REVIEW: 'X-Men: Days of Future Past'
The X-Men just don’t feel quite right unless they’re in Bryan Singer’s hands. Fourteen years ago, he set the direction and tone for the franchise, and despite an 11-year break between X2 and Days of Future Past, Singer is still the director who brings the most knowledge and care to the universe and its characters. Days of Future Past is arguably the best X-Men film to date, and it was certainly a lot more enjoyable than I expected.
The quick and dirty plot summary without giving too much away: In 2023, mutants are being exterminated by Sentinels, advanced giant robots created over 50 years ago by Bolivar Trask. To prevent the genocide from happening, Wolverine must travel back in time to 1973 to alter a key moment in mutant-human relations. As far as time travel films go, going back in time to change future events isn’t exactly new, but it’s easy to understand and it works. Throw in some memorable characters, great action sequences, a few whip-cracking one-liners and a few monologues, and you’ve got a pretty solid summer hit.
If anything, Days of Future Past feels a little formulaic (more on that later), but so few blockbuster films of late invest in character and plot development rather than explosions that Singer’s newest entry feels refreshing.
I threw up in my mouth a little when the film’s opening scenes gave me the impression that I was going to be subject to 131 minutes of CGI highlights, but thankfully Singer comes to his senses and begins to expound ideas on evolution, survival of the fittest and human sacrifice – things that made the X-Men world so different and interesting.
It was hard to write a single coherent piece without referencing the six previous films, which Days of Future Past certainly makes a note of doing. If you’re looking for the TL;DR version of things, here’s the verdict: When it comes to the X-Men, it seems like Bryan Singer can do no wrong, and while Days of Future Past isn’t perfect, what it lacks in originality or sophistication is more than made up for by its excellent cast.
There’s a scene where pre-adamantium-clawed Wolverine walks through a metal detector and the alarms don’t go off (even to his own surprise), which drew some laughs in the theatre. That joke would’ve never worked had if not been for the previous six X-Men films that established Wolverine as a walking tin man. All the principal characters are familiar faces, and Singer is really good at capturing those nuanced, knowing glances to move everything along rather quickly.
The only character that needed some introduction was Bolivar Trask, the philanthropist who seeks to unite humans against mutants, and in the hands of Peter Dinklage, the villain is just as three-dimensional as the other leads. In a film about mutants, that Trask is portrayed as a dwarf (he’s not in the comics) adds another layer to Trask. Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Jackman and James McAvoy all deliver solid performances, but the jewel is certainly still Michael Fassbender. What was originally a vehicle for Wolverine, and to a certain extent it still is, the X-Men films have truly become ensemble films.
Too many characters
Like The Last Stand and Spider-Man 3, there are simply just too many characters. It’s inevitable in the age of “bigger is always better,” but having to devote the film to two simultaneous storylines unfortunately leads to things like relegating Oscar nominee Ellen Page to sitting on a stool for two hours and making constipated faces. She’s not alone in that category, but there just isn’t enough room at the top step of the podium outside of Wolverine, Xavier, Magneto and Mystique. And even Xavier’s drug addict storyline doesn’t get to run its course; his period of withdrawal literally lasted only seconds.
It should be apparent to all audiences that the mutants in the opening scene and in Mystique’s Vietnam rescue serve merely as cannon fodder. Evan Peters’ Quicksilver was the lone addition of significance, and even though his appearance was short, his humourous scene provided a nice break from an otherwise pretty heavy-handed film. Also, cameos galore in the final scene. No wonder so much material had to be cut.
It’s really similar to X-Men and X2 (Spoiler Alert!)
Don’t fix what isn’t broken and stick with what you know. I couldn’t help but notice the large amount of similarities between Singer’s first two X-Men films and Days of Future Past. X2 was one of the strongest in the series and certainly the best received among critics upon its release, so it was probably a wise move on Singer’s part to regurgitate a few things that made the first two films so successful. Here’s a list of similarities:
- Xavier and Magneto must unite to fight a mutant-exterminating force
- Magneto asks other mutants to join the Brotherhood
- The main villain uses technology to fight mutants, as Stryker did with Cerebro and Dinklage with the Sentinels
- Wolverine keeps stabbing women in his sleep when he has nightmares of Weapon X; first it’s Rogue, now it’s Kitty
- The metal detector joke and the constant chess games
- Hugh Jackman is various degrees of naked
- The President is convinced to not commit acts of genocide against mutants
The one question I had to get off my chest is how the hell Charles Xavier is still alive in 2023, when he gets obliterated in The Last Stand. But it’s a moot point anyway, with Singer wiping the slate clean and introducing a new timeline with Days of Future Past, and it certainly makes for some interesting possibilities. Was the future averted or simply delayed?
In case you missed it, Trask’s motivation behind the Sentinel program was based off what he read from Charles Xavier’s thesis while he was at Oxford University. It’d be interesting to see how and if Xavier dooms the mutants, and not Magneto, Stryker, Trask, or even Apocalypse, who is teased in the post-credits scene.
Since the next X-Men will take place in the ‘80s, you wonder which historical events Singer will incorporate next. There are a lot of opportunities, and ones relevant to the X-Men universe may include the assassination attempt on President Reagan, the Star Wars defense plan, the Ethiopian famine, the discovery of the ozone hole, Challenger, Chernobyl and the fall of the Berlin Wall. After being impressed with Days of Future Past, I can’t wait for the next X-Men adventure, which will be released in 2016.
It was difficult to rate this film on a four-star scale, since it’s certainly above a 3 but not quite a 3.5, so I’ll just cop out and say it’s a solid 8 out of 10.
What did you think of X-Men: Days of Future Past? Was it a continuation of the great X-Men storytelling from First Class? Or did the time-travelling and surplus of characters leave you confused? Join the discussion in the comments section, and if you liked this review, share it with your friends and followers!
About the Author
Jason Chen is a Canadian writer. You can find his sports-focused work on Rotowire and Hockey’s Future. More of his articles on movies can be found here. He’s also been known to tweet (sometimes a lot).