Some links to see to before we get started today. Yesterday was a Snippet Sunday, so we had a post on our blog. Krisztina had her pic of the week from a visit to Gettysburg. And Shelly writes about an experience with a snake.
Now then, it's a movie review for me to take on today...
"Are we destined to destroy each other, or can we change each other and unite? Is the future truly set?" ~ Charles Xavier
"There is a new enemy out there: mutants. You need a new weapon for this war." ~ Bolivar Trask
Director Bryan Singer returns again to the cinematic world of the X-Men in the new film X-Men: Days Of Future Past. It is drawn from the storyline by Chris Claremont, arguably the definitive writer of that corner of the Marvel Universe. In both comics and film, the story is about time travel and trying to undo an apocalyptic future in which everything has gone wrong. It brings back multiple X-Men from previous films, some of whom are in different time periods being played by different actors. It picks up plot threads from previous films, while taking us in a new direction and bringing us a new and unlikely villain.
Things open up a few years in the future, with robots called Sentinels hunting mutants and making life difficult for regular humans. Society's become one of those dark, dystopian realms that are so popular in fiction these days. Some of the surviving mutants are working with Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page, a previous castmember of one of the films). Kitty and her team meet up with Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellan). The two old adversaries have had to come together. And considering Xavier was blasted into oblivion in the events of X-Men The Last Stand, he's looking pretty good.
They have themselves a plan to undo this turn of events, and it involves sending the essence of one of their own into the past to try to reset the timeline. Everything seems to have gone wrong with the assassination of industrialist Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian), an act committed by Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence, reprising the role she started playing in X-Men First Class). Trask designed the Sentinels in the first place, and it's thought that his death was the trigger for everything that followed. The individual whose consciousness will be sent back into his younger self? Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), sometimes known as the Drunken Hobbit (what can I say, the only version of the character I can tolerate is Jackman's take on him... the comics version is really, really, really annoying). Xavier and Magneto urge him to seek out their younger selves, played again by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, to thwart the dark future that has come upon them all.
Singer directed the first couple of these films, starting back in 2000 with X-Men. He also had a hand in the production of the back in the past X-Men First Class. In this case he's returned to the director's helm and taken on one of the big stories in X-Men comic history. Claremont's story holds up well, altered somewhat by the screenwriters- Logan, for example, was never the character sent back in time. The story bounces back and forth between the dark future and the 1970s (rendered with the appalling fashion tastes on full display), and yet we never seem lost in the process. The story also gives us quite a few familiar faces from previous films, while introducing new mutants, and yet the sea of faces doesn't feel overwhelming. Singer paces the movie well, keeping things from slowing down while also respecting the themes of the core story, the dark and nightmare future, the unintended consequences of a character's actions, and how far a person can go before they're broken. Singer's crew does their work well. Once again the Mystique body paint look is remarkable- one can only imagine Jennifer Lawrence's patience each day with having that done. But beyond that, it applies to every details. The Sentinels look as ominous as you'd expect them to look from the comics. The dark future looks and feels malevolent. Special effects for the various mutant abilities come across very well, particularly in the case of Magneto- more than once do we see moments involving the character that are jaw dropping. And the 1970s are rendered in detail that feels true to the period, from technology that looks ancient in comparison to the presence of a certain "I Am Not A Crook" president mucking up the works.
The cast is back in fine form, from more than one timeline. Aside from some of those mentioned, we meet some of the X-Men we've seen before, such as Storm (Halle Berry), Iceman (Shawn Ashmore), and Colossus (Daniel Cudmore). They're back in familiar territory, playing the parts once again as if it's been a brief time since we saw them last. There are new faces as well- Blink, Sunspot, Bishop, and Warpath are all new faces here, but quite welcome. We even have a new actor playing a part we've seen before. Josh Helman plays an even younger William Stryker, the man who uses mutants and yet hates them; we've seen the character played before in different time periods by Brian Cox and Danny Huston. Helman brings across the character's military code and beneath the surface malevolence in his performance. Ellen Page, who's previously played the role in X-Men The Last Stand, gets to play Kitty as a decisive leader, a far step beyond her initial presence in the film franchise as a student. Peter Dinklage, who's busy in that series featuring dark ages fantasy, rough sex, extreme violence, and backstabbing betrayals otherwise known as Game of Thrones might seem as an unlikely choice as Bolivar Trask, but he's actually an inspired choice. He plays the part with a certain degree of arrogance, balanced out by the personality of a man who strives for respect. And what's the best part of his performance is that he plays it as a man who believes he's doing good in the world, even though that good is in fact an awful thing. As a villain, he's a compelling one.
Jennifer Lawrence returns again as Mystique, the ferocious shapeshifter mutant who has been in the first three films played by Rebecca Romijn. She plays the part as someone dedicated to her mission in life, more jaded than we saw her play the part in X-Men First Class. She believes in what she's doing, even though she can't see the consequences of that. Lawrence embodies the character well once again, giving her depth. And obviously we can't take our eyes off her- both actresses have had the chance to play this eye catching role. Nicholas Hoult returns to the role of Beast, a character he also played in X-Men First Class. This is the younger version of the character, still as bright and prone to chatter as ever. Hoult plays the character in a way that feels true to who he is in the comics as well. Hugh Jackman returns as Wolverine, his seventh time (including a cameo in X-Men First Class) playing the character. He conveys the gruffness of the character as you'd expect; Jackman knows this character well by now. He's ferocious and courageous, a fighter who finds himself somewhat out of his element back in the past.
That leaves us with two characters, played by four men. Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan started playing Xavier and Magneto back in X-Men in 2000, and took on the essence of two former friends turned adversaries. Here we have them in a dark future, where they see that the choices they made might not have been for the better good. They both give their roles the dignity and gravitas you'd expect from such actors. McAvoy and Fassbender established that friendship in X-Men First Class, only to see it torn asunder by film's end. When we find them in the past, things have changed for both men. Fassbender plays Magneto as a man cornered and trapped when we first find him again in the past, but it's only made him more entrenched, more invested in his antagonism towards mainstream humanity. Fassbender conveys the inner pain of Magneto well, as he has done before. McAvoy puts a different spin on Xavier than what we saw in his first performance. His Xavier has lost the bulk of his first set of students in one way or another, and it's left him bitter and cynical, without hope. He's a wounded man. And there's a moment of contact between the two Xaviers across time that comes across as one of the best scenes in the movie.
X-Men Days Of Future Past does the original source story proud. It's a breathtaking action thriller that spans the decades and yet doesn't get us lost in all of the action, the characters, and the bouncing around in time aspect of the story. It deals with themes like arrogance, estranged friendships, and the consequences of ill considered actions. Oh, sure, we have to put up with horrible looking fashions (have I mentioned the Seventies were a blight on fashion?), but that's a small thing. It's a thrill ride that still grounds itself in good characterization.
Even with a Drunken Hobbit.