Fast, fun, and heartfelt, Days of Future Past is an across-the-board triumph for mutants (and fans) of all ages.
BY RYAN MILOWICKI
With three tentpole Marvel superhero films coming out in two months, I feared that X-Men: Days of Future Past would have a nearly impossible task in replicating the success of the Captain America and Amazing Spider-Man sequels which preceded it. My worries were quickly quelled however, once Days of Future Past started with a bang and never let up on its nearly infinite energy.
Bryan Singer’s return to the franchise he began was long overdue, and he delivers to the fullest, making this new installment one of, if not, the best entry in the X-Men canon. With an uncanny ability to mix top-notch visuals and choreography, much-needed self-aware spurts of comic relief, and moments of genuine feeling, Days Of Future Past succeeds mightily in reminding us why everyone’s favorite mutants remain an evergreen attraction.
With Earth reduced to a near-lifeless crisp by the formidable mutation-adaptable police robots called Sentinels, the surviving members of the X-Men (including some familiar faces from the original trilogy) hatch a desperate plan to send Wolverine back to 1973, the moment in time where the destructive Sentinel plan was set into motion by the US government. Upon arriving, Wolverine faces a multitude of lofty and urgent tasks, including the reconciliation of Professor Xavier and Magneto, as well as dissuading Mystique from carrying out the assassination which set everything in motion.
If this unashamed blend of the Singer films and the new First Class universe seems like a fan-fictionesque reunion tour, fret not. The time travel plot is carried out with full care and complexity, creating a somewhat dizzying conceptual premise, but one which is explained properly. Once Wolverine arrives in the 1970s, I had little trouble in tabling any scientific questions I had about the proceedings and was able to take in the spectacle on the screen.
Among the superhero films of this millennium, the X-Men movies have always had more of a social conscience than their counterparts. While the gay rights undertones which factored heavily in the original trilogy are not as present, Days of Future Past still has plenty to say about the world. Taking place right at the end of America’s involvement in Vietnam, the film tackles the weighty issues of the military-industrial complex, the role of a preemptive military, and the consequences of these actions. Even Richard Nixon plays a factor in the movie, further indicating how grounded in the real world the messages of this movie are.
Yet even with this gravitas ruling over the proceedings, X-Men, like many superhero movies before it, also knows when comic relief is necessary. Whether through Wolverine’s deadpan quips or some truly funny scenes involving the newcomer Quicksilver, Days of Future Past strikes just the right balance of taking itself seriously and laughing a little to keep the film moving at a lightning-quick pace. The back-and-forth between the “past” and “future” storylines helps immensely as well, ensuring that none of the story gets bogged down.
As the only character present in both timelines, the movie rests squarely on Wolverine’s ample shoulders. After two spin-offs featuring him, you’d think that the franchise would be ready to ease up just a little on his role in the franchise. But the truth of the matter is that Hugh Jackman is just too good at playing Wolverine that there’s no reason to stop. Jackman is equal parts machismo and sentiment, and his character does wonders in reconciling the original trilogy with the First Class characters. Wolverine has never been one for speeches, but his impassioned pleas to Xavier throughout the film granting him the courage to persevere are genuine and moving, showing a side of the character which we rarely get to see.
The rest of the star-studded cast is in peak form as well. Leading the way is Michael Fassbender, who puts in another wickedly cool performance as young Magneto, a character whose loyalties we’ve always had trouble comprehending. This new Magneto shows some moments of kindness (and even remorse) for his prior behavior, but still maintains that spark of hatred which makes his character so interesting. James McAvoy is once again a perfect counterpoint to Fassbender as the younger Xavier, a man tormented by his gift and all that he has lost. The two have a great deal of chemistry, and append well the camaraderie of Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, a true match made in cinematic heaven. Speaking of the veteran Brits, they anchor the “future” timeline with a diverse cast of old favorites and some new mutants with awesome powers. An excellent mix of dialogue and action scenes pervade the whole movie, and neither facet overstates its welcome (a rarity in blockbusters).
I’ve only scratched the surface of the cast, and the magnitude of the supporting players more than make up for the lack of a definitive villain. Game of Thrones‘ Peter Dinklage comes the closest as Bolivar Trask, the scientist eager to sell his Sentinels to the highest governmental bidder. Jennifer Lawrence’s return as Mystique is also well-performed, and it was quite interesting to see her character’s actions have the most ultimate bearing on the importance of the film’s events.
In a prodigal son moment for the franchise, Singer directs it all with a sense of subdued grandeur that knows when to be a action-filled visual bonanza and when to capture the human drama lurking right below the surface. The result is a taut thrill ride which easily will go down as the most memorable installments outside of Disney’s Marvel cinematic universe. 20th Century Fox needed this movie to be a big hit, and that’s definitely what they have on the hands. An excellent spectacle of top-notch CGI and whoop-inspiring choreography brought out my inner adolescent, and Days of Future Past contains more than enough explosions and destruction for those hoping for a followup to last weekend’s chaos in Godzilla. As a sidenote, I think that Bryan Singer might have something against the sport of baseball, because this is now his second consecutive superhero film (after Superman Returns) to feature terror involving a stadium, with old RFK Stadium as the victim this time around.
I was on the edge of the seat with my jaw clenched for the final 30 minutes, and thrills are in abundance for the entirety of the quicker-than-you-might-think 131 minutes. After the necessary exposition and somewhat convoluted explanation of the rule of time travel in the X-Men universe are laid out, buckle up and prepare for a spectacular ride with the mutants. There are several self-referential winks throughout and a few moments that challenge the paradigms that shift from the previous movies, but they all work themselves out in the end to keep the movie (the X-Men’s 7th film if you’re counting at home) surprisingly fresh. With so much hype and expectations after First Class turned out so great, it sure seemed like Days of Future Past was bound to be a disappointment on some level. Far from it though, as Singer’s return, an almost criminally deep cast, and all the big-budget action delights we’ve come to expect from summer blockbusters make it the best superhero movie of 2014.
RYAN’s RATING: 3.5 Stars out of 4