X-Men: Days of Future Past



Main Cast: Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy

Director: Bryan Singer

Planning continues apace on the fabulous fairy tale princess wedding that I’m putting together for Neely O’Hara here at Chateau Maine.  I’m trying to be as true as possible to the medieval period and to give the guests an authentic experience so I’ve had the entire back facade of the house redone as a curtain wall and  bailey with charming little portcullises over all the windows.    I have, however, made some concessions to modernity; I refuse to have the toilets replaced by garderobes.  Normy is not thrilled by all my little changes.  He claims that the new walls are blocking the light into his studio and keeping him from seeing the keys on his Moog synthesizer.

There are, of course, hundreds of little details that must be overseen.  The floral centerpieces for the buffet were supposed to portray Hildegard of Bingen but when the prototype arrived, it looked more like Mae West in Sextette and I had to make several rather sharp calls to Mr. Ray, my florist.  The china, which was ordered in Peacock blue, arrived in Tiffany blue and had to be sent back as well.  At least the napkins, complete with hand embroidered portraits of Margaret of Anjou , were right the first time.

Neely has been fussing and fussing over her wedding gown, despite the infinite patience and tender ministrations of my seamstress, Kim Dee;  there were screams about whether the satin bodice should be cream or eggshell coming from the second best guest room which has been transformed into a makeshift atelier.  I simply could not take it anymore and so Normy and I dodged some workmen who were busy adding a minstrels gallery to the foyer and headed off to the local Cineplex for a matinee.  Our choice was Bryan Singer’s 2014 entree in the long running series about comic book mutants, X-Men: Days of Future Past which opened over the Memorial Day weekend.

For the three of you who have never run across the X-men, they are a motley collection of genetic mutants that each has a marvelous new power.  Thanks to the infinite variety of human genetics, each one of these characters has a new set of gifts, limited only by the authors’ imaginations and the needs of the plot.  They first appeared in comic form in the early 60s, yet another creation of Stan Lee of Marvel Comics fertile brain.  The film versions of the X-men franchise began in 2000 with the original movie, X-Men, also directed by Bryan Singer.  It made an international star out of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine and  introduced such venerable characters as Storm (Halle Berry), Rogue (Anna Paquin), Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen).  Two sequels followed, the first helmed by Singer and the second by Brett Ratner who had none of Singer’s finesse or affection for the characters.  The producers wisely saved the franchise by producing an origin story for Wolverine and a prequel, X-Men: First Class, which looked at the younger Professor Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and how they first gather mutants together for mutual support and saving the world.

This time around, 20th Century Fox and Bryan Singer have pulled out all the stops with a time travel story that allows both the original the prequel casts to play their familiar roles.  As the film opens, it is sometime in the not too distant future and our friendly mutants and their allies are being hunted down and killed by futuristic mechanical soldiers called Sentinels.  Professor Xavier (unexplainedly back from the dead) and Magneto (somehow having regained his power over metal) and a last few mutants including Wolverine and Storm are holed up in a Chinese temple.  They realize that the path to destruction the world has taken began in the early 1970s when Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) assassinated brilliant scientist and industrialist Dr. Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) leading to world governments funding the Sentinel program.  The only thing to do is to send Wolverine back in time, have him team up with the younger Professor and Magneto, and let this motley crew prevent the assassination and change the course of history so that the Sentinels are never brought into play, saving their future selves from certain annihilation.

Comic book movies are usually just a pleasant waste of time; summer popcorn movies that don’t tax the brain too much.  This one, however, aspires to something more.  The X-Men have always been a metaphor for how society treats the other and Singer, as a director, has always included scenes full of clever social commentary to illuminate this and to give a break from explosions and CGI for the thinking members of the audience.  This film has even bigger ambitions than that.  There are themes of family, loss, destiny, political malfeasance and the futility of war that raise the film far above the usual.  It is helped by the quality of the cast who are capable of exploring these themes within the constraints of the CGI comic book universe they inhabit.

X-Men Days of Future Past Cast by Gage Skidmore

The impressive, and HUGE, cast of X-Men Future Past assembles at San Diego Comic Con in 2013. Photo by Gage Skidmore

Many of the familiar characters appearances amount to extended cameos and a rearranging of the universe’s timeline allows previously deceased characters to return to full functional life and possible further sequels.  The film rests predominantly on the quartet of Jackman, McAvoy and Fassbender with Jennifer Lawrence, as the younger version of Mystique,  providing the major catalyst for the action.  All four turn in nuanced performances and are always interesting to watch on screen.  They never let down their talents due to the comic book nature of the milieu and take every scene with the utmost seriousness as human beings.  The result is a textured world that grabs our attention and makes us want to follow the story as there are real humans with stakes with which we can identify guiding us along.

Singer is in control of his huge canvas.  Whether it’s a battle with the Sentinels or a show down involving the White House and RFK stadium, he stages moments large and small with a sure hand and the action never becomes muddied or unclear.  He introduces his huge cast of characters without fanfare and, while assuming we are familiar with them from previous adventures, gives just enough exposition for those new to the world to be able to identify with what’s going on.  This is a difficult balancing act and he is up to the task.

The ‘past’ portion of the film, set around the Paris Peace Talks and Vietnam Peace Treaty of 1973, allows the art department to have fun with the tacky fashions and decorating styles of the period.  Peter Dinklage, in particular, seems to savor rocking his Vidal Sassoon wig and pornstache.  There are a few sight gags around the swinging 70s look but they tend to be subtle and throwaway, making them that much more fun.

Good performances, a decent script, and a director who understands and loves his material make this a much better film that it has any right to be.  You could do worse for a summer popcorn flick.  I think Normy summed it up best when, as we were walking out of the auditorium, he turned to me and said ‘It’s good’.  High praise indeed.

Dead Colossus.  Collapsing temple.  Gratuitous Wolverine nudity.  Clock radios.  Multiple injections.  Attack fountain.  General seduction.  Gratuitous Toad. Beast pilot. Flying stadium.  Flying presidential vault. Restored school.

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