30 May 2014

'X-Men: Days of Future Past'

Been forever since my last movie review. Oh well, this one makes me a bit chatty, so why not?

As a disclaimer, I have not seen any other X-Men movie that was ever released. I never saw the Wolverine movies either. I never even read the comics. To put it bluntly, I never had any interest in them ever. Though I took a graphic novel class last semester, I could respect the medium of comics, but I don't love them. I still prefer Japanese manga over Western comics. And I especially don't give a crap about superhero stories. The Amazing Spiderman, Thor, and The Avengers are exceptions, but even they did not overhaul my apathy for the genre.

So I went to this film completely blind with my cousin's son just for the sake of passing time. And in the end, it still did not convince me that comic books and comic book films are worth getting into. That being said, it does get a few points for supposedly being one of the least awful X-Men-universe films. Better to start with the best than the worst, I guess.

Some spoilers.

Time travel and manipulation is a frustrating device to play with in fiction. The rules are so easy to mess up, and who should be involved in the ordeal and how can be confusing. Then there are the themes to tackle. Cause and effect. Unforeseen consequences. Accidental paradoxes. Is time linear, a tree, a spider web, or a bunch of tangled knots? Is time flexible or constant? Can new timelines branch off of an old one, or are old timelines wiped out? It's enough to make fans of a work get a headache, but I'm sure even creators have their moments of throwing in the towel when things get too convoluted or contradictory. Retcons may be needed too, and that just scares off some new fans.

I apologize if this makes anyone squeamish.
X-Men: Days of Future Past kept the time travel semi-simple in that it's just sending one man back in time to hopefully erase everything that happened after that one significant moment led to the crappy future. It doesn't resolve or properly address a few minor issues however. Surely, every single thing that went differently would have to make some small amendment to the "future". If they set it up in a manner that every single moment leads to a vastly different future, then the future would be undone. Thus deleting the bad future where Wolverine's body exists, leaving his mind to wander in the past with his past-mind being in an unknown part of the universe.

I should shut up. I can go on about this for a while. But I won't. Because I enjoyed this movie.

But there are things that really spoiled my fun.

I might as well get my gripes out in the open right off the bat. Hugh Jackman and Jennifer Lawrence may be decent actors, but they are annoyingly distracting.

Wolverine is only in the movie for as long as he is because of shallow, petty reasons. I'm sure Jackman pulls of the character really damn well, but his presence still screams executive meddling and formulas that illustrate audience "preferences". I don't think Wolverine is a bad character at all; the issue is that his role could have been performed by any other character. Sure, he can heal really fast, but that was the only qualification that ensured him to be the pseudo-star of the flick. Otherwise he stood in the background as the more interesting characters had to come to terms with a time traveling premise.

Or he stands to have his bare ass shown not twenty minutes into the film. Charming. But if I want fanservice, I'll see a more honest film.

Next comes Jennifer Lawrence. Like Jackman, there has been no film she was in that I remember liking. No, not even The Hunger Games or Catching Fire (admittedly, I dislike them even more the more I think about them). But I don't question her talents: I wonder why I can't look past her reputation and fame to enjoy Mystique and her story arc. Then I ask why I can't take Mystique more seriously without thinking she's a naked blue chick with no crack between her legs or nipples on her boobs. Then I have to download the "comic books are/were weird and male-pandering" app and install it in my mental hard drive. Even more so than Jackman, Jennifer Lawrence was just plain distracting.

The true standouts in X-Men: Days of Future Past are James McAvoy as Charles Xavier and Michael Fassbender as Magneto. If this film and its promotional material were more honest, these guys dominate over everyone else. This is their story. McAvoy especially sells his role so beautifully, I nearly cried when his character went through the lowest point in his life. I completely bought his idealism towards Mystique, and I'm happy with how the whole crisis resolved. I completely bought young Xavier would be the best hope in avoiding the bad future and stopping Mystique from going completely rogue.

As much as I enjoyed Fassbender as an actor (since he was the only good thing in Prometheus), his character was a bit all over the place. Most times Magneto came across as a villain. He was too much of a selfish jerk and he lacked the self-aware hidden goodness of some classes of antiheroes. I could understand his actions if his motives at the climax were more clear. But my assumption of him exploiting the flaws in the design of the sentinels is just a wild guess on my part after walking out of the film. I don't mind some questions being left open, but this was a pinnacle point in his character arc that was left muddy for no good reason. Regardless, Magneto did have a few good moments. He exposed Xavier for being a self-centered druggie and hypocrite, which humanized the both of them nicely.

I would mention other characters but they don't have much to do, or I have no clue what their names were. Most of the mutants who appear sometimes say only two lines or are mute and show off their abilities. Lots of visits to Wikipedia were needed to prepare for this post. Ellen Page was Ellen Page. Her posse - including a semi-cool girl who shoots portals out of her hands - do absolutely nothing. Even Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen were sitting around and twiddling their thumbs. We don't have a chance to attach ourselves to anyone but young Xavier, Magneto, Hugh Assman, and Jennifer Leotard. The movie has a fun habit of showing off cool abilities, but never using them to their potential. Quicksilver was the epitome of this problem. One wonderfully hilarious and fun scene of him showing off... ends with him being put on a bus to go home with a check in one hand.

That is just... sad.

Best scene in the movie.
Ignoring the disappointing use of cast members and the numerous plot holes, the movie had some pretty cool set pieces and action scenes. There weren't that many, but everything came together nicely. It was easy to follow and nothing felt repetitive in the slightest. Despite my complaints, I did very much enjoy Mystique's flexible, flowing style of close combat. Sometimes she's the perfect spy in the wrong movie, but take that more as a compliment. I would have liked for there to be more tension because a vast majority of the mutants die horribly in the film. Yet, given the theme of genocide sits under the skin of the plot, I still cared to some degree.

For someone completely unfamiliar with the X-Men universe, I followed most of the ideas and world-building well enough to understand what was happening. I could accept the technology to a degree. It looks a bit too Star Trek reboot-like with the sleek "iPod" aesthetic, but nearby incorporated technology looked dated enough for me to let the oddity slide.

X-Men: Days of Future Past is indeed good. I can see it trying to be smart, and it succeeds every once in a while. Enough to pass in my books. I enjoyed the ideas and topics it discussed. A happily ever after is a given in this culture and medium, but it felt somewhat justified. The fact this movie managed to make me care at all with no past reference in the other films is a praise I cannot withhold. My usual nitpicking will always find something new to point out, but my opinion hasn't worsened because of the flaws. I had fun. The good aspects of this film were so enjoyable, so funny, and/or so heartfelt they triumph over the bad in my opinion. Your milage will vary, of course.

But to preserve my good opinion, I don't think I will see another X-Men movie. I feel that this movie was good enough for me. I have accepted defeat. Originally I thought this movie would be crap, so I avoided watching it, just as I had with the others. The series of films has a reputation for being... quite bad. I have seen enough things that make my blood pressure rise, and I wish to live a reasonably long life. X-Men: Days of Future Past is one of the better movies, so I am happy to have invested in the right one at the right time. It did not change my mind about superhero comic books and films based on them. The Avengers is still superior to this in many ways, but that fantastic action flick made of solid gold changed nothing. The genre is just not my cup of tea. Yet I will give credit where it is due. And bonus points if a film managed to tickle out the longest, loudest, and most suffocating laugh I ever unleashed.

X-Men doesn't have this, but it tried to tell an endearing story. I can't fault it for that.

3 out of 5

1 comment:

Thomas Watson said...

Good review. As for me, I am looking forward to spending more time with the movie mutants.

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