REVIEW: X-Men: Days of Future Past [2014]

Score: 9/10 | ★ ★ ★ ½

Rating: PG-13 | Runtime: 131 minutes | Release Date: May 23rd, 2014 (USA)
Studio: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Director(s): Bryan Singer
Writer(s): Simon Kinberg / Jane Goldman, Simon Kinberg & Matthew Vaughn (story)

“Mind the glass”

If you have a storyline at your disposal capable of continuing two separate iterations of a single cinematic franchise simultaneously, you’d be a laughing stock not to take it. Credit Fox for seizing this opportunity to create something not even Marvel proper has dared to do quite yet. Would they have made the attempt had Star Trek not already used time travel in a way that didn’t completely alienate its summer blockbuster movie-going audience? I’d be interested to hear the producers’ thoughts on this because I’m not sure the answer would be yes. Safe money says they’d continue the adventures of young Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) in a way that was unencumbered by details set-up through storylines outside their X-Men: First Class introductions. Thankfully, this newest chapter proves much more aggressive.

Based on a 1981, two issue Uncanny X-Men arc written by Chris Claremont and John Byrne, X-Men: Days of Future Past allows for one of the biggest casts pound for pound of star wattage Hollywood has ever seen. It also provides screenwriter Simon Kinberg a chance to erase the bad taste his X-Men: The Last Stand script left in our mouths years ago. He, Jane Goldman, and First Class helmer Matthew Vaughn adapted the story to fit their cinematic mythology already six films deep, changing things here or there so fan favorite Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) could be front and center while also affording an opportunity to manufacture a sort of clean slate reboot to erase any incongruities that have been made along the way. The result is an ambitious behemoth that could have failed as quickly as succeeded.

That’s where original X-Men and X2 director Bryan Singer‘s return comes in. Vaughn did a bang-up job with the youthful exuberance of a newfound species of mutants coming into their own during 1962. He did the same with Kick-Ass and we’ll assume the forthcoming Kingsman: The Secret Service. Does this mean he couldn’t handle controlling their older, darker selves? No. But there’s something comforting in Singer coming back into the fold as a man who knows what these characters become. He has put their struggles onscreen twice already to fantastic box office and critical results, always treating the whole as paramount to his myriad pieces by begrudgingly removing fanboy staples such as the Danger Room and Sentinels. Now that these X-Men have been known to the public for fourteen years, however, he can finally let loose.

There’s no better setting to do so than moving forward in time from the stinger at the end of The Wolverine towards an apocalyptic vision of 2023. The giant Sentinel army has evolved into shape-shifting machines that have reached the end of their mutant genocide. They’ve taken out all but a select few hanging on to hope as the world’s governments joined forces to rid themselves of the enemy and those humans deemed probable to spawn more. It’s the final days of mankind—normal and mutant alike—with but one idea left for salvation. Charles (Patrick Stewart) and Erik (Ian McKellen)—finally reunited after so many decades fighting on opposite sides of the same war—have pinpointed the moment everything went wrong. If they can go back and stop it, all this unnecessary violence may be averted.

The instance in question concerns Mystique’s (Jennifer Lawrence) transformation to the dark side. Sick of watching her friends die during the Vietnam War only to see her country changing into a police state experimenting on mutants courtesy of Dr. Bolivar Trask’s (Peter Dinklage) plans for an army of robots still requiring military funding, she decides victory comes with his death. A decade post-First Class, neither 1973 Magneto (in prison) nor Professor X (emotionally and psychologically broken) can help steer her in another direction. Their 2023 selves know this and thusly task Logan to travel back and persuade them to wake up and accept a path of peace to prevent the chain of events that would-be assassination sets into motion. So while Sentinels advance in the future, the events of the past become our only hope for survival.

It’s a brilliantly complex concept that has been distilled down to its barest essentials for audiences to get on-board. 2023 becomes bookends for the meat of the plot, an introduction to the carnage on one end and the epilogue of either joy or sadness on the other. Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) is in full crystal mode, Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) has honed her phasing ability to shift time and space, and newcomers like Blink (Bingbing Fan) and Bishop (Omar Sy) give some impressive new effects-heavy powers to enjoy throughout their multiple encounters with their menacing, mechanical foes. No punches are pulled when dealing with the futility of this fight, ensuring our understanding of just how important Wolverine’s mission is. The future sets the stakes high and somehow the past is up to the task.

McAvoy steals the show with his emotive performance as a lost leader barely held together by the one friend who remained by his side (Nicholas Hoult‘s Beast). The entire film is a metaphor for his capacity to believe peace is possible. He doesn’t have to forgive Fassbender’s Erik as much as realize his part in securing the dream. He doesn’t even have to force Lawrence’s Raven back to his arms as long as he reminds her of the heart she possessed prior to it blackening into hate. The special effects are great, Jackman’s humor welcome, and the utilization of Evan Peters‘ Quicksilver a joyous bit of action-packed pleasure reminiscent of Nightcrawler’s stunning intro from X2. But above everything is Charles’ quest to rediscover his strength and at the very least not go down without a fight.

People may be sad their favorite mutant doesn’t get his/her due, but that allows the film to never feel overloaded. Everyone has a part to play and they do so naturally and in character. The main villain changes from Sentinel to Mystique to Magneto to Trask and back and forth again and again, never settling on one big bad to take our attention from the larger picture. X-Men isn’t about mutant on mutant or human on mutant war where a victor rises above the extinction of its adversary. No, the story’s about finding the balance to co-exist and eradicate prejudice wholesale. Singer and Kinberg rejoice in this fact and let the action play towards those grander means, keeping everyone a murky gray of possibility. After all, it’s only when we deny our enemy the opportunity to evolve that hope officially disappears.

The below paragraph contains spoilers concerning X-Men: The Last Stand:

Oh yeah, and Fox? I understand that it doesn’t matter now going forward, but I still want to learn how Professor X went from the disembodied mind of a coma patient at the end of The Last Stand to being back in his no longer disintegrated, wheelchair-bound body so he could even be alive in 2023. It doesn’t take away from the film now being my favorite superhero movie; I just want to know. Please and thanks.

[1] Young Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) meets his older self (Patrick Stewart) in the future. Photo: Alan Markfield – TM and © 2013 Marvel and Subs. TM and © 2013 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved. Not for sale or duplication.
[2] (from left): Sun Spot (Adan Canto), Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page), Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) and Colossus (Daniel Cudmore) prepare for an epic battle to save their kind. Photo: Alan Markfield – TM and © 2013 Marvel and Subs. TM and © 2013 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved. Not for sale or duplication.
[3] Dr.Trask (Peter Dinklage, seated) plots to eradicate the world of mutants. Photo: Alan Markfield – TM and © 2013 Marvel and Subs. TM and © 2013 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved. Not for sale or duplication.
[4] Logan (Hugh Jackmen), Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender), and Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) in X-Men: Days of Future Past. “Photo: Alan Markfield” – TM and © 2013 Marvel and Subs. TM and © 2013 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved. Not for sale or duplication.

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