Rated PG-13. Running time: 2 hour 11 min.
Our content ratings (0-10): Violence 5; Language 1; Sex/Nudity 1.
Our star rating (1-5): 4
…and I will show you a still more excellent way.
1 Corinthians 12:31b
Bryan Singer, working from Simon Kinberg’s complex screenplay, has delivered a rousing action tale that resonates with feelings of pain, love, and hope. Not being too familiar with all the intricacies of the Marvel stories and characters, I admit to being confused at times by what was happening and the references to other times and incidents, but the puzzlement was more than made up for by the great special effects and the very human concerns of trying to survive as an outsider in a world that wants you excluded at best and dead at worst. This theme of exclusion people of faith should resonate to because Christ also contended against the exclusionists of his day, drawing God’s circle of inclusion, to reference Edward Markam’s poem*, large enough to include such outcasts as lepers, the lame, the blind, the poor, and those held in low esteem, women and children.
The film opens with shots of a ravaged Manhattan where all mutants have been killed and their human sympathizers are rounded up by super machines called Sentinels and put in camps. After action scenes in other cities, we see the few remaining mutants gathered around Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and his now friend Erik Lensher/Magneto (Ian McKellen) in an ancient monastery converted into a fortress high in the Chinese mountains. They decide that the consciousness of one of them will have to be sent back in time into his earlier body to stop an assassination that led to the development of the Sentinel weapon series. The time is the 1973 Vietnam Peace Conference in Paris where Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), a shape-shifting mutant, killed Dr. Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) out of a sense of vengeance. She had been captured and her special blood used in the Sentinel program that Trask had set up, leading to the Sentinels that also could shift their shapes and adapt to any weapon the X-men were able to use against them.
Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) has the power to send someone back, and it is only Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), gifted with almost instantaneous self-healing powers, who can stand the terrible stress and wounds time travel inflicts, who can go back. His mission to prevent the assassination involves convincing a very young Charles Xavier and various other young mutants to join him in what must seem like an insane plot. They must free a powerful X-Man held in a dungeon far beneath the Pentagon, and this will involve the fast-as-light speed of Peter (Evan Peters), a mutant whose name Quicksilver provides scarcely a hint of his incredible power. In a scene that combines stop motion of all the guards and other X-Men rescuers, and bullets moving ever so slowly toward their intended targets, Quicksilver moves around adjusting the arms and fists of the guards and moving the bullets slightly off target. When the nana-second is over, the guards are knocking each other out, and the bullets are flying harmlessly by the rescuers. That over-used word “Awesome!” truly is fitting for this delightful scene—it’s even better than the one in Washington DC in which Magneto rips the RFK Stadium off its base, propels it through the sky and deposits it like a protective ring around the White House being besieged by Sentinels.
This is one time when I am not lamenting that a special effects blockbuster tops the box office charts for the weekend (and which will probably remain at or near the top for a while). Its writers know that a good film involves more than spectacle, and they provide the more by raising questions about the past and the future—are they set, or can they be changed by heroic effort? Are humans (and mutants) irredeemably set in their ways, or can they be changed. Several times we hear Charles say, “We can show them a better path.” During a climactic encounter with Raven/Mystique before the White House where Dr. Trask has taken refuge with President Nixon and his staff, Charles appeals to her to stop her attempt to kill the scientist lest she bring about the success of his Sentinel program. Charles cries out to her, “Raven, please don’t do this!” She orders him, “Get out of the way, Charles!” He replies, “ This is going to make us an enemy!” “Look around you, we already are!” His final appeal to her is, “I have faith in you, Raven. I believe you are not the kind of person humanity sees you to be. I’ve been trying to control you from the beginning… everything that happens now is in your hands.”
This is still another film I’d like to see again. As I wrote earlier, I was not always certain as to what (or the why of it) was going on, but I knew that it was worth watching. It is good to see that the film does not get overly serious, with the characters producing numerous laughter-evoking comments. And how intriguing that the disgraced President Nixon plays an important role in the latter half of the film. What an incredible amount of thoughtful mythology and super heroes Stan Lee has wrought in the pages of Marvel Comics (and yes, he does make a cameo appearance again), and what an exciting and thought-provoking modern fairytale Bryan Singer has brought to the screen!*The poem “Outwitted” includes the lines: “He drew a circle that shut me out … But Love and I had the wit to win, We drew a circle that took him in …” The full review with a set of questions is in the June issue of Visual Parables.