Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Review: 'X-Men: Days of Future Past' (or 'How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Magneto')

When it comes to nerdy movie franchises, there are few that are more synonymous with the words "missed opportunity" than Fox's X-Men series. Abandoned by Bryan Singer after he helmed the groundbreaking 2000 original film and its 2003 sequel — both of which were instrumental in establishing Marvel characters as bonafide movie stars —the series has ranged from mediocre (X-Men: The Last Stand) to abhorrent (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) to just plain passable (The Wolverine).

The only X-flick that captured the spark that made Singer's films so memorable was Matthew Vaughn's 2011 prequel X-Men: First Class, a movie that breathed new life into the aging franchise while introducing a host of all-new continuity errors. Although you might say the muddled timelines and overall inconsistencies make the films more true to the source material, it's not necessarily an aspect of oft-confounding comic book storytelling we want in our movie adaptations.

In an effort to make sense of it all and fix a franchise that's been broken for about eight years now, Singer returned to the X-Men series as director with Days of Future Past, a loose adaptation of Chris Claremont and John Byrne's iconic time-traveling comic book storyline of the same name. The film replaces comic protagonist Kitty Pryde with the movie franchise's poster boy Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), who must journey to the past to save mutantkind from extinction.

One of the big draws in this installment is that it includes the cast from the original X-Men trilogy, including credibility magnets Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan as Professor Xavier and Magneto, as well as that of First Class, namely the always impressive James McAvoy as young Xavier and the never-not-badass Michael Fassbender as the burgeoning Master of Magnetism. Central to the story this time around is Jennifer Lawrence's azure-skinned femme fatale Mystique, whose hatred for mankind sets into motion events that give rise to the Sentinels — government-sanctioned robots programmed to detain and eradicate "dangerous" mutants. How many Academy Award winners have done that?

Newcomers to the series include Game of Thrones star Peter Dinklage as Sentinel creator Bolivar Trask and American Horror Story's Evan Peters as Quicksilver, a character responsible for one of the coolest moments in the film. Dinklage's Trask, meanwhile, makes for a powerful-yet-understated villain who fully believes he is acting in the best interest of humanity. Whether it's Trask or Magneto who is truly the antagonist of Days of Future Past is entirely up to you.

The first question that fans might have going into Days of Future Past is whether or not Singer has "fixed" the frustratingly inconsistent X-Men movies. For the most part, he has. If you wondered why we saw a non-furry Hank McCoy on a TV screen in X2, even though Beast's mutation happened in the 1960s, there's a reason for that. Hell, the same explanation could also apply to Xavier's ability to walk at the beginning of The Last Stand, which was years after his paralysis. However, rather than tie up every possible loose end — like how Peter Dinklage and Bill Duke somehow play the same character in the same franchise — Days of Future Past gives us perhaps an even greater gift: a reset button.

Without trekking too deep into spoiler territory, the film essentially wipes all of the middling X-Men movies out of existence. Sorry, Origins and The Last Stand. You never happened. Now, the doors are wide open for filmmakers to tell X-Men stories unhindered by the misguided decisions of previous writers and directors.

But all that canon whitewashing wouldn't mean much if Days of Future Past wasn't an amazing experience in its own right, and it absolutely delivers on that front. Once you get past the inherent wonkiness of the time travel (which is always a bit messy), what you have is a solid X-Men film featuring big action, some outstanding visuals and a dynamic ensemble cast. For the first time, Fox's X-Men series is poised to stand toe-to-toe with Disney's Marvel Cinematic Universe, and that's saying something. X-Men: Apocalypse can't come soon enough.

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