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Thursday, May 21, 2015

Fishing in the Discount Bin - X-Men: Days of Future Past

Welcome back to Fishing in the Discount Bin, my weekly blog about one of the movies I own on home media.  I've been doing a run though the X-Men franchise recently, so I think to close things off proper, I'm going to jump ahead in my notes to October 19, 2014 to do X-Men: Days of Future Past.  "But Mark, you missed The Wolverine!" you may be saying.  Well, I did The Wolverine over a year ago, before I did this run though the franchise.  It's right here if you want to catch up.  And now, on to Days of Future Past

Here we are, once again, returning to the world of the X-Men with the latest in the franchise, X-Men: Days of Future Past.  In a way, I'm OK that Marvel sold X-Men to Fox and they're largely kept separate from the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  I mean, it never made sense to me.  How come mutants are feared and hunted while other superheroes are honored and revered?  I posed the question to a Marvel zombie friend of mine, and he told me that in the Marvel Universe, when push comes to shove, humanity turns on regular superheroes, too.  And that makes sense.  The theme of persecuted heroes runs deep throughout Marvel.  Whether it's the Daily Bugle vilifying Spider-Man in the press, General Thunderbolt Ross hunting down the Hulk for the simple crime of existing, or the overt mutant-phobia in the X-titles, superheroes just can't get a break in the Marvel universe.

But I digress.  X-Men: Days of Future Past saw a lot of returning familiar faces.  First up, behind the camera, Bryan Singer returns to direct, having set up the franchise with X-Men and X2.  Actually, he was supposed to return to the franchise and direct X-Men: First Class, but production delays on his fantasy epic Jack the Giant Killer saw him have to step aside, and just write and produce.  A similar situation on Days of Future Past, too.  First Class director Matthew Vaughn was originally slated to direct, but he ultimately passed so he could re-team with the Kick-Ass creators to do the upcoming James Bond homage Kingsman:  The Secret Service.  With Vaughn now preoccupied, producer Bryan Singer said, "Hey, I know a great director who's well-versed in all things X-Men...me!" 

For this time out, they chose to finally adapt one of the most beloved X-Men stories of all time, Days of Future Past.  50 years in the future, the mutant-hunting robots known as Sentinels have taken over, rounding up most of the mutants and placing them in internment camps.  With mutants under control, they've now set their sites on humans, because humans give birth to mutants.  What's left of the X-Men now forms the resistance.  Analyzing history, the X-Men figured this nightmarish future happened when a political assassination in the past led the US government to fast-track the Sentinel program.  Their desperate plan:  Kitty Pryde has figured out how to use her powers to send people back in time.  So, Kitty goes back in time to team up with the X-Men of the past, prevent the assassination, and stop this future from happening. 

Of course, some changes were made to the movie.  In the film, Kitty uses her powers to send Wolverine back in time, because as Marvel discovered in the 1990s, everything's better with Wolverine. 

Back to the returning faces, that means Hugh Jackman is back as Wolverine.  In the future, Halle Berry is back as Storm, Shawn Ashmore is back as Iceman, Ellen Page is back as Kitty Pryde, and Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan are back as Professor X and Magneto.  For the past scenes, Jennifer Lawrence is back as young Mystique, James McAvoy is the young Professor again, and Michael Fassbender is the young Magneto.

I've got to highlight Mystique as being one of the most intriguing characters in the film.  Having grown up with the Professor, but falling under Magneto's sway, she really is struggling to follow the philosophies of both her mentors.  She is the assassin that Wolverine is trying to stop.  She assassinates Bolivar Trask, the inventor of the Sentinels, when she discovers that he'd been experimenting on mutants.  This makes him a martyr to the anti-mutant agenda, leading the US Government to fast-track the Sentinel program.  Mystique really is pulled between two worlds, as the Professor tries to pull her back from the dark side, but Magneto keeps wanting to use her to pursue his agenda. 

The Professor is in a dark place when we meet him in the film.  When Wolverine goes back in time, the elder Professor warns him of this.  The School for the Gifted is closed, and the Professor has become a recluse.  As the young Beast explains, the Professor was in pretty rough shape after losing the use of his legs and Mystique running off with Magneto.  He tried to bury himself in his work and the School for the Gifted up and running, but the school only lasted for a couple of semesters before most of the faculty and students were drafted to go fight in Vietnam.  So the Professor...gave up.  Beast developed a serum for the Professor to regain use of his legs, but it has the side effect of repressing the Professor's telepathic abilities.  The Professor spends his days just sitting around, getting high off the stuff.  So Wolverine has to pull him out of the darkness.  It's a great scene, too, when Wolverine admits his woefully ill-equipped for the task.

The high point for me is still the scenes with Quicksilver, and when they bust Magneto out of prison.  I watched those scenes in the film, and kept going, "Yes!  That's how you show a guy with super-speed!"  And as that aforementioned Marvel zombie pointed out, with so many mutants in these films lamenting the curse that is their powers, it's just delightful to see a guy who actually enjoys his powers.  And I'm still blown away by the scene of him taking down a room of armed guards.  We see the world from his POV as everyone else moves in super-slow motion.  It's just great.  Too bad we don't see more of him in the film.  At least when he busts out Magneto, they manage to throw in a not-so-sly reference to the fact that, in the comics, Magneto is Quicksilver's father. 

I also love a lot of the future war scenes.  When getting ready for this film, Bryan Singer said that The Terminator was one of the best time travel movies ever made, and that he had a long lunch with James Cameron to pick his brain about time travel in films.  The Terminator influence really shows in those future war scenes, as they...just look the same. 

Of course, there are some nitpicks with the casting.  Why wasn't Wolverine's sidekick Yukio part of the cameo-palooza that was the end?  When Magneto briefly chats with that groundskeeper at the stadium, with this being a Marvel movie, I'm CONVINCED that should have been the requisite Stan Lee cameo.  And when Wolverine accidentally slips back to the future, thrashes about, and injures Kitty Pryde, why didn't Rogue just step in, borrow Kitty Pryde's powers, and take over?

Well, actually, that was what was originally supposed to happen.  But they wound up cutting the scene, as they figured the "Kitty Pryde slowly bleeding to death to make this plan work" added more tension.  There were more future scenes, too, where Iceman, Rogue, and Kitty Pryde resumed their love triangle from The Last Stand, which is why a lot of people were baffled when Anna Paquin got such a prominent place in the credits when she only has a cameo at the end.  The producers have already said they'll be releasing an extended edition with all of Rogue's scenes back in in the spring.

At the end of the day, X-Men: Days of Future Past is a great addition to the X-Men film franchise.  It serves as a great sequel to First Class, and allows Bryan Singer to do the X-Men 3 he never got to do.

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