Movie Review: X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)- An Ambitious Bridging of Two Franchises Aided by Director Bryan Singer’s Connection to the Outsider Themes

screen-shot-2013-10-29-at-133647When director Bryan Singer left the X-Men franchise more than a decade ago it really didn’t thrive without his personal connection to the material as Brett Ratner demolished the progress and credibility the franchise made with X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) and unnecessary spinoffs began to drain the series of enduring purpose (we’re looking at you X-Men Origins: Wolverine). However, producer/director/writer Matthew Vaughn breathed new life into the franchise a little less than three years ago with a slightly flawed, greatly ambitious, and undeniably thought provoking look back on the young Charles Xavier (a.k.a. Professor X) and Erik Lensherr (a.k.a. Magneto) in X-Men: First Class. This is the prequel foundation that the latest X-Men: Days of Future Past mostly builds on but with an inventive time traveling twist linking the future characters we’ve known from the previous franchise in X-Men and X2 as they become intrinsically linked with their past selves and the shadowed events of the past. X-Men: Days of Future Past may have a title that is exhausting to say but nothing about the film is wasted energy, time, or space as it’s filled with real felt consequence for its character’s fates, genuine character struggle and revelation, returned thought provoking themes, and most importantly inventive and fun action sequences that bring the series back to its creative origins. The adoption of these phenomenally developed elements can solely be attributed to director Bryan Singer who at times has faltered in his career (Jack the Giant Slayer, Valkyrie) but seems to be as intrinsically connected to these mutant characters as those characters are with their future and past selves. What can really be said to summarize X-Men: Days of Future Past is that it’s the ideal blockbuster studio tentpole or at least an ideal structure that utilizes its characters to their fullest extent in a story that challenges our minds with time traveling theories, bleak consequences, and real character struggle fully realized by a talented cast and a director who connects with the overarching material. As a sequel to X-Men: First Class, X-Men: Days of Future Past rises to the occasion as it enhances that solid story foundation to new depth but as a bridge to the X-Men series as a whole it serves as a truly ambitious and successful cleansing of the palette for future and past franchise potential.

The ambitious challenge of bridging the future and past worlds was undoubtedly a struggle considering the amount of characters to include, the potential for continuity errors, and to properly explain how the time traveling process can actually occur. Screenwriter Simon Kinberg, known for arguable cinematic trash such as Jumper, This Means War, and the blight of the X-Men Series X-Men: The Last Stand, surprisingly handles the complexity of the script with confidence but can probably be credited to the detailed and outlined story that writing partners Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman (X-Men: First Class, Kick-Ass) helped set up for Kinsberg in the early writing process. Together the writers lay out a thoroughly engaging sequel to the events of X-Men: First Class that left Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) lost in existential depression and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) ever vigilant in carrying out his eradication of the human threat with Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) caught in the middle of two paths, one that embraces hatred or the one that shows a better path. These are the character stakes that are defined and carried out elegantly in the script where their actions truly have devastating consequences for their future selves and the population as a whole, both mutant and human. In the future there are adaptable machines known as Sentinels that are hunting down mutants and imprisoning human sympathizers which were made possible from events of the past that the future and wiser Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen) are both trying to change. What follows is a time traveling action adventure that finds Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), the only mutant capable of handling the pain of consciousness time travel, attempting to convince a hopeless Charles Xavier in finding his rightful path in being the epitome of rising above the hatred and prejudice that had befallen so many in both the human and mutant populations of the past. The outsider themes of the X-Men franchise of old come full circle again in a riveting display of character struggle mostly in Xavier who needs to remember why he believed so fully in the potential of human and mutant peace while Mystique gets her own complex character path of choice between going down a righteous path or continuing down her descent into future villainy. In the end the script of X-Men: Days of Future Past has enough character depth, dire consequence, and edge of your seat action that keeps the brain occupied while also challenging its perceptions as a great blockbuster film has the capability of doing.

tn-500_x-men-_days_of_future_past_40

In the hands of lesser director (Brett Ratner- X-Men: The Last Stand, Gavin Hood- X-Men Origins: Wolverine) this type of material would lose all of its thematic substance and character development in sacrifice to the overabundance of special effects action but that isn’t the case for X-Men: Days of Future Past. Bryan Singer returns to the X-Men franchise here with an invigorated mindset making sure the script’s delicate balance of all the character’s societal and emotional themes ring true without losing the spectacle of inventive action. Much like with his work in X-Men and X2 Singer makes sure that the characters are front and center allowing the action to make sense to their choices, predicaments, and perceptions that are either stationary in some characters (Wolverine, Magneto) and changing for others (Charles Xavier, Mystique). This sensible direction that Singer has been known for prior to Superman Returns, Valkyrie, and Jack the Giant Slayer comes back with a renewed sensibility, especially in sequences such as Quicksilver’s (Evan Peters) take down of guards in the Pentagon that is simply as good as Nightcrawler’s take down of the White House guards in X2. All of the action sequences have higher stakes that are always felt because Singer purposefully brings us back and forth between the almost hopeless struggles of the past and how the future becomes bleaker as people die in sacrifice for a belief that things can possibly change. There isn’t a visual endurance challenging barrage of special effects nor is there a shortage of intricately structured action sequences as Singer tells this story with careful precision and the right amount of everything essential to a good film from genuine character interaction, emotionally felt stakes, and purposeful displays of special effect spectacles. With Singer returning with his devout crew of collaborators including cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel (X-Men, X2, The Usual Suspects) and composer/editor John Ottman (X-Men, X2, The Usual Suspects) it becomes a full Bryan Singer X-Men reunion that embodies the strong creativity and meaning of the early franchise while also successfully creating a new journey forward for all the characters in question with new possibilities. X-Men: Days of Future Past doesn’t lose itself in the technical mastery of tentpole special effects but rather allows those elements to enhance the thematically important story being told about multilayered characters that are rarely seen in summer films.

Of course multilayered characters are one thing to write but an entirely different beast to portray through performance on the screen and luckily the X-Men franchise has secured top of the line talent to portray the complexities of the mutant characters at the center of the drama. In the future we have familiar mutant character from the previous franchise, including Iceman (Shawn Ashmore), Bishop (Omar Sy), Storm (Halle Berry), and the catalyst for the time traveling storyline Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page). However, the towering presences of the future X-Men are of course Patrick Stewart as the wise Charles Xavier and Ian McKellen as the reformed Magneto as they both exude the essentialness of coming together for the sake of so many lives that will be sacrificed if they don’t. The crux of the film’s performances are centered in the past and what a resounding display of talent from James McAvoy as the young, depressed, and hopeless Charles Xavier and Michael Fassbender as the megalomaniacal, determined, and disciplined Magneto. McAvoy possesses numerous talents and brings them all here for a return quality performance equal to the one in X-Men: First Class expressing the youthful doubts of a man with the capabilities of being a great one combined with competing emotions of existential depression and fearful reluctance. As Xavier’s counterpart Michael Fassbender possesses an overabundance of confidence as the youthful Magneto who again challenges in both screen presence and succinct character belief against McAvoy’s now more vulnerable state. Though Jennifer Lawrence again captures the difficulty of Mystique’s character growth being given a choice between good and evil, or rather the difficult path of principle versus the easy path of vengeance, there’s a lingering fear that her presence in so many films from The Hunger Games franchise to Award darlings such as American Hustle might overexpose her (hasn’t exactly happened yet but still possible). Who isn’t overexposed here is the great Hugh Jackman who returns as the fan favorite Wolverine who serves more as a character catalyst for Xavier’s development beyond his hopelessness to believe again instead of being the focused lead in another X-Men film. All around from newcomers like charismatic Evan Peters (Quicksilver) and scientifically villainous Peter Dinklage (Dr. Bolivar Trask) to the familiar faces from franchise chapters new and old the cast always delivers and are effectively used with great purpose throughout X-Men: Days of Future Past.

mystique

Any doubters about the quality of revisiting the X-men franchise again in X-Men Days of Future Past, and there are possibly many, should have their doubts put to rest because the return of Bryan Singer has brought a refreshing rendition on the quality he brought to the original franchise. Building off the foundation of Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class and bridging the two franchises together with intriguing time traveling inventiveness, Simon Kinberg’s script guided by the story aid of writing team Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman revitalizes the mutant series with a freshness that stems from a devotion to character development and a renewal of the outsider themes that made the original franchise so emotionally poignant. Bryan Singer finds his directorial stride here in visiting his beloved mutants again creating an emotionally felt struggle of character and consequence on the forefront of his film while also delivering high octane action to compliment the focus on story. X-Men: Days of Future Past ideally embodies what most blockbuster studio tentpole’s should be as Singer keeps his potentially erratic narrative in tight control as he drifts into past and present with a delicate balance of humor, suspense, and cinematic grandeur.

Grade: B+

Advertisements
Comments
One Response to “Movie Review: X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)- An Ambitious Bridging of Two Franchises Aided by Director Bryan Singer’s Connection to the Outsider Themes”
  1. Great review and this is one of those rare beasts indeed! A sequel/sequel/sequel/prequel/sequel/prequel that actually works! Brilliant performances from Fassbender, Mcavoy, Lawrence & Jackman and yes, welcome back Bryan Singer, a true genius! This film deserves to be the largest moneymaker of all time! Fancy getting all those characters/actors/actresses in one film and NOT making a meal of it. Well done him!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: