Wednesday, May 28, 2014

In Theaters: X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (2014)

(US/UK - 2014)

Directed by Bryan Singer. Written by Simon Kinberg.  Cast: Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Halle Berry, Ellen Page, Anna Paquin, Peter Dinklage, Nicholas Hoult, Shawn Ashmore, Fan Bingbing, Omar Sy, Evan Peters, Josh Helman, Daniel Cudmore, Famke Janssen, James Marsden, Michael Lerner, Mark Camacho. (PG-13, 131 mins)

Director Bryan Singer's return to the X-MEN universe for the first time since 2003's X2 is a loose adaptation of a 1981 storyline in The Uncanny X-Men and brings together both the original cast and their X-MEN: FIRST CLASS counterparts in a gathering the likes of which we haven't seen since Yes' 1991 album Union.  Singer and screenwriter Simon Kinberg somehow manage to keep the multiple plot threads coherent for the most part, though if you aren't up to speed on your X-MEN lore, there's a good chance you'll be a bit lost here and there, as DAYS OF FUTURE PAST serves as a sequel to both 2006's X-MEN: THE LAST STAND and 2011's X-MEN: FIRST CLASS.

Opening in a dystopian future where robots known as Sentinels are waging war on mutants, DOFP has Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) sending the consciousness of Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back to 1973 so he can stop the assassination of Sentinel creator and Nixon cabinet member Dr. Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) at the hands of Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence).  As it plays out in their current timeline, Trask dies a hero, and Mystique is captured, with her DNA being used to help create the mutant-hunting Sentinels killing them in the future. Wolverine is advised by Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen) to track down their younger selves in 1973 for assistance.  Young Xavier (James McAvoy) is a despondent recluse being cared for by Hank/Beast (Nicholas Hoult) in the decrepit Xavier School, while young Magneto (Michael Fassbender) is being held in a enclosed prison deep beneath the Pentagon. Wolverine, Xavier, and Beast enlist the aid of Quicksilver (Evan Peters) to infiltrate the Pentagon and extract Magneto in what's probably the film's most inspired sequence, boasting an unforgettable use of Jim Croce's "Time in a Bottle."  Once freed, it doesn't take Magneto long for his evil ways to take control, often working at cross purposes with Mystique, who has her reasons for killing Trask, who isn't the noble altruist that history has purported him to be.

The wild plot also works in the JFK assassination, the Watergate tapes (Mark Camacho is a peculiar-looking Nixon), SANFORD AND SON, and some time-travel comic relief as Wolverine adjusts to life in 1973. Other than Jackman's Wolverine, who acts as a bridge between the two casts, the focus is more on the FIRST CLASS end of things, with the original cast not having a whole lot to do after the opening sequence other than pop up periodically to remind the audience that they're still there as they bide their time until a climactic showdown with some Sentinels.  McKellen and Stewart look dour and concerned, Page's Kitty Pryde (it's Kitty, not Wolverine, who goes back in time in the comic book source story) does little more than rub her hands on future Wolverine's temples as she guides his soul into the past, Halle Berry's Storm has maybe three lines of dialogue, and a prominently-billed Anna Paquin returns--if you can call it that--as Rogue, a central character in the first film but now reduced to a two-second walk-on without even a clear view of her face (Singer decided to cut all of her scenes, but they'll be included on the Blu-ray release).  Other than Wolverine and a brief face-to-face with young and old Professor Xavier, there's no interaction between the originals and the First Class. Jackman, McAvoy, and Hoult make a great team, and Peters almost manages to steal the film with his Quicksilver antics (after the brilliant Pentagon escape sequence, you'll wish Peters was in the movie more).  The X-Men vs. Magneto vs. Mystique vs. the Sentinels showdown on the White House lawn is a superbly crafted set piece, even if one element makes it bit too reminiscent of the stadium destruction from Bane in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES.  It's not perfect, and CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER is looking even better as the year goes on, but X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST is an ambitious return to the franchise for Singer, and it gets the job done as enjoyably huge big-screen summer entertainment.

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