X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST: Nostalgic for a better tomorrow

Magneto in X-men: Days of Future PastPast Imperfect
Bryan Singer was 16 years old when a two-part story titled "Days of Future Past" appeared in the pages of The Uncanny X-Men #141-142, in 1981.  It was a perfect age to be riveted by the story of a machine-dominated dystopia set in near future of the year 2013 and the last ditch gambit to prevent its arrival. A fairly popular trope in science-fiction, the use of time-travel to prevent a terrible future would truly enter pop culture in the form of THE TERMINATOR in 1984. In the intervening years, both franchises have spawned a handful of big-budget movies, some of which would rightly be considered embarrassments.

In 2000, the movie adaptation of the comic series X-MEN heralded the arrival of successful super-hero movies. As story writer and director, Singer borrowed liberally from a variety of X-men story-lines, "Days of Future Past" among them. The result was an unprecedented success and spawned the sequel popularly known as X2 (2003). Popular for a number of reasons, fans of Martial Art media were particularly taken with the casting of wushu champion Ray Park as X-Villain Toad in the first movie and Kelly Hu of THE SCORPION KING and MARTIAL LAW in the sequel. X-MEN: THE LAST STAND would arrive in 2006 to apocalyptic effect. It tainted the franchise so significantly that it nearly killed the presumably un-kill-able WOLVERINE spin-off, which took two tries to get right (2009 AND 2013), and required a re-boot in the form of X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (2011).

Today X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST may be the biggest budget comicbook adaptation to hit theaters yet, and is expected to earn $125 million in the U.S. this weekend. That will be enough to feel even the king of monsters itself GODZILLA which earned an impressive $93.2 million in the U.S. and topped off just over $103 million with overseas revenue. With overseas markets as clearly in mind as the redemption of a once-loved franchise, the X-Men have added a not-so-secret weapon to their ranks - the cult favorite character Blink as played by Chinese megastar Fan Bingbing.

China Today
In 1981 Fan Bingbing was born in Qingdao, Shandong Province, China. By the time she was 16 the X-Men comic franchise has clearly moved past their creative peak, indulging instead in a series of poorly conceived publishing gimmicks and spin-offs. In stark contrast, Fan Bingbing was about to skyrocket to success with her roles in Chinese television series Princess Pearl. Her star would continue to rise through the turn of the millennium, shining upon television, music, cinema and fashion. As a face of L’Oréal Paris and the star of dozens of Chinese films. Forbes ranked Fan #1 on their 2014 Forbes China Celebrity List, up from third on the 2012 Forbes China Celebrity 100 List, up from 9 the previous year. Jackie Chan himself continues to reside in the top 10 since 2010 when Forbes expanded their listings to include celebrities that hail from Hong Kong and Taiwan in addition to the mainland. 

Though China is currently the second-largest market for film after America, analysts predict it will be the number one market for movies by year 2020. There continues in China a great interest in American movies.  In 2012, CLOUD ATLAS was a much greater success in China than it was in the U.S.  The same was true for THE LIFE OF PI. With that in mind it would make sense for Hollywood to do away with its unfortunate habit of only casting Chinese actresses as exotic eye candy, martial arts avengers, or Japanese geishas. Even Maggie Cheung, famous for her roles in Kung Fu movies ranging from HERO (2002) to classics like THE HEROIC TRIO (1993) and SUPERCOP (1992), continues to be relegated to the art-house theaters despite winning Best Actress awards for English-language roles.

It seems Fan Bingbing's actual mutant power is ability to ignore such matter and be cast such movies as X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST and IRON MAN 3 (2013) regardless of a very limited English vocabulary. There were even specific scenes added to the Chinese release of IRONMAN 3 featuring Fan and shot exclusively for Chinese audiences. As Blink, she utters little more than three words.  But director Singer has said in interviews that Fan is an extremely hard worker, adapting quickly to the physical demands of playing a mutant. Hers is not the most physical role in X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST but she and her stunt double Tammy Nera (fresh from work on ROBOCOP (2014) and PACIFIC RIM (2013)) add diversity to a cast filled with a lot of emotional white men and excellent CGI effects.

The Future of Fight Scenes
Serving as a sequel to every X-Men and Wolverine movie made to date (and an apology for a couple of them) Bryan Singer deftly wields the elements which make the X-Men unique within the super-hero genre; a combination of action, philosophy, pathos and powers. Spliced with the sort of self-aware humor last seen in KICK-ASS 2 and THOR: THE DARK WORLD it works effectively to offset images of mass graves, internment camps, death and dismemberment.

Set in the not too distant 2023, this dark X-Men future finds the sweet spot somewhere between THE TERMINATOR series and THE MATRIX trilogy. At their best as beleaguered underdogs, this collection of new and familiar mutants fight desperately against the super adaptable Sentinel robots.  Their only advantage is team work. Certainly there are some enviable powers on display but their foes are merciless. The results include lovingly rendered CGI decapitations to rival 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE.

Fight coordinator and stunt double to Hugh Jackman, Daniel Stevens has been in his share of super powers fight scenes. Trained in Hapkido, Kick Boxing, and Tae Kwon Do he began his career as a stuntman in Australia in 1998, before coming to the USA in 2006. His work includes stunts in IRON MAN (2008) and THE EXPENDABLES (2010) as well as in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (2012). He was a stunt double in the MMA cage during the filming of WARRIOR (2011) and remains the go-to stunt double for Hugh Jackman's Wolverine.

Within the cast is another martial artist. Booboo Stewart, who plays WARPATH, is a black belt like his father and is an alumnus of Disney XD's karate themed comedy KICKIN' IT. While most famous for his roles in the TWILIGHT franchise, he only has a couple of opportunities to make use of his pair of hunting butterfly knives. The one character who can be said to kick copious amounts of ass turns out to be Mystique.

Jennifer Lawrence as the shape-shifting Mystique.

Played for a second time by the talented Jennifer Lawrence, the character is obvious a favorite of Bryan Singer's. The fate of the world is made personal through the strained love triangle of a young Charles Xavier, Magneto and Mystique all while she jumps, kicks, chokes and flips her way through a post-Vietnam 70's, feats made fluid and formidable by perennial Lawrence stunt double and gymnastics champion Renae Moneymaker.

A native to northern California, Renae Moneymaker's gymnastics scholarship to San Jose State University afforded her many opportunities to travel the country competing. Soon after, she was following in the footsteps of her sister Heidi Moneymaker, stunt double for Scarlett Johansson in THE AVENGER (2012). As members of the 87 Eleven stunt team, they participated in stunts for movies like NINJA ASSASSIN (2009), TROY (2004), THE HUNGER GAMES (2012) and THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE (2013). In X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST, this team of martial artists and gymnasts craft a character that is supremely dangerous and delightful to behold in motion. If only she kicked more butts and/or necks.

L-R: Patrick Stewart as Professor X and Director Bryan Singer.

The 90's in the 80's
There are almost enough period super-hero movies to warrant a sub-genre of their own, something like Retro-Futuristic-Sci-Fi-Super-Heroes. X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST succeeds as the best of them. It uses a story written in the dire 80's about an even more dire 21st century to look at present day concerns (GMOs and drone warfare) while agreeing with filmmakers and movie-goers who are now admitting that the 70's weren't so bad. With his quest to redeem mutant-kind fulfilled, Bryan Singer is now poised to lead us into the abyss of the 90's era X-men comics. His following X-Men movie will be set in an apocalyptic 80's. Make sure to stay past the end credits for that glimpse of what's to come and the answer to a mystery as conspiracy friendly as "Who shot JFK?”

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About Patrick Lugo :
Find us on facebook Patrick Lugo has been Senior Designer at Kung Fu Tai Chi Magazine, since the 90's, and has done design work for martial art books as well as illustrations. Most notably, he illustrated the award winning Little Monk & the Mantis. More artwork and comics can be found at PLUGOarts.com or at select art galleries in the San Francisco Bay area.

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