X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

   Director: Bryan Singer With: Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry, Nicholas Hoult, Anna Paquin, Ellen Page, Peter Dinklage, Shawn Ashmore, Omar Sy, Evan Peters, Josh Helman, Daniel Cudmore, Fan Bingbing, Adan Canto, Booboo Stewart, Mark Camacho, Ian McKellen, & Patrick Stewart. Release: May 23, 2014 PG-13. 2 hr. 12 min. 

Director: Bryan Singer
With: Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry, Nicholas Hoult, Anna Paquin, Ellen Page, Peter Dinklage, Shawn Ashmore, Omar Sy, Evan Peters, Josh Helman, Daniel Cudmore, Fan Bingbing, Adan Canto, Booboo Stewart, Mark Camacho, Ian McKellen, & Patrick Stewart.
Release: May 23, 2014
PG-13. 2 hr. 12 min. 

 

“X-Men: Days of Future Past” is a grand finale to a spec of storytelling. Like that of “What If” or “Marvel: The End,” Marvel likes to look at it's universes as monuments of reality. They're spectacles of opera-like drama that can be torn down and restarted at will. “X-Men: Days of Future Past” is the same event for 20th Century Fox’s cinematic universe of mutants, but the allegories for puberty, sexuality, and racism have all gone away.

This time around, the focus is climactic, set in the distant future in which shape-shifting and mutant absorbing Sentinels have launched a war upon mutantkind and the few groups of humanity that stand alongside them. Mutant versus all is the setting, but it's a war that hasn’t gone well for the evolved versions of humankind. Nearly wiped out, the benevolent Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and former foe Erik Lehnsherr (Ian McKellen) are left with no choice but to rewrite history. They gather a team of young mutants with familiar faces like Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) and Kitty (Ellen Page) and new faces like Bishop (Omar Sy) and Blink (Fan Bingbing).

Needing someone who can heal at a constant rate, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is the only choice to make the trip. Sent back to 1973, Logan (Hugh Jackman) has to convince a younger and distraught Charles (James McAvoy) to reconcile with a younger Erik (Michael Fassbender) and stop Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) from assassinating Boliver Trask (Peter Dinklage) whose death would send mankind on a fear mongered obsession to halt mutant kind from ever-evolving past them. It’s a mouthful of a story, but one that is handled with a surprising amount of consistency and emotional heft.

The best moments of the film is when we are allowed to glimpse into these heroes motives and resolves. Like that of the younger Charles (James McAvoy) whose losses have amounted to so much emotional grief that it has driven him to a drug obsession. It’s not an ordinary drug though, it's a type of medicine that Hank (Nicholas Hoult) manifested to allow Charles (James McAvoy) to walk, but his self-guilt and self-hatred consumes him too much. Always taking too much, so much that it dwindles his powers completely.

It’s an emotional subplot that carries his character to the film’s most captivating moments, one in which he looks into Logan’s (Hugh Jackman) mind to seek advice from himself in the future. In the process, he gains recognition of Logan’s (Hugh Jackman) pain, stating “I don’t want your suffering. I don’t want your future!” It’s a remarkably crafted scene that is carried by another captivating performance from James McAvoy that gives Patrick Stewart a run for his money.

Logan (Hugh Jackman) kind of fades into the background in an attentive manner. Though Hugh has another decent outing as the character, he carries the plot instead of himself, rarely given any moments in which his character grows. The writers (Simon Kinberg, Matthew Vaughn, and Jane Goldman) have so much on their plate that they forgot to give one of their most popular character any growth. We don’t learn more about him, but instead, see things happen to him. He grows to the same extent that the film’s runtime increases with every minute passed.

The massive array of character lends to a blend of worlds that is almost seamless. Bryan Singer carries this film with a remarkable outing as director. The visual can be spectacular at times, and the characters gain heft from the emotional conflicts they face. It’s like a lesser version of “Infinity War” in which the losses are felt, but are never earth-shattering. The camera remains quite colorful, and the seventies atmosphere gives the X-men a Watchmen-esque taste that evokes excitement. We lean into the screen, ready to be taken on a journey.

One of the most exciting moments of that journey is when we get to meet Quicksilver (Evan Peters). One half of the Maximoff twins (watch “Avengers: Age of Ultron” if this confuses you or read some comics, obviously), Quicksilver (Evan Peters) is a charismatic and charming individual that is given an magical sequence that has Jim Croce’s enchanting “Time in a Bottle” set as the background theme. He zooms past in slow motion, fabricating comedic slapstick set-ups, and saving his newly found friends. Singer earned a directional nod for me with this one scene, a tough act to follow up. Yet, he finds a way with both the bombastic finale and the snippets of action involving these frightening Sentinels in this worthy and grand culmination.  

“X-Men: Days of Future Past” is 20th Century Fox hitting that reboot button that opens up questions surrounding it's newest films, creating a rippling effect that can manifest more confusion than you would think. One example, does “Deadpool” take place in the same universe? Or is this like a comic book in which “X-Men: Days of Future Past” took place in the reality of Earth 616 and now the universe lives in the existence of Earth 821?

Either way, “X-Men: Days of Future Past” has a lot of stories to tell, and it handles all of them in a fair balance. Some fade into the background and arrive without impact, and the time traveling of it all can become a bit of a burden, but Singer’s return is met with emotional heft and a challenging narrative that is brought to life by superb performances and exciting direction. It may take awhile for it to sink in, but go read “Final Crisis” or “Flashpoint” and understand where these kinds of superhero stories stem from. It’s a lot to digest, but it's incredibly riveting nonetheless. It’s explosive, consequential, and tiring. Watching the Rogue cut of the film can be especially exhausting, but “X-Men: Days of Future Past” is still one of the best depictions of this world of mutants, if only there were some Avengers to back them up.

The Wolverine (2013)

   Director: James Mangold With: Hugh Jackman, Hiroyuki Sanada, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima, Famke Janssen, Will Yun Lee, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Haruhiko Yamanouchi, & Brian Tee. Release: July 26, 2013 PG-13. 2 hr. 6 min. 

Director: James Mangold
With: Hugh Jackman, Hiroyuki Sanada, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima, Famke Janssen, Will Yun Lee, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Haruhiko Yamanouchi, & Brian Tee.
Release: July 26, 2013
PG-13. 2 hr. 6 min. 

 

James Mangold (“Walk The Line” & “3:10 to Yuma”) once stated, “In a way, Roger Ebert helped make 'The Wolverine.' 'Why should I care about this guy?” Mangold finally provides an answer to that inquiry that like Nolan’s “Dark Knight Trilogy” or Raimi’s “Spider-Man 1&2” gets to the heart of what makes the character memorable. Deconstructing the charisma and providing a resolve to the comic book legend that in accordance with a Japanese centric location crafts an isolated film that showcases the best and a bit of the worst of comic book movies. 

Slipping into the psychological territory of storytelling in which Wolverine’s (Hugh Jackman) immortality is challenged. He can feel pain and not be able to heal it away, the blood continues to pour, and the aches from the wounds of the past won't stop because the scars of his grief are not merely pulled back together by his mutation. Taking place months removed from the events of “X-Men: The Last Stand,” we see Logan (Hugh Jackman) as a long-haired and burly man that has taken a vow never to take another life. His grief and guilt for killing Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) have riddled him with emotionality, and after a drunken hunter shoots a large bear with a poison-tipped arrow, the bear rips his fellow friends to shreds. Logan (Hugh Jackman) hears their screams and goes to see if he can help and discovers the bear collapsed, he states “don’t make me do this” as the bear makes one last attempt to survive and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) places the beast out of his misery, breaking his promise to Jean (Famke Janssen). 

He then goes into to town, confronting the hunter in a bar. While there, he is joined by Yukio (Rila Fukushima), a young mutant with the ability to see people’s deaths before they happen. From there the story resembles Frank Miller and Chris Claremont’s “The Wolverine” comic from 1982, taking place in Japan in which Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is poised with the question: “do you want to live forever?” What if you could grow old and start a family, settle down, and live in peace? This topic becomes the focal point of our character as not only do we spend time getting to analyze these complexities that he's confronted by but Mangold crafts an action-centric thriller around the character as well. Allowing the character to push the story, instead of the other way around, Mangold provides an emotionally compelling look at the character that wouldn’t be followed up until 2017. 

Mark Bomback and Scott Frank are responsible for the screenplay given, and they even spend providing commentary on the atomic bomb dropping of Nagasaki in which Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) states “I was here when it happened.” Like that of an American soldier realizing that he may have been on the wrong side of a horrendous event, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) eventually has to figure out how to become the animalistic beast once more so that he can save the young Mariko (Tao Okamoto). In a spellbinding sequence that ends with Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) fighting off a greed driven father whose samurai abilities are unable to conquer the healing skills of the Wolverine (Hugh Jackman). 

A climax that is far better than the actual final battle we receive in which a giant adamantium robot challenges our clawed hero, yes you heard that right. It’s like “Wonder Woman” in which the first two acts of the film are nearly perfect, and the final battle feels like a studio forcing a filmmaker to craft something for the masses that doesn’t correctly meld with the story being told. The digital animations aren’t exactly handled the best either, in which this giant samurai resembles something from a PS3 graphics card (at least it's updated from a PS1). 

The helming of this climax is handled well like the rest of the film, the action scenes from the first two acts are far superior though because they underline themselves with grit and emotion. We’re not just watching Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) swing his claws because it looks cool, but we’re providing reasons for him to do so which makes each puncture feel far more impactful. Mangold and his cinematographer, Ross Emery, give a very vibrant look that is digitalized but also can deliver portraits that resemble comic book panels at times. Some of the images are merely epic though, like that of a shirtless Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) standing in the moonlight as he fights a samurai in the rain. How does that not excite you? 

Marco Beltrami also provides a score that stands out more than most; it’s not the x-men overtones we’ve heard before, their far more subtle than that. Rarely overstepping its welcome, the score works better than past X-men scores because it carries the story, much like Hugh Jackman’s performance. He’s gritty, resolved, challenged, and emotionally captivating. His second best performance as the character in which Jackman’s iconic growls and screeches depict his animalistic tendencies, but Mangold’s added resolve to the character allows for Jackman to finally invest himself into the character in a far more resonating fashion. 

His fellow Japanese actors are overlooked far too often though, Hiroyuki Sanada is exceptional as the crazed father. He compels the viewer like a great villain in which you understand his reasoning, but despise him nonetheless (why wasn’t he the main antagonist again?) Tao Okamoto, and Rila Fukushima are outstanding as well and share genuine chemistry with Hugh. Both are charming and even have resonating emotional subplots attached to them, like that of Tao, a girl dealing with the expectations of a family that she continues to disappoint due to their selfish desires. Rila is a mutant whose ability is a curse like Logan’s (Hugh Jackman), seeing the death of everyone you meet. It takes a toll, much like the film’s story does when it hits you with punches that carry more weight to them than you’d expect. 

“I see you on your back, there’s blood everywhere, your holding your heart in your own hand.” It's lines like that one that after viewing the unofficial sequel begin to carry extra weight, as Logan (Hugh Jackman) no longer seems to be a character whose claws make him unique. He’s tortured, symbolized as a suffering man from those very claws that others confused as a gift instead of a burden. Yes, it’s a PG-13 rendering in which you don’t get the full effect sometimes, but inherent Eastwood characteristics in which Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) could care less if you like him or not carry the film to a particular poignancy. We’re watching the character evolve right before our eyes; I’m glad Mangold realized that Ebert was right. 
 

X-Men: First Class (2011)

   Director: Matthew Vaughn With: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Rose Byrne, Jennifer Lawrence, January Jones, Nicholas Hoult, Oliver Platt, Jason Flemyng, Lucas Till, Edi Gathegi, & Kevin Bacon.  Release: June 3, 2011 PG-13. 2 hr. 11 min. 

Director: Matthew Vaughn
With: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Rose Byrne, Jennifer Lawrence, January Jones, Nicholas Hoult, Oliver Platt, Jason Flemyng, Lucas Till, Edi Gathegi, & Kevin Bacon. 
Release: June 3, 2011
PG-13. 2 hr. 11 min. 

 

Relaunching the universe, “X-Men: First Class” analyzes the foundational building blocks of the mutant team of heroes. Beginning in 1944 Poland in which the young Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender) anger surges his mutation to the surface as his parents are tragically taken away during the great tragedy known as the Holocaust. Ripping out Bryan Singer’s opening scene from “X-Men,” the beginning of the film lends to a dark tone for Erik (Michael Fassbender) in which his anguish is only driving force behind his mission. 

While on his mission for vengeance, Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) walks onto the scene as someone who desires to reach out to other mutants and let them know they are not alone. Meeting Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) as a child in which he catches her trying to steal food and says “I knew I couldn't be the only one. We have plenty of food, take whatever you’d like. You don’t have to steal anymore, in fact, you never have to steal ever again.” 

It’s a Martin Luther King versus Malcolm X origins story in which their beginnings drive their ideologies in which Erik’s (Michael Fassbender) violent inception forces him to become a weapon, while Xavier (James McAvoy) has an origin of choice in which he chooses to become a beacon of hope for mutant kind and a guiding hand. A heartfelt start to our film that quickly turns into nothing but action, as our characters are met head-on by Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon). A mutant whose can harness any energy and then reproject that energy onto others, Shaw (Kevin Bacon) wants to light the match that leads to the downfall of humankind and the rise of mutantkind.  His plan? He wants to persuade the Russian and United States world leaders towards the brink of nuclear war, a.k.a the Cuban missile crisis. 

With historical fact being surrounded by comic book lore, a C.I.A agent, Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne), attempts to persuade her commanding officers to place their faith in the idea of fighting fire with fire. She urges her hire-ups to trust in Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and the young team of mutants he brings together. The cadets involve Banshee (Caleb Landry Jones; a man who shouts), Havok (Lucas Till; Cyclops older brother who projects the same concussive beams outside of his body), and Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult; a man with crazy feet who eventually mutates into a blue furball beast). 

All of these mutants are given enough time to become recognizable and even memorable, Hank (Nicholas Hoult) is even given a meaty role in the narrative in which he shares the same desire that Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) does. To be normal, to fit in with society, but it's not until Erik (Michael Fassbender) states “you shouldn’t try to fit into to society, they should aspire to be you.” Hank (Nicholas Hoult) goes farther than her, knowing he has the chance at an ordinary life and in reference to Dr.Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, he attempts to cure himself, but only makes everything worse. Transforming from a man with animalistic feet to a literal blue-haired beast that is not precisely rendered believably. The prosthetics don’t correctly work, but Vaughn’s styling of the characters does. 

Vaughn blends that timeless sixties essence with the comic book imagery of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Even directing an entire sequence with the panel like transitions that exploit the best of his talents as a filmmaker. Going from “Kick-Ass” to this film was quite obtuse though, seeming as if it's missing a heavy dose of maturity, “X-Men: First Class” seems never to surpass the bombastic shrouds of its blockbuster style. 

Scared to cross that mature barrier once again, since the landscape had changed with the development of the levity driven MCU in its phase one prime, “X-Men: First Class” is directed like a comic book blockbuster in a good and bad way. Some of the scenes maintain that extra heft of escapism and others feel that there missing an integral puzzle piece. I needed that extra push, but I continued to get lost in the sixties scenery and the charisma injected into this comic book universe that once desired to wear shoes too big for its feet to fill. 

The performances are all around exceptional, but Fassbender and McAvoy share a dose of chemistry and skill as actors that makes them stand head and shoulders above their fellow x-men. I couldn’t help but feel that they were raising the bar for their castmates, but they were unable to match their talent. Lawrence has some resonating scenes that are carried by herself, but the writing behind her isn’t exactly the best. The rest of the actors are supportive of the story, but they don’t exactly stand out. Either because of the writing or the lack of attention, every other character fades into the background and becomes stigmatic plot devices to carry our main characters motivations. 

“X-Men: First Class” matches the brilliance of “X2,” and also suffers from the same flaws. Hinting at the mutational struggles that marginalize and stigmatize these characters, but choosing to focus on the action of it all. Though the action is handled masterfully and the screenplay is well done, “X-Men: First Class” is the stereotypical comic book movie that becomes absent of its emotions. Everything is done well, there are even yellow and blue uniforms, but mutants are symbols for us. 

They’re emotional; they're powerful, they're inspiring. They remind us of all the stigmatizing struggles that we continue to face as a society, but why these ideals remain outside of this franchise is beyond me. They've attempted it before, but it seems the franchise is as extreme as it's main characters. Either it's all dour or all action, never a blend of the two. 

“X-Men: First Class” is the “comic book movie” that is quite a turn of tone from Bryan Singer’s take on the mutant heroes. The inherent emotionality of the 1960’s comic fades into the background as the confidence and abilities of our characters become the focus. The mutant versus man storyline only grows present in the films harsh finale in which consequences emerge and reality conflicts with fiction, but the remainder of the film is fun, loud, and bombastically entertaining. 
 

X-Men (2000)

   Director: Bryan Singer With: Anna Paquin, Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Famke Janssen, James Marsden, & Halle Berry.  Release: July 14, 2000 PG-13. 1 hr. 44 min. 

Director: Bryan Singer
With: Anna Paquin, Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Famke Janssen, James Marsden, & Halle Berry. 
Release: July 14, 2000
PG-13. 1 hr. 44 min. 

 

Time affects all things, especially superheroes (well, most of them). The genre has grown beyond not only our margins of expectations, but it's own as well. It’s developed a levitated formula though, and for those who've become tired of the lightheartedness of superheroes, go back and watch Bryan Singer’s “X-men.” A film where the jokes are almost non-existent, but so is the depth for the characters as the origin story is, usually (A la Deadpool, A la Wolverine, not well-known origin stories for either) the most integral tale for a superhero. 

We need to understand their reasons, their growth, their cause for justice or injustice. “X-Men” seems to forget the significance of origin. Despite spending almost half of the film on flushing out the characters, we only learn surface level things about most, if not, all of the characters. 

Luckily, Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto/Erik Lyncher (Ian McKellen) are flushed out through long stenches of monologues and superb performances. Erik (Ian McKellen) is the son of Holocaust victims whose unique belief, sparked outrage from Nazis, much like the uniqueness of mutants sparks outrage from humanity. He seeks to change everyone's mind by mutating them, forcing them to evolve at a rapid pace that is both unhealthy and unlikely. It’s a bit unthought out, but sociopathically it makes sense. He’s a man that came to the simple conclusion that it's hard to be racist towards the same race that your apart of. Xavier (Patrick Stewart) in on the opposing side of the spectrum, attempting to save those caught in the crossfire of his and his oldest friends’ differing ideologies. He thinks that humanity will evolve with time and with undying faith, he manifests a team that stands in front of the tyranny of Magneto (Ian McKellen). 

Beginning with Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), a telepathic and telekinetic being who seems to desire a continuing of her training, I think, it's kind of only hinted at in one or two scenes. Wolverine/Logan (Hugh Jackman) is enjoyable to watch as a younger man, and he is the most charismatic and intriguing member of the ensemble, but he’s never given time. We primarily follow him as a man looking for answers and purpose, but he’s only given one or two scenes to extenuate upon that desire for intent. Cyclops/Scott Summers (James Marsden) and Storm/Ororo Munroe (Halle Berry) are primarily crafted by their powers, so guy with laser beam eyes or inter-dimensional, ruby colored, concussive force beams which are the technical terms, (Nerdy, I know) and a girl with weather controlling powers.

The character that embarks us in discovering all of these characters though is Rogue (Anna Paquin), a young teenage girl whose mutation becomes a curse more than a blessing. With the ability to absorb another’s mutation, memories, and personality,  she can drain the another of all their powers through physical contact, which can become more of a defense mechanism than an offensive one. For example, she stumbles into Wolverine’s (Hugh Jackman) room when he’s having a nightmare. Out of rage, he awakes and extracts his claws in a fury, stabbing Rogue (Anna Paquin) in the chest. In a flight or fight response, Rogue (Anna Paquin) slowly places her hand on Wolverines’s (Hugh Jackman) cheek and absorbs his healing ability to restore the punctured holes in her body. 

It’s scenes like this and the continuously unfinished themes that bring “X-Men” to a jolting stop on more than one occasion. The story has fascinating, building block, topics involving marginalization, grief, depression, and unity. Each one of these themes is introduced wonderfully but never built upon. They are pyramid designed themes with only the bottom block attached, being used as a finished project. I appreciate the ideas and their meaning, and their use in a superhero genre film, but I can’t help but become bored from the lack of depth given to each of these emotionally investing themes. They are dripping with potential, that the X-Men cinematic universe explores later on, but this was the time to do it. Start strong, not soft. 

Bryan Singer strongly delivers though, providing a remarkably created, visually evocative world that feels almost tactile. Unlike comic book films before it (Batman (1989), is excellent but feels and looks fake, same goes for “Superman”), “X-Men” has a great deal of atmospheric realism attached to its story, primarily because of Singer’s direction. The visual effects have aged, but that look far better than they should due to Singer underutilization of them. The practicality stands out magnificently, like a window to an older and wiser soul. The action, what little there is, is produced efficiently and when it does finally arrive, it’s well worth it. I needed more action in this superhero movie though, “Logan” is dark and dour, but it blends it's characters and story together with action and great comic book filmmaking, as does “The Dark Knight.” 

Sadly, “X-Men” did not have these films to learn from, but setting blazing a path for greater films was the best gift “X-Men” could have given us, a path that eventually led to “Deadpool.” (I heart that) The direction is fantastic, and the visual imagery is tactile-like, but the characters and story are mere facades for deep emotionality that is trapped by its own ambitions. I respect “X-Men” more than I love it, but the story’s maturity, well performed characters (whenever they are well-depicted), and necessary questions pushed the genre farther into today’s prime time of success. I enjoy watching the film, but I can’t say that I am ever invested in it. I love seeing a mature comic book story (“Dark Knight Returns,” “Old-Man Logan,” “The Killing Joke,” “Infinity,” or any “Thanos” comic almost), but they only work if you provide time and depth to your characters so that they can become something for us to invest in. After rewatching “X-Men,” the only thing I’m invested in, is the idea of watching and reviewing the awesome sequel.