X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

May 25, 2014 in Best Of, Movie Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

xmen

X-Men: Days of Future Past, my second-most anticipated film of 2014, has done the impossible by living up to the loftiest of expectations.

I was sceptical at first when I heard that they were making this film, an ambitious attempt to combine the old X-Men franchise (X-Men, X2 and The Last Stand) with the new, younger reboot of X-Men: First Class, while also not forgetting about the two spin-off Wolverine films. It was potentially more difficult than The Avengers, as it not only features characters across different sub-franchises but also adds the wrinkle of time travel to the mix.

But I had forgotten one thing about this seventh X-Men film: Bryan Singer, the director of the original X-Men and X2, was back at the helm, and anyone who could managed to handle multi-layered complexity of The Usual Suspects should not be underestimated. And sure enough, Singer delivers, giving us arguably the best one yet.

What makes Days of Future Past so fantastic is what made it seem appealing on paper — bringing together all our favourite characters, past and present. There’s the old and young Professor X (Patrick Stewart and James McAvoy), the old and young Magneto (Ian McKellen and Michael Fassbender), a young Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), and a young Beast (Nicholas Hoult), together with the familiar faces of Storm (Halle Berry), Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page), Iceman Shawn Ashmore) and Colossus (Daniel Cudmore). The only guy who didn’t have to worry about all the ageing was of course the ageless Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), who once again takes centre stage as the face of the franchise.

The genius of the film is making all of these bits and pieces fit together, given it is virtually impossible to give everyone sufficient screen time and worthy stuff to do. The solution turned out to be quite simple, with the story writers (Simon Kinberg, Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman, with Kinberg penning the screenplay) going for what made the most sense. That is, tailor the story to focus on a handful of the franchise’s most popular characters and Hollywood’s hottest actors of the moment, and allow them to drive the time travel narrative. At the same time, the lesser characters are not forgotten either, though they are limited to key supporting roles and timely cameos. A bit of fresh blood is also injected with the introduction of a few new characters, most notably Chinese superstar Fan Bingbing as portal opening mutant Blink, to liven things up and appeal to the international market.

The result is a fairly straightforward and surprisingly unconvoluted storyline about a dystopian future ruled by unstoppable mutant-killing robots called Sentinels, who have just about wiped out all of humanity. To save the world, Professor X and Magneto come together in China and get Kitty Pryde to use her powers to send the consciousness of Wolverine — the only one whose body and mind can withstand the rigours of distant time travel — back into the body of his younger self to change the course of history. This task involves convincing mortal enemies, the young Professor X — who has become a shell of his former self and is being looked after by a young Beast — and the young Magneto — who is in a high security cell after assassinating a historical figure — to work together and stop the young shapeshifter Mystique from killing Boliva Trask (Peter Dinklage from Game of Thrones), and thereby setting off the Sentinel program.

So in one fell swoop the plot manages to combine the thespians playing the old and young Professor X and Magneto (Stewart, McAvoy, McKellen and Fassbender); make Wolverine (Jackman), the face of the X-Men and its most beloved mutant, the film’s central character; substantially elevate the status and screen time of Hollywood’s “it” girl, Lawrence, as well her rising star beau in real life, Hoult; and introduce a new human character in the shape of the award-winning and super-duper awesome Dinklage. Instead of overwhelming audiences by splitting time and subplots between a whole bunch of characters, the story is driven by these eight brilliant core actors (and six characters) — and it’s all by design.

One supporting character who nearly stole the show for me was Quicksilver (Evan Peters, seen recently in American Horror Story), the lightning speed teenage mutant whom the X-Men seek to help them bust Magneto out of prison. He’s a fabulous character, both in terms of his abilities and his demeanour, and owns the most impressive set-piece sequence in the entire film when we see what the world feels like for him when he moves at top speed. It’s great to know he’ll be back in the 2016 sequel, X-Men: Apocalypse (and make sure you stay for the post-credits scene right at the end for a sneak preview!).

So Days of Future Past is a lot of fun, even though it appears to take itself quite seriously (albeit with the occasional joke or one-liner). It’s a really clever film, not just for the way it brings the characters together through the time travel concept, but also in the way it redefines history through mutant interference, from the Cuban Missile Crisis and the JFK assassination to the Vietnam War. The action sequences and are also executed well, allowing each of the mutants to show off their powers in eye-popping fashion, but without feeling we’re just watching a bunch of special effects. It’s amazing what good actors and adept choreography can do.

The final product is an intelligent, satisfying, well-acted and thoroughly entertaining X-Men flick that is epic in scope but stays under control by limiting the focus to the franchise’s most marketable stars and characters. There are plenty of nods and winks to the earlier entries in the series and the cameos will make loyal fans very happy, but even if you are a first-timer to the franchise the plot is unconfusing enough to be easily followed. The 132-minute running time is only a tad long, and there are perhaps one or two brief lulls along the way, but on the whole there isn’t much to complain about Days of Future Past. 

4.25 stars out of 5!

PS: Interestingly, the character of Quicksilver (a different version of him) will also appear in the next Avengers movie, but he will be played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson of Kick-Ass and Godzilla fame.