At The Movies: X-Men: Days Of Future Past

Director Bryan Singer returns to the X-Men movie franchise with the mutant tour de force that is “X-Men: Days of Future Past.”

Singer helped launch the series with the first film in 2000, which he followed up with “X2” in 2003. The first movie was good, the second was one of the all-time great comic book movies. Singer left the franchise and Brett Ratner was brought in to direct “X-Men: The Last Stand.” To say it was a bit of a mess and left the series in a bad state would be a kind assessment.

In response the franchise was rebooted in 2011 by Matthew Vaughn with “X-Men: First Class.”  Set in the 1960s, “First Class” served as a prequel to the earlier trilogy, setting up an origin story for the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters.

But now Singer has returned with a sprawling epic than encompasses the casts of the original films and the reboot while tossing in a half-dozen new mutants as well. If “The Last Stand” derailed the X-Men train, then “Days of Future Past” has set it back on track — Magneto style.

rs_634x939-140324091106-634.jennifer-lawrence-x-men.ls.32414Based on a beloved X-Men comic from the 1980s by Chris Claremont and John Byrne, “DoFP” begins with a dystopian future where mutants, and many unlucky humans, have been rounded up and imprisoned or killed by giant robots called Sentinels. This is where the original cast comes into play, along with a handful of newbies who serve as little more than cannon fodder so I won’t elaborate about them. Unless you’re an X-Fan you won’t know who they are anyway.

The few remaining X-Men — along with their leader Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and one-time enemy Magneto (Ian McKellen) — have holed up in a mountain retreat in China. After some discussion a plan is made: Send Wolverine’s (Hugh Jackman) mind back to 1973 to stop Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from killing Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), creator of the Sentinels.

You might think that killing Trask is a good thing, but it’s more complicated than that. As to why they’re sending Logan back in time instead of Kitty Pryde like in the comic book — well, let’s just say Ellen Page is no Hugh Jackman at the box office.

Old Wolverine wakes up in ’70s Wolverine’s body and heads for the Xavier school, and finds it in shambles. The only people on the grounds are young Hank McCoy/Beast (Nicholas Hoult) and the shell of a man who used to be Professor X (James McAvoy).

In order to complete his mission Logan will first need to get Xavier’s head back in the game and free Magneto (Michael Fassbender) from a seemingly impenetrable prison.

“Days of Future Past” is a high-energy, high-concept, special effects-heavy super powered free-for-all that holds together much better than “Last Stand” despite having about as many mutants. Singer sifts through the old and new casts and summarily ignores or eliminates anyone he doesn’t want to deal with. Anna Paquin may be listed sixth in the cast but she appears for all of five seconds. Halle Berry gets a little more screen time but nothing substantive to do.

Despite the large cast the focus is, as always, on Xavier and Magneto — their relationship to each other and their different philosophies on how to deal with the mutants’ place in the world. Series breakout star Jackman and the red-hot Lawrence are also given plenty of space.

Of the newcomers, the only one to really make an impact is Evan Peters who plays Peter Maximoff, a.k.a. Quicksilver (although no one in the movie calls him that). Peter’s mutant power is super-speed, a skill that special effects experts have yet to master on-screen. People running really fast always looks really stupid in movies.

Singer manages to make super-speed work in some very amusing scenes. He then wisely takes the character out of play, as super-speed is not only hard to capture on film but it creates problems in storytelling. Quicksilver’s time on-screen is about the only light-hearted moment in an otherwise very dark and serious tale.

The film does raise two major questions that should’ve been more adequately addressed:

1. Didn’t Professor X die in “Last Stand?” Yes, I saw the post-credits scene but I think we’re owned more of an explanation than that.

2.  How exactly is Kitty able to send Wolverine’s mind into the past? Her mutant ability is to walk through walls. These powers are not related. This is not a minor issue, it’s the crux of the story, and there’s no explanation.

At any rate, “DoFP” does a nice job resetting the franchise for the future although I’m curious which direction they’ll go when they have two different sets of players. You can’t have them time traveling in every movie.

The 3D is adequate but not necessary. There is a post-credits scene.

 

 

 

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