Monday, June 2, 2014

Review: X-Men: Days of Future Past

Version I Saw: Theatrical version (of course) in 3D.

History: Based on the comic story of the same name from issues 141-142 of The Uncanny X-Men. This is technically the seventh X-Men film in a long standing franchise that started back in 2000 and shows no sign of stopping. Since the rights are still owned by 20th Century Fox this story has no connection to the other Marvel films of recent years like Iron Man and Captain America. This is the first X-Men film Bryan Singer directed since X-Men 2 over ten years earlier. He is slated to direct the next as well, set for release May 2016. It opened to very positive reviews on May 23rd and as of this review has grossed $500 Million + worldwide.

Personal History: First viewing of this installment. It has been a long time since I've seen the big three from the early 2000s. I have not seen Origins: Wolverine, First Class, or The Wolverine... yet. Like every other super hero movie out there I am not familiar with the comics. However I did watch the X-Men cartoon a lot and I did have a few issues of the comic here and there in the 90s. All in all I've likely spent more time with the X-Men than other comic heroes, including Batman. Still, fairly uninformed viewing.

Review: I hope you all enjoyed my Godzilla review. A little fun I wanted to have as a break from the norm. To those of you who care I will likely write a more extensive review in time. After I pick up the home video release to watch it again (and again and so forth). To those who didn't enjoy it (first, suck it!) don't worry. This review will be back to the standard, extensive review of this wonderful thing called film.

I've always thought the X-Men were a pretty amazing batch. For some reason they captured my imagination more than other characters. I think I liked the way they were a team focus instead of stand-alone characters. Which could be, in a way, why I liked Watchmen so much as well. This way there were many story arcs to explore and see how they work with other characters, learning to fight together instead of being a one man army capable of taking down anything. Maybe that's why I'm not as into Superman.
It's ironic that I exclaim how I like them because they have more when I tend to be the 'keep it simple stupid' type of person. I like minimal number of characters, small settings, tight focus, basically the type of stories where it all takes place in real time and in the same place with two, maybe three characters tops. I think I need to watch My Dinner With Andre again... But I think the reason why something like X-Men works so well for me is because a bigger mission and stories crave more characters so more can be done and better. Unless you're an unstoppable one man army like Chev Chelios you need a team. And I like it when the team has a history and strong connections from character to character like the X-Men do other than what feels like a forced history in other super hero movies of recent time. Or worse, a random rag-tag team thrown together for the sake of having a team.
For the record I did enjoy The Avengers.

With that said it's hard to say whether or not I'm a 'fan' of the X-Men. Really it's hard to say if I'm a fan of any comic book heroes. There are stories I like that came from a comic book in some way shape or form, but I hardly consider myself a fan. I'll watch their movies because they're fun and exciting. I'm not gonna go and grab the books, toys, whatever else with the exception of video games but that's a different story. So for me to not consider myself a fan only to leave this movie the way I did? It says something.
Simply put (from a non-credible source as a non-fan of comic book heroes for the most part) this is the best X-Men movie in a long time. It has been a long time since I've seen some of the others AND I haven't seen a few in-between. However I heard the ones I missed with the exception of First Class were some of the worst so I don't feel a loss there.
I wasn't even intending to see this. I figured I may get around to it eventually, but as a whole I wasn't really interested. Even when I saw the trailer at another movie not long ago I thought, "That looks pretty cool! But I've got others I'm more interested in." And going to this screening just seemed like a fun thing to do on a Friday night. In a way it was like when I saw Frozen only not as extreme. At first I wasn't really into it, went for the hell of it, and came out excited for what I just saw and almost missed. The major difference here is Frozen is now my favorite Disney movie. Something's telling me this won't go down as my favorite comic book movie. This I will tell you... it reignited my interest in the X-Men.

I touched on this a little already but now I'll expand. I know many fans are hung up that the film rights for X-Men and Spider Man (are there others?) are owned by people who aren't Marvel. After seeing Days of Future Past I am glad they aren't caught up in that mess that is the current Marvel movie universe. At first I thought it was cool how a ton of awesome action movies were made, were all connected, and led up to the incredible experience that was The Avengers. But since The Avengers was what everyone was waiting for everything since then feels less impactful. Sure I like Thor 2 and The Winter Soldier plenty, and even to an extent I liked Iron Man 3 (not as much, fell a little flat for me). I don't have an interest in seeing Guardians of the Galaxy, though, and I'm not really looking forward to other comic book movies coming out.
A part of that being over saturation. They are all over the place now, which is cool in a way. At least they're well done as opposed to most of the crap that was cranked out at the turn of the century. But what Marvel is making now is one of the reasons I'm not into comics. I'm the type of person who likes his stories self contained or in as few sequels as possible. Exceptions to this are my collections of the Friday the 13th and Halloween movies. Those being guilty pleasures of course so that doesn't count. So when Marvel keeps cranking out movie after movie there is so much material out there it's hard to keep up. Especially if elements of previous titles are integrated into The Avengers 2 or The Incredible Hulk: It's Smash Time! Not only are they making these long running stories that have been and will continue to go on for years in theatres, they revolve around multiple characters. It makes it hard to keep up if it's not entirely your bread and butter.
And this is one of the reasons why I liked Days of Future Past so much. It's film rights aren't owned by Marvel right now so they're their own thing. I loved that. I didn't feel this was a side story to something bigger going on. I felt this one story was the most important thing in the world for these characters at that moment. I felt like anything could happen. It was a sequel, taking place later than any of the previous X-Men movies (I believe, I'm not sure where The Wolverine is placed). It had time travel, meaning anything could happen. It didn't have to stick to the story of something else going on. It made it unpredictable and exciting. More so than other Marvel movies of late, knowing certain things have to happen or certain characters can't die for the sake of the next big team up.
Days of Future Past stands up on it's own. Not just as a movie, but as a franchise.

Really the Fox X-Men movies are a rarity for multiple reasons. They started back in 2000 and are still going with the same cast. This was Hugh Jackman's seventh appearance as Wolverine and Patrick Stewart's sixth as Prof. Xavier (counting cameos). Not to mention appearances by Ian McKellen, Halle Berry, and others from as far back as the first movie. It's like Hollywood's not so secret, secret formula to keeping a super hero franchise going with the same people involved title after title instead of constant re-casting and rebooting. Just think, since the first X-Men there have been five Spider-Man movies divided among two different reboots. And while the X-Men movies haven't been consistent in their chronology they have at least all been in the same universe. Not once (that I'm aware of) have the previous installments been marked as not counting. And here they are seven movies in with an eight and ninth coming by 2017.

But enough of why these movies as a whole kick ass, what about this one specifically?
It's hard to say when I fell in love with this title cause the opening felt a tad too 'standard' for my tastes. A bunch of fantastically awesome X-Men characters I'm sure the hardcore fans recognize are fighting these bizarre, morphing robotic monsters in an overly stylized manner that doesn't entirely appeal to me. Whatever, at least it makes more sense what was going on as time goes by. This is also where I noticed the violence was pushing the envelope a bit with the violence for a PG-13. Dudes and dudettes were getting MURDERED left and right and in vicious ways. I mean, getting heads ripped off, people exploding (literally) and the list goes on. But of course they were all in their alternate states. Like covered in flames like the human torch, or with their ice ability turned on so they're not realistic murders. All CG heavy murders. What I did find cool about this was how it doesn't technically happen because the time travel trick is used.

Come to think of it that's where this really sparked my interest. The time travel. I knew time travel would be involved in the story but I didn't know how. Let me say I have a love/hate relationship with time travel. I think they're cool ideas for stories but rarely come out well. That's because time travel is very complicated and hard to handle. Hence why one of the best time travel movies ever made, Primer, is confusing as hell. I do have issues with how the time travel was handled here. More on that later when it really counts.
What I did like and was a surprise to me was how they traveled back in time. I thought it would be something like normal, where someone physically travels through time ala a machine or in this case mutant powers. While it was with mutant powers it was handled in a surprising way. Send their consciousness back to their former self. And of course when they set up the brain can only handle so much before snapping it made perfect sense to send Wolverine, one of the most badass dudes to ever exist, back in time. This was also a convenient excuse not to have a younger version since he doesn't age so... there you go.
This was super cool! I liked how time travel was actually handled differently for once. I liked how it was all being done in real(ish) time (more thoughts on that later) where Ellen Page's character, Kitty Pryde, had to be constantly using her powers on Wolverine to keep him back in that time. It wasn't simply, "We send you back. Do your job. Not get back before you're stuck there!" If anything they had trouble keeping him there or else he'd be snapped back to the present.
While it did make sense it would be Wolverine (along with being the most badass choice) I would have liked to see what it could have been with other characters. Ironically it's likely easier for someone to be convinced of a stranger coming from the future instead of a friend or anyone you know personally. Sure Xavier would have been the easiest solution, but imagine what it'd be like if it was Magneto had to go back and solve the problems of the present/future. Having to be a bad guy and convince your enemy you are there to help him. Regardless I felt it was a pretty well put together story for many reasons.

The story is something I liked a lot over other super hero movies of late. Something about the world knowing mutants exist and that they're not just some secret group secretly saving the world. Again it has that Watchmen-like feel. They're around to save the world and use their powers for good (most of them). But the world doesn't want these heroes. In this case going so far as to develop a technology to trace and kill any and all mutants. The very reason they're going to the past is to stop this technology from being developed. Turns out those creatures they were fighting in the opening fight were androids/robots/whatever that share similar abilities to Mystique, which they were able to adapt after she was apprehended in the 70's. Again, hence them going back.
It's all very story heavy instead of relying on intense action sequences. That of course is coming from the mouth of someone who constantly says he can't stand when action movies take forever to get to the action. Hence why my favorite action movie is Crank. A movie that promises non-stop action and actually delivers. But the difference here of course is it's only partially an action movie. That's one of the benefits to comic book movies. Their stories tend to be more thought out than standard action movies. And Days of Future Past going heavy on the story over action was a smart move. Cause while I did like The Winter Soldier I do agree with some reviews saying they were trying to one up previous Marvel movies with an extra epic ending action sequence. Probably didn't need to be THAT huge to have a similar or better outcome.
This heavy story also helped making it feel as organic as possible a story about mutants can be. I like stories where there's no clear villain. One of the reasons why I liked Frozen so much. In there, there was an idea of a villain but when you really thought about the plot and way the story played out the villain wasn't as clear as other stories. And that's definitely the thing here. Sure there's the threat of these mutant killer machines, but there was much more to it than that. While Peter Dinklage's character was the most clear villain in a way Mystique was the villain as well. It was a bizarre and enjoyable twist and turn on what could have been a standard, straightforward story that kept me guessing.

When there was action it was still quite exciting. They did it when it was only (for the most part) when it was needed and then it was really well executed. Obvious favorite being the slow-mo scene with Quicksilver in the Pentagon kitchen. It was so creative to show him running around at his speed and how he perceives things. Not only was it fun and creative, but it was funny. Making for a good break in tension. It was a use of slow motion that worked when in other movies it's used too much. Something that was also creatively done in some of the moments Xavier is mentally communicating with Mystique. It slows down time cause in her head she's not having that conversation with him in real time.
The slow motion was used just a tad too much, though. Some spots where it was used for cheap tension or to look fancy. Didn't care for that. Not much else to say there.
But really the visual style was super well done. One thing I did that I don't normally do is see it in 3D. It wasn't an active choice per se but the story how it got there isn't interesting enough to tell. I will say I saw Godzilla in IMAX 3D a couple weeks ago and was less impressed by the 3D than I was here. I was surprised how good the 3D looked in many scenes. Like it was made to be in 3D. As some of you may know I am actively against 3D in modern movies. It has a tendency to be used as a cheap gimmick to get more money out of pockets and rarely adds actual depth. Here it worked pretty well overall. As one would imagine it would especially in the high tech future technology and other CG scenes. I was surprised. I was impressed. Certainly not convinced 3D is a sure thing for the future. At least I have one good example in the chamber to work with, though.

We can't forget I had some problems with the movie.
First off I felt the time travel mechanic was a bit fast and loose. Much like the mutant powers of the X-Men, the way the time travel worked was a bit too convenient. As a sidenote I'd love to hear about the mediocre X-Man who has a fire breathing ability but only enough to start a campfire, or the regenerating man who can speed up his recovery by spending one less day at the hospital. Not to say I have a problem with the X-Men's powers... okay in a way I do, as with the time travel used here.
As a disclaimer I know we're talking about a comic book story. It's a fantasy world so it doesn't have to play by the real world's rules. But if you nerds keep insisting on putting these characters in real world-like situations then I'm gonna examine it with real world stuff in mind.
Since I'm the type of person who likes complex characters with lots of flaws that conflict with their positive attributes (so real people) I tend to struggle when I see characters come up that are so fantastically flawless or with little flaws. Example. While I like Mystique's ability to change appearance the fact she can literally change into anyone makes her job a little too easy. Similar with Wolverine who pretty much can't be killed because of his healing abilities. At least Magneto has a helmet that restricts Xavier from entering his mind. There was some restriction there.
So in a world where mutant powers are actually very convenient it would make sense for the time travel to be convenient.

Spoilers Begin!

My biggest issue being that not a single thing in the future changes until the end. Even though the very idea of Wolverine finding Xavier, telling him what will happen in the future should have changed things to begin with. Same with ANYTHING that happens in the past. While it all seemed to be happening in "real time" it sure didn't change things in real time until it was all fixed up when their main objective was achieved. THEN things changed int he future and big time.
Also, was it happening 1:1 real time or were we dealing with something like Inception here where in his head it all happens a lot faster than in the waking world? The stuff in the past went on for what seemed like a couple days. It doesn't seem likely the X-Crew were at that Chinese temple hideout for a couple days while Wolverine fixed the past. If anything it felt like they were there for a few hours before the past was changed and they vanished, off to live their new life with new memories.
SPEAKING OF MEMORIES! There's a moment in the past when Wolverine is snapped back to the future and his old consciousness wakes up as if he just passed out, not knowing what happened. Xavier clearly stated only Wolverine would know both pasts but what does that mean for his past self? If that one scene is to be believed then when he is pulled out of the water at the end of the movie he should have lost his shit not having memory for the past couple days. Also when he wakes up in the future wouldn't he have some idea of the new past? Wouldn't he have both his old past and new past under his belt instead of Xavier having to catch him up to speed? Sure it's a downside to the time travel and not as convenient as other bits but it also doesn't make a whole hell of a lot of sense.
The only other non nitpicky (although this is a bit nitpicky) is the moment the past changed and when it happened in the present/future. The second Mystique does the exact thing they want her to the future suddenly changes, proving they've won. But why did it have to happen at a moment equivalent to there being one or two seconds left on a ticking time bomb. Have we not done this cliche enough? Did it have to be at the very, very, VERY last moment before all being murdered? Also the tension and scare to kill off certain key characters just before this change was needless tension. We all knew how it was going to end by that point. We all knew they'd be alive and okay in the end. Clearly not in that timeline but...
...wait a second. Now that I think about it does this create a separate timeline? Or does it change the timeline already put in place by the previous movies? Or did the previous movies happen along the lines of this new timeline? Do they exist alongside another or can one not exist without the other? This is why time travel gets confusing.

Spoilers End!

Sorry that most of my complaints involved spoilers. If anything that should show how much of the movie was good in and of itself. I didn't have major issues until it got closer to the end. Even with those complaints this was a top notch comic book movie. Again, while I don't have the cred to judge properly I still say this is one of the best X-Men movie. It's because of how good it was that I am excited for what comes next and revisit the old ones again and for the first time for some.
Best part? Go to Amazon and you'll find most of the old movies are $5 each with First Class only $7. I cannot wait to invest the little cash I need to get back into these movies. A fine example of a fun, long lasting franchise that can be easily accessed. Something not all the newer Marvel movies can do yet as they still charge at least $10 for a bare bones DVD.
I highly recommend Days of Future Past if you haven't gotten around to it. And if you haven't seen the previous movies in a long time or at all then don't worry. This title stands up pretty well on it's own outside of general knowledge of the characters. Even then you'll still have a blast. It's fun, exciting, even has a good sense of humor here and there and not in a cringeworthy way.
Simply put. Check this shit out. You will LOVE it!

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