Monday, May 26, 2014

X-Men Review: The Future Isn't What It Used To Be

The gang's all here - or there ... or somewhere.
If we could time travel, we would have posted this review as soon as the movie was released (or even before at was released ... or even before they started filming), but being the powerless homosapiens that we are, we were forced to fulfill other obligations over the holiday weekend and did not see "X-Men: Days of Future Past" until today.

And that's really the only problem with the film - time travel. Like all other entrants in the genre - take your pick of countless "Star Trek" episodes or movies - the characters who decide that going back in time is the only way to save the present face at least a couple of unsettling questions. One, if they're so brilliant to begin with (paging Dr. Charles Xavier), why did they not think of this earlier? Two, even if the mission fails, what's to prevent them from trying at another point in their own timeline since time is so fluid?

Brush those concerns aside though, and you'll find "Days of Future Past" is a highly enjoyable addition to the Mutant Movie Series in particular and super hero movies in general. Yes, it's even better than "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," which is something I did not expect because I thought that movie had set the bar too high for summer blockbusters.

The plot. Ah, the plot. The movie stars in a desolate future, where the mutant-hunting robots known as The Sentinels have nearly harvested the species to extinction. Along the way, they've also turned on their human creator (Boliver Trask, portrayed by Peter Dinklage). All hope is lost.


Except that Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen) have set aside their contrary views on mutant-human relations for the betterment of both species. Constantly on the run from the Sentinels, they hatch a time-travel plan to stop the Sentinels program at its inception. The best man, er mutant, for the job just happens to by Wolverine (Hugh Jackman again filling the role perfectly). His consciousness is transported into his own body in the past by Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page), where he awakens to Roberta Flack on the radio, Richard Nixon in the White House, a woman in his bed and some angry men who want to do him harm.

More Storm, please.
That's one area where the movie excels. The many references to the earlier time period are mostly clever and lighten the mood for what is otherwise a do-or-we-all-die mission. A character's confusion explained by LSD? Check. A glimpse of a certain Starfleet captain on a TV screen? Check. Who really killed JFK? Check.

The movie also excels in an area where it has caught some flack (not Roberta related) - the number of characters. Mutants old and new are everywhere. One of the consequences is that many of the new ones appear with almost no backstory (or, as someone I know would say, "character development"). But do we really need to know the motivation of people who have been targeted for annihilation? Isn't it obvious? Likewise, some of the characters that we have seen before - Halle Berry's Storm, in particular - are given little to do or say. That's the price we must pay, I guess, for a movie packed with so many mutants. If you blink, you might miss Rogue (Anna Paquin).

An aside: Why hasn't Storm been given her own spin-off movie? If nothing else, it would have to be better than Berry's dreadful "Catwoman."

If you really do want character development, pay close attention to the young Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender). Their relationship drives the plot of "Future Past" and sets the stage for the latter movies, which we've already seen (another awkward consequence of time travel). The bad guys are indeed bad. The good guys aren't always good, however.

But good wins in the end, of course, with a climactic battle in Washington.

After the post-battle scene, we are re-introduced to some old mutant friends. More cameos. But nicely done.

And here's the obligatory tip to watch the credits all the way through if you want a sneak peek into the next installment of the series, scheduled for release in 2016. If only we could time travel.

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