Well-cast ‘X-Men’ film continues series success

by Varun Bhuchar | 5/26/14 1:32pm

Hollywood’s most reliable cash cow, the superhero film, has returned this summer. From A-listers like Spider Man to the obscure Ant Man, each will get its time on the silver screen. While sometimes exhausting, many of us will watch these movies anyway — they’re just so much fun.

This weekend brings the next installment in a familiar series, “X-Men: Days of Future Past” (2014). For legal reasons, X-Men cannot be part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which includes everyone who appeared in “The Avengers” (2012). Yet that hasn’t prevented 20th Century Fox, which owns the copyright to X-Men and its subsidiary properties, from creating its own insular little universe.

This movie smashes X-Men’s two existing plot lines together. The first, a present-day timeline, concerns Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who try to stop Magneto (Ian McKellen) from committing genocide against humans. The other plotline, set in the past, involves a younger Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender), who will eventually become Magneto, showing how their friendship eventually becomes a heated rivalry.

The “X-Men: Days of Future Past” film shows a future in which mutants are hunted down by Sentinels, near-indestructible robots that adapt to fight any sort of power in their way. To save their species, Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) sends Wolverine back in time to convince a young, depressed Charles to reunite with Erik to find Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), whose assassination of the Sentinels’ creator, Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), leads to their widespread proliferation.

Despite being one of the only films I’ve seen that could use a “previously on…” segment, the beauty of “X-Men: Days of Future Past” is how seamlessly it runs between all of its mythologies, which now span three films — two standalone Wolverine movies and a fantastic prequel, “X-Men: First Class.” Though “X-Men: Days of Future Past” is not as good as that film, it’s pretty decent as far as sequels are concerned and gives the ambitious Marvel Cinematic Universe a run for its money.

The film smartly sets most of its action in the past. In the process, it creates a well done, fascinating piece of historical fiction that’s like watching a version of “Mad Men” with a much higher visual effects budget.

Watching Fassbender and McAvoy act in a big production blockbuster is a sight to see. It’s almost unfair to the other actors, because they’re just so good — you can see pain in each crevasse of their faces and spit fly out of their mouths with vitriolic rage.

This in and of itself is strange. How did talent of this caliber want to play roles in a superhero franchise? The answer lies in the themes of the X-Men franchise.

An inevitable criticism of superhero movies, particularly due to the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s success, is that these films are often too happy and predictable. Marvel has borne this criticism in the past, especially in contrast to its main competitor, DC, who has tried to re-brand its biggest properties, Batman and Superman, with darker and grittier films.

X-Men, however, is perhaps the company’s most DC-like possession. The film is dark, brooding and morally ambiguous down to its core, as it must be. The series asks whether genocide is inevitable. If it is, who will commit it and against whom? In X-Men, will the mutants or the humans be the perpetrators?

This vicious circle reoccurs throughout the series. Magneto despises mankind due to his experiences as a young boy in a concentration camp. Trask loathes mutants despite having a mutation himself, dwarfism. Suffering and discontent abounds on both sides, and coexistence, a lofty ideal, always seems far away.

The realism of the series, however, may not last for long. The film’s post-credits scene suggests something dark and supernatural around the corner, a big baddie akin to the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Thanos, which may be something audiences have never seen before. One can only hope that the next X-Men film looks back toward its successful past for advice about its future.

 

Rating: 8.6/10

“X-Men: Days of Future Past” is currently playing at the Nugget.