Thursday, June 5, 2014
X-Men: Days of Future Past
X-Men: Days of Future Past
Dir. Bryan Singer
3.5 out of 5
In comics, elastic continuity is one of the medium's fundamental strengths, allowing for nearly endless permutations of characters and scenarios. If things get too complicated in one universe, simply open up a new one. In the movies, with a much larger and generally less invested audience, this is tougher to pull off without engendering confusion or disappointment (just ask anyone involved in the Amazing Spider-Man saga). The time-bending sequel X-Men: Days of Future Past is the latest test of that continuity comfort zone. X-Men and X2 director Bryan Singer returns to adapt one of the comic's iconic plotlines with a noticeably careful and ultimately gratifying approach to the film's tricky placement within the X-Men's cinematic canon. Set in a dystopian future where mutants and their allies are ruthlessly hunted by giant robot drones called Sentinels, the last few remaining X-Men unveil a last-ditch gambit: using the matter 'phasing' powers of Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page), they will send the consciousness of Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back into his younger body circa 1973 to stop the events that lead to this bleak holocaust.
All things considered, Days of Future Past is a rather elegant cinematic interpretation of comic book-y concepts, weaving mini-arcs and brief team-ups into the fabric of its larger time-jumping narrative. Lacking a central protagonist, the film sequences its screentime in a manner that resembles the month-to-month (or even page-to-page) flow of a comic series. Plenty of other comic book movies do this as well, but few of them do it with as keen a sense of timing, where restraint can be as fulfilling as release. The psychic meeting between the young and old versions of Charles "Professor X" Xavier (James McAvoy and Patrick Stewart), for example, is astonishingly brief but meaningful in jolting the youthful professor out of his depressive doldrums.
This being a time-travel movie, it's full of unexplained paradoxes. The only one that matters, though, is experiential. A strong feeling of deja vu permeates DOFP, whether it's an uneasy alliance with the vengeful Magneto (Michael Fassbender/Ian McKellen), a cynical Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) taking out her frustrations on a cruel and unforgiving world as a shape-shifting spy, or a panicked government indulging a demagogue warning of a mutant threat. In this version, the latter position is held by Bolivar Trask (an underutilized Peter Dinklage), the scientist responsible for inventing the Sentinels who repeats the evergreen anecdote about what happened to the Neanderthals when they failed to understand the danger posed by their more evolved cousins, homo sapiens.
The film may be familiar at times, but it has many unique pleasures as well, beginning with its kinetic action sequences. Singer skillfully handles the integration of brand-new mutant characters, starting with a propulsive and fluid chase scene that highlights their complimentary abilities. Rarely has gratuitous slow-mo seemed so justified, which is doubly true for the introduction of Quicksilver (Evan Peters), a snarky teen speedster who contributes the film's biggest spark of energy during an ingeniously conceived prison raid. It's an exuberant digression - a scene literally stops in its tracks for Quicksilver to micromanage it - and one that's welcome in a film so crowded that Richard Nixon becomes as important a character as, say, Storm (Halle Berry). An entertaining but safe mix of futureshock, funky nostalgia, and fan service, Days of Future Past doesn't quite have the real-world resonance of Singer's previous films. Nor does the repetition of familiar elements provoke any particularly intriguing thematic questions about do-overs or cycles of history. What it does have is a shrewd recognition of the versatility of those elements in crafting endless iterations of escapist fantasy. Yes, we have done this before, the movie basically concedes. But this time, let's try it a different way and see if we don't have more fun.