Film Review: X-Men: Days of Future Past

This review was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 27th May 2014.

After a lacklustre second sequel, an enjoyable prequel and two disappointing Wolverine solo outings, director Bryan Singer returns to take over the reigns of the X-Men franchise with X-Men: Days of Future Past. Combining the retro cast of X-Men: First Class (2013) and many of the significant characters from the original, Singer has crafted a mega lineup of mutants that should have any comic film fan salivating. The time bending plot will not disappoint. Unfortunately, as is the way with these sorts of features, not everyone gets enough screen time to satisfy.

In the distant future, mutant exterminating machines called Sentinels have almost wiped out all of the X-Men. A rag tag group of survivors led by Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen) realise that their whole situation is a direct result of the assassination of the creator of the Sentinel programme, Dr Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) by mutant Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) in the seventies. Using Kitty Pryde’s (Ellen Page) time travelling powers, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is sent back to convince Professor Xavier and Magneto’s younger selves (James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, respectively) to put their issues aside and fight to save the future.

Although a welcome presence on the screen, I’m not entirely sure how it is that Patrick Stewart’s Professor Xavier is alive and well in this film. Last seen being blown into smithereens in X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), he then popped up in the post-credits sequence of The Wolverine (2013) with no explanation. I assume his mind control is so great that he can will himself back into existence. In that case, why not also fix your legs and get rid of the wheelchair? Never mind.

Bookended by scenes in the future, the majority of the film takes place in the seventies. Fish out of water Wolverine (Jackman absolutely inhabiting his signature character) attempting to bring the warring parties together leads to many memorable moments, in particular an excellent sequence featuring Quicksiver (Evan Peters) slowing time to ensure Magneto’s breakout from the Pentagon. McAvoy and Fassbender bring back their chemistry as the feuding mutant leaders but once again, Jennifer Lawrence proves that she can steal a movie from anyone. She looks great in blue body paint too.

Hot from Game of Thrones, Peter Dinklage is charismatic as the porno ‘tached Trask. Perfectly cast, it is significant that his lack of stature is not even mentioned in the film.

Back to the future (Marty), Stewart, McKellan and Halle Berry’s Storm have little in the way of dialogue, which is a shame for the two former and not so much for the latter. In fact, the biggest chunk of dialogue Stewart gets is in the much anticipated scene with McAvoy as the older (and balder) Xavier meets his younger counterpart. Like the iconic scene in Heat which saw De Niro finally share the screen with Pacino, the double Professor X scene is brief but noteworthy.

The CGI heavy action sequences are well done, with the imposing Sentinels particularly threatening. The scenes set in the future are quite dark, which might frustrate those viewing in 3D (I went to a 2D screening).

With an impressive array of cameos, Singer certainly knows how to craft a compelling X-Men tale. I don’t find his directorial style to be distinctive at all, but I suppose it is comforting to know that all of the franchise entries have the same look and feel. I don’t know if that’s a criticism of other franchise directors Brett Ratner, Matthew Vaughn, Gavin Hood and James Mangold, or a compliment to Singer’s obvious influence on the X-Men movies.

From a storytelling perspective, the events of X-Men: Days of Future Past make the plots of the original trilogy redundant. I suppose this splitting of timelines ala the recent Star Trek reboot will allow for more stories to be told, but I dislike my previous investment in the earlier movies to have gone to waste.

Undies on the Outside: Thoughts on Superman

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 25th June 2013.

As long as I can recall, the Man of Steel has been a part of my life. For most of my childhood, I had a cardboard Superman stuck on my bedroom wall with pins in his arms and legs so his joints would articulate. Each night I’d doze off with a smiling and waving Kal-El looking over me.

My parents were early adopters of the VHS format in the early eighties and one of my perennial favourites was Superman II, taped off the television. Every couple of week I’d pop the tape in the top of the machine (yep, the VHS player was old school) and enjoy Supes battling Terrence Stamp’s evil General Zod.

Mum had also recorded the original Superman movie but I was less keen on it. I found the scene at the beginning of the film depicting the destruction of Krypton too traumatic for my sensitive little mind and would often fast forward through it and start with Kal-El landing in the cornfield in Smallville.

It was only recently that I discovered that both Superman and Superman II were filmed simultaneously. Original director Richard Donner clashed with the producers and was sacked after finishing the first film and three quarters of the sequel. Richard Lester was brought in to finish Superman 2 and drastically changed the storyline. In 2006, after much lobbying from fans, Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut was released and it is magnificent.

Although a little patchy now, the flying effects in the first two films were groundbreaking at the time. I often could be found as a kid trying to replicate the effects by lying on top of a kitchen stool in a flying pose and making whooshing sounds. Maybe I invented planking?

I went to see Superman III with my mother at the now defunct Roxy Cinema at Parramatta. Even at the tender age of eight, I could tell that the film was terrible. A vehicle for coked up comedian Richard Pryor, this turkey saw Christopher Reeve split into two personas when exposed to synthesised kryptonite that was infused with cigarette tar, and then fight a supercomputer, as you do.

In 1987, I received the Lucky Book Club tie-in adaption of Superman IV: The Quest for Peace and wisely steered away from seeing this movie bomb until recently. By this stage, Reeve was not keen to repeat the campy trash of the third instalment and was only swayed by the lure of story input. What resulted was a truly atrocious low budget film which involves Supes disarming the world of its nuclear arsenal and then fighting Nuclear Man, who is created when said bombs are thrown into the sun for disposal by the Man of Steel.

During the late eighties, Superboy started screening on TV in the late afternoon timeslot. Also a low budget affair, I remember it being rather low key, with a young Superman fighting drug dealers and crime lords, rather than super villains (or supercomputers). The romantic adventure series Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman followed in prime time in the early nineties. I didn’t watch this one because it was more drama than heroics, plus I was too enamoured with The X-Files at the time. And I still have to catch up on the final eight seasons of Smallville which was a little choppy in terms of quality and certainly very slow moving (just put on the suit and fly already).

In 2006, Bryan Singer’s underrated Superman Returns hit the big screen. I must admit that as soon as John Williams’ iconic score began, the cinema got just a little dusty. Unfairly labelled as a failure, there is plenty to enjoy about this movie, which was largely filmed in Sydney.

On Thursday, Man of Steel will arrive and I cannot wait. Despite hit and miss director, Zack Snyder, being at the helm, I will buy my ticket and hopefully love it. After all of these years together, Superman surely won’t let me down.

Published in: on June 30, 2013 at 16:19  Leave a Comment  
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