Friday, May 23, 2014

X-Men: Days of Future Past [2014]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-III)  ChicagoTribune (3 Stars) (2 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (B)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (K. Jensen) review
ChicagoTribune (C. Borrelli) review (S. Abrams) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review

X-Men: Days of Future Past [2014] (directed by Brian Singer, screenplay by Simon Kinberg, story also by Simon Kinberg along with Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaugn inspired by Marvel Comics X-men [MCU] [wikip]) is a rather complex superhero movie will probably require at least some background reading and/or background viewing for newbies to understand (followers/fans of the x-men film series will certainly have no trouble understanding this one, though knowledge of the original comics underlying the X-men [MCU] [wikip] story-line certainly will help / enrich one's appreciation of the film as well).

At minimum, readers here should understand that the current film, X-Men: Days of Future Past [2014], is actually the seventh X-men inspired Hollywood major motion picture to be made since 2000 (five devoted to the X-men in general, two devoted to the character Wolverine in particular, the last two films X-Men: First Class [2011] and Wolverine [2013] having been reviewed on my blog, which I began in the Fall of 2010).  Newbies would be served to have seen at least X-Men [2000] [IMDb], X-Men 3: Last Stand [2006] [IMDb], X-Men: First Class [2011] [IMDb] [FrDatM] as well as X-men Origins: Wolverine [2009] [IMDb] prior to having seen this one.

At its heart, the entire X-men [MCU] [wikip] story-line (the first X-Men Comic being published in 1963) is about responding to one's own "Otherness" (or more positively one's own "Uniqueness") in relation to the larger Society.  Readers and viewers are invited to identify with a cluster of radically unique / exceptional people (indeed, one of the ways to understand the "X" in the X-Men title would be that the "X" is short for "exceptional").  The reason given for their radical uniqueness / exceptionality is "genetic mutation."   So while positively these characters were considered (at times) "exceptional," negatively they are also derided by various "regular people" as "mutants."

Some words about setting:  While many of the key original X-men characters were already portrayed as living at the time of World War II -- notably (1) Eric Lehnsherr / the future Magneto who was born Jewish in Europe and discovered his super-power to bend anything metal (in anger) when he was forcibly separated from his parents in a Nazi Concentration Camp; (2) Logan / Wolverine, who was born on the Canadian frontier in the late 1800s, whose mutation allowed his body to repair itself from almost any kind of damage thus making him all but immortal (e's shown in Wolverine [2013] as a Canadian POW serving in a camp at the outskirts of Nagasaki easily recovering from even the nuclear blast there); (3) Charles Xavier who was an American boy growing up in a Franklin D. Roosevelt style "Hyde Park" / "Old Money" mansion outside of New York (another meaning for "X-Men" becomes those characters allied to him) whose mutation allowed him to "read minds," and (4) Raven / Mystique whose mutation allowed her to shape-shift into appearing like any person / character that she desired -- the series plays on developments that came out of the post-World War II era.  These developments included (1) Fear of Radiation (resulting in all kinds of often dangerous/disfiguring mutations), and (2) the Red Scare and the rise and increasing success of the African American Civil Rights Movement.  The early 1950s Red Scare and the mid-late-1950s increasing success of the African American Civil Rights Movement stoked a fear of "Otherness" in the larger American Society even as all kinds of previously marginalized groups -- people of color, women, gays, even Catholics and Jews -- were awakening to the realization that their "Otherness" from "the Norm" (white, heterosexual, male, preferably of Anglo-Saxon and Protestant background) had been keeping them down (and more to the point, that this marginalization need not remain a permanent condition).

So while the characters in the X-Men series were generally wildly drawn "mutants," with all sorts of crazy super-powers, A LOT OF READERS and MORE RECENTLY A LOT OF VIEWERS could relate to them: They're "different from the Norm" (just like we are).  

Okay, in this story line about this community of "highly exceptional people" / "mutants" of the X-men series there has always existed a fundamental conflict with regards to how best to relate to the non-mutant "regular" people (people of the Norm).

Heading one camp has been (Professor) Charles Xavier [IMDb] (played in the films as an older man by Patrick Stewart and as a younger man by James McAvoy) who though also a "mutant" (again, he can "read minds") coming out of a privileged upbringing of Rooseveltian wealth, he has maintained that the mutants' best chance would be to seek to live in peace with the non-mutant majority.

Heading the other camp has been the traumatized, Jewish-born, Holocaust surviving Eric Lehnsherr / Magneto [IMDb] (played as an older man by Ian McKellen and when he was younger by Michael Fassbender) who SIMPLY DOES NOT BELIEVE that the "regular" non-mutant majority WILL EVER ACCEPT PEOPLE WHO DON'T "FIT THE NORM."  Hence, his loyalty has been exclusively "other mutants."  He remembered the "regular" non-mutant majority seeking to exterminate him and his family (for being Jewish) during the Holocaust and being experimented upon (by Nazi scientists) when they discovered that he had "special properties" that they found useful.  HE FOUND NO USE FOR SUCH "REGULAR" (AND FEARFUL / EVIL) PEOPLE AND THOUGHT THE BEST WAY TO DEAL WITH THEM WOULD BE TO FIGHT (and DEFEAT) THEM.

All five of the X-men movies involve a conflict between these two "exceptional men", Professor X [IMDb] on one side and Magneto [IMDb] on the other.

In the current film, the mutants (and the rest of "regular" humanity) find themselves in 2023 in a hellish world, largely destroyed on account of a vicious, apocalyptic war between humanity and the mutants with humanity actually on the verge of "winning." (But "winning" what?  The world was largely destroyed in any case ...).

The reason why humanity was on the verge of winning was NOT because they were physically or intellectually "exceptional" like the mutants.  Instead, interestingly/tellingly, humanity "adapted" in a different way -- it created robotic weapons called "Sentinels."  These weapons had become all but indestructible even when facing the genetically superior mutants.  Why?  Again tellingly, after the shape-shifting Raven/Mystique [IMDb] (played in the film by Jennifer Lawrence) managed to assassinate the Sentinels' initial designer Dr. Bolivar Trask [IMDb] (played by Peter Dinklage), she herself was killed and HUMAN SCIENTISTS THEN ADDED HER "SHAPESHIFTING" ABILITY TO THE DESIGN OF THE "SENTINELS" making them all but indestructible.   Thus human thinking/defenses proved to be able to "evolve" without needing "genetic mutation."

Thus fighting a war between humanity and the "genetically superior mutants" was proving pointless.  As such, in a desperate gambit, Professor X and Magneto of 2023 decide to utilize the super-power of one of the remaining mutants among them Kitty Pride / Shadowcat [IMDb] (played by Ellen Page), who can send the consciousness someone back in time, to send the consciousness of Logan / Wolverine (the most indestructible of the mutants among them) back to 1973 to stop Raven/Mystique from assassinating Dr. Bolivar Trask and instead work to make a peace between the mutants and humanity.

To do so (to find Raven/Mystique she was a shape-shifter afterall), Logan's told to find Professor X and Magneto of 1973 first.  But neither was in a particularly good state in 1973:

Professor X, depressed after loosing his control of his legs at the end of X-Men: First Class [2011] provef willing to take a medicine that gave him back the use of his legs (at the expense of losing his "mind reading" superpower ... and yet they needed that superpower to find Raven/Mystique).

Magneto, on the other hand, found himself locked-up in an ALL CONCRETE PRISON (no metal... ;-) 100 stories below the Pentagon "for his role in the 1963 Kennedy Assassination."  But what could possibly have been Magneto's role in the Kennedy Assassination?  Well ... JFK was killed by a "magic" (metal) bullet that appeared to have "changed direction" mid-flight ;-).  (When Magneto inevitably was freed from this seemingly impregnable prison, again 100 stories below the Pentagon, he protested his innocence in the Kennedy Assassination to his fellow mutants saying that he was there in Dallas on the day of the Assassination but to protect JFK"  Why?  Because Kennedy was "one of us" (if not a mutant, then one who had been previously marginalized).  How?  Well with the exception of current President Barack Obama (1/2 African-American), JFK (Catholic) remains the only American President who was not a WASP -- "White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant" ;-).

Anyway,  Logan / Wolverine and Professor X along with the help of two other mutants Hank / Beast [IMDb] (played by Nicholas Hoult) and especially lightning fast Quicksilver [IMDb] (played by Evan Peters) help break Magneto out of his prison.  They do then find Raven/Mystique and do try to stop her from assassinating Dr. Bolivar Trask.  During the course of all this, the younger 1973 Magneto increasingly realizes that his whole confrontational approach toward humanity was being challenged and it's never really clear if he's on board, even if he's being told by Logan / Wolverine that he's come back from the future to try to change it for the better and that even the older 2023 Magneto was in favor of it.

Anyway, much of course plays out ... while I'm not going to tell you how, Logan / Wolverine does succeed in altering events in 1973 and thus alter the reality of 2023.

So where do then Professor X and Magneto find themselves (as well as the other mutants) in 2023?  I'm not going to say.  But the film does invite viewers to reflect perhaps even more deeply on the philosophies of these two main characters in the X-men story line and which of the two approaches would probably produce the better outcome for those/all involved.

All in all, like many other Marvel Comics based movies of late, it makes for a very interesting and thought provoking film, if also a rather destructive one.  The violence is kept at a PG-13 "glass shattering but not blood" level ... but like a lot of films of this type, there's a lot of it.  

Still, in the end, the film certainly gives viewers a lot to think about with regard to finding a way in which we could all "live in peace together."  Good job.

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