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.

Deluxe Movie Packaging: same movie, bigger box

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 19th November 2013.    

Many moons ago, I spent a North American summer working as the World’s Oldest Camp Counsellor™. It was a rich kids’ camp and I will never forget parental unit visiting day. One of the campers in my cabin was handed a brand new music CD as a gift. He immediately took the disc out to play the inevitably horrible music contained within, throwing the case and liner notes in the bin, or trash in this instance. As a music collector I was shocked. Although the music is, obviously, the most important element, I love having my CDs stored in their cases on my bookshelf. Besides, how on earth would he know the names of the songs?

Fast forward to today and music CDs are practically an endangered species. However, when it comes to movies, the industry has shifted to the opposite extreme. Perusing the shelves at my favourite non-specific movie retailer and their online store on the weekend, it was hard not to notice that the emphasis is now on the packaging, not the film. Why buy just the film on your preferred format? You need to shell out the extra bucks for a fancy box too.

Here are my favourite deluxe editions that I am sure will be on many a Christmas wish list.

et

Remember everyone’s favourite alien? No, not Lady Gaga, I’m referring to E.T. Steven Spielberg’s sublime masterpiece hit shelves last year in beautiful high definition blu-ray to celebrate its 30th anniversary.  The movie on blu-ray can be picked up for a reasonable $13, but why stop there? For just an extra $150 you can get the film with a 26cm “collectible” replica of E.T.’s spaceship complete with flashing lights, music and moving parts. That’s a very expensive box. I’m sure a real spaceship wouldn’t cost much more. Maybe Clive Palmer will build me one if I ask nicely.

i robot

If more redundant films are your thing, how about I, Robot? Recently released in 3D (I’m not sure why), the disc will set you back about $30. For $120 more, you can buy the deluxe gift set which includes a full scale robot head bust. For that price, I don’t think anyone is getting a gift, except the film distributor. Forgettable film, unforgettable packaging…

breaking-bad-series-on-blu-ray

Everyone seems to love Breaking Bad at the moment. Having recently completed a brilliant 5 season run, the complete series will be released later this month on blu-ray for around $150.  Add an extra $85 and you can get your hands on the very same discs, stored in a replica money barrel, as well as a commemorative coin and apron. What, no replica crystal meth too?

The X-Men franchise has vacuumed up over $1 billion worldwide. This Christmas, you can add to this total by purchasing the Adamantium Collection. That’s six discs (5 of them already available as budget titles) stored in a weird looking stand which features a replica of Wolverine’s bladed fist for $170. Please note that only right handed versions are available. I don’t know about you, but I have enough trouble keeping my discs scratch free without storing them in a box with claws.

predator3D-1024x905

I probably should mention the Predator 3D deluxe edition which comes with a predator’s head and the Under the Dome limited edition set with the discs stored (wait for it) under a dome. For true fans of the show, the dome should be sealed so you can’t open it.

under_the_dome_limited_collectors_edition

As a cinephile, I’m all about the films, not the elaborate packaging. I’m (mostly) with the summer camp kid on this one. Just give me the movie in a boring old case. The film should take me to other places and worlds, not the box.