By Shane M. Dallmann
Okay, before I launch into this review, I should spell out my disclaimer/defense ahead of time. When it comes to the Marvel Universe in comic book form, I am not, repeat, NOT an “X-Pert.” In the past, I’ve been chastised for not thinking the third X-MEN movie was as bad as all that and (especially) for sticking up for X-MEN: FIRST CLASS as my personal favorite of the bunch… apparently, rules were broken, origins were changed, characters were mis-deployed and hash was made out of the comics canon. None of that registered on me as I watched and enjoyed the film on its own terms.
With the return of original X-MEN director Bryan Singer, we’re told that this new movie is going to unify the original X-trilogy with both FIRST CLASS and the two solo WOLVERINE movies (which I never saw). Well, there’s no way you’re ever going to please EVERYBODY, but I’m happy to report that Singer made one hell of an entertaining film in the attempt, and this goes to the head of the CLASS as well.
HOWEVER, before I get into what I liked about the movie, I’m going to make my case for documentary fame… remember ROOM 237 and all the wild theories about THE SHINING? Well, I’ve got a doozy for you here, and I’ve got the proof to go with it! Remember, you heard it here FIRST!!!
Here’s the premise… we’re shown a future in which nothing but doom lies in store for all of the mutants… they’re all being wiped out by the undefeatable Sentinels at the tail end of a devastating war, and the only thing that might save them is alteration of the past. But there’s only one character who can handle such a hazardous journey… as Wolverine (Hugh Jackman, of course) doesn’t age and heals instantly, he can go back to 1973 and have his “here and now” mind occupy the body of his (not visibly) “younger” self.
Well, hold on to your seats, partners… I just HAPPEN to be watching that exact same storyline on my DARK SHADOWS original-series DVD set. It’s all there… Collinswood and its family has been destroyed in the future and the only thing that can prevent this from happening is for Barnabas to use the I Ching to travel back in time and occupy the body of his “younger” self (being a vampire, Barnabas hasn’t aged a day). And who’s one of his primary antagonists in the past? Why, his name is TRASK! TRASK, I tell you! TRASK! That PROVES that X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST is one-hundred-percent intended as a tribute to Dan Curtis Productions and DARK SHADOWS in particular!!!!
Now, while I await my Pulitzer…
I really don’t need to go through the story and its complications in detail… it’s easy enough to watch them unfold while the cast has great fun in 1973… basically, it’s up to Wolverine to convince both James McAvoy as Charles Xavier (“there’s no Professor here, I told you”) AND Magneto (Michael Fassbender) to put aside their differences and join forces to alter the destiny of Raven/Mystique (played by Jennifer Lawrence and plenty of other actors, if you take my meaning). And with Singer back at the helm, the Holocaust overtones of the original entry are here enhanced with allusions to the inhuman experiments of a scientific genius by the name of… yes, Trask (Peter Dinklage) and their role in the eventual (?) creation of the Sentinels… meanwhile, while the name “Nixon” is never spoken aloud, he’s certainly the President as we exit the Vietnam War still reeling from the assassination of JFK (who IS named, and there’s a neat twist THERE, too).
Yet for all the harsh topicality, there’s plenty of time for fun to be had here, as well… most welcome is the respite offered by Peter Evans as Quicksilver, who essentially gets his own little segment of the movie to set up a series of intricately hilarious and complicated sight gags (all for the sake of the story, at that). The early 70s are well-represented (yes, I was there), Dinklage is a particularly excellent addition to the saga, and while most of the established cast (Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry et al) have the least to actually DO in this film, it’s still quite the thing to watch the movie take advantage of the “alternate timeline” formula and wipe your favorite characters out before your very eyes…
Okay, okay… the more I talk the more I spoil. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it just one more time… I think these last two X-films are the best ones in the whole movie series (unless X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE is the unheralded masterpiece of all time, which I doubt). And it’s ALL about DARK SHADOWS.
Go forth and enjoy.
And here’s another take from one of our newest contributors, Sartaj Singh:
X-Men: Days of Future Past comes at a time when the comic book movie genre is starting to feel stagnant. Most pictures within this little niche hut are mostly concerned with setting up sequels and franchising that they cannot even achieve the simple task of telling a good story within their duration.
Days of Future Past, adapted from the iconic comic storyline by Chris Claremont, has grand marvellous ambition that boggles the mind, and it confounds in an almost surreal way, how well it executes that ambition.
The screenplay, penned by Simon Kindberg particularly impresses. By crafting a time travel narrative, Kindberg illustrates the core reason as to why the X-franchise is very appealing. At its heart, it has always been ideologies clashing in a Chess like fashion fronted by two men.
Additionally, like all good time travel stories, it allows us to peek into a moment of time that has fundamentally shaped someone. The explanation of the time travel was simple, the dialogue was engaging and the speechifying was dignified and not overly sentimental.
Furthermore, the humour emerged from natural places within the situations that the characters found themselves in and the references to prior films were all subtly put in as opposed to drawing attention to themselves.
Bryan Singer matches the screenplay in its greatness with his outstanding direction. He keeps the scale of the film in check with some great editing and focus on character building scenes. His camera always greatly lingers and yet has sharp focus, showcasing important subtle, details.
A good example of this is the scene when Charles and Erik are on a plane together. He has a close up focused on the former and a medium shot on the latter. As the scene goes on and becomes increasingly intense, through the subtle use of the camera, that aforementioned medium shot slowly becomes a close up as the scene goes on.
He also plays with the nature of time in some scenes, the best example being a tense fight scene that takes place on the Paris streets. The camera is focused and captures all the action, but then he cuts to the cameras that the reporters use. We are then treated to seeing the footage being captured on video, in 16:9 aspect ratio and having this great grainy texture. The effect is one of a sense of nostalgic bliss and a prism as to how we used to look at the world.
This is coupled with a fantastic scene where the audience is treated to an extended rift on the joys of Bernard`s watch and one of the best dramatic scenes in a comic book movie. You have the X-Men back in the right hands of a man who understands the material and most importantly has fun with it.
Praising the cast would take volumes because of the sheer amount of people in the picture, so to focus the lens on a couple of actors should suffice. Hugh Jackman returns as Wolverine and brings much gravity and weight to his plight. But it is James McAvoy who is the biggest surprise bringing previous untapped depth to young Charles Xavier as a portrait of a man who has lost all hope and faith, in the face of personal loss. It is his character who carries the film, in a piece about the nature of change and determinism set against overwhelming impossibility and bleakness.