X-Men: Days of Future Past

 

Singer of praises

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

I’ve been looking forward to this one for a while. I loved First Class and whilst The Wolverine had its charms, it’s been many long years since we’ve had a “proper” X-Men film. I was cautiously optimistic, but the whole “team-up” aspect of it, meshing the old cast with the younger versions of themselves had me worried that the only reason it was being made was a knee-jerk reaction to The Avengers and Marvel Studios’ universe building, with Fox desperate to put out their own branded version of a Marvel universe to grab several slices of the ridiculous money pie that’s rapidly cooling.

“The future: a bleak desolate, place. Mutants and the humans who helped them, united in defeat by an enemy we could not stop. Is this the fate we have set for ourselves? Could we have done nothing to stop it?”

The Future. Giant, nigh-on unstoppable robots called Sentinels, specifically designed to eradicate mutants, roam the Earth and have brought on an apocalypse, full of ash, rubble and rapidly declining pockets of survivors. Tracing the devastation back to a single moment in the 1970’s involving the assassination of Sentinel inventor, Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) by blue shape-shifter Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), the current remnants of the X-Men, including Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) engineer a way to send a mutant’s consciousness back in time and the ageless Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is the perfect candidate. Logan’s troubles don’t just extend to preventing a murder, however, as whilst their present selves (Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen) have put aside their differences, ’70s Prof. X and Magento (James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender) are at loggerheads, meaning Logan will have to convince them to sing from the same hymn book as well.

So, the cast. They’re all brilliant. It’s a genuine thrill to see old and new faces thrown into the mix together.Both versions of Prof. X and Magneto are a joy to watch. DoFP can have its cake and eat it, cutting from the future versions talking to each other with mutual respect and Shakespearian gravitas to the young, angry versions, played fantastically by McAvoy and Fassbender. McAvoy gets a special shoutout as he gives a great performance as a jaded junkie Xavier, complete with a thousand yard stare and addiction to painkillers. Hugh Jackman is always fun to watch as Wolverine and nailed it fucking yonks ago, but still manages to be just as entertaining as he always was. Jennifer Lawrence also gives a nicely nuanced turn as Mystique. Of the new blood, Peter Dinklage is great as Trask and the new mutants are a blast, especially Evan Peters’ Quicksilver. Fans of the series like myself will be delighted with the various character cameos and references.

I’m so glad this didn’t turn out to be the clusterfuck it could have so easily been. When I sat down and the classic X-Men theme started playing, I smiled. I realised that I’d genuinely missed the franchise and was struck by a sudden need for the film to be awesome. Luckily, it is. It’s a well balanced film with just the right amounts of humour, action, suspense and all that good shit. It’s basically a First Class sequel with the “classic” cast serving as a framing device. It just works. Part of the reason for this is Bryan Singer’s direction. The guy gets characters and narrative arcs. All of his films have shown a great understanding of the basics and an insane amount of talent and skill when it comes to throwing it up on a big screen. Thankfully, he’s on form here and keeps the pace quick, but not at the expense of quieter moments. The script is also solid as hell, with the normally shitty Simon Kinberg doing his best work since ever. The story actually has weight and stakes to it. The finale, cutting between the future and past is one of the most exciting things I’ve seen this year. Funnily enough, the film is fairly light on action, but when it hits, it hits solidly. The best sequence in the film by far is a bit at the Pentagon where the super-fast and funny Quicksilver really comes into his own.

My only real problems with the film are more niggles than anything else. My major qualm is with the decision to basically make the film another Wolverine-centric story. Singer does his best to juggle focus, but at its heart it’s still episode #7353 of The Wolverine Show. All of the X-Men films so far have been Wolverine stories, with the exception of First Class, which still includes a small cameo by the Clawed One. I like the character and Jackman, but one of my favourite things about the X-Men is how diverse they are. There are any number of characters that could carry the main narrative successfully. The original comic is told from Kitty Pryde’s point of view and I could see that working. My other problem is with a minor plot point. I’m not a big “movie logic” guy and inevitably problematic time travel stuff didn’t bother me. So, the Sentinels are basically unstoppable thanks to adaptive technology, being able to use a mutant’s weakness against them. So, for instance, one ends up using fire powers against Iceman (Shawn Ashmore). They’re like the ultimate Pokemon. However, the film tells us they got these powers thanks to Mystique. Thing is, she only shapeshifts. She doesn’t gain any powers by turning into someone. Series regular Rogue has that power- surely she would be more fitting? Fuck- there was even that Darwin guy in First Class who could do exactly that. Why not him? My guess is is that they needed to give Lawrence a meatier part,with her having become a megastar inbetween First Class and this one. Funny, as the same thing happened with Halle Berry between the first and second films of the X trilogy.

“All those years wasted fighting each other, Charles.”

Days of Future Past is one of the most satisfying films I’ve seen in a while. It just does everything it needs to with wit, intelligence and style. It’s a fantastic blockbuster that doesn’t forget to tell a good story in amongst the big action setpieces and CGI- something which I’m still incredulous is a real issue in this day and age. It’s also a bold step into the future of the franchise, with various happenings in the film rendering events and entire previous films uncanonical. If the quality is maintained, I’m unbelievably excited about the both the sequel, Age of Apocalypse, and their wider plans for a franchise spanning universe.. It’s going to be a long two years.

The Wolverine

 
*Insert shit Japanese pun here*
 

The Wolverine (2013)

The X-Men franchise is one of the time-hoppyist series around. We’ve had prequels, even earlier prequels and a buttload of sequels. It’s all going to get more confusing with the forthcoming Days of Future Past which will mash the First Class lot together with the established cast of the first three films in a time-spanning Avengers style ensemble pic. I have to say though, they’ve done a good job keeping the timeline pretty coherent all things considered.

“I’ve been trying to find you for over a year. My employer’s dying, he wants to thank you for saving his life. It’s an honour to meet the Wolverine.”

The Wolverine unsurprisingly tells the story of Logan (Hugh Jackman). We catch up with him years after the events of The Last Stand. He’s exiled himself and is living rough in the mountains. He’s tracked down by Yukio (Rila Fukushima) who has been asked to bring him to Japan on behalf of the ailing magnate Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi) who had his life saved by Logan decades before. Wolvie travels with her and soon discovers a plot to kidnap Yashida’s granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto) to get in on some sweet ransom cash action. The Wolverine is loosely based on a popular and critically acclaimed ’80s miniseries dealing with Logan’s first solo adventure. For the most part, the story is solid, giving us a fish-out-of-water take on the now very familiar Wolverine. Hugh Jackman is always a pleasure to watch as Logan. He nailed the part long ago, but it never feels like he’s treading the same old ground or phoning it in. I get the feeling he likes playing the character as much as I enjoy seeing him in the role. The Wolverine is a more successful personal story than the widely hated X-Men Origins: Wolverine. As much as I liked Tao Okamoto, her only job seems to be standing around looking beautiful, so of course Logan falls for her instead of the kick-ass Rila Fukushima who manages to be both interesting and handy in fights. The only weak point was Famke Janssen reprising her role as Jean Grey. I don’t have a problem with Janssen at all, it’s just that the various dream sequences with her in are definitely movie low points. She just lies around in lingerie spouting all of Logan’s internal dialogue that they couldn’t be arsed to weave into the narrative. I never really bought the whole Jean/Logan relationship in the films anyway, but I soon learned to stop paying attention whenever Logan was sleeping as it meant another clunkily written chunk of fuck-all was going to happen.

Straight from the off, I felt the film was in good hands. It opens with a unnervingly quiet harbour view before showing some bombers coming in to fuck up Nagasaki nuclear style. It’s a well done sequence and the sheer spectacle of watching a nuclear blast totalling the lovely Japanese shoreside is both devastating and awesome at the same time. I like seeing Wolverine in wartime settings. More please. Whilst Wolvie’s Japanese trip seems to consist purely of things American audiences would expect from a film set in Asia, it’s not really a problem. There’s a genuinely funny and awkward moment where Logan and Mariko hide out at a love hotel which plays well. I feel the film could have done with more of these little moments as the only reason these characters fall in love is because he protects her all the time and they’re both attractive people. Mariko needed to be something pretty special for Logan to get over Jean and I just didn’t feel it. Yukio had more going on. Anyone have her number?

When I saw Hoborine living rough in the mountains, I had a thought hit me that sent an icy chill down to my stomach:  “Oh shit, I hope they haven’t gone all ‘gritty’ with this”. Thankfully, this turned out to not be the case. There’s dark stuff in it, but its not afraid to keep the tone out of the bleak doldrums other superhero films are finding themselves in. Plus, there’s a scene in a bar when Logan confronts some hunters that is classic Wolverine and made me smile broadly. In fact, all the action is well done. There’s a stunning sequence on top of a bullet train that’s the best train sequence I’ve seen since Spider-Man 2. Wolverine’s healing ability has been suppressed in this film, so most of the fight scenes have raised stakes as people can actually hurt and stop him. It’s the first time we’ve since Wolverine physically vulnerable to anyone other than Magneto and it works really well. My one qualm is that some of the fights felt pretty toothless, with people getting slashed and stabbed by Wolverine’s famous claws but there being very little resulting blood. I didn’t want it to turn into a gorefest or anything, but X2 managed to get away with quite a bit. A lot of it looked like blood and injury had been digitally removed. My guess is that when it comes down to releasing it on DVD/Blu-ray, they’ll pull a Hunger Games and include the slightly meatier cut.

My only other real problem was Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova) who ends up as a pretty weak villainess. She’s just not given that much to do and she reminded me quite a lot of Batman & Robin‘s Poison Ivy, with the penchant for sucking face with her victims and generally hamming it up. Anything that reminds me of that dungheap of a film is going to have points taken off. The impressive-looking Silver Samurai is also of little consequence, but you can’t win ’em all.

“I can do this all day, you twisted mutant bitch!”

The Wolverine is pretty decent. It’s not good enough to get excited about, but it’s an entertaining enough flick. Think of it like 2008’s Incredible Hulk, solid on its own, but mostly made to bring the story in line with forthcoming “event” pictures. Speaking of which, stay after the credits ya droolmonkeys.