Monday, May 26, 2014

X-Men Days of Future Past Movie Review

Through the first fifteen minutes of Bryan Singer´s X-Men: Days of Future Past, I was making mental notes on how this film had the best 3D graphics I had ever seen: not only weren´t my eyes hurting, but for once, the effect actually made me feel like I was inside the movie and not just waiting for a gimmicky grenade to be thrown in my direction. A quarter of the way through I started to think about how this was probably one of the best super hero movies I had seen in a long time: the story was tight and the action scenes big but not overwhelming. By the halfway mark, when Magneto was out and about, I stopped thinking so much and simply enjoyed every minute of the spectacle before me.

At the onset of X-Men Days of Future Past we are introduced to a future where humans and mutants are being killed in mass by Sentinels, machines designed to hunt and destroy anyone it finds that has any trace, or would be trace, of mutant DNA. Professor Xavier, played by the nearly flawless Patrick Stewart, believes that the only way to stop these Sentinels is by traveling back to 1973 to stop them before they were made. To do this they must intersect the shape-shifting mutant named Raven, better known as Mystique, from committing an act which will set of the chain of events that lead to their final present fate. 

Wolverine, one again played by Hugh Jackman, in probably his best outing as the character, takes on the task. It´s not an easy one, as Mystique holds no allegiance to the Professor Xavier of 1973. He must convince that Professor X, played passionately by James McVoy, to work together with a man he had held much contempt for since the events ending X-Men: First Class: Erik Lehnsherr, Magneto, played with vicious resoluteness by Michael Fassbender.

The movie doesn´t waste much time with needless prologues or long explanations of plot points – this is what has bored me in a lot of recent superhero movies, and some chunks of X-Men: First Class. Here, Professor X, gives us a short speech about why traveling to the past is the last hope for mutant and human kind and before we know it we are back in 70s. 

From here on we see very little of Patrick Stewart or Ian McKellen, who returns as Magneto. Being such a fan of these two actors and their interpretations of the characters, I didn´t like this move at first. But the more McVoy and Lehnsherr played off of one another, the more I bought into their younger and more ribald versions of the classic duo whose opposition to one another is only matched by their mutual respect for the other.

In fact, not only did the little screen time for Stewart and McKellen become an after thought, it actually worked to their characters´ benefits. Both actors underplayed their roles in quiet confidence. Magneto and Professor X were tired warriors – their aged faces expressed the hopelessness of staring down death while hoping for a miracle in the past. They were no longer the men they were: they appeared confused, worried, and perhaps not even sure of what they had been fighting for in all the years. Yet in their helplessness, Bryan Singer made sure to give each man a stand alone moment in the film where they could still use their mutant powers to affect an outcome – maybe not save the world, but at least ward of death and save a last bit of dignity for themselves. Singer was able,with that gesture, to create something very few superhero movies are able to: real desperation and sadness for characters we know may no longer be with us.

Hugh Jackman´s Wolverine quickly finds Professor Xavier in 1973. He is now living with Hank, the Beast, in a defunct version of his school for the gifted. This is not the same Professor we remember from the last film. Here he is shown to have been in a considerable emotional downspin since the devastating losses he suffered the last time we saw him. Thankfully, it doesn´t take ages for Wolverine to convince him of how important it is for him to snap back to reality.

It´s at these instances that Hugh Jackman shines. He has reluctantly become the elder statesmen of this young duo – Beast and the Professor. They are not even half the men they will become and require patience. Jackman no only shows us Wolverine´s focused resolution in battle, which we are already accustomed to seeing, but his compassionate side – especially as it relates to Professor Xavier, a man he will come to admire so much in the future but who is in a state of complete loss. These moments of frailty and submission add a depth to the character which hasn´t really been explored at length on screen. Wolverine can´t lash out in anger here (for otherwise his link to the past will be lost) and Jackman´s control of the beast within the man makes the character interesting again.

Once the Professor agrees to help, the three set off to find Magneto. They recruit a very young Pietro Maximoff, also known as Quicksilver, to help them. The scenes which unfold during this search and eventual reunion are as well put together as you´d ever want a set piece to be. Quicksilver´s antics while aiding his new companions make for one the joyous directorial and cinematographic highlights in the film, creating one of the most beautifully shot and memorable slow motion action scenes I have seen since Neo dodged some bullets back in 1999.

While all of this is going on, Jennifer Lawrence is busy stealing nearly every scene she is in as the mutant Mystique. She will stop at nothing to stop Peter Dinklage´s character, Dr. Bolivar Trask, who is bent on getting his Sentinel program off the ground while using mutants as guinea pigs. Mystique is resilient in her cause but at times it feels as if her hardened exterior is only a cover to help her cope with a past that still haunts her. She is alone, persecuted, lost, and the only two men who had ever helped guide her are gone.

Lawrence´s performance is at times sexy, other times fragile, mostly determined but ultimately tragic. This is because though Mystique may have as many personalities as she does possible bodies, what she doesn´t have yet is a direction: Dr Trask becomes this for her. He is not a proper, I want to rule the world, type villain. This is as it should be. X-Men stories work best when they deal with people´s own fears and insecurities and the lengths they will go to survive in a frightening world. The doctor creates a perfect fulcrum for her combined forces along with those of the other characters and their various motives, while also subjecting them to the damage that is caused to their own psyches once they do reach their destinations.

A lot of good can be said about this movie, but the true stand out is Fassbender. He brings out the venom, which is Magneto´s hatred for mankind, in ways not even McKellen did in his turn as the character. This is a Magneto that seems hypnotized and almost maddened by his own power. Once he acknowledges his own demons he unleashes them unrepentantly. Unlike the iconic nemeses from other super hero franchises, Magneto is not driven by Lutherish greed, or Arkham Asylum-style lunacy, not even by some sort of Green Goblinish personal investment or vendetta - not in the broader sense, at least. If there is any personal investment or vendetta, it is not for himself, but for his own people: he believes he is fighting for justice against the oppressor who wishes to crush them. There is a method to his madness, a clear vision to his destruction that makes us understand him perfectly and even root for him at moments. Fassbender´s becomes this perfect monster. He uses his clear, steady voice and piercing eyes to create this unstoppable threat in slow, measured strokes – a figure whose merciless path sees no end until the guilty fall at his feet. His performance is noteworthy, in that without much fanfare he dares us to relate to his cause, even if the methods aren´t exactly to our liking.

X-Men: Days of Future Past, is a sad movie. Though the main plot point was changing future Xavier´s present for the better, the past is left in ruin. Wolverine unwittingly unleashes the best and the worst in all the characters he meets in 1973: Beast, can no longer hide in the shadows of what he doesn´t want to be; Mystique continues to wander, struggling to find her purpose; and both Professor Xavier and Magneto stretch their powers to frightening points they may not have imagined and for reasons they may have never considered. These people are no longer ghosts: their goodness and their ugliness are out on display to be disseminated. 

More than X-Men: First Class, this film becomes the true origin story. For learning how to manifest one´s power is not the real beginning of one´s journey, but rather, it is understanding how to manipulate that power and comprehending the relationship that it has to those around us. These mutants have now grown up. They have seen the horror of what they can become. They have seen the terror they can impose. They have changed, for better or for worse. Now they must live not only with the consequences of their actions, but of their very existence.

Post by Phillihp Ray

1 comment:

  1. Wow! I just read to jac and we both agree with your writing. We loved the part about two aged warriors are at the end of their lives and desperately want to make attempts to change the outcome. Very well done!