X-Men: Days Of Future Past (2014)
Bloody mutants eh, coming over here and infesting our timelines, diverting our shared destiny and butchering continuity in order to re-set the infrastructure of a multiversal golden goose franchise. Send ‘em all back I say, to a horrific Terminator inspired near future where in a gloomy azure arclight schemata homo-superior and their homo-sapien sympathisers are being exterminated in the thousands by the all omnipotent Sentinels, lethal kill-bot androids able to absorb and emit their quarries powers with merciless efficiency. Our heroes the X-Men are fighting a frantic rear-guard campaign in the face of certain extinction, so when Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) realise all is lost they formulate a desperate plan alongside their reluctant comrade Magneto (Ian McKellan), desperate times calling for desperate bedfellows. Conveniently enough Kitty has a limited capacity to phase consiounesses through time in one of the films most hand-waved fulcrums, so with only Logan’s enhanced healing capacity able to withstand the psychic pressures he is despatched to the bellbottomed garbed year of 1973 to convince the alternate dimension predecessors of Professor X (James McAvoy), Beast (Nicholas Hoult) and the imprisoned Magento (Michael Fassbender) to prevent the shapeshifting seductress Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from assassinating the prejudicial scientific director Reginald Trask (Peter Dinklage), a terrorist action which activates the blood soaked chain of events which sparks the annihilating future.
Linking the two franchise strands of Bryan Singer’s 2000 inaugurated movie X-Men, essentially the first issue of the current dominant cycle of superhero blockbusters and the more recently groovy X-Men First Class was quite a logistical feat, an intertwining of time frames and cast members which for the most part Singer’s return to the franchise excitingly executes, but being a perfectionist sort and at best a passing fan of this series I do have my reservations given the screenwriters callous disregard for series (SPOILERS) continuity and some of the films frantic failures – yes I’m afraid this is going to be one of those geekazoid reviews. It’s certainly the most exciting and action packed instalment following the classic Dark Phoenix storyline of X-2, and for the most part DoFP obliterates the no-prize of Brett Hackner (sic) X-Men: Last Stand, a film which I can recall precisely zero details such was its ineffectual impact. Singers film juggles the competing imperatives of super-powered combat set-pieces, source material sympathy and thinly stretched character arcs without dropping the balls, but it is a stilted and anxious performance which functions as a breezy blockbuster, not fully convincing in its mutant mission to dazzle and delight.
The pendulous problem with this sprawling is too many cooks spoiling the broth, or rather too many mutants infecting the bloodline, with competing characters of Professor X, Wolverine, Mystique and Magneto all competing for their space and position in the film, jostling for position so much that push each other of the frame which resulted in a unfocused and character devoid spectacle. The film narrative pivots on the choices of Mystique and her psychological motivation, but other than a few alluring gymnastic sequences we have no idea of the levels of persecution which drives her fury, of why she is so charged to commit the ultimate sin, the normally brilliant Jennifer Lawrence reduced to a single note cypher with a performance that frankly suggests she wishes she was back in the frigid Ozarks. This leaves Wolverine to cleave through the murky plotline as our main hirsute hero but he also feels side-lined, encountering a drug addled Charles Xavier whom is suppressing his telepathic powers and spinal injury with a facile addiction metaphor, somehow he’s depressed at not being paralysed anymore and has managed to synthesise a medical miracle – in 1973. This character conflict is all resolved in a single scene, an emotional equation which further obfuscates the films formula. Much of the series underlying ideology and pleas for miscellany and tolerance are lost in the time travel truffle shuffle, this is a shame I think as all our media be it from Hollywood, Bollywood or Nollywood and in whichever delivery form needs to be celebrating and promoting diversity, especially in the wake of some increasingly terrifying (if provocatively slanted) local and European election results.
I’ve always argued that for a superhero film to work you must have a strong villain or you’re dead in the water (counter-examples please?) and in DoFP Trask is given no compelling reason or purpose for his fear and hatred of the muties which seems like a waste of Dinklage’s obvious talents and acting chops A.s the main antagonist his motivations are similarly unexpressed and undercooked although I will give the filmmakers admiration for never once commenting on or using his physical dimensions as some facile motivation for brooding a poisonous brew of hatred for the ‘other’, his presence does provoke some curious contradictions of a character whom you’d have thought would be able to empathise and sympathise with a species of creature which suffer prejudice and ridicule due to the failure to conform with ‘normality’. The constant exposition spouting platitudes from the villains and heroes alike becomes as grating as Wolverine bone brittle claws being dragged down the danger rooms blackboard, and I found it unclear why the screenwriters decided to frame the frantic time travelling frogger against the waning embers of the Vietnam war, with subplots involving peace summits and political negotiations offering little more than Singer being able to shoot in some Zapruder-esque jilted film stock in order to ameliorate the period authenticity.
Just to sound like a complete contrarian and despite slating the film for three paragraphs broadly speaking I did enjoy the picture, most of those above listed concerns were blasted away the some of the films CGI enhanced kinetic charms which can’t be denied, to be honest I don’t expect much of these movies and like Godzilla which I enjoyed immensely) the films more pernicious, structural failures around arrangement, characterisation, tempo and plot mechanics concern me less than the roller-coaster aspect of multiplex silly season. With superhero pictures and franchise fisticuffs firmly embedded in the summer fulcrum no matter one’s age the sight of adolescent Marvel avatars in maleficent digital melee will always be entertaining, for my magnetic money it’s Fassbender’s Erik Magnus Lensherr who warps away the ‘coolest’ nerdgasm moments, the Quicksilver scene was inventive and amusing, and some of the transport wormhole combat transmogrifications in the future was, and permit me gentle reader to surreptitiously deploy a scholarly cinephile critical term, pretty fucking awesome. I love blockbusters as much as the art-house, horror genre atrocities or broadly accepted historical cinema classics (I think if you audited my top tens over the past few years there will at least a couple of big-ticket items nestling among the auteur entries and cult mayhem) and for me I do something to get my teeth into intellectually speaking, and the morsels were slim to none in Days Of Future Past, and as the saying goes slim’s just wandered out of town….
I also didn’t like the design of the future world Sentinels but now I’m just being ridiculous. As usual a post-credits sting alludes to the next instalment of the franchise which you can see here, I didn’t stick around for it as this new ‘Apocalypse’ storyline doesn’t particularly chime with me, occurring as it does after I stopped reading comics religiously – I’m beginning to feel old as some of the X-Men seen in this movie were also unknown to me whom I have subsequently tracked down as Blink and Warpath. Where now for the superhero movie? Well in lieu of seeing Guardians Of The Galaxy and the odd news that after eight years pre-production that Edgar Wright is exiting the Ant-Man picture due to the obfuscating ‘creative differences’ I do think they need to move away from the usual templates and like Captain America attempt some contemporary depth to proceedings, even if your product is four quadrant aligned to the widest potential demographic, not everything has to follow the Nolan route of psychological depth or drive and fidelity to to a harsher in-universe realism, but please have the writers respect the audience intelligence and not lace every dialogue exchange with plot specific purpose – I lament the loss of the action-movie quip. For a film that purported to be a bubbling nexus of grimdark armageddon X-Men: Days Of Future Past as light and transient as a cheekily mustered Storm induced zephyr, softly arousing but soon transiently forgotten;