X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014): Written by Simon Kinberg, directed by Brian Singer. Starring: Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry, Anna Paquin, Ellen Page, Peter Dinklage, Ian McKellen, and Patrick Stewart. Running Time: 131 minutes. Based on “Days of Future Past” by Chris Claremont and John Byrne.
Although I can understand why Brian Singer’s original X-Men movies are not considered truly great, even within the comics/superhero genre, I have had a soft spot in my heart for them ever since I was a kid. Why this is, I can’t specifically say, but a lot of it has to do with my fascination with the X-Men world itself, a huge, open-air playground where the basic idea of mutation allows you to put nearly any idea you can think of into practice. I also like how, although we have had a slew of comics-inspired and costumed hero movies that have inundated theaters over the past 10-15 years, Singer’s X-Men series still has a unique look and feel to it, even if has largely come in darker hues . Maybe they are not the best that the superhero genre has to offer us, but neither are they checklist rip-offs of other, better films.
Because of my longstanding affection for this franchise, Days of Future Past was, despite more than a few story hiccups, an excellent summer nostalgia vehicle, successfully functioning as this franchise’s version of Star Trek: Generations. We start off with the survivors of the original cast, along with a few added characters, fighting a losing battle against the Sentinels, a massive army of AI robot warriors originally designed to hunt down and eliminate mutants. However, as the programming grew, the Sentinels developed the ability to sense not only mutants, but also those with the genetic potential to either become one OR to eventually have descendants with mutative ability, meaning that their target list expanded to also include, well, most of humanity. It’s your standard, all-is-lost, nightmare, dystopian future, but it’s made bearable by the presence of Ian McKellen as Eric, or “Magneto,” and Patrick Stewart as Charles, aka “Professor Xavier,” whose tragic bromance is still one of the best character bits in any comic book movie yet made.
They eventually agree that the only hope lies in sending back Wolverine (Hugh Jackman, still able to sell the role that he will actually be too old to play one day, for reals) in order to convince the younger Xavier and Eric (played by the newer First Class cast) to put aside their differences to stop the younger Mystique from killing a Nixonian weapons designer, played by Peter Dinklage. Said designer was the original creator of the Sentinels, but it’s his assassination, and Mystique’s subsequent capture, that really kicks the program into high gear and results in it taking the form that allows the Sentinels to destroy the world. He is sent back via Kitty’s newfound ability (and the movie’s worst liberty with the source material) to send people back in time and hold their consciousness there, with instructions as to where he will find Charles and Eric’s younger selves.
The real problem with this being the hinge upon which the entire story turns is that the time-traveling trick is something that Kitty has never had in any of the earlier films, and an explanation as to how she suddenly has this ability is never forthcoming. From what I understand, she does have a power related to time traveling (of a sort) in the comics, but even that sounds significantly different from what we get here. There are worse twists out there, but it is all the more noticeable for being a glaring exception to Singer’s otherwise well-done effort to make this movie fit seamlessly with the first 3 films of the X-Men franchise. Thankfully, there are no other significant distractions in that department that broke up my ability to enjoy the experience of watching the movie, although one of the newer mutants brought in for a key jailbreak is criminally underused.
Like with First Class, and, well, every other movie in this series so far, the dramatic weight is carried solely by Eric, Charles, and Logan, and is, once again, both a strength and a weakness. It’s a strength in that Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, and Hugh Jackman can sell their roles like nobody’s business, and they all play off each other expertly. A brief encounter between past and future Charles (decide for yourself if it’s “real”) is spine tingling, along with a number of other references to minor characters and plot details that, in some spots, are actually very clever throwbacks to the beginning of the now decade-and-a-half old franchise.
It is a weakness, however, in that Singer’s continued fixation on those three characters, along with a few others like Rogue and Iceman, has constrained and restricted the vibrant and varied world of the X-Men to a tiny number of mostly male (and more often than not, white) cast members, something that in many respects goes against the very idea underlying the entire franchise, that of diversity and inclusivity. As with most of the other films in the series, this lack of that selfsame color and variance does not keep this film from being good, but like with the others, it does keep it from being great. In many ways, my thoughts on X-Men mirror those I had in my review last year of Star Trek: Into Darkness, in that these are both franchises trying to make films out of concepts and characters that have always and will always work best in a serial setting, be it comics, TV shows, or a miniseries. With this new entry, the X-Men world has the same number of movies backing it that The Avengers does, also a franchise only now starting to feature some real diversity in its cast.
I don’t want that critique to discourage people from seeing it, even fans of the comics- as with most of the X-Men movies, there are some great actions bits and some creative use of the character’s powers (although again, Hugh Jackman is much more underused here than in the past). Nicholas Hoult still makes a great Beast, making me wish this guy had had a bigger role in movies 1 and 2 and really hoping he sticks around for the next one. Jennifer Lawrence is…..present…..as Mystique- not bad, but lacking the brutal villainous chutzpah of Rebecca Romijn, who I know realize is one of my favorite casting choices out of all the films. I’m still hoping that we haven’t completely overestimated Jennifer Lawrence’s acting abilities, but the girl really does need to do herself a favor and find some roles that fit her style better than X-Men, Hunger Games, and anything David Russell’s crack visions can offer her.
So, in the end, I suppose I would recommend the movie for the simple experience of seeing it, especially if you long for a good visual throwback to the originals. It’s not nearly as inventive as Edge of Tomorrow, but on the other hand, it’s not the waste of money that seeing Transformers would be.