Friday, May 23, 2014

Ask Me a Question: X-Men: Days of Future Past

After cinematic go rounds with Spider-Man and Godzilla, it was time to get even bigger.  X-Men: Days of Future Past is allegedly Fox's biggest greenlit film in history behind Avatar.  Why?  Because the filmmakers decided to make a huge summer tent pole action film that involved time travel, a period setting and two casts.  Two casts?  Yup.  If you've kept up with the X franchise since 2000's X-Men, 2003's X2: X-Men United, 2006's The Last Stand, 2009's Origins: Wolverine, 2011's First Class and 2013's The Wolverine, you know that the merry mutants call for a huge entourage of guys and gals with wondrous and freakish abilities who fight on the side of good and evil.  First Class served as a prequel with James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender taking over roles previously played by Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan.  Days of Future Past blends the new and original cast while introducing yet even more new characters.  What could have descended into overcrowded camp a la Batman and Robin (which is still an enjoyable romp, what?!), Days does a surprisingly effective job of utilizing both casts to tell a grand tale ripped from the panels of the comic books.

Continuity has always been an issue in the X-Men franchise because the original was a difficult production that studio Fox didn't quite believe in.  When it was a success, it was more about getting to the next film than it was maintaining a cohesive timeline.  In The Wolverine, we saw Hugh Jackman's gruff, adamantium metal fitted bones and clawed anti-hero hanging out in Japan.  Upon return he's greeted by friends-enemies-friends Professor Xavier (Stewart) and Erik Lehnsherr aka Magneto (McKellan) who have put their differences aside to face a larger threat and need Wolverine's help.  From there we jump right into Days of Future Past with a small contingent of X-Men; Kitty Pryde, Iceman, Colossus, Bishop, War Path, Sunspot and Blink as they continuously evade seemingly unstoppable mutant hunting machines, The Sentinels.  I think it's Warpath who can sense them coming then Kitty transfers the consciousness of Bishop to his body a few days prior to warn his comrades so they can escape death.  Xavier, Magneto, Wolverine and old standby Storm catch up with the crew and think they can change the present by altering the past.  With Logan's healing factor and slow aging, he's the perfect candidate to go back 50 years to 1973 to help stop an assassination that will cause the Sentinel program to take root.

We then switch settings and casts for the 1974 scenes which sees Professor Xavier a shell of his former self after destructive results of First Class 10 years prior.  Logan, Xavier and Hank McCoy aka Beast recruit the super fast mutant Peter (Pietro in the comics) Maximoff (Evan Peters) to help break young Magneto (Fassbender) out of the Pentagon so they can stop the shape shifting Raven aka Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from taking out weapons and Sentinel designer Bolivar Trask (Game of Thrones' Peter Dinklage).  His death will trigger even more anti-mutant fervor while cementing the need for the Sentinel program.  The flick starts off well enough, just diving right in without much set up or explanation.  Even as a fan of the movies and comics, I was a little confused though as The Sentinel program seemed to come out of nowhere.  I suppose it could have all happened in the 7 year gap between Last Stand and Days but a little clarification would have been nice. 

Early scenes show the young X-Men using their powers to battle the Sentinels with Iceman finally flying around on ice bridges and slides.  Initial scenes with young Xavier and Magneto are very powerful with excellent performances from McAvoy and Fassbender. The 70's vibe provides some laughs with the fashion, water beds, etc.  Hugh Jackman looks swoler and striated as ever in his surprisingly lone shirtless scene but he does get in a heinie shot which I think is a first for the X-Flicks and does his usual likable loner act.  Going into the flick, everything we had seen of Quicksilver looked hokey and ridiculous.  His appearance seemed to be derived from Doc Brown from Back to the Future and the Carl's Jr ad of him eating a burger in super speed/slow motion was just awkward.  But in the film, it all works marvelously and he's one of the most memorable characters in the flick with arguably the greatest scene in the picture as he uses his super speed and mischievous sense of humor to break Magneto out.  In the comics, Mags is his father and there's a throwaway line alluding to it.

With the two casts jockeying for screen time, I was slightly astonished that much of the film takes place in the 70's with the First Class cast and Wolverine in a bit of a supporting role.  I figured it would jump between time lines with conflicts reflecting each other a la Inception but for the most part, the present day cast is confined to what seemed like only a handful of meaty scenes which don't really utilize or showcase characters like Kitty Pryde, Iceman and Bishop or the actors who play them.  That's actually a departure for this series that has always been so Wolverine centric and then gave Storm a boost at the expense of Cyclops when Halle Berry won an Oscar.  There are some great cameos throughout and the film ends on a high note that gets you pumped for future installments.  If you're going to see this, forgo the post-conversion 3D as it adds nothing to the experience.  NOTHING.  The Arclight's glasses are incredibly heavy and uncomfortable and they're battery operated so you get power flickers too boot.

After the film, producer Lauren Schuler Donner and Quicksilver, Iceman and Bishop actors Evan Peters, Shawn Ashmore and Omar Sy participated in a Q&A that was streamed out to each Arclight location around California.  Some quick bites:

- Project was brought to Donner's attention by former development exec, she read Wolverine's bio in a series bible and loved him.
- X-Men was most difficult because they didn't know what direction to go, she shrugs off part 3
- Story hammered out by Bryan Singer, Matthew Vaughn, Jane Goldman and Simon Kinberg then bounced off of Donner and then Kinberg went off to write script.
-X2 writers Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris did a few tweaks and are coming back for X-Men: Apocalypse which is still in story development mode.
- Had a subplot where present day Magneto, Professor X and Iceman go to the Mansion to rescue Rogue (Anna Paquin) but was cut due to time restraints.  Will be finished and scored and included in DVD release.
- It was kind of a low key affair but Omar Sy was visibly excited to be there and won the audience with his love for the franchise, gratitude for the opportunity and French man charm.
- Evan Peters was offered the role flat while Ashmore had to audition 5 times back in 2000 and was cast as a different character before taking over Bobby Drake.
- Shooting the movie was like a family reunion and Sy's first day was working with Professor X, Magneto, Storm and Wolverine which also meant Patrick, McKellan, Berry and Jackman.
- James McAvoy is a practical joker and cut the cheese in the middle of a scene
- Scheduling nightmare as Jackman was promoting Wolverine, Ashmore on The Following, Paquin on True Blood, Patrick and McKellan starring in a play together, etc.

I don't quite understand all the loathe for X-Men 3.  Part of it stems from the casting off of director Brett Ratner as a talentless hack but they guy knows how to make movies look good, always has great casts and has made fun flicks like Rush Hour and Rush Hour 2 with enjoyable mass market efforts like The Family Man, After the Sunset and Tower HeistX3 isn't perfect, there's too many characters crammed in, Cyclops gets killed off after 4 minutes of screen time, blah blah but the same people who made Days, made The Last Stand and had no problem singing it's praises on the DVD features and commentaries.  After director Matthew Vaughn jumped ship thinking he couldn't do what he wanted to do in the limited time frame, Ratner came in with little prep and made a perfectly fine X-Men movie because let's face it, X-Men isn't a masterpiece and Origins: Wolverine is downright crap with it's shoddy f/x, nonsensical mutant cameos, poor production values and unfulfilled potential.  While people go see Marvel marathons, I seriously doubt you'd get too many people willing to sit down for a triple feature of X-Men movies.

The Arclight does stuff like this all the time I feel but this just felt underwhelming.  From the eh moderating to the volume of the microphones being barely audible to the 20 minutes to get out of the parking garage, it was just like all the energy and goodwill from the film had been sucked out.

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