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Thursday, 26 June 2014

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - X-Men: Days Of Future Past



Directed by: Bryan Singer

Produced by: Lauren Shuler Donner
Bryan Singer
Simon Kinberg
Hutch Parker

Screenplay by: Simon Kinberg

Story by: Jane Goldman
Simon Kinberg
Matthew Vaughan

Based on: Days Of Future Past by Chris Claremont and John Byrne

Starring: Hugh Jackman
James McAvoy
Michael Fassbender
Jennifer Lawrence
Halle Berry
Anna Paquin
Ellen Page
Peter Dinklage
Ian McKellen
Patrick Stewart

Music by: John Ottman

Cinematography by: Newton Thomas Sigel

Editing by: John Ottman

Studio(s): 20th Century Fox
Marvel Entertainment
Bad Hat Harry Productions
The Donners' Company
TSG Entertainment

Distributed by: 20th Century Fox

Release date(s): May 22, 2014 (United Kingdom)
May 23, 2014 (United States)

Running time: 131 minutes

Country(s): United Kingdom
United States

Language: English

Production budget: $200 million

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $696, 479, 891


Aloha folks, me again! I've a couple of days off after a long, hard five days worth at Download Festival over at Donington Park. It was a wild, crazy ride, between the twelve hours travel each way, lack of sleep due to sleeping in a tent during the day, what with this fantastic weather we've been having reducing my temporary abode into an atmospherically humid and sweaty mess, lack of nutrition (being vegetarian, I was told in a polite manner that I was on my own where food was concerned. Incidentally, ShowSec, if your briefing documents say, in print, that I'm entitled to two hot meals a day, don't give me five food vouchers for the week because we night-shift staff don't require the same standards as those on days, or so you think!), etc etc. However, me and my good colleagues made the most of it, got on with our jobs and did it rather well, if I do say so myself. Compliments were abound from our supers and I was quite happy knowing that in my work I didn't just confirm people's prejudices regarding security staff just being burly assholes who like to get heavy-handed and, in my own small way, added to the general atmosphere of joviality and celebration. Now that I'm back, as I said, I've a couple of days off before I head to Body And Soul Festival, so I think a review is in due order. So, for all the latest and greatest regarding the movies, and for the occasional update vis a vis the highs and lows of working as a zero hours contractor in private security, keep your eyes posted!

Today's film up for review is X-Men: Days Of Future Past, the seventh instalment in the X-Men film series. I was eight or nine when the first X-Men film came out, and while I have seen it since and would argue that although it ain't chopped liver, it's still pretty good, and as a kid I was completely taken away by it. To me then and now, it captured in many senses the essence of what a good comic book movie is meant to be. The series reached it's high point with the sequel X2, a marvellously handled work of watertight characterisation with a cast delivering all-round quality performances and paying off on the great spectacle that was teased in the first. Brett Ratner's X-Men: The Last Stand was resplendent with action, but aside from the Jean Grey/Dark Phoenix angle lacked the key link to the character's we had from the first two. After that we had the first Wolverine spinoff, which was decent and had a strong foil in Liev Schreiber's Victor Creed, but was otherwise underwhelming, and when Matthew Vaughan picked up the helm with First Class, that's when things started getting interesting again. An energetic feast of pulpish vivacity, First Class is for my money the most immediately entertaining origin story that we've had over the past five or six years. Another Wolverine movie later (which I confess I haven't seen) and we've come now to Days Of Future Past. This movie got a lot of hype, with a huge marketing campaign focused on the fact that it follows loosely the eponymous X-Men storyline involving time travel between a dystopian future and the 1970s, meaning that the casts of both the original films and the newer 'First Class' guard will share screen time, but also that the director of the first two instalments Bryan Singer is making his directorial return to the franchise. So, story goes that in the future, robots known as Sentinels hunt and exterminate mutants and humans that possess the genes which potential mutant offspring, a sort-of retroactive abortion (wink wink!). A band of mutants evade the Sentinels, and Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) has developed the ability to project a person's consciousness back in time. As such, with the help of Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen), a plan is hatched to send Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back to the year 1973 to bring together the younger Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) so as to prevent Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from assassinating Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), for this event leads to her capture and thus her DNA is used to give the Sentinels their near-invincibility in adapting to any mutant power and is thus responsible for their reign of terror down the line. Got it? Good!

(Preemptory apologies as well if I sound like I lack my usual aplomb and enthusiasm. It seems like Blogger went as done it again, deleting about four or five hundred words of my material. As such, this review from here will be a slightly condensed version of what you would normally expect from yours truly.)

Starting off with the good about X-Men: Days Of Future Past, I have to compliment the ensemble cast, but single out specifically four performances which I have deemed noteworthy. Hugh Jackman is always a pleasure as Wolverine, and even though there isn't much meaty character things for him to explore this time, he acts as a solid cypher and marker-point for the audience to follow. Also strong is Peter Dinklage in the part of Bolivar Trask. He brings a gravitas to the part and also makes it clear that even though he is the film's closest thing to an antagonist, Trask isn't to be simply defined as a villain, but rather blinded by his self-righteousness. Also, since First Class the character of Mystique has been allocated an interesting story arc, and Jennifer Lawrence is more than worthy of being at the fore, carrying much of the dramatic tension of the film with Raven's moral quandaries while being capable of cold-hearted venom and violence. The foremost performance in the film, though, and the central driving force of Days Of Future Past is the terrific lead performance by James McAvoy. His Charles Xavier here is a soul haunted by his own doubts, insecurities and inability to live up to his own expectations. McAvoy makes you believe in Xavier's existential crisis of identity, and to see it unfold over the course of this picture is at times genuinely harrowing. The much publicised dialogue between McAvoy and Patrick Stewart's older Xavier is a moment of real transcendence. I've been a fan of James McAvoy since 2006's The Last King Of Scotland, a film for which Forest Whitaker got much of the critical attention for his portrayal of Idi Amin, but I think McAvoy deserved as many plaudits. However, it does seem in the past year, what with Filth (for which he, along with Chiwetel Ejiofor, won Best Male Actor in a Leading Role from yours truly), Trance, this and the upcoming The Disappearance Of Eleanor Rigby, it seems that McAvoy has truly come of age. One of things of the other aspects that is praiseworthy about Days Of Future Past, at risk sounding like I am blanketing many departments under one net, but the overall standard of quality control on the production is great. The visual effects are highly imaginative, and it is also nice to see effects that are specifically science-fiction and have no qualms about whether or not it fits into 'the real world,' something which a lot of films are preoccupied with these days. Also, the mise-en-scene, from the standpoints of production design and costumes, is an example not only of money well spent that is up there on the screen, but also that quality prevails where there is good hard grafting, that time and effort are ultimately what wins out. Also, Days Of Future Past is a technically astute film. Not to dismiss the work done by cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel's team on the Arri Alexa cameras, which looks terrific, but I do have to make particular note of the editing by John Ottman. There is an immaculate sense of timing in the way that Ottman manages keep the audience (well, me anyway!) fully up to speed with two alternating storylines going on at once. Not only that though, it's the seamlessness with which it interacts both with the visual effects and the spirit of the story. The visual effects thanks to Ottman never look out of place and exist as part of the fabric of the film's diegesis. Also, it's little things that add up here. There's a scene in which Wolverine suffers the equivalent of temporal turbulence during a fight scene and jolts momentarily out of the 1970s and back into the future. It's a jarring but highly effective piece of work that lasts all of maybe thirty seconds (probably shorter because of my own sense of urgency), but the two jumps, from past to future and future to past back again are examples of fine montage. Also, although he has always been involved in the franchise even in the smallest shape or form, the return of Bryan Singer to the directorial helm is more than welcome. Out of all the people who have worked on this film franchise in it's fifteen-year existence, it is he who has that key understanding and empathy towards the subject matter, the thematic content, and how best to translate the comics to the big screen. He is a filmmaker of real tact too when it comes to the all the tangible elements, and for the most part, he is able to keep everything in control, delivering a highly satisfying piece of blockbuster entertainment.

As you can perhaps gather, I rather liked Days Of Future Past and had a lot of time for it. However, even though admittedly I went into it excited as the big summer movie I was most looking forward to seeing, even though it's a great movie, by no means is it perfect. Everyone who reads this blog must be sick and tired of me writing the same schtick every time, but to me it still rings true, all faults that emerge from a film come from it's very foundations and that foundation is in the script. Jane Goldman, Simon Kinberg and Matthew Vaughan came up with the story on this one, but the screenplay itself was a solo venture for Kinberg, and frankly their presence or that of another screenwriter shows that in this department the film is lacking. It isn't a bad screenplay, it's just that there are two problems emerging from it that could've easily been plugged: the first of these is that with so many characters, some taking centre stage, other just part of the wallpaper, it lacks the balance another screenwriter might have brought to the table; secondly, it lacks the energy, wit and vivacity that Goldman and Vaughan brought to First Class, the denser exploration of thematic content brought when Singer was a writer for the franchise or even the structural strength of David Hayter's work. That would have been okay if there was something unique, something different, something distinguishing Days Of Future Past from the rest of the franchise apart from time travel as a plot point, but there isn't anything new or distinctive. As I said, it's not bad work, but Kinberg's screenplay is a significant dent the overall tapestry.

So, while I have numerous reservations regarding the film's screenplay by Simon Kinberg, my overall experience and critique of X-Men: Days Of Future Past is largely positive. I thought that the cast, particularly Hugh Jackman, Peter Dinklage, Jennifer Lawrence and (most especially) James McAvoy were on fine form, the overall level of quality control on the production in most regards was of a very high standard. Also, it was a technically astute film, particularly with regards to the editing from John Ottman, and Bryan Singer's return to the directorial helm is more than welcome. Overall, a very enjoyable action-packed experience.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.0/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Pickled (so not only do I have Sea Sessions tomorrow, but also Wireless Festival and T In The Park in the next couple of weeks. Mad busy Summer I tell yis!)

P.S. I would also like to take the time to make my colleague Shawn, who just lost his grandmother, the dedicatee for this review. As someone who is extremely close to my extended family, but especially my own grandmother, I can only imagine the grief and sorrow that comes with such a loss. If there's anyone among my audience who would like to leave a comment giving Shawn well-wishes in this time of emotional trial, please by all means feel free. This one's for you, big man.





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