X-Men: Days of Future Past Review
Reviewed by Phil Boothman.
It’s been a rocky road for the X-Men film franchise recently: after scoring two strikes with the double-whammy of terrible that was X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, they clawed their way back with X-Men: First Class and the (in my opinion) slightly shaky The Wolverine. Now, with a movie that brings two huge and talented casts together, the real question is can they continue their winning streak?
The answer, in my personal opinion, is a resounding, earth-shattering YES.
For those of you who aren’t aware, Days of Future Past is loosely based on the seminal comic book event of the same name, in which Kitty ‘Shadowcat’ Pryde’s consciousness is sent back in time from a dark, apocalyptic future in which mutants are hunted by robot killing machines called Sentinels, in order to stop the assassination of one Senator Kelly by Mystique’s breakaway sect of evil mutants. While the basic story beats are similar in the film, it is Fox Studios darling Wolverine whose consciousness is sent back, and Sentinel designer Bolivar Trask is Mystique’s target: this is an approach which may irritate some die-hard comic book fans, but realistically it is a good way to streamline the story in an attempt to make it accessible for the casual audience. Whether or not it succeeds in this is a different question, and one I can’t really speak to, but for me it worked effectively to cut down on further in-universe complications.
So the film is divided, rather unequally but for good reason, between two timelines: the first is the dark future containing a number of X-Men from the previous films including Bobby ‘Iceman’ Drake, Kitty Pryde, Peter ‘Colossus’ Rasputin, Storm and of course Professor Xavier and Magneto, along with some newcomers in the shape of Warpath, Blink, Bishop and Sunspot. The bulk of this timeline involves Kitty sending Wolverine’s consciousness back in time, and the rest of the team defending them from the creepy, alien-like future Sentinels which are able to adapt to any mutant abilities and pretty much kill everything, so we get some pretty impressive displays of power from the newcomers in particular: the most impressive of which is Fan Bingbing’s Blink, a teleporter who basically acts as a human Portal Gun and uses her abilities in some very interesting, and visually awesome ways.
The second, and more prominently featured timeline is that of the First Class cast, with James McAvoy’s Charles Xavier and Michael Fassbender’s Erik Lensherr, guided by Wolverine and ably supported by a varied cast of new and old mutants, as they try to stop Mystique from killing Peter Dinklage’s Bolivar Trask and kick-starting the dark future Wolverine and his team have been experiencing. Highlights in this timeline include Evan Peters’ Peter ‘Quicksilver’ Maximoff, an attention-deficit speedster who assists them in breaking Magneto out of his plastic prison, and steals every scene he is in: of particular note is an extended slow-motion fight sequence in which he takes out an entire room full of armed guards with just a few slight movements made in a matter of seconds. It goes to show that reserving judgment on a character is important, as this incarnation of Quicksilver was much-derided in the pre-release publicity.
However, the focus in the past timeline is on the trio of Charles, Erik and Wolverine, and while it would be refreshing to see some new characters take the spotlight, it is once again an act of streamlining, providing the audience with some familiar footing in an ever-changing cinematic landscape. Fortunately the performances of all three are fantastic, particularly McAvoy as a broken, cynical Xavier unlike any incarnation of the character we’ve seen on-screen: and yes, there is a sort-of valid reason why he’s walking in a lot of the promotional material. The chemistry between McAvoy and Fassbender is once again wonderful, even though the relationship between the two characters is drastically changed since the last film: the divide between them is shown in a fairly balanced way, with clear anger on both sides and clear reasoning for the reprehensible acts Magneto has carried out between First Class and Days of Future Past.
Of course it would be remiss of me to neglect mentioning Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique, here providing an interesting midpoint between her bold yet somewhat naïve younger self featured in First Class and the physically and morally flexible creature we saw in Bryan Singer’s films. She is more confident and infinitely more vengeful against the human race, and yet her increasingly-complex relationship with Charles provides her emotional weight and stops her from simply being a ‘villain’.
There was a risk in combining the casts of Bryan Singer’s original franchise and Matthew Vaughn’s semi-prequel/semi-reboot First Class together that one cast would be diluted as focus falls on the other, and while the concentration is on the First Class characters, it makes sense in context to keep the future timeline less prominent. Any more action in the future, and the film could have become very muddled and confusing very quickly, but as it is the plot hangs together extremely well for something that remains relatively complex.
That’s not to say that it is perfect: at some stages the film struggles from the lack of a defined ‘villain’ to fight against, and while Dinklage demands attention as Trask, his motivations never seem deep enough to warrant wiping out an entire race of people. But these are minor quibbles against a film which not only masterfully offers a conclusion to Bryan Singer’s original trilogy, but also creates an ever-more complex world for our past X-Men to exist in.
A staggering return to form for the X-Men franchise after a few wobbly years, Days of Future Past should cement the team’s place as not only relevant, but also actively important members of the ever-increasing cinematic superhero canon.
And as ever, stay until after the credits for a pretty hefty tease towards 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse.