Film review: ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’

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When I was a kid living in Kinglake – about an hour or so outside Melbourne’s CBD – the most exciting trip we ever took was the one into the city to visit Minotaur. Minotaur’s a comic store, the walls of the store covered in latest editions of The Punisher, Ghost Rider, X-Men, etc. The place is amazing, I’d to be able to spend hours wandering around, taking everything in. Even before that, I remember the first trip my brother and I ever took to the city without my parents. My brother was two years older than me and he wanted to go to a comic convention. This involved getting driven half an hour to the train station in Hurstbridge, then catching a train in to the unfamiliar surrounds of the city, all by ourselves. I didn’t want to do it, I was afraid to go in without the security of my parents, but my brother couldn’t go if I didn’t, so I caved. It was the one of the best days of my life. We went to this convention, which was mostly just market stalls of comics and comic related merchandise, all of it pretty well priced. There were back-issues as far as the eye could see, all those ones in the series you missed, right there, for $3 each. We bought as many as we could, got comic artists to draw us pictures, got free showbags with an array of random merchandise inside. It was amazing.

Being around comic books was so exciting back then, finding that one section in the newsagents where the comics were filed away was like discovering gold, and I remember curling up in the corner of the couch, reading through the latest adventures of Wolverine – his epic battle with Mojo was a standout. And even though I couldn’t understand the full context of the storylines, I was so drawn in, so enveloped inside those pages. Reading comics was such a great part of being a kid.

Every time a new comic book movie comes out I get a hint of that same excitement. Whenever Hugh Jackman flicks out his Wolverine claws, it takes me back to that time, just a little bit. Even when the films haven’t always lived up to the hype, there’s still that nostalgic allure, something that ties me to it, just seeing those characters come to life. This is, of course, part of the marketing strategy, the reason you see so many old toys being made into films is because people like me are gonna’ watch them, because of that nostalgic link, and definitely, it’s a strong selling point – I even went and watched G.I. Joe at the cinema. There’s always that link, that moment that reminds me of the smell of fresh comic pages and pulls me in, but for the most part, that feeling has come and gone in moments, in great sequences in comic book films. The Wolverine cage fight scene in X-Men. When Collossus appears in X2. These moments make me remember what I loved so much about comics, but overall the films are their own entity – like the comics, but different. The storylines don’t quite relate, the characters play out in their own way. The film versions are made with compromises, alterations to translate the comic book world to a mainstream audience. This makes perfect sense, I understand the producer negotiation and marketing input aspects of how films are made, but inevitably, that’s going to mean some things are altered in adaptation process, which means there’s always going to be a separation. While the films bring with them moments of childish excitement, they’re overall not what I want, not as engrossing as I dream they could be.

X-Men: Days of Future Past has changed that. It’s been coming for a while, we’ve seen the shift in focus from The Dark Night to The Avengers to X-Men: First Class – comic book films have become less about mainstream audience and more about adhering to the original sources themselves. Darker storylines, deeper characters, the things that had been watered down or altered in previous film-versions are starting to come out, with studios putting more trust in their creative teams, letting them build the stories they want. Chris Nolan’s Batman series was the catalyst – these films took a serious edge, a dark turn, and they were so much more successful for it. They weren’t trying to sell toys or win the hearts of kids and adults alike – they were telling a story, and Nolan was given more creative licence than ever before to tell it his way. Jon Favreau’s Iron Man was another, highlighting the value of telling a story and creating a real-world superhero film, and how, given the budget, these films could produce amazing box office results. Joss Whedon’s Avengers was the pinnacle – Whedon not only wrote a great script, but the studio went all in, allowing him to utilise amazing special effects unmatched by any other super-hero predecessor. In these days of declining movie audiences and internet piracy, people need a reason to go and see things on the big screen – massive super hero films provide just that, and the revenue numbers for Avengers had every studio scrambling to buy up every super hero franchise they could find. This movement is what set up Days of Future Past – a film that delivers on every level, over and over again.

The storyline of DOFP is the one I always wanted to see – The Sentinels was such a great series in the comics, the most epic X-Men battle of all time. It frustrated me that they were making these odd storylines in the first X-Men films when they were sitting on such great material in The Sentinels saga. It’s possible that budgetary constraints meant they couldn’t do it – but there are no constraints in DOFP. The film is epic sequence after epic sequence, tied together with a storyline that works – there’s no gaps in logic or hastily introduced plot devices. After the opening sequence, I was happy, I thought ‘this was worth the price of admission alone’, but that was only one of the many amazing scenes in the film. The special effects are the best I’ve seen in a super hero film, and the bad guys are so bad, so frightening, that they raise the emotional stakes with every sequence. Just wait till you see the terror inflicted by The Sentinels. I could go on all day about the scenes – Quicksliver in the Pentagon, Mystique’s transformation’s mid-action, Magneto’s defiance and single-minded obsession – to say anything more would risk ruining it, and this is a film you really don’t need or want to know much about going in. Just go watch it, take it in, and revel in it’s excellence.

DOFP is everything I’ve ever wanted a comic book film to be. It took me back to Minotaur, back to reading in the corner of the couch and being totally engrossed by the world of the X-Men. It felt like home, like being with friends from your childhood. DOFP is a superhero film without compromise. That is what puts it over the top and makes it so amazing. There’s one scene where they’re waiting for The Sentinels and Blink comes through a portal in the background – that special effect wasn’t necessary to the main storyline and added little to what was happening, but it added a lot in terms of overall depth. Those sort of things usually get cut out because it’s too expensive to put in a special effect like that for no significant purpose. The fact that Bryan Singer has been allowed to go all out, to add in things like this that build the world, this is what makes DOFP so deep, so real and true to the comics.

As you can probably tell, I could go on about DOFP for hours, but my words won’t ever do the film justice. Go see it at the movies, don’t wait, don’t think you can just grab it when it comes out on DVD. DOFP is amazing, the best super hero film I’ve ever seen. Everyone should go check it out.

 

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