X-Men: Days of Future Past

I was reminded the other day that the first X-Men movie pre-dated the first Spider-Man movie by two years, making the X-Men the real progenitors of the current superhero craze. The X-Men was surprisingly popular but I still maintain that Raimi’s Spider-Man was what really cemented the current dominance of the superhero genre. In the years since it is interesting to note that both of those franchises have had spotty records. The X-Men in particular has had almost as many lows as highs. There are two universally recognized stinkers in the series, two very well regarded installments, an aging origin film and nobody seems to know what to make of The Wolverine. I liked it. I don’t follow the industry enough to know if this inconsistency is reflective of regime changes at 20th Century Fox, but I have heard griping from fanboys about the studio’s cavalier attitude toward the series and superhero films in general.
Bryan Singer returns to the director’s chair for Days of Future Past, and despite his recent legal troubles, he is a talented director, and his vision for the franchise is a good fit. Here, however, he is taking his cues from Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men First Class, which is the main set up for this film, and was of course a prequel that introduced us to the two teams of mutants, those following Professor X, played by James McAvoy and Patrick Stewart and those following Magneto, played by Michael Fassbender and Ian McKellen. The reason there are two actors playing each of those roles is because Days of Future Past is one of the most famous and beloved story arcs in the X-Men comics and it is also a time travel story. This is perfect, because it allows Singer to unite the two casts into one movie.
In the present (or a present) Professor X and the rest of the mutants are in hiding and on the run. Giant robots, called sentinels are hunting them down and exterminating mutants. The collateral damage from this conflict has largely collapsed civilization on the planet. Professor X and Magneto have gotten together and determined the historical point when things went wrong. It was back in 1973 when Mystique, played by Jennifer Lawrence, kills Bolivar Trask, played by Peter Dinklage, the weapons designer who makes the sentinels, largely from knowledge he gained by experimenting on mutants. She is captured and they use her shape changing DNA to make the sentinels invincible. Using the ability of Kitty Pryde, played by Ellen Page, to send a person’s consciousness back through time to inhabit their earlier body, they send Wolverine back to 1973 to try and prevent the assassination. To do this, he must convince the earlier Charles Xavier, who is taking a drug to suppress his powers and allow him to walk. The drug was developed by Hank McCoy, played by Nicholas Hoult, who also turns big and blue and is known as the Beast. Charles has given up and given in to bitterness over Mystique siding with Magneto. Oh, and Wolverine also has to break Magneto out of his cell, which is located one hundred stories below the Pentagon.
X-Men: Days of Future Past is definitely a high point of the series. The script by Simon Kinberg is tightly plotted and takes these sprawling and complicated ideas and boils them down to a two hour and eleven minute film that never drags. Also Singer’s direction keeps things moving and legible. He gets great performances out of his cast, although considering this cast that’s not a difficult task.
The cinematography is dark and slick, similar to the first two films but not as artificial looking. They were definitely going for a more realistic feel in this one. The same goes for the art direction and the costumes. They add 70’s fashions and cars to the usual black leather costumes and their high tech jet. And it all works.
With this size of a cast, there are bound to be some actors who are not given much to do. In this case that includes Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen. And at this point they really do owe Halle Berry a Storm movie. I bet she hasn’t had more than twenty lines in four movies. And all those mutants in the tremendous first fight sequence against the invincible sentinels are left uncharacterized. I’m sure people who follow the comics know who they are.
Overall the performances are excellent but a few stand out. Michael Fassbender is menacing and uncomfortably reasonable as the young Magneto. He has his viewpoint and it makes sense. Likewise James McAvoy, shows us a young, humbled and very vulnerable Charles Xavier. He has an arc going from an extended dark night of the soul to taking the first steps toward becoming Professor X. And I have to mention Evan Peters who almost steals the movie as Quicksilver. He plays him as an arrogant punk, sure of his abilities and equally sure he can get away with anything. I wish he was in the movie more.
With the Amazing Spider-Man movies and Man of Steel, I’ve been talking a lot about rebooting these franchises. In a way Days of Future Past reboots the X-Men. It repairs most of the damage done by the third installment. But mostly it restores the series’ momentum by being a darn good movie.

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