By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist May 27, 2014 at 2:42PM
Some Questionable Digital Photography
Since "The Usual Suspects," Bryan Singer has never made a film without longtime director of photographer Newton Thomas Sigel, and you can see why. Their work together has traditionally been strong, and when he's on top form, like with "Three Kings" or "Drive," Sigel makes a good case for being among the best in the world. But we have to say, on the basis of both "Jack The Giant Slayer" and this, it might be time for a parting of the ways. 'DOFP' is certainly more attractive than 'Jack,' which managed to be both gaudy and ... brown, but the near-future scenes are so dimly lit for the most part that they come off as feeling a bit cheap. But worst of all are some of the interior action sequences, which have that sort of Michael Mann-circa-"Collateral" early digital photography vibe to them. That's fine, and even exciting, if it were 2004, but it feels amateurish and cheap when in a $200 million movie in 2014. The problem, it appears, is that the film was shot in HFR technology, presumably at the point at which people believed Peter Jackson that it was the future, but then the film wasn't mastered or released in the format. That means that certain sequences in the film look like they come from a Canadian SyFy drama rather than a legitimate tentpole.
Mystique & Magneto's Motivations
So the time travel, to some degree or other, actually makes a kind of logical sense, but it's a shame that the motivations of the characters don't always do the same. In particular, Michael Fassbender's Magneto and Jennifer Lawrence's Mystique are pretty muddy in terms of the actions they perform, and the reasons behind them, enough so that it starts to threaten to break the movie. Mystique is clearly on a revenge mission against Peter Dinklage's Bolivar Trask, but we only ever see her in vengeful assassin mode, with the reasons given thanks to some blurry autopsy photos of Jason Flemyng and Zoe Kravitz. And because you never quite believe why she's on such a mission (even after she's been told the potential consequences), it makes her relenting at the end, failing to pull the trigger on Trask amid the chaos, and instead helping to bring down Erik, feel entirely unconvincing and unearned (why does she start listening to Charles only now?). Though she's positively transparent compared to Magneto who has broken out of prison, swiftly convinced that they have to stop Mystique to prevent mutant extinction, tries to kill her, then tries to talk her out of it, and then decides to pull off a show of force in front of the entire world, the exact thing that would surely convince the world that the mutants are a giant threat (indeed, it's a little puzzling that they wouldn't push ahead with an exterminate-the-mutants plan after one of them DROPS A FOOTBALL STADIUM ON THE WHITE HOUSE AND TRIES TO KILL THE PRESIDENT). In theory, it's in the spirit of the character, with Magneto always looking out for a chance to get one over on humanity, but the I'll-help-you-until-I-try-to-kill-them reversal is already familiar from "X2," and Fassbender's more nuanced turn makes the megalomania seem very sudden.
The Real Threat Is Somewhat Vague
Question, for a thousand points: who is the villain in "X-Men: Days Of Future Past?" Is it Bolivar Trask, who has a fear of mutants for some reason and wants to exterminate them, but only poses an intellectual threat and who our heroes spend the movie trying to save? Is it Mystique, who's technically the antagonist, in that the heroes are trying to stop her, but is still sympathetic? Is it Magneto, who remembers he's evil in the last thirty minutes? It's not really any of the above. In theory, it's whoever is controlling the Sentinels in the future, but we're never given any details of them bar the "worst of humanity." It doesn't have to be Peter Dinklage in old age make-up, but some kind of human face behind this beyond just robots dropping out of airships (or hell, even a hint that the Sentinels went rogue and turned on everyone) would help give a human face to the threat that the mutants face. Or at least, give a reason to how the world ended up ruins.
Beast Is Lame
Sorry about this one, we really are, because Nicholas Hoult is an actor we really like and we think he's pretty perfectly cast. It's just that Beast, as always, when he blues-up, looks like a Smurfy Teen Wolf and he's hampered here even further by being basically a big blue lapdog/enabler for Prof X. With his only interiority coming via occasional moony eyes made over Jennifer Lawrence's Mystique and one scene where he makes a (really obvious) breakthrough based on watching the television news, mostly all he does is repeat exposition, go to turn the power back on and fail to lift things off Prof X. Oh, and occasionally fly a plane. Made of metal. Containing Magneto.
OK, shoot us, but we had no idea who that was, and furthermore thought it was a girl (who looked slightly like Saoirse Ronan at one point). Of course, we've subsequently discovered that it is in fact a mutant called Apocalypse who one presumes will play a central role in the next X-Men film, given that it's called "X-Men: Apocalypse." What else? Oh yes he appears to be building a pyramid in Ancient Egypt (or on the "Stargate" planet), so we can conclude two things: 1. he's either very very old, or there's more time travel jiggery pokery going on (we hope not) and 2. the Egyptians weren't that smart after all and needed supernatural aid to build the pyramids. Ha! Dumbasses.
Holocaust References In Opening
Remember how we said the tone managed to mostly not become too grim? There was a reason we said ‘mostly,’ because the opening scenes showing off the mass-murder of mutants and humans leaves a pretty sour taste in the mouth. The movies have never been shy about the parallels: both the first movie and 'First Class' open up with Magneto at an actual concentration camp, which felt like a mission statement from Singer that at least in the original, this isn’t going to be campy, this is something with real world implications. And while there’s a level of tastelessness at work there, Singer mostly made it work. Here, though, there’s something especially grim about the mountains of charred corpses we pan through as Patrick Stewart dumps the backstory: the imagery explicitly references war crimes and the Holocaust, and in a way that feels particularly uneasy for the start of a comic book movie like this. Some might not find a difference between this and the first film, but it just felt much cheaper here to us.