“You and I have a lot of catching up to do. What’s the last thing you remember?”
In 2006 director Bryan Singer appeared to have turned his back on the film franchise he had brought to life. After two successful runs at the X-Men universe Singer was primed and ready for a third when a certain Man Of Steel caught his eye. At seemingly, the last minute Singer dropped out of the third X-Men film to direct the dubious return of Superman. I actually like Superman Returns better than most. I wonder how much of the film’s hatred might have been directed at its director, considered a traitor by many fans. I never really looked at it quite that way. It’s a business, after all, and people come and go. Still, I’m not sure that Singer didn’t feel a need for redemption or at least that he might have had some unfinished business. X-Men: Days Of Future Past should wash away any hard feelings fans might still harbor. This is one heck of an apology!
“Mutants, we now find ourselves on the edge of extinction. So many battles waged over the years… and yet, none like this. Are we destined to destroy each other, or can we change each other and unite? Is the future truly set?”
It’s sometime in the future and things are looking bleak. Think of Terminator on Judgment Day. Cybernetic inventions called Sentinels are roaming the globe. Their original task was to seek out and destroy mutants. Now they have evolved their own program. They seek out and destroy not only mutants but any human destined, in some way to have mutant children, grandchildren… That pretty much ends up meaning everyone, and the world stands in ruins. A few mutants remain, fighting off the advanced robots, but they are losing the war. It’s only a matter of time before everything … and everyone … is gone. Kitty Pryde (Page) has been fighting them by sending mutants back in time a few days into their past minds to warn a population that they’re coming. It’s a stopgap measure at best. Professor Xavier (Stewart) has the idea to send someone back 50 years to nip this whole thing in the bud. Pryde has never attempted anything more than a month, and the strain would kill anyone she tried to send back. Of course, there’s one mutant who can survive the experience. Logan aka Wolverine volunteers for the job. It doesn’t hurt that he’s the only one who has pretty much the same body in 1973 that he has now.
In the past Mystique (Lawrence) has been trying to kill scientist Boliver Trask (Dinklage). He’s the man who invented the sentinels, and she wants revenge. The problems are only made worse when she’s captured in the attempt and her DNA is used to make the more advanced morphing sentinels of the future. They are able to mimic and resist any mutant powers, making them unstoppable. Logan has to reunite a young Charles (McAvoy) and Magneto/Eric (Fassbender) to stop her from trying to kill Trask. It all sounds so pat and simple, but it’s not. Obviously, things aren’t going to go as planned, and there is only limited time before Kitty and the future mutants will be inundated by the sentinels and will no longer be able to hold Logan in the past.
“We need you to hope again.”
The best comic book movies never forget the comic books themselves. Bryan Singer is a fan of comic books, and it shows. There were always elements of the books in his first two films. For Days Of Future Past, he went directly to the source. The story first appeared in The Uncanny X-Men #141 & 142 (Jan/Feb 1981). The story was written by Chris Claremont and drawn by John Byrne. In the original story it was Kitty Pryde herself who goes back in time. Coincidentally, 2013 was indeed the future year the story uses. The story was later expanded to include other Marvel characters like The Fantastic Four. The basic story remains intact here in the screenplay by Simon Kinberg. Of course, there are changes. Kitty Pryde is not near as dynamic or popular a screen character. That title in the X-Men Universe falls to Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine. The logic makes sense, so it’s not just a matter of substituting a popular character. The rest of the changes are there to flesh out a story for a feature film. Obviously, Singer has more room for nuances and character moments than a couple of issues of a comic book could ever hope to achieve.
The script is clever and makes the 131 minutes of running time just zoom away. What feels a bit overcomplicated spreads itself out in a surprisingly easy-to-follow pace. The 3D is never gimmicky and far more useful and evident in the future scenes than it might be in 1973. That’s not to say there aren’t some pretty huge set pieces and action on a grand scale in the 1973 timeline. There’s plenty of that, you can be sure. There’s a lot of power on display here, and Fassbender really steals the show’s thunder in a huge semi-climax to the 1973 storyline. Simon Kinberg navigates these tricky waters with skill. Fans of both “versions” of these characters will be satisfied.
The film begins with the action already ramped up to 11. Familiar mutants along with others not featured in the film series yet fight a losing battle against these sleek, morphing powerful machines. The desperation is evident everywhere from the massive destruction to the weary faces of the remaining fighters. It’s wall-to-wall action with a frantic pace. These are set pieces like you’ve never seen before in an X-Men movie. I was also thrilled that these future scenes are not relegated to a bookend kind of setup. These timelines are running simultaneously, and the film does move from one to the other throughout the movie. You still don’t get a ton of screen time with the likes of Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, but it’s more than I originally hoped for. Pretty much all of the original mutant cast gets at least a cameo with the notable exception of Mystique. When you consider that she’s even more of a central character here than even Logan, it’s a bit of a mystery why Rebecca Romijn wasn’t a part of this production. It’s safe to say that Jennifer Lawrence gets plenty of screen time in this movie.
From the moment Logan wakes up in his 1973 body, we know this is going to be an interesting movie. The production design does a wonderful job of bringing the world of 1973 to life. It was the beginning of a decade destroyed, not by sentinels or mutants but disco music. The film suddenly immerses you in the 1970’s, and it’s a starkly different place from the future world. Here life is a little more familiar, if not turned on its head a bit. This ride through history is a divergent path from the history we know. Mutants are known and have already participated in historical events as seen in X-Men: First Class. Even more is hinted at here. There’s a new theory on the JFK assassination, and the era is just loaded with wonderful little Easter eggs. These gems show up as throwaway lines, references and even quick visual treats. Even Fred Sanford (Foxx) finds his way into X-Men lore. It’s going to make the film that much more fun to watch in repeated viewings. I’m sure there’s even more stuff out there that I missed the first time around. Fans of the comic need to pay attention as there are plenty of the book’s stories hinted at or referenced here.
With all of the future action scenes to fill that adrenaline jones you’re feeling, this movie doesn’t skimp on the characters and their relationships. There are some pretty solid moments that these actors totally nail. There’s a surprising amount of chemistry between Logan and the younger Charles. This movie infers a lot of history between these characters that hasn’t happened on screen. Hugh Jackman delivers his best version of Wolverine to date. The moments when he’s trying to tell McAvoy’s Charles about their friendship, about what Charles has/will do for him and other mutants; these are absolutely golden character moments that highlight this film. There’s a similar moment between the two versions of Charles that is almost as moving. Singer knows these characters cold, as do the actors who play them. There’s far more heart here than I expected going in.
The supporting cast includes some nearly as wonderful performances. I never doubted that Peter Dinklage was a great choice for Trask. If there’s a flaw in this character, it’s that he might be underused. Mark Camacho delivers a somewhat light but balanced version of Richard Nixon. All of the exaggerated mannerisms and features are there, but it stops just short of being a cartoon. We get to see younger versions of crucial characters in the film franchise. A young Stryker, played by Josh Helman, has a small but pivotal role in the film. Evan Peters is more comic relief in the much-discussed role of Quicksilver. The production gives us an ultimate version of “Bullet-time”, and he works for the short time he’s in the film. It’s the kind of performance where you can get too much, but Singer sprinkled it in just about the right amount.
You don’t get a lot of them, but I loved some of the X-Men they populated the future scenes with. It was a real treat to see the likes of Bishop (Sy), Sunspot (Canto), Warpath (Stewart) and Colossus (Cudmore). We see them in action, if not for the first time fleshed out and working as a team. I was almost waiting for Colossus and Wolverine to execute a “fastball special”. I see great promise in these actors/roles for the future.
This is one of the best in a franchise that much like Star Trek was in great need of starting over. Days Of Future Past gives us that restart without recasting familiar friends or forcing us to accept a new “take” on the characters. This is a new start, and I’m quite excited to see where it takes us. The X-Men feels fresh again. You’ll get a glimpse during an end-credit scene that sets up the next film. X-Men: Days Of Future Past never forgets that it’s an amusement park ride, but that doesn’t mean it can’t have a deeper soul. This is the closest any studio has come to approaching a comic book movie like those currently churned out at Marvel Studios themselves. Singer’s back, and he has offered up his apology. For those who have stayed away from the franchise because you felt betrayed, “They added a little extra because you missed a dose”.