The new X-Men flick is exciting and confusing

Our series exploring Montreal-shot movies tackles Bryan Singer’s latest, X-Men: Days of Future Past.

X-Men: Days of Future Past

Alex Rose’s Made in MTL is a series exploring films from the vaults shot and/or set in Montreal.

The film: X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

Does Montreal play itself?: This is an international, time-bending tale of global politics and intrigue — but Montreal is one of the few places that don’t feature in the plot. It stands in for Washington D.C., Paris and a mysterious, pagoda-filled end-of-days future.

posterMost egregious local landmarks: Since the film takes place all over the world over several decades, a lot of the backgrounds have been covered up with the appropriate CGI settings. Nevertheless, City Hall and its surroundings feature prominently in a key Paris sequence, Bolivar Trask’s offices look curiously like Place des Arts, a car chase zooms by the Bay and the St. Lawrence river is featured prominently.

Notable local talent: This being the biggest, most expensive film shot in Montreal in recent memory, the film is teeming with recognizable local faces. The most prominent one is prolific local hey-it’s-that-guy Mark Camacho, who has the sizeable task of portraying Richard Nixon in the 1973 portion of the film. Other notables include stand-up comedian Massimo as a gangster, Neil Napier as a Secret Service agent taken over by Mystique and Karine Vanasse as a Parisian nurse. Hell, even Cult MTL’s #3 Best Actress, Alison Louder, features as Ellen Page’s stand-in (that may or may not be her hands around Jackman’s head for most of the movie).

As the longest-running currently active superhero series, the X-Men universe is also the one that has dared the most. Granted, when you’re dealing with $200-million budgets and multiple A-list movie stars per film, being daring doesn’t exactly mean taking the same chances as Jean-Luc Godard. The X-Men films have gone out on a relative limb by going backwards and forwards in time, switching up directors, presenting alternative timelines and generally straying from the serialized form that defines most superhero franchises.

X-Men: Days of Future Past showcases a fairly outlandish time-travelling plot and seems doggedly uninterested in pandering to unprepared audiences; it’s complicated as all fuck and never pauses so that unfamiliar audiences can catch up. While this may not be a first in superhero movies, it certainly seems to signal that Bryan Singer and pals have accepted the X-Men’s place in folklore. The majority of X-Men: Days of Future Past is so refreshingly chaotic and devoid of the “Previously on…” syndrome that plagues most movies like this that it’s a little disappointing it takes its sweet time circling back to being a conventional superhero movie.

xmenIn the near future, mutants (and indeed nearly all of mankind) have been decimated by mutant-hunting robots known as Sentinels. A small pocket of mutants remain, fighting off the Sentinel hordes from the aforementioned end-of-days pagoda world. Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen) have come to the conclusion that the only way to save the world is to send someone back in time to prevent Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from murdering the inventor of the Sentinels, Bolivar Trask (a sadly underused Peter Dinklage). Trask’s death in 1973 at the hands of the shape-shifting Mystique led to an anti-mutant sentiment that caused the omnipotence of the Sentinels.

Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) has the power to send people back in time, but the only person whose body is able to withstand the shock of time travel is Wolverine (Hugh Jackman). As the few remaining mutants fight off the Sentinel hordes, Wolverine travels back to 1973 to convince young Professor X (James McAvoy) and young Magneto (Michael Fassbender) to put aside their differences and prevent Mystique from sealing their fate.

It’s a shameless ploy to cram as many fan favourite characters from all iterations of X-Men thus far, but X-Men: Days of Future Past works almost exclusively because it commits to telling a ridiculous breakneck comic book story rather than being a cog in a never-ending movie-generating machine. As a non-nerd (although I have seen all of the X-Men movies), I frequently had no idea what the hell was going on in the grand scheme of things but it doesn’t make the movie any less exciting and compelling. Its action scenes are big and brash, its performances effective (although a great deal of the more popular X-Men barely feature, and in the case of Anna Paquin, have no lines at all despite being on the poster) and its direction inventive (especially the scene where Evan Peters, as turbo-speed Quicksilver, stops time to reorganize a shootout).

xmen3In fact, for most of X-Men: Days of Future Past’s overstuffed 132 minutes, it looks like it might actually accomplish the impossible task of being a superhero movie that succeeds on its own terms — until it doesn’t. It’s hard to say anything without revealing too much, but it suffers from exactly the kind of tedious franchise-building slate-cleaning that guarantees we won’t see any of these actors in anything else until they pop up as dessicated shadows of their former selves in Expendables XV. I suppose it’s an inevitable by-product of the genre, one that I’m evidently going to have to stop raging against at some point as it shows no sign of letting up. X-Men: Days of Future Past doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it does find a way to spin it real fast, at least. ■

Alex Rose explores the worst of cinema on his podcast and blog, Why Does It Exist? @whydoesitblog on Twitter