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Newest 'X-Men' best film of the summer so far

POSTED: May 22, 2014 1:00 a.m.

Each year, critics and fanboys eventually start arguing over which summer blockbuster is the best of the season. It’s probably too early to start that conversation, but it’s unlikely any other major summer release will equal “X-Men: Days of Future Past” for screenwriting craft, characterization or complexity.

It is an astoundingly entertaining yet thoughtful movie. Not only is it likely to be the highest-quality tentpole release of the summer, but it might be the best X-Men movie yet.

The persistent X-Men theme of social equality manifests here as mature Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Erik Lehnsherr (Ian McKellen) send Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back to 1973 to convince their younger selves (played by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender) to stop Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from killing Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage).

As history has played out, Mystique is captured immediately after killing Trask, and weapons manufacturers use her blood to create the Sentinels who have hunted mutants to the brink of extinction.

The X-Men seek to alter that history.

A scenario such as this could have easily become a convoluted, confusing mess. But screenwriter Simon Kinberg and director Bryan Singer handle the time travel and huge cast of mutants expertly. They also wisely reduce much of the conflict to a series of ethical decisions and focus on the relationship between Charles/Professor X and Erik/Magneto, which is, of course, the heart of the X-Men universe.

“Days of Future Past” capitalizes on what has already passed between these two characters and complicates their friendship even further.

Still, the filmmakers introduce an amazing number of X-Men characters to the movie franchise: Bishop (Omar Sy), Quicksilver (Evan Peters), Blink (Bingbing Fan) and so many others. We also see the return of Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) and Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) from earlier X-Men movies.

The writers stay true to the nature of those characters and leave us wanting to see more of them. In fact, the funniest and most innovative scene features Quicksilver, whose world moves at a comically fast rate compared to everyone else’s.

Like the 2009 “Star Trek” reboot, “Days of Future Past” brings the past and future of the franchise into one cohesive universe. The filmmakers do it so effectively, in fact, they could stop making X-Men movies now and the franchise would seem complete.

Yet because they bring everything to such a perfect point of stasis, they can also take the franchise anywhere from this point, especially since so many mutant characters have been brought into the cinematic universe.

Another facet of drawing so heavily on the X-Men past, however, is this movie is not for newcomers. Many of the best moments will be lost on anyone not already familiar with at least the previous X-Men movies, if not the comics.

X-Men fans, though, will be richly rewarded. “Days of Future Past” is surprisingly funny largely because it features so many inside jokes and references to other storylines and backstories.

Narratively, the movie is rock solid. The pace is taut, the story beats are all coherent despite the massive scope, and the action sequences all advance the story and deepen characterization while providing ample eye candy.

Stylistically, the film will be deemed either diverse or erratic, depending on the beholder.

The future tense scenes feature the glossy, chiaroscuro look of the X-Men movies of the 2000s. Then when we flash back to 1973, the aesthetic shifts toward the grainy, high-key look of “X-Men: First Class.” The filmmakers also at times mimic the look of 8mm and 16mm amateur eyewitness footage, even offering a twist on the Zapruder film at one point.

These stylistic shifts are motivated by the story, but it might not work for everyone.

On a simpler level, it is just incredibly fun to see the two generations of X-Men actors share the screen and witness one of the more interesting story arcs of the franchise told with such craft and care.

I can’t recommend this movie highly enough.

Jeff Marker is head of the Communication, Media & Journalism Department at the University of North Georgia. His reviews appear weekly in Get Out and on gainesvilletimes.com/getout.


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