A Slashing Good Time
It’s only May and I’m already sick of superheroes. Every summer, it’s the same damn thing. For a few short months, Marvel and DC rule the popular landscape, dominating Internet trailers, Twitter feeds and movie screens around the globe. The only saving grace is a base level of watchable quality. It’s not like the early 2000’s where Catwoman, Daredevil and The Punisher were your only options. 21st century adaptations are at the very least “C grade” popcorn entertainment. If the deliciously bad R.I.P.D was your biggest disappointment of last year, watch 2003’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and let me know which was worse. 2014 boasts five hero flicks, the third being X-Men: Days of Future Past and with smart writing, good action and a solidly built story, it exceeds the high bar set by the 2011 series reboot.
The film opens in a standard Hollywood dystopian future. Buildings are crumbling, mankind is in bondage and the last remaining mutants are on the run. The creatures in hot pursuit are the Sentinels, robotic army drones designed to hunt down and destroy our genetically altered friends. Clinging to the last stand of a desperate battle, Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen) decide to send Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back in time. If they can alter the past, they have a chance to save the future. His mission is to convince the younger X (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) to be buddies with the human race, forgoing the need to create the mutant exterminating Sentinels in the first place.
There’s a ton of parentheses in the above paragraph and with an ensemble cast of over twenty dialogued characters, the list goes on and on. With Stewart and McKellen now relegated to supporting roles, the heavy lifting is again done by McAvoy, Fassbender and series stalwart Hugh Jackman. The meat of the drama is focused on Wolverine’s attempts to get a disheartened Professor X to care about the mutant struggle and both actors pull great performances. McAvoy’s Professor X is unhinged yet sympathetic while Wolverine’s role reversal from team bad boy to reluctant mentor adds depth to the steel clawed wild man.
Every hero needs a nemesis and the baddies at play are the shape shifting Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) and Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), a military scientist who’s trying to push the Sentinels project onto a Congress in fear for their own survival. The conflict is interesting as it pits humanity’s fear of the mutants against Trask’s ambitions, leaving the X-People in the middle. Lawrence is again sleek and seductively evil as Mystique, but her motivations of revenge come off as an excuse for her to be make mayhem and move the plot forward. Several other series stars make cameos but in the interest of avoiding spoilers, I’ll leave it you to see for yourself.
Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects) jumps behind the camera for the third time in series history and once again lends some visual flair to the action. While much of the story plays out like a drama, a smart mix of giant, unnecessary set pieces and solid hand to hand action injects adrenaline where needed. The opening scene of the new X-Kids battling the Sentinels is especially good, providing a nice glimpse into what 2016’s X-Men Apocolypse may bring. The character and costume design also has some nice touches such as Wolverine’s bony claws and the completely cool Sentinels.
Even my most hated of film devices, time travel, is handled properly. Often used to clumsily move plot pieces and explain the impossible, the script keeps it simple, jumping back and forth only when a scenery change is needed. This is mainly due to the bland past tense setting of 1973 which doesn’t add much in the way of visual variety. While it makes story sense, I would have liked to see a little more done with the time period.
Over the last ten years, I’ve seen more superhero flicks than I care to count. Luckily, the number of terrible ones can be counted on two hands. If nothing else, Hollywood has discovered the formula for making a solid Avengers, Batman or X-Men movie. If you’re unlike me and can handle only one piece of popcorn indulgence this season, right now X-Men: Days of Future Past would be my pick to check out. If I have to have a genre stuffed down my throat, it might as well be tasty and Bryan Singer’s latest mutant adventure is the meatiest meal released so far this year.
Score 8.5 out of 10
NOTE: This 3D elements of the film are minimal so if you have the choice and want to save a few bucks, standard 2D is perfectly fine.