Fourteen years ago Bryan Singer’s X-Men hit the big screen and played a major role in re-shaping the perception of comic book movies. Stripped of campy themes, the film based on the team of iconic Marvel mutants was dead serious in tone and played upon deeper themes of intolerance towards the freaks of nature “cursed” with inhuman abilities, rather than celebrating their amazing gifts.
The X-Men franchise has been going strong since that first installment, making Hugh Jackman an international superstar as Wolverine and spawned a lucrative franchise of subsequent films. Singer’s first sequel, X2: X-Men United still stands as the high point of the series, and ranks as one of the best comic book movies ever made. It wasn’t until the series took a step back and rebooted itself in 2011 with a new cast in the ‘60s set prequel X-Men: First Class that fans and critics felt things were back on track following the fan and critically panned X-Men: The Last Stand and the unexpected disappointment that was X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
So what’s great about DOFP? Well actually, quite a bit. There is far more to absolutely applaud than to nerd nitpick. Despite in theory all being tied together, the series has been caught in a storm of messy continuity gaffes and inconsistent tones since Singer departed after X2. Fret not this film will not disappoint fans by any means.
Based on the seminal ’80s comic book storyline of the same name by Chris Claremont and John Byrne, X-Men: Days of Future Past makes many necessary changes to adjust for its big screen adaptation, and with a masterful checkmate move that will thrill eager fans, brings and balances both casts together in a mind-bending time travel scenario that threatens the fate of humanity and Mutants alike. With Singer back in the director’s chair and an excellent screenplay by Simon Kinberg, the series unquestionably hits a new high point, rights a lot of wrongs, and sets the stage to move forward on a satisfying clean creative path.
Opening in 2023 New York City, we find a dystopian Earth where man and mutant are hunted by deadly shape shifting robotic assassins called the Sentinels. Created by Bolivar Trask in ‘70s, the Sentinels were designed to end the growing panic from the Mutant threat. Eventually evolved to eliminating mankind as well. We join the some of the elder X-Men in Moscow and Budapest as they fight to barely survive, and looking towards inevitable defeat. Professor X (Patrick Stewart), Magneto (Ian McKellen), Storm (Halle Berry), Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page), Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) and Collossus (Daniel Cudmore) find themselves in need to execute a last ditch do-or-die mission, sending someone’s mind into their younger self in the past to prevent the Sentinels’ inception.
Wolverine’s mutant healing abilities make him the only one whose mind can survive the trauma of a time leap decades in length. Once Kitty gets her hands on him and uses her phasing powers, Wolverine finds himself in 1973 and soon enough off to join forces with the younger Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult) to stop Bolivar Trask. Xavier, having been rendered paralyzed by a bullet courtesy of Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) at the end of X-Men: First Class, is a bitter man, addicted to the drugs that allow him the use of his legs, but prohibit his telepathic powers and far from the Xavier Wolverine has grown to know in the future. The future Magneto must be freed from a underground prison far beneath the Pentagon (after being convicted of the Kennedy assassination and all) and join them in preventing Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from killing Trask and inadvertently enabling the dark course of the Sentinels rise in the future come to pass.
When you incorporate time travel into the picture, there’s an inherent, as Sheldon Cooper would put it, “anything can happen Thursday” element involved. It can give storytellers an easy time writing off deep continuity and logistical inconsistencies. Time travel theories in film can be simple in concept (Back to the Future), far more complicated (Looper) or view timelines ultimately as unchangeable (Twelve Monkeys). DOFP firmly picks its course and runs with it as it relates to the parallel timelines of the younger and older versions of the X-Men characters we have become acquainted with over the course of the series.
Fans know that Wolverine is ageless, so it’s possible for Hugh Jackman to pull off playing the only logical link between the timelines (in the comics, it was Kitty Pryde who was sent into the past). The X-Men movies have racked up so many continuity gaffes over the years, the opportunity to pursue a “fix-the-future” time travel scenario allows Singer to re-write many missteps fans have been up in arms about over the years (with the events of 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand being as the main offender).
Days of Future Past’s action is predominantly set in the ‘70s, and serves more as a direct sequel to First Class than another full-out adventure for the elder cast. Stewart, McKellen and company’s scenes are mainly reactionary to the consequences of past events, with Wolverine providing the perfect bridge between eras. The film allows the newer cast members like McAvoy and Fassbender to add a lot more layers to their iconic characters while having the rare opportunity to share silver screen time with their predecessors.
Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, his seventh time in the role, still manages to be a charismatic killer when need be, but overall he’s relatively the most tame we’ve ever seen him. Years of fighting the Sentinels for survival alongside Xavier and Magneto have finally taught Logan the value of true friendship, trust and teamwork. All necessary when fighting a battle he cannot win on his own. Jackman is the marquee star of the series, but that’s not to say that the younger cast has their moments to shine.
McAvoy’s Xavier is literally a broken man on many levels, and is only brought to follow his rightful calling to become Professor X by the direct intervention of his older self. Jennifer Lawrence brings passioned determination to her shape shifting Mystique, who comes much closer to the cold blooded deadly assassin with ninja-esque moves we know from Rebecca’s Romijn’s version in the future timeline. Also brought to the forefront once again is Magneto. Wolverine may get all the press, but through both the Sir Ian McKellen and Michael Fassbender’s portrayals, Erik Lehnsherr is by far the most complicated and layered of all the characters in the series. Magneto proves he is the most diabolical and deadly of the lot, and rightfully slaps homo sapiens with a reason to always fear mutants. The third act finale is nothing less than spectacular and it’s at that point Magneto simply owns this film via a terrifying display of power and the lengths he’ll go to in the name of self preservation of his brethren.
First Class by design serves as a better entry point for those new to X-Men, but moving along the set course, DOFP is a great continuation, if not fitting, conclusion to some of the series’ long running story arcs. Even at over two hours, with no shortage of dialogue heavy scenes, even to a fan like me it has a surprisingly brisk pace. I easily could have enjoyed it even at a longer length. Though a ten minute rescue scene in the future featuring Anna Paquin’s Rogue was cut for time and pacing, I will have to agree after seeing the film it would have been absolute fan service to keep in for the sake of providing extra screen time for the older cast.
We get the finally get to see Colossus, Iceman and Magneto in scenes using all their mutant powers the way we’ve wanted to see them. I also need to make mention of Evan Peters’ Quicksilver. The character was immediately attacked by fans strictly on the basis of his appearance from online press images. Turns out he’s one of the best characters to see on screen and probably provides one of the most memorable scenes in the film when he really gets to show off the extent super speed powers. Quicksilver’s extended cameo provides the most overt fun in what is overall a very dark film. Hopefully he will not suffer the same fate that Nightcrawler did after X2, and never make a return appearance on the team. And to fans in the know that Aaron Taylor-Johnson is set to appear as Quicksilver in the upcoming Avengers sequel, all I can say is: Your move Mr. Whedon. The Quicksilver bar has been set very high.
The FX are top notch, notably in the way Quicksilver’s speed is achieved on screen and new mutant Blink’s powers to create teleportation portals. The all CGI robotic Sentinels in both timelines are formidable foes. The dark aesthetic of the future arc makes for a stark contrast of the unmistakable retro design of the ’70s timeline’s loud shirts, leisure suits, thick mustaches and healthy sideburns. It’s fun to see Logan re-adjust to the period (though technically what does he remember about it after his bullet to the head mind wipe in X-Men Origins: Wolverine?).
DOFP uses the complicated Xavier/Lehnsherr/Raven triangle to anchor its human element, while surrounding it with clever historical nods, thick time travel concepts, and some jaw dropping action sequences. Plus to watch the decades-spanning changing tides relationship of old and young Magneto and Professor X played out through McAvoy, Stewart, McKellen and Fassbender in one film is simply both extraordinary and nerd cry worthy. Peter Dinklage brings along the incredible weight to whatever he does on screen, and effortlessly makes Bolivar Trask a worthy and not totally an unrelatable villain.
Not all theX-Men films have been great, but make no mistake, this thrilling entry lets you leave the theater with an epic feeling of full circle closure. X-Men: Days of Future Past is hands down a phenomenal entry in the series and one of the must see summer films of 2014. The task alone in successfully balancing this impressive enormous cast across timelines as it seamlessly as it does is alone a huge victory. I have no qualms calling it a love letter to the hardcore fans, but by going that course it ups the ante by building a layered character driven story with almost 14 years of big screen history to use to its advantage. Bryan Singer brings back the heavy heart, troubled soul and sense of paranoia that has been missing from the series in his absence and thankfully (re)sets the course back as if he had never left. X-Men: Apocalypse is already on deck for 2016, so it may be in your best interest to stick around until the end of the credits.
**Including the both the 2nd and 3rd trailers below, as they offer very different looks at the film…
X-Men: Days of Future Past opens in theaters and IMAX 3D on May 23rd.
REVIEW RATING: ★★★★★
Director: Bryan Singer
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Jennifer Lawrence, Patrick Stewart, Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, Ian McKellen
Screenwriter: Simon Kinberg
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Running Time: 134 minutes