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OCTOBER 14TH, 2014

X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST // After three films (“X-Men”, “X2”, and “X-Men: The Last Stand”), two spin-offs (“X-Men Origins: Wolverine” and “The Wolverine”), and one prequel (“X-Men: First Class”), no one can really blame the franchise for reaching fatigue. The fact that huge stars like Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Hugh Jackman, and Halle Berry are still showing up after all these years is a true testament to their faith in the product. Despite reaching levels of camp in the third installment as well as the first Wolverine spin-off, many critics touted “X-Men: First Class” as a step in the right direction, bringing in huge new talent like Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, and Jennifer Lawrence to play the younger versions of the characters in a period setting. So when director Bryan Singer announced that the last installment, “X-Men: Days Of Future Past” would be bringing together all the casts of the “X-Men” films, past and present, everyone saw this as the perfect revitalization of the franchise. And they were right.

The Trask Sentinel program is one of the most popular “X-Men” storylines that had yet to be used and with plenty of Easter eggs about it at the end of “The Wolverine,” where a returning Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen) come to fetch Logan (Hugh Jackman), fans of the series got pumped. The Sentinels are robots built to target only mutants, but in the future, the Sentinels have gone on to target humans that could eventually produce mutant children, leaving the world in squaller and forcing the remaining mutants to run and survive by any means necessary. In a last ditch effort, Xavier and Magneto acquire the help of Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) to use her somewhat unexplained power in sending Logan back in time to stop Mystique/Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) from killing Trask and setting in motion his Sentinel program. Easier said than done, obviously.

With time travel at play, Bryan Singer plays fast and loose with his characters, knowing that they can be brought back with interesting storytelling or Logan effecting changes in the past. In the future parts, no one’s lives ever really feel at stake. It is not until we travel into the past that the characters feel expendable and even then, Singer never quite takes it to that level. Despite being light in several areas, Singer does add a weight to the past characters and where they are at in their lives, with Xavier and Beast (Nicholas Hoult) both hiding out in the abandoned school when Logan comes knocking, talking of time travel and imminent doom. Xavier has lost his way, having grown addicted to a drug that allows him to walk after being shot in the back by Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) in “X-Men: First Class” but which also inhibits the use of his telepathic powers. Mystique is off on a vendetta, as we meet her in Vietnam, protecting innocent mutants from a young Stryker (Josh Helman), the man that will eventually put Logan through adamantium hell.

Traveling into the past allows for some great production design, with era appropriate garb, several instances of grainy camera footage, and even a great performance by Mark Camacho as President Richard Nixon. But with that comes an inexplicable need to weave the mutants into our history by placing Magneto in a high security prison for shooting JFK. The seriousness of the situations are often dulled by attempts at irony. Even some of the new characters come off much too jovial compared to the tone of the film, with Quicksilver (Evan Peters) feeling more like a character in a comic book rather than a living, breathing person grounded in the reality that all the other characters are. With his super speed, there are several set pieces, like the prison break and the kitchen rescue scene, where Singer is allowed to show off his CGI skills. But sadly, at the same time, the film falls to levels of a children’s film, where slapstick takes priority over the smart humor that normally (and does at times) exist in these films. A balance between these unbefitting moments and darker moments like Eric and Xavier exchanging powerful words on an airplane or Eric attempting to kill Mystique in front of bystanders are all that keep this script feeling solid.

Some are calling this the best “X-Men” film yet, and to that I would have to disagree. Although bringing together two unforgettable casts does project this comic book adaptation in the right direction, it still does not make up for the shifting tones, hit-or-miss performances, and the laziness of the autopilot plot. In the next installment, hopefully Singer will worry less about lifting entire football stadiums and worry more about creating a more well-balanced world for his mutants to live in. One thing is for sure, as long as Hugh Jackman and the rest of the reoccurring cast continues to show up for these films, I will continue to get excited about them. But as soon as characters begin to be recast or the layer of comic book gloss becomes too thick, there will be nothing stopping me from turning my back.

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X-Men: Days of Future Past

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