Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Review, Part 1 of 2: X-Men: Days of Future Past: Fight the Future

I saw X-Men: Days of Future Past on Memorial Day, with my friend Frederick. We arrived early to get good seats and we were chatting and making general small talk, and he asked if this movie was based on Cable's story. I said that no, it's from a different X-Men parallel future storyline. X-Men continuity is a mess. As I mention in my review of X-Men: First Class, the series is now is over 50 years ago, and it would be a miracle if it remained snag-free. However, the movie, like its predecessor, distills what works about the source material, discards the rest and interprets what remains through the lens of modern movie-making. The result is an outstanding film that, while complicated, is never once confusing.

As a result, we saw a ton of previews, which I will now review first, because I'm sure that's what everyone came here to read. (I'll label the part where the review of the actual movie starts, so you can skip down if you're no inclined)

The Previews

The World WarsSo, I made the same joke that everyone does when I saw the History Channel logo on the screen. "Ha ha! More like Hitler Channel, amirite?" And this seems, certainly interesting in concept, examining how the actions of the principal actors of WWII were shaped by their experiences in WWI. However, it's the History Channel, so we're going to get everyone from the Bush Administration to serve as a talking head, as well as "reenactments", including one, which, if I've interpreted a very brief clip correctly, that makes Adolph Hitler look like an action hero,  firing at the camera with a one-handed shot from the hip.

Hercules The Rock!  He's always so much fun in a movie! This is a going to be grea- Oh, Brett Ratner directed it. Never mind.

Edge of Tomorrow:  Looks like a promising sci fi action movie. However, it stars Tom Cruise, who is 50 years old and four feet tall, and I'll never understand how he gets himself cast for every other action movie. He's like an extremely good looking hobbit. Frederick later quipped that he expected Cruise to insist on starring in the next Expendables.

When the Game Stands Tall: A football team wins a bunch of games in a row! But then they lose one! I hope the aliens from the Edge of Tomorrow come over to this movie and vaporize every one of these Friday Night Lights rejects.

Lucy: This looks extremely good. It perpetuates the "Humans only use 10% of their brain power" myth, but it looks so good that I'm willing to forgive that. Scarlett Johansson plays a woman implanted with a device that allows her to utilize 100% of her brainpower. She's an outstanding actress with the right direction, and it looks like Luc Besson is going to bring that to the table here.

The Expendables 3: We're only up to three? Really? I thought we had that many in 2013 alone. The first movie had a clever gimmick, but it needs to die now.

Kingsman: This is Lucy for Dudebros. It looks terrible.  I see that it's based on a comic by Mark Millar. Neither Colin Firth nor Michael Caine can save it.

Another Planet of the Apes movie: While it's possible that someone I know has seen one of these movies, I have never heard anyone express any kind of opinion on any of them, ever.

Guardians of the Galaxy: I worked three years in a poorly trafficked comic store, and mostly just read comics for eight hours a day. Never once did I read a copy of Guardians of the Galaxy. Ah, this is Firefly done right. This trailer, and presumably, the movie that goes with it, remember that movies should be fun.

And now, on to the main event!

 X-Men: Days of Futures Past Movie Review

Here's a recolored image of the movie poster as my way of saying thanks for reading through that earlier section. 

Nice groovy 70's vibe to it
I'm not even going to attempt to do this review without spoilers.


We open with a couple scenes to establish the reality of this crapsack future. Killer robots called Sentinels have almost wiped out mutants, and mutant sympathizers live in ghettos. But the surviving X-Men fight on!

On our team we have

Kitty Pryde: Shadowcat, though I don't think anyone calls her that. She was the character who went back in time to change the past in the original story, and while there was a little bit of nerdrage about the change on the Internets, I think the change is for the better.

Her mutant powers include phasing through solid matter, some kind of Trancers-style time travel where a target's mind is sent back to inhabit his earlier body, and being Josh's make believe girlfriend. Ellen Page has always been outstanding in everything she's ever done, and, while she doesn't get much screen time, she's predictably great here.

Colossus: It was nice to get Daniel Cudmore (and his cool armoring up sound) back for this movie, even if his super powers have dwindled to "being punched by Sentinels".

Sunspot: Back when I was a kid, we lived a couple houses away from Bob Sharen, who was, at the time, a colorist for Marvel Comics. (He's now an artist of a different sort, and you can see his other work at his website at Earthlight studio. Hi, Bob! I'd be extremely surprised if you remember me!) He gave us a ton of comics, and a lot of them had Sunspot, and I remember thinking that Sunspot was a much bigger deal than he actual was. Still, he had a neat look and an interesting power set (how often do you see super-strength without invulnerability?)

Warpath: Pretty generic hero with super senses, and probably some super strength if he thinks that knife is going to be any good against the Sentinels. The combination of his name, costume and powerset are perhaps a bit culturally insensitive in 2014, but at least he's not Silver Deer.

Bishop: I was heavily into comics when Bishop was introduced in 1991. Though he's a kind of the stereotypical 90's anti-hero, having held memberships in "X-Treme Sanctions Executive", "Xavier's Security Enforcers", and "X-Treme X-Men", I've always liked him. He's got a neat powerset (absorption and redirection of energy) and a distinctive look and it's always nice to see more people of race in comic books. It's worth noting that his movie incarnation makes quite a bit more sense than his comics version. Comics Bishop could fire blasts of whatever energy he had just absorbed straight from his body. And yet, he always carried a big ray gun wherever he went. What was the point? The movie version shows a feed from his body to his gun, implying that he can't project the energy on his  own without some kind of focusing device.

Blink: We had a character named Blink in our Pen and Paper superhero campaign. Our Blink was a teleporter, but also a dude.  I quite liked Blink. One of the things I disliked about the super-fights in the Avengers was that they showed so little imagination. They were people doing things people do, like throwing or punching, but faster or better. Blink's power is to open a portal from one place to another, much like the video game Portal. It completely changes the dynamics. It's interesting and engaging and the visual presentation of her powers is stunning

Iceman: It's really nice to see Shawn Ashmore return. I was never a huge fan of Iceman, but Ashmore is pretty great with the role.

The group fights the Sentinels, but everyone but Kitty and Bishop are killed. As the Sentinels approach the pair to finish them off, Kitty and Bishop vanish. A group of Magneto, Wolverine, Professor X and Storm (no biographies for these guys, since they're so well known) rendezvous with all of them in China. (I really liked some establishing shots of Sentinels atop the Great Wall. It seemed to show how complete their domination was.)

It turns out Kitty's group has been rewinding time in order to avoid the Sentinels. What she was doing with Bishop was sending a message to his past self, saying, "Hey, Sentinels are coming. Don't hide in that place." He warns everyone, so they aren't where they they would have been/will be when the Sentinels attack, history is rewritten, and we get everyone back again.

They want to send a message much further back than they usually go, all the way back the assassination of Bolivar Trask in the 1970s.  Mystique assassinated him, was captured herself, and her blood was used to engineer the new adaptive Sentinels. Wolverine is the only one who can survive the journey, so he goes. We awakens in his new body to the strains of the "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face". Turns out he was banging the mob boss's daughter while he was supposed to be bodyguarding her. Three goons in outrageous 70s mafia leisurewear arrive, Wolverine makes a half-hearted attempt to talk them out of the fight, but he doesn't really care, because he's reasonably confident on how it's going to play out if push comes to shove. He pops his claws, which are bone instead of metal, which I thought was a surprising bit of continuity porn until I learned how big a role William Stryker was going to play. Spoilers, they fight, Wolverine wins, and gets his car.

We cut to Bolivar Trask is giving testimony before a Senate subcommittee about the mutant menace, but even though he quotes from Charles Xavier's thesis on human genetic mutation, they pull the plug on his funding.

It seems like every review of this movie has an observation somewhere along the line that "Every actor was good, but actor X stole the show!"   There were certainly no bad performances anywhere to be found. I think Peter Dinklage as Trask is actor X in that equation for me, as he most consistently stole the scenes he was in, but I'll qualify that by saying that he was rarely opposite another main cast member.

Wolverine finds the X-Mansion in disrepair, with only Hank McCoy and Professor X in attendance.  The Good Professor is in full-on Lieutenant Dan mode, hopeless, drunk and unshaven. McCoy is periodically hairy too, transforming into the blue-skinned Beast when angry. That change didn't work for me. I liked the awkward nerd from the first movie, but his transformation from gangly scientist to brightly colored superhero is so specifically the Hulk's schtick that it's hard not to think of him that way, and it's a little distracting. Wolverine beseeches the Professor to help, but finds that Charles has just given up after so many of his students had been drafted and killed in Vietnam. 

Meanwhile, Mystique rescues several drafted mutants in Vietnam, among them Havok, Toad and this guy with whom I was previously unfamiliar, Ink, who, like everything else in this movie, had a superlative visual aesthetic. The mutants were going to be shipped away for experimentation at Trask's firm, but together they fight off the contractors (including a young Major Stryker) and she gets them on a chopper headed home. It's nice to see the ladies rescue the boys once in a while.

Wolverine convinces the Professor to help, but they decide they're going need Magneto's help, not because he's a powerful mutant, but because he's the only one who can reach Mystique and persuade her to turn away from Trask. I liked that, that even among these super-humans who can lift stadiums and control minds from across the world, it's the human element that's most important.

Of course, since Wolverine's power is stabbing things, the Beast's powers are being pretty strong and pretty tough, and the Professor traded in his telepathy for the unbeatable powers of super-walking and alcoholism, they realize they're going to need some help. Wolverine knows a guy...

Continued in part two of this review, which can be found here.

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