Rogue One is a thrilling and intense, if occasionally tedious, Star Wars spinoff
Fourteen years ago, Bryan Singer’s X-Men arrived in theaters and took the summer box office by storm. Released during a time when good comic book films were considered a thing of the past, if not a freak accident, X-Men showed that not only was it possible to create a quality, successful film out of a property that didn’t involve Batman or Superman, it was possible to create a genuinely respectful piece of comic cinema. Though flawed, it showed that talented actors could don silly uniforms, make use of various, ridiculous powers, and still wow the audience with enough action, character, and, most of all, humanity. Naturally, it’s success led to the greenlighting of not only a sequel, but a Spider-Man movie, and the rest is history.
Fast-forward to the present day, where the franchise’s storied history is the stuff of geek legend. You have the legendary sequel, the noble-but-shoddy attempt at a finale, the failed spinoff, the slightly more successful spinoff, and, of course, the inevitable reboot. The same footsteps trod by Batman, Star Trek, and Fast and the Furious are all there, which means only one thing’s missing: the crossover. That new Hollywood trend of taking all the separate properties and combining them into one, explosive movie. This time, however, the initiative makes sense, and is grounded in one of the most famous comic stories of all time.
Most comic afficionados know the story by now; in the not-to-distant future, the world has been taken over by the Sentinels; giant, man-made robots created to be humanity’s last line of defense against mutants; evolved humans born inexplicably with superpowers. As robots are want to do in Hollywood, the Sentinels become self-aware and decide that all of humanity is their enemy, turning the entire planet into a nightmarish gulag. In the film, we catch up with the starring cast of 2006’s Last Stand, including the world’s most powerful telepath, Professor X. and his old enemy, Magnet0 (played by Comic-Con royalty Sir Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian McKellen, respectively) as they prepare for a daring plan. Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page), the one who can walk through walls, has figured out a way to use her powers to send someone’s conscious mind back through time. Naturally, the prime candidate for the mission is the cranky heart and soul of these movies, the mutant called Logan (Hugh Jackman), but obviously more famously known as Wolverine.
He’s selected for the mission not only because his mind can take the stress, but because he’s the only cast member played by the same actor in the 70s as he is in the future, thanks to that handy healing factor. His mission is to stop a younger Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from killing anti-mutant scientist Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), an act that leads to the creation of the Sentinels. From then on, the audience is treated to pretty much what it came for: the sight of Logan interacting with the equally phenomenal cast of 2011’s First Class, including James McAvoy as a younger Professor, and Michael Fassbender as the younger Magneto. However, even they are not as they used to be. Xavier is mysteriously walking again, but he is broken in literally every other facet of his life, and may need Logan, his gruff and impatient future student, to be his mentor. In a clever twist, Magneto is in a plastic prison for killing JFK.
The conceit at the center of the film, that the casts of the older and newer generations of X-movies are brought together, with the most popular character at the center, is probably the largest attempt at a cash grab in cinema since that last superhero crossover. And, like that film, it works marvelously, due in no small part to it’s inclusion of what may be the best assembled cast for a superhero film. Although fans have always bemoaned the constant inclusion of Wolverine, Jackman is surprisingly restrained here. His presence is more than welcome; I couldn’t help but feel both First Class and The Wolverine felt like they were missing something important, but this is not Wolverine’s movie, although he is very much one of it’s most important assets. Jackman himself offers a very generous performance, more than willing to share screen time with his costars.
This is a smart decision, because, as with before, Fassbender dominates nearly
every scene he’s in, as a man whose very delivery contains more spite and violent rage than all the adamantium in Logan’s body. As far as characters go, it’s the Professor, whose character arc as a depressed young man terrified of his responsibility as the mutant MLK, who provides the emotional pull of the movie. But if there’s one driving force that overshadows even Jackman’s famous clawed mutant, it’s Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique. I was always confused as to why First Class cast the villainess, famous in the earlier films as a homicidal murderer, as the heart and soul of the sixties team. In this film, her quickening transition into that very killer is not only realized, it’s, rightfully, the focus of the plot. Lawrence, who after a few short years is already arguably the most proven actor in the cast, is more than prepared to carry the movie.
As tends to happen with films of this size, some things tend to get overshadowed. While the colorful world of the 70s is given justified precedence over the dour landscape of the future, one can’t help but feel great character actors like McKellen and Page are criminally underutilized. And while Evan Peters’s Quicksilver is a hilarious and welcome character, he also proves too useful, to the point that the film forgets about him quickly so as not to overuse him. Oh well, we’ll see him in Avengers next year.
X-Men: Days of Future Past is a phenomenal movie, but it’s also a calculated one, milling the best ideas throughout both its own superhero series, and others, to create the most marketable film possible. But, in the process, director Bryan Singer stumbles upon something important; what makes these movies marketable are also what makes the best of them so entertaining: the characters. They are tested, broken down, built back up, and then strained to their breaking point, ultimately resulting in a film as tense, thought-provoking, and exciting as any the franchise has made thus far. The more dedicated fans, myself among them, may even need tissues for the final scenes. Most important of any reboot, it reminds the audience of why we love the X-Men in the first place. In spite of its obsession with the inhuman, it’s a story ultimately more human than nearly any other superhero saga out there. Some may call that ironic, I just think it’s uncanny.