On Review: 'X-Men: Days of Future Past'

Editor's Note: This monthly installment of movie reviews by Spirit employees Matt Triponey and Dan Long rates X-Men: Days of Future Past.

Plot: The X-Men send Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back in time to avert a coming apocalypse.

I should begin by clarifying that I had a good time watching X-Men: Days of Future Past. I say that because this review probably isn't going to read that way.

I think I might be reaching the point where I'm getting burned out, if not on superhero movies specifically, then on Hollywood's current fixation on the endless franchise. They're settling into this generic okayness that bothers me, partly because I seek out things that are new and different and risky but mostly because I miss back when stories had a beginning, a middle AND an end. We're skipping that last one these days, since stories that end don't get sequels.

It's kind of the major problem I have with X-Men: Days of Future Past. It essentially ends its own story, or at least its central character arc, thus functioning as some sort of self-contained entity.

But it's specifically calculated to get every character and storyline back to square one so it can keep things going.

The weird thing is that, at least with this movie, I completely understand why the filmmakers chose to do that in the way that they did, and I almost appreciate it, given how twisted, unstable and confusing the continuity of these films has become and how their quality has been mixed pretty much since the outset.

It's ideal if the franchise has to continue but less ideal for an ongoing story that's building to an eventual endpoint where the characters finally grow or learn something or resolve whatever their central issue is.

Like I said at the outset, X-Men: Days of Future Past is, at the very least, a highly functional piece of franchise filmmaking.

For being a massive cameo-fest featuring appearances by nearly every character ever to play a part in these films, plus a bevy of new ones, and having multiple subplots that take place in entirely different times, it's a surprisingly focused film, and it doesn't come off as overly busy.

It designates one or two important characters for each subplot and keeps it there. The arcs it gives them aren't the deepest or most interesting things ever, nor is the way in which they're handled particularly novel, but they are, at least, complete.

At the same time, that heightened focus means there are a lot of things in the background that turn out underdeveloped.

With so many main characters, the supporting roles end up being closer to cameos, even when they feel like they ought to have more substance.

Plus, the movie has to glance over a lot of things and might be somewhat intimidating to members of the audience who aren't comic book fans.

And there remains a suddenness to this movie, launching immediately into an apocalyptic scenario that feels like it should've been built up over the previous films and that, sometimes, doesn't even manage to live up to their scale.

Fortunately, some of the new stuff is actually kind of fun — characters like super-speedy mutant Quicksilver (Evan Peters), who provides the movie with one of its best scenes; and the wild, ridiculous, imaginative action sequences I've been waiting six movies for this franchise to deliver.

So, it's kind of a mixed bag, albeit essentially an entertaining mixed
bag. Like I said, it's basically a good time at the movies. I just wish there was a little more novelty or experimentation to it, or that it was helmed by people with the storytelling finesse to elevate it into something genuinely special.

Rating out of 5: 3.5

DVD Recommendation of the Month: Right now, the movies coming out on DVD are those released in January and February, which is to say that nothing good is coming out on DVD right now.

So, instead, I'll recommend something a few years older that you might not have heard of: The Secret of Kells, one of my all-time favorites.

Released in 2009, The Secret of Kells is an animated film about the monks who created the Book of Kells, which they must protect from invading Viking hordes.

The animation is absolutely gorgeous, with a lush and varied color palette, fluid motion, and flawless designs inspired by the artwork in the real-life Book of Kells, as well as the history of film animation in general.

In my experience, it plays pretty well for kids, so it might make good family viewing — but be warned that one or two scenes might be a bit scary for especially young children.

For more from Matt, check out his website: http://writersblockparade.wordpress.com.

— By Matt Triponey

* * *
As someone who is very critical of comic book films, I am happy to announce that X-Men: Days of Future Past is the best X-Men movie to date and my favorite comic book film since The Avengers.

It was a true nod to diehard fans of the X-Men franchise, while being easy enough to comprehend for casual fans.

In a genius move, Days of Future Past was able to deliver one the best stories from the comics.

The movie sets a dramatic tone right from the opening scene, when several new X-Men to the franchise are given the task of taking on the deadly Sentinels, who pose the greatest threat to the mutants yet.

Before you know it, X-Men from First Class and the original trilogy are discussing a time-traveling plan to save humanity.

X-Men: Days of Future Past was able to seamlessly intertwine the characters from First Class with those from the original trilogy, without, for the most part, forcing unnecessary screen time on any one character.

It was also nice to see all the X-Men working together once again, which was reminiscent of the strongest entry in the original X-Men trilogy — X2.

Several of the new characters brought a breath of fresh air to the franchise without seeming corny, like many of the villains that plagued
The Last Stand.

Quicksilver’s scene where he dashes through the water drops in slow-mo was one the highlights of the film, and he was a welcome addition to the series.
In a plot that dealt with time travel, it would have been easy for the story to get muddled and confusing, but Days of Future Past did an excellent job of keeping everything simple.

Sometimes the plot got a little a too simplistic, as it was explained several times, which occasionally hurt the pacing. There were too many drawn-out scenes where someone had to be convinced of something, resisted, then finally caved.

The fight scenes and special effects were top notch, though. I saw the film in the 3D, and it made good use of the medium in a time when most comic book movies fail to do so.

For the most part, Days of Future Past took advantage of its star power.

Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen gave solid performances without, overshadowing the newcomers to the franchise. Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy were great once again, as they reprised their roles of young Magneto and young Professor X, respectively.

Hugh Jackman was solid as Wolverine but was given too big of a role for a character that already has two of his own solo films.

Halle Barry reprised her role as Storm, but was hardly given any speaking lines for an actress of her prowess.

Jennifer Lawrence’s role as Mystique played a much more critical part in Days of Future Past than the character has played in previous X-Men films. I

t makes sense that Lawrence would have much more screen time since her career has skyrocketed since First Class, but there were few scenes where she had to do much “real” acting or convey emotion.

Ellen Page’s performance as Kitty Pryde was underwhelming, and the same could be said about Peter Dinklage’s role as Bolivar Trask.

There were also a few scenes that did not make much sense, and fans of the X-Men movie franchise might notice a few continuity issues.

Overall, I truly enjoyed X-Men: Days of Future Past and am now counting down the days until X-Men: Apocalypse.

I give Days of Future Past 4 Wolverine claws out of 5.

DVD Recommendation of the Month: The documentary Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father. Available on Netflix.

For more from Dan Long, like Dan Long Comedy on Facebook.

— By Dan Long