Monday, 2 June 2014

Review: X-men: Days of Future Past

Year: 2014
Director: Bryan Singer
Screenplay: Simon Kinberg
Starring: Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry, Anna Paquin, Ellen Page, Peter Dinklage, Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart

Synopsis is here:

The blockbusters are now in full flow, and despite the latest entry of the x-men franchise gaining healthy word of mouth both critically and commercially, I once again left the auditorium with feelings of fatigue. My enjoyment of the X-men series hit its peak with the brash knock around pleasure of X-2 (I did really enjoy 1st Class also) but the time hopping antics of Wolverine and company only allowed a cloud of malaise to fog my mind.

Not being a comic book fan (per se), I find that my enjoyment of many of these films stems from when they slightly stray from the frame. I found myself more entertained with these characters when Singer decidedly placed himself out the frame as opposed to following things panel to panel. I enjoyed his broad brush strokes of religion (Nightcrawler) and race (Malcolm X and Dr King parallels) slotting into generally fun and balanced ensemble pieces. Day of Future Past cuts things straight down the line, with little time to be distracted by things that aren't dictated by the plot. We're too far down the rabbit hole for those small character beats that some enjoy.

Days of Future Past has Wolverine as the de facto leading man once again in an alteration to the original that is understandable in terms of the story, but feels dull due to the volume of X-men films with Hugh Jackman setting the pace. Jackman is still solid in the role, but after situating Wolverine as the main poster boy for long now has the decision feeling stale. It did allow my audience to gawp and giggle at Jackman's bare ass. The hefty violence, however (which did cause one family walk out), didn't raise an eyebrow. As I considered how desensitised audiences can be to on-screen violence, I realised that while the film didn't stop for me to finish my contemplation (why should it?), it didn't have anything within it to make me stop my mind from drifting.

I found myself thinking about the texture that Singer had brought to X-men before. Having mutants such as Nightcrawler who didn't just feel like an amazing opening set piece, but a chance to introduce a mutant which had a certain amount of consideration to his character. Days of Future Past has an illuminating Quicksilver (A mutant with superhuman speed) sequence which had me grinning at the wit and cocksure attitude that Evan Peters brings to the role. However, he feels utilised only as a plot device rather than anything else. The use of Quicksilver doesn't feel as jarring as the motivations of Michael Fassbender's Magneto in the later stages. Writers who know their comic onions such as Devin Faraci have written entertaining pieces on why the film has no continuity errors, but a decision by Magneto feels more muddled than it ever should do. Had I no formal knowledge of the character, I would have been questioning the film even more. The film screenplay often clunks plot elements about heavily. Ask yourself: how often do we need Wolverine to explain to people on why he's in the past? 

Here's where we are now in the comic franchise city. If you weren't around at the beginning and something confuses you, then tough cookies. It makes sense to the nerds and geeks, so you're not invited. Anything that may feel like a piece of badly communicated plot can be happily explained to you afterwards, but if that's the case, is it good filmmaking? Then again, even those who have enjoyed past entries may raise an eyebrow to other actors who get short-changed by the film's direction and its clunky narrative. Halle Berry and Anna Paquin could have had grounds to sue if they looked like they gave more of a damn.

Clearly I'm being facetious, but looking at how previous characters are treated in Days of Future Past reminds me of how empty the film made me feel. After watching it last week, I'm now struggling to remember anything other than the odd one or two moments that held my attention. Nixon caricatures and speeding Quicksilvers aside, Days of Future Past will (and has) impress those who revere the film's source material. For the likes of myself who remain on the periphery of this wave of geek pop culture, there's a good chance of being slightly stumped.