Four stars. Rated PG-13, for nonstop action violence, considerable grim content and brief profanity
By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 5.23.14
This one cooks.
The X-Men film series has earned high marks from its debut back in 2000, notwithstanding the frustrating rival studio issues that prevent these characters from operating within the larger tapestry of the “Marvel Universe” project that includes Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and the Avengers.
Director Bryan Singer got Marvel’s “merry mutants” off to an excellent start with the first two films, and he returns here, batteries fully charged, for a rip-snortin’ adventure that satisfies on every level.
Longtime comic book fans, who’ve followed these characters since their debut back in September 1963, can point to three periods of writer/artist genius during the series’ half-century history. Old-timers still cite the Roy Thomas/Neal Adams run, despite its brevity, as the highlight of 1969 and early ’70. The subsequent generation scoffs at that choice, pointing instead to the bravura Chris Claremont/Jim Lee run from 1989 through ’91.
In between, though, we enjoyed four years of greatness from late 1977 through early ’81, thanks to Claremont’s imaginative stories and artist/co-author John Byrne’s artwork. And that run produced a two-parter, “Days of Future Past,” which remains one of the all-time best comic book stories, anywhere ... not to mention one of the most ingenious time-travel narratives ever concocted (and cited as such in a recent issue of the British pop culture magazine SFX).
Fan reaction was guarded, when word broke that this new X-Men film would adapt that classic tale. Doing it justice would be difficult enough; carefully sliding it into the big-screen mythos already established by the first three films and 2011’s X-Men: First Class, even harder. Screenwriters Simon Kinberg, Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn therefore deserve considerable credit, because they pulled it off. And then some.
Failing to give Claremont and Byrne a “story by” acknowledgment, however, is utterly indefensible. And I rather doubt that Claremont was mollified by his eyeblink cameo.
To a degree, this film also has been shaped by the wattage of its primary stars, most notably Jennifer Lawrence, who has become huge since first playing the shape-shifting Raven/Mystique in First Class. Hugh Jackman’s ultra-cool Wolverine also is front and center, as are James McAvoy’s angst-ridden Charlie Xavier and Michael Fassbender’s smoothly malevolent Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto.
But wait, I hear you cry. Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen also appear in this adventure ... and aren’t they also Xavier and Magneto?
Well, yes ... and that’s the nature of time-travel stories. Done properly, we get to eat our cake, and have it, too. And this is one tasty treat.