’s seventh portrayal of the character, but Professor X and Mystique are the ones with the main story archs that really mater. James McAvoy delivers arguably the most powerful performance as the tortured young Professor X, which is also a great contrast to the more optimistic Professor X of the future played once again by sir Patrick Stewart. It’s a great crossover, and a real treat to see so many familiar faces in a film with the new cast.
It’s also great to see Ellen Page return in the role of Shadowcat, she was one of the best additions to “X-Men 3: The Last Stand” and her performance has only gotten better. Jennifer Lawrence really shines in her role as Mystique, and this time they really nail the character. In fact, I think it’s the best written portrayal of her character in any of the films thus far. Another highlight is seeing Ian Mckellen reprise his signature role as the Magneto of the future, who’s had a full reformation Joining the X-Men, while the Magneto of the past played by Michael Fassbender is far more sinister, and a dominate threat. 

      It’s also a big treat for us X-Men fans to finally see the Sentinels in a live action movie. They were always the teams most lethal foes, and for the most part they looked really cool in the film. The Sentinels of the past were hand built machines that were on set with the actors, making them some of the best looking props to be featured in a Sci-Fi film. Unfortunately, the Sentinels of the future are all CGI and they just didn’t look as cool. Sometimes it’s just better to have something real in front of the camera as opposed to a digital effect, but regardless it gives the Sentinels a nice variety, and their still awesome whenever there on screen. In the film, the Sentinels are created by a doctor named Bolivar Trask, who’s arguably one of the best human villains of the series. He doesn’t blindly hate mutants, in fact he admires them, but he also knows how dangerous they can be, and sees them as an opportunity to unite all human kind in a new era of peace. He’s played by Peter Dinklage, who gives a restrained, yet captivating performance. Director Bryan Singer is a big fan of the “Game of Thrones” TV series and wanted Peter Dinklage in the role, just on the grounds of his iconic portrayal of the character Tyrion Lannister from that series. It should also be noted that Wolverines arch human nemesis William Stryker is featured as a minor reoccurring villain in the film, this time played by Josh Helman. It seems kind of random at first, but there is a great scene in which he encounters Wolverine for the first time, which triggers Wolves memories of what Stryker will eventually do to him in both “X-Men Origins Wolverine” and “X2: X-Men United”.

     The character Havok from “X-Men First Class” makes a cameo, and there’s even a brief appearance from the mutant Toad, who was a villain in the first “X-Men” movie. Now let’s talk about my favorite of the characters by far, the supper fast moving Quicksilver who’s simply made of awesome! He’s fast talking, full of charisma and has one of the best action scenes in the whole film. Sense he can move fast, the rest of the world seems to be going in slow motion, which is used to great effect in a scenes where he rescues our hero’s from a security team that’s opening fire on them. It’s funny, it’s creative, it’s visually awesome, and a perfect example of how this film lets the audience have some fun in-between everything else. The mutants of the future named Bishop, Warpath, Blink and Sunspot aren’t given as much attention as Quicksilver, but they do shine in some really creative action scenes. On that note, the action is arguably the best and most creative of the whole series, as it takes full advantage of our hero’s and what they can do with their powers. We finally see Iceman surfing on ice stack’s, which is something I’ve wanted to see sense the first film. Even the strong metal skinned Colossus gets more involved in the action. The character Bishop can absorb energy, which he then fires from a big ass gun that he carries. The character Blink has a really cool power in which she can open portals, and these make for awesome action set pieces. The special effects are amazing spectacles, even achieved an Oscar Nomination, making “X-Men: Days of Future Past” the very first in the series to gain Oscar recognition. 

      As you’ve probably gathered from this review, “X-Men: Days of Future Past” is a wild ride with a crazy time travel story and bombastic action scenes, but you’d be surprised how many deep moments and dare I even say valuable subtext are present in this film. The underlining themes of the X-Men film series has always been about prejudice, and excepting ones self for whom we are despite our differences. Those themes are present in this film, but “X-Men: Days of Future Past” adds a lot more to the formula. The main theme of this film is about keeping “Hope” alive when the world seems to be falling apart around you.
The best scene of all, which is personally one of my favorite movie moments of all time comes when the young Professor X really feels the weight of the world on his shoulders, so he retaliates by taking a little trip to the future where he meets his older self. This scene is just beautifully shot, and the performances from both actors are fantastic. Best of all is seeing this older man guide his younger self, and teach him why it’s important to bare pain, and how to grow in great strength through the most powerful of human powers, which is none other than hope. There’s also a subtle, yet meaningful theme regarding “faith”, that is to say the faith one would have in their comrades or close friends. How much are you willing to trust someone to do the right thing, before you take desperate action? The concept of time travel also raises some themes and questions in this film. When Wolverine is sent back in time to prevent a horrible future from happening, a point is made, “he may cause a better future to happen, but it could have some risky results, and may even prevent some of us here in the future from ever being born.” This raises an interesting debate over what the better alternative is, a beautiful future where some are unfortunately never born, or a bad future where they live, but suffer endlessly. While this movie is faced paced, it gives our hero’s just enough time to really ponder and reflect on these topics.

      Just like “The Wolverine”, “X-Men: Days of Future Past” has an extended version titled “The Rouge Cut”. While it’s not mandatory to watch over the theatrical version, I personally prefer it just for the novelty of some additional moments. We get to spend a little more time with the X-Men of the future, who further elaborate on some of the previously addressed themes of the movie. We also see a little more of Halle Berry in her signature role as Strom, which is very welcomed. There’s also a bones after credit scene where we see the fate of Dr. Trask after his Sentinel project failed. The extended cut also gives the X-Man named Beast, (played again by Nicholas Hoult), a much needed resolution to an arch that began in “X-Men First Class”. In that movie he was embarrassed by his deformed appearance, but “The Rouge Cut” gives him a great little scene in which he finally accepts both who and what he’s become. As you’d expect from the title, this extended addition puts the character Rouge back in the film, who was removed from the theatrical version. She still doesn’t do that much, but it’s still great to see her, and played again by Anna Paquin. There’s also some additional action scenes put back in that were previously removed from the theatrical cut. So personally, I’d recommend going with “The Rouge Cut”, but the original theatrical cut is still fine on its own.

     Of course we have to talk about the climax, which is arguably the most epic finally of the whole series as it takes place across two different time periods. In the future, the X-Men make a daring last stand against the Sentinels, which is nothing short of thrilling. Meanwhile in the past, Magneto is leading his re-programmed Sentinels against President Nixon and the other humans in Washington. He lifts up Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium and uses it as a barricade to trap everyone in the white house. Our hero’s intervene, but the odds aren’t on their side. I can’t even describe in words how awesome this climax is, it’s suspenseful, it’s riveting, it’s creative, and has just enough powerful moments to play to the characters emotional sides.

      Spoiler alert, but I also need to talk about the epilogue, which is arguably the most satisfying of the whole series. Earlier in the film, the young Professor X looked into Wolverines mind and witnessed all the things that happened to him in the previous films. This gave him a chance to change even more in the future then Wolverine anticipated, because when he returns, he finds himself in a future where everything is perfect, and both Jean Grey and Cyclops are alive. It was such a surprise treat to see both Famke Janssen and James Marsden reprise their signature roles, and Kelsey Grammer even gets to make a note worthy cameo as the older version of Beast. This tells us that even the events of “X-Men 3: The Last Stand” have been significantly altered in the films time line, which is brilliant, and it leaves you with a satisfying feeling of the whole team together in the future. There’s also a really ominous, yet exciting after credit scene with a pale skinned mutant constructing the Pyramids in Egypt, and four horseman keeping watchful eye over him. This indicates to us that the villain Apocalypse will be featured in the next film, which got me really excited to see. 

     Overall, “X-Men: Days of Future Past” is a film that’s bound to please fans of the series, as well as regular fans of action, Sci-Fi and superhero films. It takes the series to new heights with bigger spectacles, but has a consistently strong story, and respectable themes at the center. It obviously isn’t a great masterpiece of a film, but it’s so much better than your typical stupid summer popcorn flick like “Transformers”, and it’s even a little better then “The Avengers” ... well, to a certain extent. “X-Men: Days of Future Past” is hands down my favorite of the series, a respectable adaption of its iconic source material and raises the bar for X-Men at the movies. How could the franchise possibly get any more successful, well, we’ll find out when I review “Deadpool” next, but by that extent, more successful doesn’t mean a better movie.

On the scale of how I’d rate a summer action film, I give “X-Men: Days of Future Past” a perfect 5 stars out of 5.                                              

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