By Matthew McKibben | May 23, 2014
Director: Bryan Singer
Writers: Simon Kinberg (screenplay), Jane Goldman (story), Simon Kinberg (story), Matthew Vaughn (story)
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan, Peter Dinklage,James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry, Nicholas Hoult, Ellen Page, Shawn Ashmore, Evan Peters
X-Men: Days of Future Past is the most expansive and epic superhero movie anyone’s attempted yet. Production wise, it combines two well-established and loved casts that each starred in their own franchises that were already busting at the seams. Thematically speaking, it’s a movie with a story that spans decades, shows us characters portrayed by two different actors at two radically different points in their lives, and then puts all of that through a brain bending time travel storytelling device. I’m happy to say that it’s one of the more impressive superhero movies you’ll ever see.
X-Men: Days of Future Past drops us right into an unspecified time in the not too distant future in which the world has been ravaged by war between human, sentinels, and mutants. Things are beyond bleak. Save for James Cameron’s Terminator movies, you’d be hard pressed to find a more apocalyptic and dark vision of the future than the one presented here. Mutants and the humans who fight alongside them are being systematically hunted down and wiped out by “sentinels,” robotic monstrosities created by Dr. Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) in the early 1970s. These sentinels are particularly deadly to mutants because they were created using Mystique’s (Jennifer Lawrence) DNA, a mutant who can change into any mutant she comes in contact with. In a nutshell: these robots adapt to whatever mutant power is being used against them and can then use that power against the mutant itself. The surviving mutants gather in a remote location and come up with the idea that they can use Kitty Pryde’s (Ellen Page) abilities to transport Wolverine’s (Hugh Jackman) present consciousness back to his younger self and attempt to stop the sentinels before they acquire Mystique’s DNA. The catch is that this all needs to be accomplished in the past before the present day mutants get wiped out by the sentinels.
Before I go any further, I should say that dissecting time travel stories is a pet hobby of mine. I love seeing which movies get it right (12 Monkeys, Looper mostly), which ones get it wrong (Terminator), and which ones fall somewhere in between (Back to the Future). I’m not entirely sure this movie gets time travel right. It’s a bit convoluted and to be completely honest, I’m going to need to see this one a few more times before I feel like I’ll have a good handle on if they nailed it or whiffed on it. That being said, the movie is so enjoyable and has so much heart, that I’m fine overlooking any continuity errors its multiple timelines produce.
This movie has every right to be a total mess and the fact that it’s only about 20% a mess is a credit to director Bryan Singer. As we’ve learned from Marc Webb’s wildly inconsistent The Amazing Spider-Man 2, the ability to direct a huge superhero movie is a skill that only a few have. Singer definitely has that skill (just ignore Supeman Returns) and is out to show you something you’ve never seen before. Singer has an eye for epic crowd pleasing action set-pieces, yet knows that this movie would be nothing without heart. He handles both with the same deft hand and the fact that you genuinely worry about these characters you’ve seen defy death for the past decade or so sets this movie apart from so many other superhero movies. No one is safe in this thing and there are parts that are heart wrenching to watch.
X-Men: First Class was very much a Magneto (Michael Fassbender, Ian McKellan) story. While there was a lot of regard given to Charles’s (James McAvoy, Patrick Stewart) backstory, that movie was very much about the transformation of Erik Lehnsherr to Magneto, the supervillain we all love to hate. This movie flips it and puts Charles at the heart of the story. The young Charles in this movie is lost. His mansion is boarded up, his friends have deserted him (or have been killed), and he’s taking a drug that helps him walk at the sake of his telepathic powers. With no real purpose in life, hearing the voices of other lost mutants is too much and he’s closed his school and let Cerebro collect dust. It’s only through his interaction with an older and wiser Wolverine, the self professed “most lost of all of Xavier’s students” that he starts to regain his sense of self and purpose. James McAvoy plays the part of lost sage and newly-energized headmaster well and his interaction with his older self is the stuff of superhero chills.
Where young Charles is given multiple shades of grey, the complexity of Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto is mostly relegated to all the scenes taking place in the distant future. The older Magneto sees the effect that all of the battles have taken on the mutants he vowed to protect and Ian McKellen brings a tired weightiness to the part that serves the movie well. The younger Magneto is probably the most villainous we’ve seen the character be since the first X-Men movie. There is a scene in X-Men: First Class in which Erik is hunting down the Nazis who tortured him as a child and refers to himself as Frankenstein’s Monster. That may have been true then, but this is a monster who has only honed his hatred and perfected his skills. He’s his own monster at this point, capable of very little compassion. Like Charles, he’s also angry and bitter. But where Charles retreats inward, Magneto chooses to take his anger out on anyone and everyone.
Many have complained that this is yet another Wolverine movie, and I can definitely see that point of view, but despite what the movie tells us, you can’t undo what is already done. This entire series was kind of set up to be Wolverine stories from the get go and Days of Future Past is probably the final act of that story arc. If you’re going to have a character who brings back an emotionally “lost” Charles, it makes sense that it’d be the once also equally lost Wolverine who does it. This is a much calmer, less rash Wolverine and Jackman, as always, nails it. Don’t get me wrong, the guy can still SNIKT! SNIKT! when push comes to shove, but it was nice to see Wolverine play the part of teacher to Charles’s student.
Mystique is a total free agent in the movie and is being sought after by everyone from Charles and Magneto to Dr. Bolivar Trask (Dinklake). I’ll confess to still not being completely sold on Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique. While Magneto is locked away in a Pentagon dungeon, Mystique is now rounding up the mutants to fight those who would do them harm. Her action scenes are some of the more fun ones of the movie, yet I still find Lawrence to be kind of all over the map when it comes to selling the emotionality of what is being asked of her. Part of it is definitely the difficulty of acting through head-to-toe body makeup, but I think part of Mystique’s charm comes by way of how she manipulates people when she’s non-blueified. Because she’s older and a little more experienced as an actress, Rebecca Romjin still remains the gold standard for Mystique. She brought more of a weight to the part that I feel is missing in this movie.
I was initially worried when I saw the godawful promotional photos and videos of Quicksilver (Evan Peters) eating Carl’s Jr. hamburgers, but make no mistake, Quicksilver 100% steals the movie while he’s in it. He’s not in the movie for very long, but his Pentagon breakout scene is the gold standard individual scene by which all other summer 2014 blockbuster scenes will be measured. It’s that good. It’s one of those laugh out loud while it’s going on, clap wildly after it’s done moments. Warner Bros. and DC with the Flash and Marvel with another variation of Quicksilver? This is your standard.
While all of the above mutants get the most screen time, the rest of the cast handle themselves well and each one has at least one great scene. Nicholas Hoult returns Beast and they do right by the character of having him be both ferocious as Beast and hyper intelligent as Hank. Returning mutants Storm (Halle Berry), Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page), Colossus (Daniel Cudmore), and Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) are mostly in the movie to serve as Sentinel bait, yet each have excellent moments. There are many newbies here, but the best among them are Blink (BingBing Fan) and Bishop (Omar Sy). These newbies overshadow some of the older mutants mentioned above and I hope that future movies show more from them.
If there’s one “mustache twirling” style villain in this movie it’s Peter Dinklage’s Bolivar Trask. I don’t know if it’s so much in the script or if it comes from Dinklage’s considerable acting talent, but he brought a wrinkle to the character that kept him from being truly vile. In lesser hands, Trask would have been one-note and easy to hate. Don’t get me wrong, you’ll hate him in this movie, but you’ll love hating him.
John Ottman returns as both the film’s editor and the film’s composer. The film’s score is pretty standard fare for a movie of this kind. I’ve read critics who were confused by the multiple, on-going timeline but that was never really an issue for me. It was edited as a movie like this should and I never felt lost in what was happening.
X-Men: Days of Future Past is probably the best made of the X-Men movies, however First Class remains my sentimental favorite of the series for the time being. That movie was largely self-contained and told a fairly straightforward X-Men tale. The end of this movie kind of sets both timelines on new, interesting paths. While there is a possibility of new adventures with that older cast, this movie serves as a perfect way to kind of retire that cast and tell new tales with the Fassbender/McAvoy leads. There is a post-credits scene that hints at a hugely popular X-Men storyline is on its way, but I hope it’s the newly refreshed Fassbender/McAvoy X-Men that take on that storyline instead of the perfectly retired McKellen/Stewart X-Men taking it back on.