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The future is now.  No, really, it is.  In a dystopic reality not long from now, mutants are being picked off like so many fleas.  Mecha morphing robots called Sentinels are hunting down the super-powered people and even the combined forces of mutant maestros Professor Charles Xavier and his former archfrenemy, Magneto {Government name: Erik Lehnsherr) are barely holding off the inevitable.  How did they come to this awful pass?  Thanks to the dimension-tripping powers of Kitty Pryde, one of their own will traverse the past to stop the annihilation before it begins.  The diplomat chosen for this mission of delicacy and tact; everybody’s favourite cigar-chomping, long-nailed, mutton-chopped Canuck, Wolverine.

Returning to the X-Men fold he initiated in 2000, director Bryan Singer actually finds himself in a sort of catch-up spot behind the well-received and exuberant X-Men: First Class, the previous chapter in this expansion of the X-Men universe.  Matthew Vaughn helmed that foray into the origins of Charles Xavier long before he was tenured (or tonsured), and Magneto before he wore fancy capes and chapeaux.  Despite a few missteps {January Jones’ excruciating acting, the Angel Salvadore character’s ridiculous-looking powers} that film captured the magic and exhilaration of the comics with a sharp, smart script that connected on all levels.  It reenergised the franchise after Singer’s abandonment of the series to Brett Ratner, in way over his head for the messy, hysterical threequel.  The vibe between Vaughn’s cool, slickly-entertaining flick and this offering by Singer couldn’t be more different.  It’s a grim thing, this.  The survival of the mutant race is at risk and the only thing that can save it is this time-travel plot device and it’s down to Singer to sell it.  Lucky for him he’s got the best of both franchise sagas in his amazing cast, anchored by the always dependable and excellent Hugh Jackman as Logan, AKA Wolverine.  This chapter features the long-awaited Sentinels, who we were briefly teased with in X-Men: The Last Stand.  We actually meet their maker, Bolivar Trask, whose fear of mutant domination leads him to the creation of the armoured giants that need one last ingredient to be complete.  That item will be unwittingly provided by Mystique, who has abandoned her foster brother, Charles Xavier and joined Magneto in his Mutant Panther Party, apparently for more reasons than just mutie rights.  Her determination to eliminate Trask will have far-reaching repercussions for all of her kind; this is where Logan steps in.  He’s got to gather the usual suspects (Pun completely intended); Xavier and his good guy group of special kids, now consisting only of the loyal Beast.  Then he must persuade the thoroughly down-with-people Magneto to forsake his abhorrence of humans and stiff aversion to that sell-out, Charles and somehow convince both men of the truth of his futuristic tale and get them to work together to keep Mystique from making her fatal mystake.  Neither easier said nor done.  The urbane, gentle Xavier of Wolverine’s time is definitely not the person he meets in the early 70s.  Charles is a mess.  Unkempt and in mourning for all he’s lost; the trust of Mystique, the students of his fledgling academy who have been captured and culled for anti-mutant experiments, as well as the whole being paralysed from the waist down thing thanks to Magneto’s betrayal from the last movie.  That small detail is dealt with in a vial of Beast’s quick-regenerating blood, which enables Charles to walk.  Trouble is, the serum blocks Xavier’s psychic abilities; a trade-off he’s only too happy to make.  It’s a big ask, but Wolvie needs the powers of the Xavier of his time to even have a hope of stopping the assassination attempt on Trask.  Shaming Xavier into shape, Logan further motivates him to bring on another mutant, a cheeky, silver-haired devil, called Quicksilver (Marvel Studios’ project continuity be damned) whose speed of sound movement is just what’s needed to break Magneto out of his Fort Knox prison to begin the big race to stop Mystique.

More narrative driven than the previous movie’s amusing origin fest, Singer must rely on his cast to sell the wildly comic book time-travel trope and the film becomes a showcase for the newer cast to shine beside those from the first series.  In those earlier films, for acting chops Singer was able to rely on Sirs Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen to carry the scripts (Jackman was then an unknown quantity).  Here he’s got a dream cast, including Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique (With more anger and less of a basketball-shaped head than the last movie) and Peter Dinklage as the tenacious Trask.  Singer’s still got all his older stars on board, including Halle Berry as Storm (In her worst wig, yet. Wigs are an issue in this film, both Storm’s and Quicksilver’s look like dust mops) who hasn’t got much to do and right beside her in the sitting around section is Ellen Page, who’s grown as an actress since her appearance in X-Men: The Last Stand, but you wouldn’t know it here.  For this chapter, the real dramatic fireworks come from James McAvoy as the disheartened, desiccated, drug-addled Charles Xavier.  Shaggy-haired and dirty, roaming about the dilapidated mansion like a homeless junkie ghost, McAvoy conveys all of that Xavier’s self-loathing, anger and heartbreak, tempering it with gallows humour and glimpses of the finer fellow he’ll become in later days.  There’s life in that performance even with the character at his lowest.  It’s an odd comparison to Michael Fassbender as Magneto: Erik Lensherr’s got heavy lifting as well for his role in the incidents that left his former BFF Xavier a paraplegic and turned some of their baby mutants’ school toward the dark side, summarily leading them to annihilation.  This Magneto is much grimmer than the previous and even the older version of himself – Ian McKellen’s magnet man always had a twinkle - not a wink - in the eye.  The scene on the plane where Xavier and Magneto have their first real chat since things went all pear-shaped is thrilling because all the recriminations bubble up to the surface and even though they seem to be working on different wave lengths this time, the actors’ vituperative delivery of each other’s faults is scintillating to watch.  Hugh Jackman is never bad as Wolverine (No matter how pale the project, like last year’s solo spinoff), but he seems to be in his element in the midst of such great talent and then having his character plays the unique, uncomfortable role of peacemaker.  It’s also great fun as well to see him pre-adamantium, in an era that was seemingly made for him: The early 70s, where his bohunk fashion sense, up-to-the-mutton-chops hairiness, alpha male attitude and classic Camaros to tool around in suit him perfectly.

The Sentinels weren’t quite what I’d hoped.  I was ready for the giant purple robot with the frowny face that every X-Men comic reader knows well.  The movie’s early versions weren’t nearly so distinguished, nor as scary in that looming, clunky way.  The latter-day editions are fascinating and truly frightening in their ability to absorb the powers used against them, shape shift and deploy those weapons to obliterate their tormentors; kind of like Terminator 2’s T-1000 meets the Borg from Star Trek.  Those future scenes of catastrophe show some surprisingly violent dispatch of the mutants.  Their annihilation is truly imminent.

For all this good stuff, it feels like there’s something missing.  Despite the great performances and fantastic fan service (There’s an unending catalogue of mutants for fans of every era to spot), there’s something less magical, that has less of a spark about it that causes Days of Future Past to feel a bit flat.  Maybe the scope of this movie is too ambitious?  Perhaps the mood running from ebulliently comic book-like (Quicksilver’s big moment is a highlight) to dark and grim is too much of a switch up?  Days of Future Past never seems to sustain the level of sharp wit and brightness, even in the darkest moments, that elevated other Marvel offerings like The Avengers, Captain America: Winter Soldier and even its own predecessor, X-Men: First Class.  There’s a sort of dreary element that never quite lifts up and anchors the film stubbornly to earth, when it should be stratospherically exciting.  It’s not by any means a failure; it’s still a lot of fun and totally worth seeing on big screen, but there’s a sense of hollowness after it’s all over that makes one wish there’d been just a bit more.

Apparently, there’s (at least) four more of these to go in this saga, so I’m sure there’s time for improvement.

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

May 23rd, 2014 

 

 

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