Combustible Celluloid
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With: Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry, Nicholas Hoult, Ellen Page, Peter Dinklage, Evan Peters, Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Shawn Ashmore, Josh Helman, Anna Paquin, Omar Sy, Daniel Cudmore, Bingbing Fan, Adan Canto, Booboo Stewart
Written by: Simon Kinberg, based on a story by Jane Goldman, Simon Kinberg, Matthew Vaughn
Directed by: Bryan Singer
MPAA Rating: PG- 13 for sequences of intense sci-fi violence and action, some suggestive material, nudity and language
Running Time: 131
Date: 05/23/2014

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Trask Force

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The X-Men movie franchise has been a bumpy ride, starting with two solid Bryan Singer-directed entries (X-Men and X2), moving to an awful Brett Ratner-directed entry (The Last Stand), then a weak solo Wolverine (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) movie, then a return to form with Matthew Vaughn's retro X-Men: First Class (2011), and then another weak solo Wolverine movie (The Wolverine), which included a teaser button for this new movie, Singer's X-Men: Days of Future Past.

The good news about this movie is that X-Men: Days of Future Past makes us forget all the mistakes this series has committed, as well as the mistakes that superhero movies in general usually commit. It brings to the screen a reminder of the reasons we used to read X-Men comics in the first place, and I'd place it as one of the half-dozen best superhero movies yet made.

Jumping off from Chris Claremont and John Byrne's legendary two-issue story published in 1981 (in "The Uncanny X-Men" #141-142), the complex movie begins juggling and balancing its storyline with astounding skill, as if its various pieces were made of metal and Magneto himself were in charge.

In the year 2023, the world is at war. The government has officially installed the "Sentinel" program, which involves giant, indestructible robots endlessly hunting mutants. Unfortunately, they have also begun hunting humans that help mutants, and humans that have even the tiniest strain of mutant DNA, i.e. they could have a mutant grandchild down the line. So, essentially, the world has become terrorized and enslaved, with the government in charge, under the guise of "protecting" us.

Several of the surviving X-Men, including Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page), have devised a way to stay a step ahead, which involves using her phasing power to send souls back in time a day or so, warning earlier incarnations of approaching attacks. Enter Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart), Magneto (Ian McKellen), Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and Storm (Halle Berry). They have a plan to travel back in time not just a day, but fifty years, to the point at which the whole "Sentinel" plan was born.

That time is about a decade after the events of X-Men: First Class, with a young Xavier (James McAvoy) taking drugs to suppress the pain of his spinal injury, and also thereby wiping out his powers. The school for mutants closed and in ruins, his only confidant is Hank McCoy, or Beast (Nicholas Hoult). Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) has disappeared, and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) is imprisoned, accused of an assassination attempt.

Wolverine is chosen as the time-traveler, because his slow aging process means that he was alive and looking about the same in 1973 (he has a brief cameo in First Class) and because he's the only one that could conceivably survive the trip. (In the original story, Kitty makes the trip.) The time travel works, but it's nothing compared to getting Xavier -- and, eventually, Magneto -- to listen to his crazy story and to act. Eventually they must try to stop Mystique from making her first kill, and setting all the events in motion. Of course things become even more complicated from there. (I did not mean to tell you so much plot, but believe me, this is only a tiny fraction of what actually happens.)

At one point early on, the unlikely 1973 team enlists the aid of a mutant teen, Quicksilver (Evan Peters), who is really, really fast. One truly inspired scene has him helping with an escape; the scene is shown from his perspective -- set to the tune of one particular early 1970s pop song -- with everything around him moving at super-slow motion and he, able to move about the room and alter everything. Singer shoots it like a great magician, with clever cause-and-effect concepts, and great reveals. The result is absolutely spectacular, applause-worthy.

The movie has many such spectacular scenes, and unlike Ratner or many of today's superhero filmmakers, Singer is not a camera shaker, and is actually concerned with space and rhythm in his action scenes. But perhaps more importantly, he is concerned that his action scenes have a point. Marc Webb is clearly more interested in Peter Parker than in Spider-Man's battles; the Russo brothers shake the camera during Cap's fight scenes in Captain America: The Winter Soldier; Superman's last movie was mostly mechanical punching; and I've always wondered why a Batman movie can't be about the Dark Knight as detective, solving a mystery rather than dealing with chases and explosions.

But for once, finally, a movie has action scenes that spring naturally from character and actually accomplish something in the narrative. Moreover, there actually aren't that many of them, and they're often quite short; the grand majority of the movie shows -- gasp! -- interesting characters trying to deal with their feelings and situations. Like the best of the Marvel superheroes, their problems do not necessarily stem from monsters or bad guys or time travel, but from things far more personal.

I guess it's sad state of affairs that what I love best about X-Men: Days of Future Past is all the things it doesn't do wrong. But I also really enjoyed what it did right, bringing to life some beloved old characters, understanding how they related to one another and how they felt about one another, and giving them enough trouble to keep them busy.

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