Monday, May 26, 2014
X-Men: Days of Future Past (Bryan Singer)
Think about the future
Bryan Singer's X-Men: Days of Future Past, his adaptation of the classic Chris Claremont/John Byrne dystopian future told in several issues of The Uncanny X-Men, is pretty good--a neat summarization of an ambitious, complicated story, one that set the tone for the decade ahead (even before Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, Neil Gaiman's Sandman, or Alan Moore's Watchmen) and for this particular comic book series.
It's basically a massive attempt at a retcon--the comic industries' term for rewriting established facts (in a fictional universe) to fit a more desirable (in terms of greater creative potential or, more probably, increased profitability) future. The mutants in an unspecified future have been nearly killed off by an army of faceless giant robot killers called Sentinels (a classic X-Men comic villain) who use the mutants' very ability to adapt against them; Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is sent by both Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen) back in the past to try change this fearsome future.
It was an inventive use of the time travel trope to both broaden the scope and darken the tone of the comic book; onscreen it's an inventive use of the time travel trope to combine older and younger actors on the big screen, a gigantic 'all-star cast' that appeals to older and younger viewers both, maybe even the few who aren't all that interested in comic books, much less superheroes (the scenes of McKellen and Stewart together or simply being there are worth the price of ticket for the effortless gravitas generated--though McKellen does get bonus points for his twinkly sly, dry humor). Of the fresh faces, Evan Peters as Quicksilver steals the show, his insouciant, insolent manner pretty much explained when he goes into action--with speed like that, no wonder everyone else seems drearily flatfooted.
Would like to single out Michael Fassbender--his impassive Aryan looks make for a nice contradiction with his character's Semitic ethnicity, and Magneto's personality reflects this: a victim of racial prejudice and genocide, his own prejudices drive him to start the next genocide, this time of the entire homo sapiens. (Skip to the next paragraph if you haven't seen the movie!) That said, Singer lends this production that bit of gay subtext edge, notably leaving Magneto free and clear--the unspoken message being, if humans and mutants can't live together peaceably he's out there, ready to come back.
Large cast like that you can't help wasting talent--Peter Dinklage as Trask, creator of the Sentinels, gives a nice motivating speech explaining that he's as much an idealist as anyone (in the movie no one's a villain, at least in his own mind) but isn't granted much more personality than that (Tyrion would have made a bigger onscreen impact in five minutes flat).
I say 'inventive'--for a mainstream Hollywood movie the very mention of the term 'time travel' is unusual enough, though this one isn't as complex as say the recent Looper, or better yet The Girl Who Leaped Through Time, and definitely isn't as intricate, or witty, or memorably poignant as Steven Moffat's more outre efforts (if the X Men have two of themselves--past and present--to deal with, try three or more)
Singer is back in form after a series of less than successful projects (that's his professional life; his private is of course more troubled--a shame, as the movie's message is worth championing), juggling a large cast of characters in the most intricate plot he's delivered since his debut picture The Usual Suspects). If I don't rate it above his X2: X Men United, that's because the earlier movie seems to have struck a personal chord in the director (the scene where a young mutant comes out to his family and is immediately rejected is disturbing far beyond anything in comic book movies nowadays) and even the whiff of something personal in something as tradiationally impersonal as today's Hollywood comic book movies--well, I call it special.
The action sequences--mostly involving Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) and a buff Jackman--are lively, inventive, thankfully coherent (not a lot of shaky-cam, and even less ADHD editing). For a picture of this much ambition and size ($200 million) though, the digital effects aren't exactly topnotch: the Sentinels lack solidity (though their impassiveness can get unnerving) and Nicholas Hoult's Beast is colored a florescent Toilet Duck blue (come to think of it a lot of the mutants are blue--why is that?). More damning, the movie doesn't have the kind of distinctive look and feel possible with a truly gifted filmmaker (I'm thinking of the Hellboy films, or Burton's Batman). It's pretty good, the best recent one, I'll grant, but not great great.