X-Men: Days of Future Past

In a bleak future, the Earth is devastated by a war between sentient, shape-shifting robots called Sentinels and practically the entire human race.  Designed in the 1970’s by Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), the Sentinels were supposed to identify and hunt mutants in the belief those with unique abilities were a threat to humanity.  When Trask was killed by the mutant Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), she was captured and her shape-shifting abilities were reverse-engineered into the Sentinels, making them adaptable to any mutant and nearly unstoppable.  The Sentinels began to hunt only mutants at first then began looking for any humans with the genes that might produce mutants in the next few generations.  They also hunted any humans known to give aid to mutants.  With very few of their kind left, Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), Erik Lensherr, a.k.a. Magneto (Ian McKellen) and Logan, a.k.a. Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) find a group of mutants led by Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) hiding in a monastery in China.  They have a plan to send the consciousness of Professor Xavier back in time to his younger self and stop Mystique from killing Trask.  Pryde says the trip would be too much for his mind and might rip it apart.  Wolverine volunteers since his mutant ability is quick healing.  The rest of the mutants will protect him and Pryde from the Sentinels as long as they can.  Waking up in 1973, Wolverine goes looking for the younger Professor Xavier (James McAvoy) at his home and school for mutant children.  He arrives to find it in disrepair and the school closed.  Inside he meets Hank McCoy, a.k.a. Beast (Nicholas Hoult) who tells Wolverine the Professor has given up hope since Mystique left and several adult mutants were drafted into the Vietnam War where many were killed.  Seeing the disheveled Xavier, Wolverine is surprised he can walk after taking a bullet in the spine during the Cuban Crisis of the early 1960’s.  Beast tells Wolverine it is a serum based on what Hank uses to maintain control of his mutation but it robs Xavier of his mental telepathy.  Wolverine is able to convince Xavier of his story that he is from the future and he needs his help to make sure the war with the Sentinels never happens.  And the plan won’t work without Xavier’s former friend, Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender).  Xavier tells Wolverine that Erik is being held in a prison 100 floors beneath the center of the Pentagon.  Erik was convicted of killing President Kennedy in 1963.  Wolverine knows a mutant that can help in the break out.  A young man whose mutation is super speed named Pietro Maximoff who is also known as Quicksilver (Evan Peters).  Can Wolverine, Xavier, Magneto and Beast get to Mystique before she kills Trask and stop a bloody war before it begins?
 
While Marvel and its parent company Walt Disney don’t own the film rights to the X-Men, I feel confident this movie will still make them lots of money with their share of the gross as this is the best X-Men movie of that franchise and may be the best Marvel movie of them all.  I realize I’ll get a great deal of grief for the last statement as many people love “The Avengers” with the kind of fervor usually reserved for cherished pets or new romantic relationships; however, “X-Men:  Days of Future Past” gives the audience three things that many Marvel, and superhero films in general, fail to do:  Give us good characters who do more than blow things up, give us a story that feels like it has real stakes and risk and give us relationships between the characters that change in believable and unexpected ways.  This movie pulls off the trifecta plus throws in a few bonuses as well.
 
Seeing some of the characters as both their younger and older selves is a bit of a hoot.  Hugh Jackman seems to have the most fun as the time-travelling Wolverine.  Since his character retains memories of what happens in the future, he can give a knowing look or wink when someone asks a question to which he already knows the answer.  Seeing how these characters are different from their older selves also is interesting:  Professor X of the past is a defeated and bitter drunk, far different than the hopeful X-Men leader we know.  The younger Magneto is cold and calculating, looking to take out his pain and aggression on non-mutants.  The older Magneto, while much the same in the first three films, appears to have learned his lesson and decided to work with Professor X to save their race.  There are also changes within the characters as they go along with Mystique showing the most growth.  Her character starts as a woman on a mission as initiated by Magneto.  When they are brought back together, what should be a sweet reunion turns into a bitter betrayal, driving a wedge between them that may never be removed.  She goes from loving and respecting Magneto to fearing and hating him with just one act.  It forces Mystique to question her loyalty to him in the first place and wonder what her place is in a world where she feels alone and separated from both Xavier and Magneto.  Other mutant characters show changes as well but these are small and largely in minor characters.  The interesting thing about this is any character development at all is something of a shock, especially in a comic book movie.  Most films in any genre lack growth or significant, believable change in their leads, much less secondary characters.
 
The X-Men have always been a metaphor for the civil rights struggle.  Since their introduction in the early 1960’s, the X-Men have been fighting against misconceptions about what their ultimate goal is:  Do they plan on enslaving non-mutants or wiping them out entirely?  That theme is the core of the film with Trask saying as much during a meeting with a congressional committee.  The hate and distrust of mutants leads some of them to fight back in deadly ways that feeds the fear, creating a justification for the oppression.  Given that it’s 50 years after their introduction, the theme of racism has broadened to include sexism, classism and homophobia.  With the story of this film also including the use of robotic hunters to track down and kill mutants, the idea of weaponized drones being used against Americans is also a part of the underlying meaning.  The characters of Professor Xavier and Magneto represent opposite sides of leadership in the struggle for equality and how resistance from the status quo leads to a peaceful movement can devolve into violence.  For a comic book film to deal in such heady topics is unusual even if it is par for the course for their printed source.  It shows the filmmakers have a great deal of respect for their material to transcend the usual explosions and destruction of a typical superhero film.
 
While you might not be surprised how the film turns out, “X-Men:  Days of Future Past” feels like it has real stakes for its characters and a real threat of harm as the story moves forward.  Connecting the film to actual events like the assassination of President Kennedy, Paris Peace Summit to end the Vietnam War and the presidency of Richard Nixon helps ground the film in a level of reality that it might not usually enjoy.  Seeing the extreme and vulgar methods Trask uses on mutants to develop his Sentinels gives some weight to the anger Mystique shows in her decision to kill him.  The arrogance of Trask, who feels justified in experimenting on mutants because they are different, is amplified by the fact the character is played by a little person.  Trask is also different but in a way that could be considered powerless.  Perhaps his hatred of mutants is driven by his own feelings of helplessness at his mutation.  The movie asks many questions that aren’t directly answered, which is alright since it gives the audience the chance to draw its own conclusion.  This again is unusual for a comic book movie and sets “X-Men:  Days of Future Past” well ahead of its counterparts.
 
Aside from all this cerebral stuff, the film looks great and has several action set pieces that are thrilling.  Magneto uprooting a sports stadium and flying it across Washington, DC is an impressive visual that could be the movie’s highlight.  The always lovely Jennifer Lawrence is her own special effect as she walks around as Mystique in her blue body paint then transforms into a completely different person or a clothed version of herself.  The scene featuring Quicksilver is pretty spectacular as he runs around the walls of a room, stopping to make minor adjustments to various people and objects then the results of his efforts are played back in real time.  All of Quicksilver’s time on screen is well spent and I wish he had been in more of the movie.  All the initial concern expressed by the internet over his appearance in early publicity photos was unwarranted.  
 
“X-Men:  Days of Future Past” is rated PG-13 for intense sci-fi violence, intense sci-fi action, language, nudity and some suggestive material.  There are numerous fights with varying degrees of carnage throughout the film.  We see Wolverine use his bone claws on some bad guys after we see him shot several times and immediately begin to heal.  We also see Wolverine impaled by several pieces of rebar.  Various characters are impaled by the Sentinels while some others are ripped apart in their mutated states and one character explodes after being overloaded with energy.  Despite all the butchery there is very little blood.  We see Wolverine’s bare backside once and all the implied but unseen nudity of Jennifer Lawrence.  There is also a brief scene of Wolverine in bed with a woman with the implication they had sex the prior evening.  Foul language is scattered but does include the one allowed “F-Bomb” to maintain its kid-friendly rating.
 
Director Bryan Singer, who is openly bisexual, has been accused of sexual misconduct with a minor by two different men.  One incident allegedly happened in 1999 in Hawaii and the other in London in 2006.  Singer denies the claims in the lawsuits filed by the men and calls them both extortion attempts.  I don’t have any idea about what Singer has or hasn’t done in his personal life.  That is none of my business.  If he committed a crime he should be punished just like anyone else; but the delay of 15 years in one case and eight years in the other, plus no police report being filed at the time of the alleged incidents does tend to lead one to think something else is going on here.  As I said, I don’t know.  The only judgment I’m able to give is Singer has directed a very story and character heavy film that has far more weight than most comic book movies and most films of any genre.  It may be the best Marvel movie ever.
 
“X-Men:  Days of Future Past” gets five guitars.
 
Comedy, fantasy and drama, you know, the usual suspects, arrive at the multiplex near you this week.  Vote for the next movie I see and review.
 
A Million Ways to Die in the West— When a mysterious and beautiful woman rides into town, she helps a bumbling coward find his courage and they begin to fall in love.
 
Belle—The mixed-race daughter of a British admiral becomes a force for change in 18th-century England.
 
Chef—A chef who loses his restaurant job starts up a food truck business.
 
Maleficent—The untold story of Disney’s most iconic villain from the 1959 classic “Sleeping Beauty,” reveals the events that hardened Maleficent’s heart and drove her to curse the baby, Aurora.
 
Stan’s Choice—Stan sees and reviews any film of his choice currently in theatres or On Demand.
 
Release dates are subject to change and not all films may be shown in Knoxville, TN.
 
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