Monday, June 30, 2014

Review - X-Men: Days of Future Past

I had an opportunity to see X-Men: Days of Future Past, which was nothing short of amazing because I'm in that nebulous zone of parental life where my child is old enough to enjoy shows on TV but too young to take to the theater to see a film, thus meaning my wife and I are trapped at home most nights unless we get really fortunate with a sympathetic relative babysitting.

Anyway, it was a great movie, and a strong performance by most characters. The script was complex and well was a smart story, perhaps a bit too smart because it tripped up a lot of people if you dig through conversations about this film in the interwebz. Practically everything that is regarded as a fallacy or plot hole in this movie is not, in fact, what it seems to be, and in many ways this movie may be the best hardcore comic adaptation I've ever seen, even if it's all about the alternate reality cinema X-verse and not the even crazier and more complicated comic universe that also likes to get mucked up with frequent and egregious time travel plots.

Hell, I'm starting to think that time travel is to Marvel's reboot button what the multidimensional parallel earths are to the DC universe.

Anyway, this movie is a sequel to X-Men: First Class and also a end-cap to the original X-Men trilogy, managing to simultaneously make the future of those films fit into the continuity being defined by First Class and now Days of Future Past, and also conveniently erasing some or all of whatever happened in X3: The Last Stand. I actually didn't have many problems with X3, for the record; but I've learned long ago not to take anything for granted when it comes to X-Men, film or comic.

The plot is basically this: future X-Men in a worst-case apocalypse scenario are working to save history. Professor X (who is back, but more on that later) has figured out that Kitty Pryde has developed the ability to push consciousness through time late in life, and has been using this ability to keep pushing Bishop (who gets his first screen appearance) back a few days in time every time the new super sentinels show up to massacre them. Bishop then shows up forewarned in the past and they move to a safer location...rinse and repeat. Xavier convinces Kitty to use this ability to send Wolverine's mind deep into the past, to the moment when history went sour: the murder of one Mr. Trask (played by the guy from Game of Thrones) who creates the first sentinels in 1973. His murderer? Mystique, alias Raven, the hearthrob and third wheel of the young Eric/Charles love/hate bromance.

Wolverine can do the jump because his mind can fix itself through his healing factor....he can reorient faster. This leads to the usual tale of escalation, done in gorgeously well rendered early seventies' backdrops (with a barely passable Nixon) leading up to a massive confrontation in both past and future...and a possible permanent change to the timeline for the better, presumably.

So, that's the summary. Well done movie, gripping, great characters, "feels" right to me, and a spectacular rendering of the X-Men in their own universe, free of Avengers and other stuff.

Now for some short spoilers, with explanations for why I would argue that these not only aren't plot holes, but their mere existence as questions shows how genre savvy the screenwriters were for Days of Future Past:

Professor X is Alive: barring my explanation, he shows up and already discusses this with Wolverine in his own films, being deliberately cryptic. At the end credits of X3 we know he at least transferred his consciousness into a comatose body, possibly one which was ready for him (and which in the comics could have been his comatose twin brother iirc). Things get weird in X-Men stories, you know?

But the explanation is actually really simple: we don't know how he came back, we just know that he did. The thing is, the events in Days of Future Pasts's 2023 scenes are taking place 17 years after the events of X3....that is an insanely long time in comic universe years, enough time for many, many characters to die and come back under myriad circumstances. Enough time for Rachel Summers, a rebirth of the Phoenix, a resurrection of Charles Xavier, for him to die again, and a second resurrection. Seriously....the easiest and most logical answer to this tale is: we had the film universe equivalent of 204 issues of Uncanny X-Men, never mind all the other titles, to fill in the gap here. Some stuff changed, obviously, including Wolverine regaining his admantium claws and Professor X returning to life.

So why didn't Days of Future past bother to explain it? Because it was not relevant to the point of the film, which was that the timeline of the new movies starting with First Class is now the official timeline....and the future movies are now just potential future events. This is right in keeping with how the X-Men future timeline stories in the comics have worked, too.

Anachronistic Technology: some people on various forums have argued that all this future tech, no matter how retro they try to make it, makes no sense. Well, here's something to consider: the first sentinels, in terms of real time, actually appeared in stories in 1965. I think we can at least consider that tech develops at a different rate in the cinematic X-verse, but honestly....the whole concept was already laid out whole cloth 8 years before the time this movie takes place, let's just grant our ficitional universe the right to exist in and define its own space, okay?

Scott and Jean are Back: well, in the future they are. All that means is that (once again) some untold story remains out there, though admittedly it exists in place of X3.

Weapon X Conundrum: Stryker grabs Wolverine at the end but it's really Mystique. This is a no-brainer, but a lot of people are suffering through this one. Short answer: the film plays a trick on you, to get you to think, "here's how Stryker gets his hands on Wolverine for Weapon X." But we know that's not possible, and the film's efforts at weird timeloop continuity bear this out. First, recall that Stryker from X2/Wolverine is not a young man. In fact he's in middle years. The Stryker of 1973 is a young radical military guy. Second, Stryker was no longer an official military officer or agent when he went to create Weapon X; he was working on a different structural level, and crossing boundaries into Canada; he had the clout to do a lot of highly illegal stuff in the name of international security, though how much was recognized by Canadian or Us governments remains unclear to me (from the movie perspective, anyway). So A Stryker who's 20 years older works a lot better for the timeline, placing the Weapon X events around 1990-1995...roughly 5-10 years before the original X-Men film. Makes sense to me...

So why the Mystique appearance? to screw with audience expectations, of course, and to insure that we can be tantalized with the prospect of a Wolverine appearance in X-Men: Apocalypse.

Which, by the way, is definitely going to be about Apocalypse. Stick around for the post-end-credit reveal of Apocalypse and his Four Horsemen.....I'm very keen to see what the next movie looks like now!

So yeah, go see this film, far and away the best X-Men yet....a roller-coaster tribute to just how unhinged and weird the X-Men universe can get.


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