Wednesday, May 28, 2014

It Came From The Cineplex: X-Men: Days Of Future Past

X-Men: Days Of Future Past was directed by Bryan Singer, and written by Singer along with Simon Kinberg, Lauren Shuler Donner and Hutch Parker. It's (very) loosely based on the X-men comic book storyline by Chris Claremont and John Byrne.

It's no secret that the X-Men / Wolverine movie continuity is hopelessly hosed, and has been for quite some time. Characters meet in the past but don't recognize one another in the future, events from one film are forgotten or revised by the next, and certain characters change radically between movies (sometimes even changing their race!). Some even die and then get better (with no explanation) by the next outing.

Director Bryan Singer promised that this film would take care of these problems and weave everything into one coherent continuity. It does absolutely no such thing. They made a valiant effort, but this "solution" raises more questions then it answers and makes things even more vague and uncertain than before.

Despite all this, if you can manage to ignore the continuity issues, it's a pretty solid movie.


The Plot:
In the far off post-apocalyptic future of 2023, robotic Sentinels are targeting mutants and humans alike. Professor X, Magneto and a handful of mutants are all that's left of the X-Men. They've determined that their hellish world was caused by a single event-- Mystique assassinating industrialist Bolivar Trask in the year 1973. 

Professor X hatches a desperate plan to send Wolverine back to 1973 in order to stop Mystique and prevent the future from happening.

• I'm amazed at the sheer number of original cast members they were able to talk into reprising their roles-- often for just a few seconds of screen time. Kelsey Grammer even came back for a two second cameo as Beast!

• Kudos to the producers for the cool opening scene pitting the remnants of the X-Men against the unstoppable Sentinels. I loved seeing Colossus finally able to cut loose, and the inclusion of Sunfire and Bishop was a welcome one. I especially liked Blink, even though it was sometimes hard to follow just what she was doing with her portal power.

• Kitty Pride's super power has always been intangibility, allowing her to walk through walls. Yet suddenly in this film she can also send people's minds back in time. When did she develop that amazing ability? Apparently it's none of our concern, as it's never addressed.

By the way, HOW the hell did she ever discover she had this power? Walking through walls I could see. One day she was probably texting on her phone and not looking where she was going and walked right through a wall. But discovering she can do something as incredibly specific as send someone's mind back in time? Wha...? Did she one day think, "You know, I bet if I could get someone to lie down calmly on a slab, I could cup their head in my hands, shoot blue energy rays into their temples and cause their consciousness to travel back into their younger bodies! I'm gonna try it right now!"

• In a similar vaguely defined vein, Professor X died in X-Men 3, yet here in the future he's alive and well. 

We last saw him as the end of 2013's The Wolverine. In that film, an astonished Wolverine asked him how it was possible he was still alive, and Professor X cryptically answered, "You're not the only one with gifts." It was an amazing tease, and a surefire way to drum up interest in this film. And then they didn't even attempt to explain his resurrection.

Yes, I know Professor X's mind jumped into the body of a comatose patient at the end of X-Men 3, but that doesn't explain why he still looks like Patrick Stewart and is crippled once again.

I'm not one of these people who needs to have every little detail spelled out for me. That said, these two issues are pretty major, not to mention integral to the plot, and deserved at least a line or two of explanation.

• Apparently in an effort to clear up various dangling plot threads, Fox and director Bryan Singer have stated in various interviews that they feel X-Men 3 and the X-Men Origins: Wolverine were both so subpar that they're pretending they never happened, and suggest we all do the same.

Oh really?

If that's really Fox's official stance then they need to issue refunds to everyone who saw those movies, stat! We all pumped several hundred million dollars into their coffers, so if they're saying those movies don't count then we should all get our money back. You can send my refund check to me care of my blog, thanks.

• In the comic book it was Kitty Pride whose mind was sent back in time, not Wolverine. Many fans (including comic artist / writer John Byrne) are upset about this.

A couple things here. The film industry is a business that, like it or not, is concerned more with the bottom line than with artistic integrity. To that end, which character do you think would bring in more ticket sales? Kitty Pride (which maybe fifteen percent of the audience has ever heard of) or Wolverine?

Second, the time travel in this film is mental, not physical. Whoever is sent back to 1973 had to be alive in that year. Movie Kitty Pride was probably born sometime in the 1990s. There was no way they could have used her as the protagonist in this film.

• When Wolverine gets back to 1973, he tracks down Professor X, and is shocked to see he can walk again. Apparently Hank McCoy invented a serum that gives the Professor the use of his legs (at the cost of his powers though).

Eh, no reason to share a cure for paralysis with the rest of the world, Hank. I'm sure no one else could have possibly benefitted from it.

• When Wolverine tries to enlist Professor X's help, he refuses by saying, "Let me respond with what you told me when I once asked you for help: F*ck off."

I would be remiss if I didn't point out that that's not quite what Wolverine said. He actually said, "Go f*ck yourself."

• Bolivar Trask, the inventor of the Sentinels, appeared in X-Men 3. In that film though, he was a black man of normal height, played by actor Bill Duke. Suddenly in this film he's not only switched races, but is three feet tall. Whoops!

Director Bryan Singer says that in X-Men 3 Duke played a character simply named Trask, who was a completely different person from the Bolivar Trask who appears in this film. Nice try, but nope.

• Mystique's powers truly are amazing. Not only can she change her appearance, but she can apparently scrunch herself down to Peter Dinklage size. Seems like that would get a bit uncomfortable, what with her internal organs getting all squeezed together as she shrinks.

Most amazing of all is that her duplicating ability even extends to fingerprints! When she enters Trask's office disguised as him, she places her thumb on a fingerprint scanner and it actually opens for her.

OK, I can suspend my disbelief enough to buy the fact that Mystique can look like anyone she sees. But how the hell can she duplicate a person's fingerprints? Ouch! My disbelief just got stretched past its breaking point.

I could maybe buy it if she got some kind of highly detailed scan from touching a person, but as far as I know she never had any physical contact with Trask. Does she have some kind of microscopic vision that can see fingerprints?

• So Trask invents the mutant-hunting Sentinels in 1973. So why didn't we see any sign of them in X-Men 1 through 3? Whoops again!

• I'm not sure how Trask was able to use Mystique's DNA to design more efficient robots, but there you go. Maybe the Sentinels have biomechanical parts?

• A few months before the film came out, Fox released a photo of Quicksilver in his costume. Predictably all of nerddom went ballistic, universally denouncing his ridiculous looking costume (the ill-advised Hardees commercials didn't help). Ironically, Quicksilver turned out to be the best thing about the movie. He still looked goofy as hell, but boy was he cool. There's a lesson here somewhere. Something about books and covers?

• Wolverine enlists Quicksilver to help spring Magneto from a super ultra maximum security cell under the Pentagon. Quicksilver uses his super speed to easily free him.

Afterwards, Professor X thanks Quicksilver for his help and then dismisses him, basically saying, "OK, Thanks for your help. Now go on, get out of the movie. That's it, keep going! Bye!"

What. The. Hell? Quicksilver could have solved every subsequent plot point in seconds, with a minimum of effort. Why the hell would you NOT utilize such a resource? Wolverine didn't even know how long he'd be able to stay in the past. You'd think he'd want to wrap things up as quickly as possible.

• During the Pentagon break out, Quicksilver uses his super speed to neutralize a roomful of security guards. He does so while listening to Jim Croce's Time In A Bottle on his Walkman (which didn't exist until 1979-- Whoops!). Um... if he's moving so fast that people can't even see him, how is he listening to tape-recorded music? The Walkman wouldn't speed up with him. Wouldn't it sound like a slurred, slowed-down recording?

• When Quicksilver finds out Magneto can control metal, he says, "My mom used to know a guy who could do that." This is obviously a not-so-subtle call out to the comics, where Magneto is the father of both Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch.

• By the way, concerning Magneto being sprung from prison-- why the hell did they bother?

Professor X, I can see. Not only is he a powerful telepath, but he grew up with Mystique and could talk her into changing her mind. But why'd they need Magneto? From the moment they released him all he did was cause trouble, trying to push his own personal mutant agenda. Wolverine could have saved himself a lot of headaches-- and finished his mission early-- by leaving Magneto in stir.

• We find out that the reason Magneto's been imprisoned under the Pentagon for the past ten years is because he assassinated President Kennedy. Several things here:

First of all, Professor X claims that Magneto used his powers to divert one of Oswald's shots, which explains the "magic bullet" theory. This was a very cool way to tie the movie and Magneto into actual historical events.

Second, Magneto insists he's innocent, saying he actually tried to divert the bullet because Kennedy was "one of them." Does that mean if Magneto had left the bullet alone, it would have missed? And I wonder what mutant power Kennedy had? Super wealth? The ability to look good on TV? Rapid speech?

Thirdly, X-Men First Class takes place in late 1962. The Kennedy assassination was in November 1963. That means Magneto was incarcerated just a year after First Class, and has been in prison until this film. 

• OK, the entire time travel plot revolves around preventing Mystique from killing Trask. This is quite literally the turning point in history. The exact date and time of this event is even known. So why does Kitty send Wolverine a day at most before this momentous event? They're barely able to stop Mystique in time. If they'd been delayed even five more seconds, she would have killed Trask and the whole thing would have been over.

Why not send Wolverine back a week earlier? Or a month? For that matter, why not go back to the 1940s or 1950s or whenever she was born and kill her when she's a baby? Cold, yes, but it would have been safer.

• The actor who played Richard Nixon looked amazingly like Robert Barrone from Everybody Loves Raymond.

• This film is set in 1973, and features fully-realized robotic Sentinels. Yet The Wolverine is set in the present, and at the end of it Logan watches a commercial implying that Trask industries is just getting around to developing primitive Sentinel models. Whoops!

• Trask, who is a little person, creates an army of gigantic robots that tower over normal-sized citizens. In effect he's given the rest of the world a taste of what his existence is like. I don't know if that was intentional or not, but if it was, hats off to the screenwriters.

• The movie features some cool and innovative uses of the characters' various superpowers. I specifically liked Magneto weaving train rails into the joints and innards of the Sentinels so he could control them.

• Was Jennifer Lawrence wearing her leftover American Hustle wardrobe in this film? Both movies are set in the 1970s...

• Well, I guess that's that! This film just wiped out the first three X-Men movies, along with the first and possibly second Wolverine films. Everyone's now living in this shiny, happy new timeline, and only Wolverine remembers the way things used to be.

• Anna Paquin, who plays Rogue, gets seventh billing in this film. Yet she appears for just over three seconds. She must have one hell of an agent!

Yes, yes, I'm aware that her part was drastically trimmed in the final cut. So shouldn't her billing reflect that? If I was a big Anna Paquin fan and saw how prominently she was featured in the credits, I'd be mightily pissed when I found out she was in one blink-and-you'll-miss-her scene.

• This has nothing to do with this film, but I thought I'd mention it anyway. In the past few years I've heard fans and reviewers likening Professor X and Magento to Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. Except with mutants instead of blacks.

I can see how people would think this-- there are actually some parallels between Professor X, who wants to affect change through peaceful means, and Malcolm X, whose methods were a bit more radical. 

That said, I absolutely guarantee you that Stan Lee didn't have any of that in mind when he created the two characters. All he was thinking about was coming up with a storyline before that month's deadline. If the two characters parallel famous civil rights leaders, it's nothing more than a coincidence.

This also goes for liberal arts professors who say Bewitched was really about interracial marriage and The Munsters was about minorities moving into white neighborhoods. Interesting theories after the fact, but nowhere near what the creators were thinking when they created the shows.

• I'm starting to sense a pattern in all these superhero movie posters...

• At the end of the film, Mystique, disguised as Stryker, rescues Wolverine. If you'll recall, Stryker was the person responsible for creating Wolverine, giving him his adamantium skeleton and claws. So does this mean Wolverine no longer went through that ordeal in this new timeline? So many questions...

The best X-Men movie in many a year, Days Of Future Past tries to make sense of the series' fractured continuity, but fails spectacularly. Despite its many problems, I couldn't help but like the film. I give it an A-.

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