Movie Review – X-Men: Days Of Future Past
Principal Cast : Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Patrick Stewart, Michael Fassbender, Ian McKellan, Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry, Nicholas Hoult, Kelsey Grammer, Anna Paquin, Ellen Page, Peter Dinklage, Shawn Ashmore, Omar Sy, Daniel Cudmore, Evan Peters, Fan Bingbing, Adan Canto, Booboo Stewart, Josh Helman, Famke Janssen, James Marsden, Lucas Till, Michael Lerner, Mark Camacho.
Synopsis: In the future, Wolverine is sent back to 1973 to prevent an assassination which brings about a war between Mutants and humans.
My mutant power would be sex appeal.
Expectation often breeds disappointment, especially with films. Just take The Matrix Reloaded for example. Or The Phantom Menace. Monumentally successful films off the back of enormous public expectation, both films were met with critical “meh” not long after release. That’s the trouble with an audience’s expectation – there’s almost no way a director can accomplish all that might be expected of them to satisfy enough people to be considered a “success”. Days Of Future Past had a whiff of that expectation about it – Bryan Singer, the man who guided Fox’s X-Men franchise through its first two films (and set the template), had decided to return and turn one of the comic’s most famous storylines into a movie, combining both original X-Men cast and recent First Class characters into a single, enormous, blowout. Like the prodigal son, Singer’s return was met with fervent expectation from fans of the franchise, which only rose once they figured out which story he’d be turning into a film, leaving many to question whether the film’s $200m budget was folly or favour. Easily the most expensive X-Men film to-date, would Days Of Future Past deliver the story and entertainment needed? Or would Singer’s spotty track record (*ahem Superman Returns*) come back to haunt the franchise only just re-set from the crappiness of Wolverine’s Origins film?
In the future, humans and mutants are engaged in a war that has ravaged the planet. A last group of X-Men, led by Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart), Magneto (Ian McKellan), and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) are holed up in a secret location. They are hiding from powerful mutant-killer robots known as Sentinels, designed by Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) back in the 70’s, as a way of safeguarding the human’s way of life. Recognizing the need to change history, Xavier and Magneto concoct a plan to use Kitty Pride (Ellen Page) and her time travel ability to send Wolverine back to 1973 and prevent a renegade Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from assassinating Trask, thus convicting the humans into the war against mutants. Wolverine arrives back in 1973 to change the future, but has to engage the services of a young Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), addicted to a drug designed to return his ability to walk at the expense of losing his telekinetic abilities, as well as Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult) and Eric Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender), and new recruit in speedster Peter Maximoff (Evan Peters). As Mystique threatens to carry through with her plan to assassinate Trask, and set the human/mutant war in motion, Lehnsherr’s own plans come to bear externally from Charles’ and even further unbalance the chances of success in stopping global annihilation.
Boasting a cast most producers would only have dreams about, X-Men: Days Of Future Past finally brings together both X teams in the one film. The stars of the original trio of films, plus the newbies from First Class, all get a run at the screen in this massive, time-twisting blowout. Is it a raging success? Yes, it sure is. Is it a terrific film that will stand the test of time? Probably. Does it have problems? Most definitely.
Anyone who tells you they didn’t like this film simply does not have good taste in movies. Days Of Future Past is exciting, engaging and exhilarating, an adventure, a drama and a science-fiction epic all rolled into one massive super-film. In short, Future Past is a blast. What’s most impressive is just how organic and flowing everything is. For a film with so much to accomplish, with so many people on the cast roster all vying for screen-time and development, there’s a sense that some of the characters were short-changed at the end result (Anna Paquin comes in for some egregious editing work, definitely) but in terms of setting the franchise in the right direction, allowing for the vast role-call of characters to cover, and maintaining an emotional weight for the audience, the film weaves a magic spell. It’s not faultless: Simon Kinberg’s script focuses on Eric, Charles, Wolverine and Mystique almost exclusively in terms of development, leaving many of the bit-parts to suffer from inadequate depth, while the narrative arc of Xavier’s disability, and its effect on his personality, feels rougher than it should, almost unrefined. Generally, though, you get the sense of love for the characters with every pause, beat and crunch of bone throughout.
Singer’s ability to craft coherence from the mind-boggling is top-shelf here – the opening sequence involving a bunch of mutants, one of whom can open portals to another part of space, is reminiscent of his work in the opening Nightcrawler attack on the White House from X2 for its complexity and dexterity. Weaving the film’s science-y logic and time-bending demands together is hard enough for most films to do passably, let alone well, and yet Singer seems to have a handle on keeping it (relatively) simple for the audience. Wolverine’s actions in 1973 will affect the future, so the tension in him finding success is kept at the forefront of the early part of the film. As Lehnsherr’s plans begin to appear during the climactic finale, where Singer cuts between the “past” of 1973 and the “future” Sentinel attack on the X-Men, the focus becomes more about Eric and Mystique’s relationship with Xavier (it’s a dynamic that was barely thought of in the original three X films, only springing up in First Class, but it adds emotional weight to the core group of characters this franchise is set on) than Logan’s changing the future. That’s not to say things become unbalanced in terms of structure or tone, but you can sense the shift in focus moreso there than in any of the previous films. The whole thing could have been one confusing clusterf@ck of time travel conundrums, but the film thankfully avoids any Back To The Future style narrative shark-jumping and maintains an even keel throughout.
The cast are particularly good, from the leads in McAvoy, Jackman, Lawrence and Fassbender, through to the more minor roles of Evan Peters’ Maximoff (Quicksilver) and Peter Dinklage’s Bolivar Trask. I honestly expected Dinklage to have a larger role (if you’ll pardon the pun!) in this, as the film’s main villain, but as a character I found Trask to be ineffectual as an influence on the events as they transpire. He’s a catalyst, and a focus for the conflict, but in the end his part in the film remains minimal in terms of overall impact, which was surprising considering for a large portion of it even Eric Lehnsherr remains a “good guy”. McAvoy and Fassbender have a nice spark, held over from First Class, while Jackman’s typically confrontational Wolverine brings some spice to the mix as he recalibrates for the 1970’s. The answer fans have been looking for as to the transition from his bone claws to his adamantium ones is touched on here, in some nice moments of light-hearted humour. Jennifer Lawrence’s role of Mystique/Raven is amped up from previous films – hell, she even outdoes Rebecca Romijn’s performance in the same role from the early movies – and becomes the pivot on which most of the plot hangs. Lawrence’s soulful, mournful, almost anguished hard-headedness to do what she must is (finally) given weight by Singer here; I previously had no real affinity for Mystique’s plight, in that her til-now incarnations were merely as a henchman of Magneto’s, but here she’s a defined character in her own right.
The film tips the hat to previous characters as well, with numerous cameos and bit-parts to recurring and new characters scattered at both ends of the movie. Ellen Page has nothing to do as Kitty Pryde (what a waste of a talented actress!), other than be the method by which Wolverine is returned to the past, while Shawn Ashmore, Omar Sy, Daniel Cudmore and Fan Bingbing bring very little to their roles other than as fodder for the Sentinel army approaching in the future. Nicholas Hoult, as the young Hank (Beast!) is good, but vastly underutilized, and I felt it was criminal that there was almost zero mention to his previous relationship with Mystique other than a last-scene glance between the characters as they parted. Hoult is a far better actor than the material here would suggest, so one hopes his role in the next film to be either larger, or more front-centric, since he scores a fair amount of screen-time (but little development) here. Cameos to Famke Janssen, as Jean Grey, and James Marsden, as Cyclops, as well as Halle Berry’s “paycheck” appearance as Storm, bring a sense of closure to the “old” X-men films.
Though not without faults, and some grievous reluctance to widen the scope to characters other than Wolverine, Xavier and Lehnsherr, Days Of Future Past is a terrific piece of comic-book entertainment that delivers big-budget effects and ideas, some neat and tidy action sequences, and a real sense of overall cohesion for a franchise until now reasonably segmented. If nothing else, it sets up the world building Fox envisaged in light of Marvel’s own cinematic universe’s success, and if the after-credits tag is anything to go by, we’re in for a treat come Apocalypse. Days Of Future Past is fun, energetic and enthralling: everything an X-Men film should be.
2 thoughts on “Movie Review – X-Men: Days Of Future Past”
Nice review. Good movie all around. I can't disagree with your complaints. But "Back to the Future shark-jumping"?!?!?! Back to the Future is a brilliant film series. Maybe I can't be objective about it, I love it.
BTTF is a brilliant series – I was referring to Zemeckis' contortionist approach to the narrative, and how some in the audiences may be somewhat confused – I had to explain BTTF2 to my father for about an hour after he saw it, because he didn't get it. That said, the same brilliance and attention to detail can't be said of DOFP's narrative, which is rather juvenile by comparison (I thought), although it's still quite good in its own right.