X-Men: Days Of Future Past
Superhero films now dominate the blockbuster landscape. Gone are the days where big films were a mix bag of big-budget spectacles and star-driven comedies. While these still exist, sometimes it feels like those films are just padding until the next big superhero film arrives. Because of this, comic.book adaptations have become serious business. And while most of these stories have ludicrous and often-times silly pedigrees, audiences watch them as if they are part of real-life human history.
With the recent "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" having proven that superhero films can be as relevant as any political thriller, "X-Men: Days of Future Past" follows in its footsteps. This is serious business and despite being about mutants that can change form, turn things to ice, fly, bend metal, control weather, and go back in time, the latest X-Men film might as well be an allegorical history lesson.
This is the fifth film in the "X-Men" series with two Wolverine movies also in the canon, making this technically the seventh film about the beloved mutants. While it’s somewhat of a sequel to poorly received Brett Ratner directed "X-Men: The Last Stand," it is also a sequel to the PRE-quel "X-Men: First Class." Are you following me? If you are, then this film is for you. If not, well, you’ll just be going to be visually dazzled, but the finer story details will be lost on you.
Here’s what "Days of Future Past" brings to the table: It is the near future and mutants and their human supporters are being rounded up and/or killed by humanoid weapons called Sentinals created by Trask Industries. These robots are sentient and can mimic whatever superpower the mutant has, thus giving them the capacity to destroy their super-human targets. So as the film begins, many of our favorite mutants are in mid-battle, and even more are dying.
To combat this, Kitty Pride (Ellen Page) is tasked to send Wolverine’s consciousness back to 1973 in order to stop Trask industries from creating the Sentinels in the first place. By doing this, however, they will change the future for everyone involved. But it’s a price they are willing to pay, and as Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellan) watch, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is sent back and wakes up in the groovy 1970s. His job is to gather the younger versions of Professor X (aka Charles Xavier, played by James McEvoy) and Magneto (aka Erik Lehnsherr played by Michael Fassbender) to stop morphing- mutant Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from killing Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage). You see, it is the fact that she actually kills Trask that sends the government on a mission to destroy mutants and, thus, create the Sentinels. They are joined by Beast (Nicholas Hoult) and newcomer Quicksilver (Evan Peters).
This latest installment in the X-Men world does good work in creating emotional layers that give an otherwise silly premise some heft. Amidst the task at hand there are characters dealing with guilt, duty, and shame. There are nods to current societal issues, as well as strong comments on politics and the military. These are the things that make great science fiction and they are not lost here.
The cast is always good when given things to do. McEvoy and Fassbender as Professor X and Magneto have always had an interesting dynamic. Magneto is always trying to fight off his angry impulses while Professor X has to learn to control being overwhelmed by emotional pain; most notably the absence of his "sister" Raven/Mystique. Lawrence gets to do a lot of fighting in very little clothing, which must be fun for her, and Jackman looks at ease as the cigar-chomping muscleman Wolverine.
Other characters, however, fall by the wayside, which is a bit of a problem in a film that is very male-centric. Aside from Mystique, there are no female main characters. Halle Berry has about three lines of dialogue as Storm, and simply does her usual shtick of rising into the air with her arms outstretched to call up some wind or lightning. Page as Kitty Pride doesn’t do much but sit with her hands on either side of Wolverine’s head for the entire film, and the first appearance of Blink (Fan Bingbing) -- a mutant that can create teleportation portals -- gets lost amidst the action, even though she is fascinating to watch.
That is the biggest problem. There are too many mutants to contend with, and just when you see something that interests you, you know you shouldn’t bother getting attached to them because they will probably soon disappear. There is a lot to look at here and it can get a bit overwhelming unless you are an X-Men fanatic and know everything about the universe. This is not to say that the film isn’t good -- it’s quite good -- and director Bryan Singer brings his love of the subject matter to the forefront.
The film is jammed wall-to-wall with special effects, which make the film visually arresting, even when it goes a bit into overload. It can also make the film seem a bit repetitive with characters constantly slipping into government buildings where scenes seem to resemble others. There are set pieces here for sure, but it’s hard to really remember a standout except for the sequence in which Quicksilver saves Charles and Erik from being shot by guards in the Pentagon. Those few minutes alone are worth the price of admission.
For the uninitiated, this is not the X-Men film to see. It strongly relies on previous knowledge of the franchise, and is even better for those that have followed the comic books for years. This is a film by a fan for the fans. Thankfully, this reviewer re-watched all of the X-Men films prior to seeing the latest, and it was a good choice to make. Had I not, I would have been completely lost. Even so, there are some plot points that aren’t quite explained such as Charles Xavier’s miraculous return to the land of the living (he was blown apart in "The Last Stand") and some funky timeline shifting. Having Charles able to walk with the assistance of some convenient injectables seems a bit of a cheat, seeing as how Erik accidentally crippled him in "First Class." But those are minor quibbles.
In the end, "Days of Future Past" is still an entertaining addition to the franchise. It cleverly allows future installments to have a bit of a re-do with the return of many characters we didn’t think we would ever see again. For specifics on how that happens, you’ll just have to take this journey back in time.