X Men: Saved by the Decades (Part Two)

 Laughing Wolverine Cavalier

Following First Class‘ success, the X-Men franchise had hurdled the reboot trap in a way typical of the franchise.  but could Marvel’s box office excellence spur Fox on to create a cinematic career that would rival the mutant team’s comic career?  A look at  X-Men Days of Future Past and past future…

X-MEN DAYS OF FUTURE PAST’S TRICK IS NOT ONLY THAT IT CONTINUES, NEAR-RESOLVES AND REBOOTS THE X-FRANCHISE BUT THAT IT DARES TO REACH SOME OF THE SPECTACULAR SCIENCE FICTION OF THE COMICS IN ITS ATTEMPT. Purists will gripe, Chris Claremont ideologists will rant, Jackman-fans will blush.  Mostly they’ll be right, but the ambition can’t be doubted. But there’s no doubt that that on-screen X-Men have jumped a mile, like, well, Ripcord from a wall.

1970s – X-Men Days of Future Past (2014)

Skylark

Magneto’s recruitment strategy was never conducted at Jongleurs…

Crucially, the reboot’s ongoing chrono-oddesey allows it to build on First Class’ major contribution: humour.  That was cruelly lacking in the original trilogy with far too much falling to the gruff, over-tall Wolverine who couldn’t carry a spark into his solo missions…  In that original trilogy it was almost swept under the carpet as sheer class (McKellen, Stewart) rose above in search of the inner-Shakespeare.  The others were a dry bunch.

Cyclops was an underdeveloped straight-laced foil to Wolverine’s outsider. Late-arrival Angel a tortured idealist. Kitty Pryde’s fall into a love triangle with Rogue and Iceman didn’t so much add steam as highlight how artificial and dull teenage romances can be onscreen.  Even when Beast eventually appeared he was mostly anguishing in the War Room, propping specs on his nose.  Good guys are dull.  Not that Magneto’s recruitment strategy was conducted at Jongleurs.  He just received the less academic mutants.  That Toad wasn’t seen chronologically after the first film wasn’t the lightning bolt as much as that delivery.

The great news is that following the events of Future Past all the good guys are back! Party hat materialising mutant power, go!

But surely the humour’s around to stay, alongside huge set-pieces that put 200’s compact but slight X-Men film to shame.   Hopefully, while we wait for a sequel unlikely to involve the original trilogy cast, we can at least anticipate more of that. After all, there’s little worse than a dull X-Man. That’s why we never see Solemno sitting there quietly in the corner waiting for Apocalypse…

Cypher

Amidst Future Past’s fusion, the futurism of the original trilogy is for once rightly serious. For all the spectacular devastation and nods at Portal, other X-Men films and other X-Men yet to come, it carries a heightened level of threat.  That said, things are not necessarily less serious in the past; the threat there is heightened in turn by the causal shorthand that comes when science-fiction rules box office.   But when in the past, the film has ample time to breathe, soaking in the flares and sideburns of another generalised decade: the 1970s.  This time, it may actually be more fun than the swinging ‘60s. Certainly, Bryan Singer directorially weaves news real and fake into the film more skilfully than Vaughan managed in First Class.

Spirit

Marvel’s pre-release dig seem all the wiser…

There’s playfulness in a film that knows it’s going to be good.  At its most brash, it’s easy to think that Magneto’s stadium lift is a poke at The Dark Knight Rises, as could be the Russian templedom of the film’s last stand.  Most of all, it’s inescapable that Quicksilver was included to take a slice out of The Avengers rather than snaffle some of the zeitgeist.

Quicksilver is highly effective.  In the dour, modern-day Captain America: The Winter Soldier the post-credit cameo by the silver speedster was sinister going on creepy.  Its inclusion seemed to be a clear attempt to beat Fox’s franchise to the punch.  As an effective member of The Avengers and X-Men, Quicksilver falls between the two studio camps.  This Quicksilver is realised as an ADHD kid with an attention disorder to match his metabolism and a predilection for a con.  That he can take on the main mantle of comic relief so well, makes Marvel’s pre-release dig seem all the wiser.

Future Past lets Quicksilver carry the key joke set-piece of the film, with Jim Croce’s 1973 If I Could Catch Time in a Bottle backing his speed force antics (another extra-diegetic nod in well used music of the era).  And in that audacious escape, the throwaway quip about Magneto (Father to Quicksilver in the comics, and here it seems) is neat.  It’s perhaps just a shame that Magneto couldn’t, before his Nazi hunting days, also sire a rights detente between Marvel and Fox.

Perhaps the best are Wolverine’s cryptic comments about Quicksilver in the future, so far unseen although his younger self will certainly return …

Quicksilver’s set-piece is not just for laughs though.  It adds a necessary balance to darker onslaughts.  The step-up here is huge.  While First Class’ Shaw-led CIA invasion may have beaten the set pieces of X2, Future Past has at least three that blow the other films in the franchise out of the water.

Deathstrike

The weight of opposition

Wolvie’s back in the limelight but it’s fortunate that the plot device gives him plenty of room to share the comedy around. Here again, it’s worth noting the strength of the cast.  These mutants have been gifted with greater plot roles, but also excel in the period-ridiculousness.  Fassbender and Mystique are once again the highlights, one who started as an assassin, the other a confused teen – now both terrorists.  With his fair share of scenes, it seems even stranger that Wolvie cut loose struggled to hit the humour and imagination of his solo comics.

Perhaps the greatest sign is continued bold casting in villainy.  Peter Dinklage’s curiously emphatic Trask in particular.  There are few ambiguities here, from the files of subjects recalling Shaw’s hypocrisy although he’s a quite defenceless human cowering bewildered in the White House panic room by the end. Overall however, the weight of opposition against the strong core cast is more important than paradox or logic, reason or rhyme.

Although it can lead to blips…  It’s a shame Magneto of the future, faced with the ultimate mirror of his grand design in the future is so vulnerable; just as we see the fruition of the loner master of magnetism rise in the past. McKellen and Stewart are superb in their relatively static scenes. A high-point? Possibly the ambiguity of Magneto’s skulking off at the approach of the Sentinels.

If there’s anything the tremendously satisfying Future Past leaves the audience with, it’s a dose of its own confidence.  I only hope Matt Vaughn’s Secret Service, for which he supposedly jumped the X, can live up to expectations as well. Bryan Singer only has one further goal in mind…
Wolverine cavalier close up

The 1980s… Apocalypse (2016)

Caput

a sign of intent in name alone

X-Men: Apocalypse. Now that’s got a ring to it. And a villain who might just knock The Avenger’s Thanos into a Cosmic Cube. There was the prophetic, epic style of the post-credit teaser, Pyramid building, his ominous Four Horsemen in the background… Trailing what has been described as a disaster (level) movie. There’s every likelihood that Bryan Singer will return and that the awe inspiring story of X-Men versus a mutant God will build on this progress. Perhaps more important is the time span. In general terms, there has often been three years between each X-Film, at least between the main franchise films (or 2011’s First Class if you spring from 2009’s Wolverine). Apocalypse (you can see the build-up already) signals a sign of intent in name alone. And hell, even Hugh Jackman’s started to reconsider hanging up his claws.

Quill

A reboot trick greater than 2009’s Star Trek…

In picking up the reigns of Days, Singer’s unearthed a reboot trick possibly greater than 2009’s Star Trek. Only a few logical things ruin it on scrutiny, such as Xavier’s resurrected physiognomy following The Last Stand but then in a world of mutants who can say?  Perhaps more importantly, you couldn’t have refused Patrick Stewart an invite (he simply wouldn’t let you now) and you shouldn’t go searching for plot holes in a film all about paradox.

We have a reset character list, with the benefit of them being near exterminated, and we have a returning Cyclops and perhaps most importantly a chance to redo The Phoenix. But there may be no greater indication of the luxury that the franchise now has than the fact Apocalypse is unlikely to touch that generation and choose to be a further sequel to First Class.

Magik

For so many years a simple and elegant, and crucially funny answer to the age old debate as to whether a prequel or sequel can diminish an earlier film. It can’t, but Days of Future Past shows that a sequel/prequel can even enhance The Last Stand. As Professor X said, “Infinite decisions mean infinite consequences, for the future is never truly set…” If that’s all that these two films have in their favour, it’s still is incredible. But it isn’t. Having traversed comic storylines with aplomb, reignited the passion of the Wolverine and with a world of mutants to delve into and a Marvel schedule to take on, this is a franchise that’s clearly flying.

Read the first part of X-Men:Saved by the Decades here

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