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Siraj Syed


Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for FilmFestivals.com and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 

 

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X-Men: Days of Future Past, Review

X Men: Days of Future Past

In 1967, Moody Blues released their second rock album, Days of Future Passed. Changing the last two letters of the last word, two issues of The Uncanny X-Men comic book series from 1980-81, written by Chris Claremont (a consultant on the film version), became Days of Future Past. Incidentally, his comic has seen three adaptations already: X-Men (1992), Wolverine and the X-Men (2008) and The Super Hero Squad Show (2009). The 2014 film is set in two time zones, 50 years apart: 2023 and 1973. So anybody who was born in the 60s or earlier (director Bryan Singer was born in 1965) would have (American) memories of that era, most notably the Bay of Pigs incident related to Cuban President Fidel Castro, the  John F. Kennedy assassination and the Vietnam war. On the scenario in 2023, we can all speculate. One version is on offer is the sci-fi clash of humans with remnants of their surviving immediate predecessor species, the mutants, as projected in X Men: Days of Future Past.

The film begins in 2023, when mutants are being hunted to near extinction by the Sentinels. In Moscow, the Sentinels arrive and kill all the mutants, except Shadowcat and Bishop, who escape in time-warps. Charles Xavier (Prof. X), Magneto, Wolverine, and Storm arrive to find mutants hiding in China, where they plan to send X back to 1973, to stop Mystique from killing scientist Bolivar Trask, an assassination that triggered the Sentinel Programme. However, Wolverine volunteers to go instead of the Professor, due to his regenerative powers, and because X couldn't physically handle going back decades. (In the comic it was Shadowcat who went back in time). Wolverine is sent back to the past by Shadowcat, where, Professor X and Magneto hope, he will unite them. Back in 1973, Wolverine asks Charles for his help, who reluctantly agrees. They plan a prison-break to release Erik, being held 100 floors under the earth in a Pentagon maximum security facility, on a charge of killing President John F. Kennedy. And together, the united X-Men hope to alter the future, by rewriting the present (past).

One cannot help recalling a key element in a Superman film, wherein he wonders how to revive a dead person he was too late in saving, and decides to rotate the earth in the opposite direction, to an earlier point in time, thereby reworking history and preventing the death. It’s the same premise here, much more elaborately done. The mutant Quicksilver's scenes have been shot in a special format of 3600 frames per second (fps), 150 times slower than normal film (which is at 24 fps), so Quicksilver is seen moving 150 times faster than normal. All that registers is a blur, reminiscent of another comic character, Flash.

Patrick Stewart plays the older Professor X, the most powerful telepath on earth. He is perhaps best known as Captain Jean-Luc Picard of Star Trek: The Next Generation, both on television and film. Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen were performing in a touring production of the renowned play, Waiting for Godot, when Bryan Singer approached them to consider reprising their respective roles as Professor X and Magneto. Both are dependable, as ever. Lively James McAvoy is cast as the younger Professor X, a carry-over from X-Men: First Class (2011). Magneto, the ‘master of magnetism' is played by two actors. Sir Ian McKellen (older Magneto) is recognised worldwide as Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. His younger self is Michael Fassbender, whose performance in Steve McQueen's Hunger won large critical acclaim. Fassbender was seen as the young Magneto in X-Men First Class too. True to his ‘name’, strong-man Fassbender does plenty of (metal) bending.

Hugh Jackman is Wolverine. Including his cameo in X-Men: First Class, this is Hugh Jackman's seventh portrayal of Logan/Wolverine, a record for the most times a comic book character has been played by the same actor in theatrical release films. He is also the only actor to appear in the entire X-Men film series. Jackman is serious and tough, often having to grimace in pain. Some humour is assigned to his character, but that does not go well with his style.

Once a close friend of Professor X, Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) turns against the X-Men and takes on the identity of Mystique. Lawrence is one of Hollywood's most gifted actresses. She is an Oscar nominee this year for American Hustle. Most recently, Lawrence starred in Catching Fire, the second instalment of the trilogy, The Hunger Games. Metamorphosing into person after person at the drop of hats innumerable times, she exhibits a desirable figure in skin coloured purple tights and comes across as a no-nonsense woman of convictions.

Due to Halle Berry's pregnancy during shooting, her character, Storm, does not fly or have any fighting scenes in the film. There is very little of her in any case. An interesting bit of casting is Mark Camacho as Richard Nixon (no less)--the character turns out to be a slightly roly-poly take on Nixon! Bishop is played by Omar Sy, an award-winning French actor, last seen in The Intouchables. Bryan Singer is a big fan of Peter Dinklage and his show Game of Thrones (2011). Dinklage's role of Tyrion Lannister inspired Singer to cast him as Boliver Trask, based on Adolf Hitler: "As Hitler used the Jews as a scapegoat to bond the darker parts of Europe, he's doing the same thing with mutants. But he wasn't a six foot, perfect blond Aryan --he was a short, funny looking fellow!" explains Singer. But Dinklage’s role is no performance to write home about.

Bryan Singer, Jewish, now 48, has earned a reputation for filming stories that focus on the darker side of human nature. In 1995, Singer ‘arrived’ with The Usual Suspects and followed it up with Apt Pupil. The director resurfaced in 2000, with the first X-Men. X2 (2003) was generally regarded as, at the very least, an equal to its predecessor, and some even felt that it topped X-Men. Singer then made Superman Returns and Valkyre, a thriller centering on a real-life plot to assassinate Hitler. Last year, he made Jack the Giant Killer.

Key components like homophobia, survival of the fittest, unity is strength, intolerance, fighting for your rights, long-term consequences of historical mistakes, etc. run right through the film. The motivations or de-motivations in the story, however, are too thin to be convincing. Action is spectacular, although I had a tough time at the screening at PVR Phoenix Mills, Mumbai, constantly adjusting/removing my 3D glasses to see why the double depth of field had disappeared 15-20 minutes into the film. It never came back, and I had to watch the film in split focus.

You are bound to lose track of the number of characters, their names and their powers—each mutant has a distinct ability! Of them, Raven and Magneto are overdone and repetitive. Nevertheless, X-Men: Days of Future Past should go down well, with both, franchise fans and first-time viewers, though fans will find gaping holes in continuity, and past/future jerks aplenty. 

Rating: ***1/2

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ryqpoHsCj7Y

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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of FilmFestivals.com and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.


Bandra West, Mumbai

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