Thank you Bryan Singer. After a rejuvenating and largely successful reboot from Matthew Vaughn with X-Men: First Class two years ago, Singer brings the entire universe of this Marvel juggernaut together in one of 2014’s most exciting and intelligent films. This is a playground where Spider Man and Godzilla just can’t play around in and that is action packed excitement with sharp storytelling and a strong fingerprint from the director. There are few directors that can make this tale of mutants living scared and desperate in the human world so compelling and the man at the top of the short list is Singer. Brett Ratner, you are not on the list because the last all together part, X-Men: Last Stand, felt less like a movie and more like a bad paint job over a large canvas. After a pair of fun if hollow feeling solo Wolverine missions, Singer brings the Hall of Fame ass kicker Hugh Jackman back into the middle of this time travel based story.
The film opens in the distant future where major cities are destroyed and a group of machines called the Sentinels are leading the destruction. We see a small group of mutants hiding out in a tiny corner in Russia and their body count is dwindling. So, the wise Charles Xavier(Patrick Stewart, looking younger in each successive film) and Eric Lensherr(Ian McKellen) decide to send Jackman’s Logan/Wolverine back to 1973 to prevent a murder and that starts with the retrieval of the young Charles(a truly moving James McAvoy) and the young Eric(played effortlessly by Michael Fassbender). The key is preventing the radiant yet deadly and misguided Raven/Mystique(Jennifer Lawrence, sexy on fire at the moment) from doing something literally catastrophic. Hopefully, in doing so, the Sentinels program never gets off and the mutants aren’t wiped off the face of earth. That’s it folks. It’s just time travel. So much has been made over the last week about the confusing aspects of this story and it’s best for some to simply go with the flow.
Singer and screenwriter Simon Kinberg(who has penned every X-Men adventure) have crafted an intriguing world that places the mutants as the victims of an oppressive society and has them facing extinction. They combine that with the usual flair of action and special effect dazzle, but the key to these films being great is the heartfelt touch and intelligence Singer brings to the production. The man is a true genius.
The cast is excellent. Jackman gets into freakishly good shape every time he puts on the claws and his transformation and ability to inject true witty comedy into a tragic character is flawless again. Stewart and McKellen are old pros hanging with the kids here and they acquit themselves nicely. As many fans who see Stewart as a Star Trek legend, he will always be Professor X to this film addict. Fassbender doesn’t really act so much as he does effortlessly slip into a character’s skin. He is one of the best actors out there today because he doesn’t overplay anything and his work here is astounding. Playing a younger man with a power to bend metal to his will while deciding how he uses that particular power, Fassbender is putting on a clinic.
Lawrence has it all in nearly every role she chooses to take and while Rebecca Romijn was fine in the earlier films, JLaw has made this role her own with a sexy blend of confidence and versatility. The bulk of the story hangs around Raven and her ultimate choice to seek revenge or think about a higher purpose.
My hat though is truly tipped to McAvoy for bringing to life the young Charles in a way few actors could. In First Class, he was dashing and movie goers only got a tiny bit of the bitter complexity of McAvoy’s rage at the end of that film. Here, the British actor shows us a very different Professor, lost and torn apart. McAvoy adds a particular nuance and powerful display of raw emotion to a role that wasn’t asking for it. Along with the character’s determination to enter people’s minds, McAvoy lets us in Xavier’s head and never coasts in his performance. He elevates this film from your ordinary superhero flick to something more. When Vaughn helped place him in First Class, the X-Men universe became a lot brighter and stronger.
Other known faces from the past films make small appearances that will create a smile or grin, but they don’t make a real impact on the film. Shawn Ashmore’s Iceman and Ellen Page’s mind altering young hero aren’t bad yet don’t get a full chance to shine like the others. Halle Berry literally walks around in a pair of scenes and elicits an unintentional laugh when she first appears. Bringing the entire world back for this film doesn’t always ensure each characters gets their fair slice.
The best “moment” of the film belongs to St. Louis’ own Evan Peters, playing Quicksilver, a mutant so fast he can read the registration on your car, see the tailor markings on your suit and the info on your ID before you come into his house. He takes teleporting to another level by adding a layer of attitude and devastating quickness to the palette. Peters is a relatively unknown young actor and only gets 2 scenes here to dazzle but his effect is felt long after you leave the film. In a prison break sequence set to the timeless song, “Time In A Bottle”, Peters’ mutant disables an entire room of gunmen while saving his friends and having a little fun. It’s a hallmark Singer action moment. Kudos to Peters for making an impression in a small amount of time.
Give this movie a look. Don’t label it a superhero flick and toss it to the curb. You can appreciate this film because of the care and ability Singer and his cast put into it. There’s cool action, witty humor and an utter excitement that many films have lacked this year. After a long time away, the the X-Men family is complete again and in a film as sharp as Days of Future Past, they are better than ever.