Thursday, July 3, 2014

The X-Men At The Movies: Past & Present

The X-Men began their long run in the Marvel Comics universe in 1963, and have continued in various titles to the present day. The mutant super-team has also had a successful run in movie theaters, starting with 2000’s X-Men, directed by Bryan Singer, who also directed the 2003 follow-up, X2. The films were helped immeasurably by the wonderful performances of Patrick Stewart as Professor X, Ian McKellen as his adversary Magneto, and Hugh Jackman as the loose cannon Wolverine. Both of those films were well received by fans & critics, though the third entry, 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand was met with mixed reaction, as was the 2009 solo film X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Many fans felt the series had lost its focus, and moved away from the solid stories & character interaction that made the first two films so successful.

In 2011, a prequel film entitled X-Men: First Class, directed by Matthew Vaughn, was released. A talented cast, including James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult and Michael Fassbender, played younger versions of the team. Their origin was re-told against a Cold War backdrop. The intriguing story & excellent performances re-energized the series, and the film was a success. Another Wolverine solo movie, The Wolverine, followed in 2013. Then fans began wondering what was in store for the next film in the series; would there be a movie bridging the two eras? What would be the next stop in the cinematic journey of our favorite mutants? Singer, who had left the series after X-2, then returned to produce X-Men: First Class, decided to come back to the director’s chair, and opted to tackle one of the comic series most powerful & well-remembered stories: Days of Future Past.

Originally released as a two-part tale in the Uncanny X-Men comic series in 1981, the story tells of a future where mutants are hunted down & killed or placed in internment camps. Produced during the book’s now classic run by writer Chris Claremont and artists John Byrne & Terry Austin, it’s now considered one of the most iconic X-Men stories of all time. The film version is a sequel to both The Last Stand & First Class. In a dark time when both mutants & the humans who help them are exterminated by robots called Sentinels, Professor X & his former enemy Magneto, who are now allies, come up with a plan to stop this timeline from occurring. With the help of team member Kitty Pryde, they send Wolverine’s consciousness back into his younger self in the 1970s, to warn their own younger selves about what is going to happen if this horrible future is allowed to unfold.

Once Wolverine finds the current X-Men, it’s a race against time to stop an event that triggers the creation of the Sentinels by a scientist named Bolivar Trask, played by Peter Dinklage. Trask is lobbying the government to activate the robots as a defense against what he perceives as a threat to the world: mutants. Meanwhile, the future X-Men try to stay alive as the Sentinels continually attack their rebel hideout. The direction by Singer & the performances of two generations of X-Men stars, including Lawrence in a standout role as Mystique, are excellent. McAvoy & Fassbender perfectly capture the younger Professor X & Magneto; you can see how their characters will grow into the older versions played by Stewart & McKellen. Dinklage (Game of Thrones) makes for an excellent villain, and there are some interesting twists on the original story. In fact, fans who were displeased by the events depicted in X-Men: The Last Stand should watch carefully in the film’s closing moments.

One thing to be aware of is that if you’re not familiar with the X-Men universe, the film may be a little hard to follow at first. A lot of the supporting characters are quickly introduced, and have minor roles in the story. But this is a solid superhero film that should please X-Men aficionados. The story is exciting and fast-paced; there’s a good balance between some standout action sequences & nice character moments. The movie is currently finishing its run in theaters, but a video release should be announced soon. Here’s a link to the film’s trailer: will be happy to know there's already a sequel in the works: X-Men: Apocalypse, based on another famous comic story, as well as several spin-off films featuring some of the team's members. The X-Men's cinematic future appears to be a bright one.

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