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Review: ‘X-Men: Days Of Future Past’

‘X-Men: Days Of Future Past’ Sort Of Admits Brett Ratner Ruined The Franchise

At this point in the game, trying to weave together all of the narrative idiosyncrasies of the past six X-Men films is futile. You can endure sleepless nights or just accept that inconsistencies exist. It’s an unfortunate by-product of a series with an exponential amount of character arcs and multiple visionaries guiding the creative process. Adding a time travel element, as they do in ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past‘, can either cloud the waters further or fix some nagging problems. Fortunately, with Director Bryan Singer back behind the lens, not only does this trope work, it stabilizes the franchise and positions it to move forward with far less baggage than it had when we got here.

I’m not going to say that all is right in the X-Men universe, there are still plenty debates to be had and angry fists to be shaken. But many of the issues going into ‘Days of Future Past’ seem more like annoying skin rashes now as opposed to gaping wounds. New questions that are raised from this film can still be addressed as we move forward, and a lot of the problems of the past feel less intrusive than they did before. I’m not typically a fan of the time travel trope; it often feels lazy and convenient, it can come off as “well, we aren’t smart enough to figure out how to fix our shit, so we’ll go back in time and pretend it never happened.” It’s a tool often used by uninspired storytellers who have painted themselves into a narrative corner, trumped only by the dreaded “They’re all dead” (LOST) or “They were dreaming” (Pamela Ewing) devices which should result in a mandatory one way bus ticket out of Hollywood. But somehow, Singer makes the time travel angle work here. While the end result does essentially push the reset button on the franchise to some extent, it’s only goes so far. ‘Days of Future Past’ doesn’t completely erase the X-Men cinematic canon, the exception being the bulk of Brett Ratner’s ‘X-Men: The Last Stand‘, which let’s be honest, it was the 500 pound gorilla in the room for far too long.

The set pieces in ‘Days of Future Past’ are wonderful, and we start out with one in which many of our old X friends are battling with giant robots, known as Sentinels, designed for the sole purpose of hunting down and destroying mutants (more on that later).  As the Sentinels close in, doing battle with the likes of Storm (Halle Berry), Iceman (Shawn Ashmore), Bishop (Omar Sy) and Blink (Bingbing Fan), old Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen), along with Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) come to the realization that the only way to win this war versus the Sentinels is to return to a point in time prior to their development and stop them before they even become a reality. Somehow Kitty is now capable of sending a person’s consciousness back in time, and we’re never quite certain how this expansion of powers came to be, but since her ability to walk through walls would seem ineffective and highly self serving given the circumstances, we’re left to accept this as a means to push the story forward (or in this case, backward).

It’s determined that Logan is the only one capable of surviving the mind transfer ordeal, thus, he lies prone on a table as Kitty works her voodoo and sends him back to the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance in 1955 ….oops, wait, 1973 to find young Professor X (James McAvoy) and convince him to stop moping about like Bruce Wayne after his girlfriend died.  Something has happened to Xavier since the ending of ‘X-Men: First Class‘. His school is out of commission and his life is a shambles. He lives inside a haze of alcohol and a serum that allows him to walk and suppress the voices in his head, compliments of Hank/Beast (Nicholas Hoult).

Time is a-wastin’ however. Tyrion Lannister has some serious concerns about the mutant population, and back in the future Juno’s arms have to be getting tired.  Bolliver Trask (Peter Dinkledge) is the mastermind behind the Sentinel program, which includes technology capable of identifying mutants hidden among us and eradicating them. Think of big, robot shaped predator drones with bad attitudes. Trask is convinced the mutants will take over the world if not dealt with swiftly. And he stands to make some serious bank in the process.

Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) is on a rampage, jumping between various identities with an end goal of finding and killing Trask. Pretty much anyone in the world capable of a sideways glance toward mutants finds themselves on her hit list, but killing Trask is paramount, as he is the face of the program designed to erase her kind from existence.  Survival of the mutant race drives Mystique, and while that motivation might seem understandable, she’s doing her kind no favors with her approach, essentially cementing a human/mutant war for the foreseeable future.  What she fails to recognize is that killing Trask would only serve to prove his own point, that mutants are dangerous. The Sentinel program exists in the future in spite of Trask’s untimely death, as the government turns on the mutants in a panic. Keeping Trask alive allows his plans to fall mostly on deaf ears.  The other mutants recognize this. The only way to stop Trask is to stop Mystique from killing him.

Once Logan has Xavier on board, it’s concluded they’ll need the help of Eric/Magneto (Michael Fassbender) who is being held prisoner 100 stories beneath the Pentagon. Enlisting the help of Quicksilver (Evan Peters), a plan is devised to break Eric free, resulting in one of the most innovative and fascinating scenes, not only in this film, but likely in any film you’ll see this year. You’ll certainly never hear Jim Croce’s ‘Time in a Bottle‘ the same way again.  It does seem to me Quicksilver would be pretty useful to the group as they move forward, but his screen time is short lived and he exits the story fairly quickly (see what I did there?). The core players that will have to deal with stopping Mystique are Logan, Xavier, Eric and Beast.

Like much of the X-Men canon, themes of genocide and extinction permeate the landscape. The series has never shied away from heavier themes to drive its narrative or its characters. This allows for a shift in the way the audience perceives the typical hero/villain dynamic. Xavier and Eric certainly have different ideas on how to handle the societal problems that face their kind, and even though their tactics are dissimilar, their motivations are aligned. Survival. The relationship between Xavier and Magneto is always at the center of this film. Mystique is the catalyst that drives the plot, and Logan serves as a bit of a narrative guide, but in the end this is about Charles and Eric and the ideals that ultimately define and divide them.

Alot of housecleaning takes place in ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’. Suffice it to say a few odd jobs still remain to be done, but at the very least, they can now invite company over without fear of embarrassment. Committed performances and well executed action sequences elevate this film to among the best in the series. Other blockbuster franchises should take note that it’s indeed possible to entertain an audience between the months of May and August with more than explosions and bland characters with questionable motives and plot arcs. All it takes is the right people in front of and behind the camera- those equally invested in the quality of the product as they are in the box office numbers.

My rating: 4 out of 5; Bring on the Apocalypse!

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