Starring: Hugh Jackman, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, Ellen Page, Nicholas Hoult, Halle Berry, Shawn Ashmore, Daniel Cudmore, Omar Sy, Evan Peters, Peter Dinklage, Booboo Stewart, Fan Bingbing with Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart
Written by: Simon Kinberg (screenplay), Jane Goldman, Kinberg, & Matthew Vaughn (story); based on the Marvel comic created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
Directed by: Bryan Singer
**POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD**
The ‘X-Men’ films, in their own special way, are my cinematic ‘Tantalus’. All of them have piqued my interest right up to the point of fully enjoying them. As a result, I’ve been ‘tantalized’, hoping for a ‘X-Men’ romp that isn’t too drunk with continuity errors, bogged down with characters, or lacking a resounding emotional center. Being of sound mind and body, I had a timely epiphany shortly before the showing for “X-Men: Days of Future Past”- if this were to fail in completely satisfying me, I would finally stop grasping for that cinematic fruit dangling above me. Alas, this pairing of retro and future casts breaks through that frustrating creative logjam with this film. “Days of Future Past” is an immensely enjoyable blockbuster- structured, paced, and edited brilliantly, with a knowing sense of itself and the saga before it.
In the not-too-distant future, the remaining X-Men face extinction battling shape-shifting ‘sentinel’ robots. These are menacing, relentless creations that appear to be the demon spawn of the ‘Destroyer’ from “Thor” and a T-800 from the ‘Terminator’ saga. Weary-looking but finally aligned, Professor X (Stewart) and Magneto (McKellen) discern that the only way to stop them is to break the rules and time travel back to the moment that inspired their creation. If it weren’t for Jennifer Lawrence’s massive popularity, I’d have bet the farm that the instigator would be someone other than the blue-skinned Mystique. Lo and behold, she is- the film quickly reveals the murder of Bolivar Trask (Dinklage), the scientist behind the sentinels, which sets a pathway for the eventual mutant eradication. Dinklage is perfect for this role- a brilliant underdog of a man with a sinister chip on his shoulder. It’s prescient that the name ‘Oppenheimer’ came up during the film, for that’s precisely the name I thought of when observing Trask.
Luckily for this rag-tag bunch of mutants, they actually have someone who can ‘phase’, or time travel, in Kitty Pryde (Page), and luckily she’s the one person they need that has survived the genocide. I suppose we don’t really have a movie unless Kitty survives, or a new mutant shows up; it’s convenient to be sure. This ‘phasing’ power she has can tear apart the brain- good thing they have a mutant available that can constantly repair himself in Wolverine (Jackman). All of this time travel business is done in the simplest, most logical of ways, which is the correct way to do it. In no way should a Marvel superhero movie be tackling the sublime science behind portals and time-matter displacement, lest we remind ourselves that this is a movie about mutated humans. We should allow ourselves to suspend disbelief for this film, for the errors in time-space logic don’t completely disband the thread they’ve created. I am normally eager to pull the string on time travel logic, but I enjoyed this film so much that it barely bothered me.
Wolverine’s monumental task is to arrive in the early 70’s and get adversaries Charles Xavier (McAvoy) and Erik Lensherr (Fassbender) to come together again, so that they might find the wayward Mystique and prevent her murderous ways. Here the real fun begins. Charles is drunk and lost, his school finished, and his powers subdued. Magneto/Lensherr is in a concrete prison under the Pentagon. Logan/Wolverine’s method of getting this to work may seem short, but I think it’s quite ingenious and sensible, showing that he’s not all brawn. The film’s, and perhaps the entire saga’s best scene follows shortly thereafter involving new mission recruit Quicksilver. To put it bluntly, the rival Quicksilver of Marvel’s “Age of Ultron” certainly has big shoes to fill. The remainder of the film’s events are woven neatly between past and future events, culminating with an ending that is incredibly satisfying, especially for those of us who’ve invested so much in the saga.
In essence, “Days of Future Past” delivers what the previous films never quite executed- bringing a specific gravity to the screen, or providing an emotional pull appropriate enough for stories centered around themes of extreme prejudice. I tired of hearing Magneto pontificate about some ‘war’ brewing in the first few films, only to see said ‘war’ last for twenty odd minutes on Alcatraz Island. Then, we were promised the ‘real’ story behind Wolverine’s past, only to see the film boggle our minds with retroactive continuity flubs and a milquetoast love story. I actually came to appreciate “First Class” for the performances, but it isn’t a home run of a film. For that matter, neither was “The Wolverine”, although it improved for me with a repeat viewing. This film gets it right- the apocalyptic tone matches the depth of emotion portrayed. The limitations of the original cast’s talents are bolstered by the likes of McAvoy, Lawrence, and Fassbender. Honestly, this film has the same expository language as the others, but the setting and consequences to make those lines mean something. Each character’s arc means more with the stakes at hand and the urgency of the plot. It also bears mentioning how visually striking the film is in both time periods, but at this point, shouldn’t that be the rule rather than the exception for this type of fare?
The draw of the X-Men seems to have always come from identifying with the outsider or loner culture, or perhaps the injustices of prejudice. Maybe it has all been a result of the uber-popular Wolverine/Hugh Jackman pairing. Whatever the case may be, nothing has been quite as satisfying as “Days of Future Past”. I enjoyed nearly every moment of this film, which feels like a reward for having been put through the inadequacies of the others. This film finally delivered on character arcs that began 14 years ago. There exists a wonderful blend of talents, characters, and heaviness to this plot that’s overdue and welcome. Despite the crowded cast listing this movie never feels crowded, no matter the wealth of powers on display and the quantity of personalities. Even Wolverine seems more like a tertiary character here despite his importance to the plot. Even the ending, which to some might appear as a slap in the face, is ingenious to me. All possibilities for futures exist in this world, and we as an audience can run with that idea and not feel cheated. After all, that’s what comics do- reinvent themselves over time in interesting (sometimes not so interesting) ways. I’m not sure I can blame a film series based on a comic for the same reason. I applaud Bryan Singer for coming back to this franchise and sending it in an exciting, new direction.
*Note- You’ll want to stay through the end credits for this one. Trust me- even if you don’t understand it, look it up somewhere on the interwebs and enjoy the thought of what’s coming.