Sunday, June 4, 2017

Sunday Best: Top 25 Superhero Movies of All Time # 12 - X-Men Days of Future Past

Official poster

(Note, the list of Top 25 Superhero Movies was compiled about 6 months ago and does not reflect current Superhero films like Logan, Wonder Woman, or Spider-Man Homecoming.  The list will be updated at the end of this series).

This is my favorite of the X-Men movies.

I was not a huge fan of X-Men: First Class.  I know I am in the minority here as the critical acclaim for that movie was significant and overshadowed Green Lantern, which came out at the same time.  But the biggest flaw with that movie is the fact that the characters are so incredibly unlikeable.  I couldn't stand Charles Xavier lecturing Magneto, a Holocaust survivor who saw his family murdered by Nazis, about letting go of anger.  Xavier lived in a cushy mansion an would pontificate about things he could not comprehend.  On top of that, some of the performances were uneven.  I really did not like Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique and found her mannequin-like and off-putting.  To this day, I cringe at her cloying catchphrase: "Mutant and proud."

But all of that changed with Days of Future Past.

The original cast returned and created an emotional connection to the characters in ways that were missing from First Class.

This movie is based on one of the classic comic stories and it does an excellent job of recreating the sense of dread that can be found in the Sentinels.  Their design is cold and terrifying and creates such a compelling obstacle.  One of the biggest flaws in most comic book films is the weakness of its villains.  While the Sentinels could easily be dropped into that category of nameless, faceless hordes, they are particularly scary enough to set them apart.  On top of that you have Trask, played by the always amazing Peter Dinklage, and Magneto.  The great thing about the moral space the X-Men occupy is that they always seem to have to be the balance between the two extremes: humans who want to exterminate mutants and mutants who want to exterminate humans.  That precarious balance of hope is so difficult and easy to lose by falling too far one way or the other.

This is the best of the Bryan Singer-directed X-Men films.  His handling of the Quicksilver kitchen scene alone is worth the price of admission.

As I wrote in my review for the movie:

The performances are also some of the best in the series.  I was not a fan of Lawrence's Mystique in First Class.  I found her to be a bit stiff and vacant, something that is uncommon to most of her performances.  But now, her talent is on full display.  In fact, Mystique is the heart of this movie.  She can become anything and so is the symbol for the unwritten future.  We see the struggle in her soul as she leans towards Xavier or Magneto.

Jackman brings his A-game again as Wolverine.  While he doesn't get as much a chance to let loose as he did in The Wolverine, he reminds us how much his character has developed since the first movie.  Even though they give older Wolverine some gray hair, Jackman does not seem to age in the role.  I cannot imagine anyone else playing him.

Fassbender does a wonderful job again of filling McKellen's shoes.  He is the villain that you can't bring yourself to hate.  He is dispassionate about his murderous plans.  He does not kill out of hate but out of a desire for species preservation.  He comes off as admirably honest in his cold cold blood.  And Dinklage has thankfully reached a place in his career where he is cast not because he is a dwarf but because of the power of his performance.  Trask comes off as villain-ish, but with an almost hopeful, Utopian disposition.

But my favorite thing about the movie was how well it incorporated the theme into the plot.  It holds up in stark contrast better than any of the other X-movies the philosophy of Magneto and Xavier.  As a Catholic I found some wonderfully insightful story elements here:

Magneto is pure pragmatism.  Morals principles are unimportant, as is human (or mutant) connection.  That which will bring about the perceived "greater good" is always preferred even it is deemed morally evil.  Individual persons are nothing compared to the needs of the many.  He is the Jack Bauer of comic book characters.  Xavier, on the other hand, believes that the principles are what matters.  He comes from a classic sense of virtue.  The choices we make shape our soul.  The fight is not one of mere survival, but in becoming something more than who we are.  Evolution for him is about moral growth.

What makes this theme work so well is that it ties together the ultimate flaw of pragmatism (you cannot know the future with certainty) with the future is shaped by our moral choices.  I found this to be very illustrative and enlightening.

I also had the chance to see the Rogue Cut of the film and it is an improvement on what was already one of the best in the series.  

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