Col. Graff here with some thoughts on Fox’s latest foray into the cinematic X-verse: X-Men: Days of Future Past. As a change of pace I’m going to try to forgo a long-winded multi-part detailed analysis of this one and see if I can manage a single post review.
To begin with, I should mention that X-Men:DOFP is probably the summer film I was most nervous about and excited about in equal measure. One way or another this film was going to either prove a new beginning for the X-Men on the silver screen or the last gasp of a franchise that may have finally been played out. The almost universally panned abomination that was X-Men: The Last Stand proved an unsatisfying (to say the least) conclusion to the trilogy and the equally terrible X-Men Origins: Wolverine seemed to be the final nail in the coffin. And yet, just when all seemed bleakest, 2011’s X-Men: First Class and last summer’s The Wolverine managed to reinvigorate the franchise in a big way. With DOFP being announced as film to combine casts from the original films as well as First Class, expectations were set pretty high.
As intriguing as the idea of a big screen adaptation of one of the definitive X-Men stories was, it wasn’t really the direction I was hoping they’d take the saga in. With so much time having passed and the cast of First Class having proven themselves, I wasn’t too keen on the idea of using that success as an excuse to bring all of the old cast back into the fold and force the actors to share their screen time. Then there was the standard apprehension of how close they would adhere to the source material. Finding out the story was being configured so that Wolverine is the one forced to travel back in time rather than Kitty Pryde immediately set alarms bells off in my head. As much as I always enjoy seeing Hugh Jackman in the role, I couldn’t help but worry that this would turn into “Days of Future Past Starring Wolverine…featuring the X-Men.”
So before we get too deep into this, let me just say that having now seen the film, all of my fears have been put to rest. Rather then just a passing of the torch, DOFP acts as a fantastic way to creatively retcon several terrible ideas (cough Last Stand) and leaving things in a wonderful position to take the entire franchise into all kinds of new creative directions. By the time the credits role we are left with an absolutely clean slate to work with and allowing a bright future for further X-Films.
Days of Future Past starts off in the bleakest of bleak futures imaginable where Mutants have been hunted down to almost extinction by the robotic sentinels we’ve been waiting to see since X-Men was released in 2000. We’re reintroduced to several familiar faces from the original trilogy including Professor X (Patrick Stewart), Magneto (Ian McKellan), Storm (Halle Berry), Iceman (Shawn Ashmore), and Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) as well as new characters like Blink, Warpath, Sunspot, and Bishop. Learning that Kitty is able to use her powers to transfer someone’s consciousness back in time to a younger version of themselves, Prof. X devises a plan to go back to the 1970’s and help avert the assassination of Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) by Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence).
Being the one responsible for the creation of the Sentinels, Mystique felt that by killing him she would stop the extinction of her kind. In a terrible irony, the murder of Trask by a mutant helped to push his program into fruition and Mystique’s DNA was used to advance the sentinels into the adaptive creations that are plaguing our heroes in the future. Since the strain of going back so far in the past would be too much for the brain to handle, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is chosen to go as his healing factor would help to constantly repair any damage along the way. Once there, it’s up to him to convince the young Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) to work together to stop Mystique.
To say more would spoil a lot of the fun of watching this rather complicated plot play out. Needless to say, what follows easily ranks in the top three X-Men movies. The acting from all concerned is top-notch. McAvoy really shines here, showing us a very different take on Charles Xavier then even the one we’d seen him play in First Class, and Fassbender continues to show just how good of an actor he is in every role he gets; making it easy to accept him as the new ongoing Magneto. The chemistry between the two of them is another highlight and really helps to hammer home the tense pseudo-friendship that these two very similar yet very different men have with each other.
As for Hugh Jackman…well he just IS Wolverine at this point. Nothing more really needs to be said. I should point out, however, the amazing amount of restraint that was used with his character. As I mentioned above, I had worried that putting Jackman in the mix would make this too much of a Wolvie-centric film, and I couldn’t have been more wrong. Although Wolverine is the focal point and the one who helps to drive the plot forward by motivating the other players, he really doesn’t actually do very much action wise to affect the events that occur here. In a lot of ways, what’s going on around him is really too big and too personal for him to simply lash out at with claws (bone or adamantium). Instead, he gets to be the voice of reason for a change and striving for young Xavier to find direction and work towards bringing the future X-Men together.
Jennifer Lawrence also gets a lot to work with this time around and a great emotional arc that is critical to the film’s climax. It would take too much time to really address everyone here, whether it be Nicholas Hoult or Ellen Page. Needless to say that pretty much everyone is given their moment to shine and in some cases give the best performance they’ve ever given in their respective roles.
The idea of introducing time travel can always be a bit tricky to any film and could easily veer off into the ridiculous if not handled well. Thankfully, the time travel aspect of DOFP is creatively and effectively done and the juggling between the two casts and time-frames works better than I would have expected. It’s especially effective during the final act of the film as things in both time-lines start to come to a head simultaneously and we begin to more frequently toggle back and forth between the two.
While the drama is highly effective, the action sequences are just as good. In particular, an opening skirmish in the future is handled fantastically. It stands a perfect example of how you can stage a complicated intricate action sequence that still be easily followed without resorting to the too common modern gimmicks of shaky cam and fast editing. That and watching Ashmore’s Iceman break out the ice slide is just sweet to finally see realized on-screen.
The other truly great action sequence involves the one character that it seems everyone (including myself) was most worried about: Quicksilver. Between the initial promo pictures and that god-awful burger commercial, fans have been up in arms about Quicksilver’s interpretation in this film for months. And I freely admit, I was ready for this to be the one aspect of DOFP that could potentially kill the whole thing. But believe me when I tell you that Quicksilver (played by American Horror Story‘s Evan Peters) is by far the best new character introduced in the film. The “costume” everyone complained about isn’t really a costume at all and actually looks much better on-screen then any of those stills could possibly convey. A lot of the effectiveness of his character comes from Peters’ performance. He makes Quicksilver both cocky and endearing
and allows him to add a nice level of humor that we need in a film that gets this serious. The realization of his power is also handled beautifully and I can already see his prison break sequence in the Pentagon becoming a fan favorite very quickly.
To sum up, X-Men: Days of Future Past is possibly the most fun I’ve had seeing an X-Men film in theaters and leaves me with a great feeling of hope for what the future holds for the franchise. As we close out a month that started off with a dud (Amazing Spider-Man 2) and continued with a halfway decent effort (Godzilla), we finally get to cap things off with a truly enjoyable summer movie.
Don’t forget to stick around after the credits for our first tease of what’s to come in X-Men: Apocalypse.