Though cumbersome and clunky at certain moments, X-Men: Days of Future Past still manages to deliver on its promise of bringing together the well-remembered cast of the original X-Men trilogy with the newcomers of 2011’s X-Men: First Class into a highly enjoyable time-traveling period drama thrill ride. For the casual moviegoer with a taste for sci-fi action, it’s got plenty of exciting set pieces and eye-popping visuals to complement some very strong performances from the film’s leads. Just how much it will satisfy hardcore fans of the characters and the iconic comic book story upon which the film’s plot is based is sure to vary, however, depending on the fanboy or girl in question. But one thing is certain, comic book geek or no: the film should leave audiences with lots to ponder, especially about the implications of the film’s breathtaking conclusion and epilogue.
The film opens in the future, a Terminator-like apocalyptic future where cities and nations lay in ruins and in which mutants and their normal human allies are hunted and killed or imprisoned. Their tormentors are the Sentinels — immensely powerful robots capable of detecting mutants and adapting their defenses to counter and defeat any mutant power.
Hiding amidst the blasted and burnt wreckage of civilization are the few surviving former students and teachers of the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters, the one-time home of the X-Men. Faced with the prospect of inevitable capture and/or death, Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Storm (Halle Berry), the X-Men’s one-time nemesis Eric Lensherr/Magneto (Ian McKellen), and the group’s founder, Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart), band together with former proteges Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page), Bobby Drake/Iceman (Shawn Ashmore), Peter Rasputin/Colossus (Daniel Cudmore), and fellow mutants Bishop (Omar Sy), Warpath (Booboo Stewart) , Blink (Fan Bingbing), and Sunspot (Adan Canto) to enact a last, desperate gamble to save the world.
The plan? Use Kitty’s newly-developed power to phase another person’s consciousness through time itself to a pivotal moment in history, the moment that the world was set upon the path to ruin that led them all to the fight they know they can’t win. Only one among the group, Logan, has the resiliency and regenerative ability to survive the journey, and once there, it’s not just a matter of popping his claws and hacking his way through bad guys. His mind will have to inhabit the body of his younger self (not really a change, since Logan’s abilities dramatically slow his aging), bring together the younger Xavier and Magneto (James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender), who at that point in history are as bitterly opposed to each other as ever before, and unite them in order to stop the one mutant whose actions inadvertently set off the destructive chain reaction, Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence).
Sound like a tall order, especially for Logan, for whom diplomacy and patience are most certainly not strengths? Well, that’s just the broad strokes. Of course, everything along the way will prove even more difficult than simply getting Charles and Eric to play nice.
This is easily the most epic and ambitious of the X-Men films, not just in its scope and reach, but also in the stakes inherent in adapting one of the most beloved storylines in the 50-year publication history of the source material. The original “Days of Future Past” story arc, written by legendary X-Men scribe Chris Claremont and drawn by writer/artist John Byrne, appeared in only two issues of “The Uncanny X-Men” in early 1981, but its harrowing story and imagery detailing a devastated future reality brought about by a single act of violence, and the desperate last stand of the few surviving X-Men in the face of genocide, left an indelible mark on comic storytelling and X-Men fans, and has been referenced and revisited numerous times in a variety of media ever since.
It’s clear that director Bryan Singer and writers Simon Kinberg, Matthew Vaughn, and Jane Goldman, who have all worked on parts of the X-Men franchise at one point or another, saw this time-spanning source material as the perfect means to begin to bridge the gap between the original trilogy of films and First Class, and on paper it might just have looked perfect. The availability and willingness of just about all the actors whose characters were integral parts of the older trilogy certainly must have made it all look even more like the ultimate X-fans’ dream film, and a sure-fire hit.
Unfortunately, the finished product falls short of its full potential in part because it has so many moving parts; in fact, it feels like two separate films mashed together unevenly, with only Hugh Jackman’s dual role as both the future Logan and his younger self the common link between the disparate pieces. Of the two pieces, the one set in 1973, focused on Logan working with the younger Xavier and Eric to alter Mystique’s course, is very much the stronger, more compelling one. McAvoy, Fassbender, Lawrence, and Nicholas Hoult (Jack the Giant Slayer, Warm Bodies), reprising his role from First Class as the young Hank McCoy/Beast, all get the opportunity to build on the character development that was begun in the previous film entry, and McAvoy, in particular, is riveting playing a broken, disspirited Professor Xavier, one who’s lost his way and needs guidance back to a path that can help avert disaster. Fassbender once again brings tremendous intensity and believability to Eric, and the scenes between the two are just as riveting here as they were the first time around.
Conversely, the scenes set in the future period do lots of telling rather than showing in terms of where the characters there have come from and what they’ve been through. For all the big name cast members that inhabit this portion of the film, very few of them are given much of any value to contribute; with the exception of Jackman, they end up feeling rather like glorified cameos and nods to what came before, rather than fully-fleshed out roles. With what audiences are given here, its fair to suspect that a great deal ended up on the editing room floor, and might show up in a future home video release.
All that said, there’s still much to enjoy here. Visually, the film holds its own with any and all of the other sci-fi and superhero feature offerings we’ve seen in recent years, and in 3D the mutants’ powers as well as the Sentinels truly pop off the screen. In terms of supporting performances, watch for American Horror Story‘s Evan Peters playing speedster Peter Maximoff in a sequence of scenes that are arguably the most outright fun moments in the film, and Game of Thrones‘ Peter Dinklage delivering a thoughtful and nuanced portrayal of the film’s primary antagonist, the brilliant and driven inventor of the Sentinels, Bolivar Trask.
And yes, of course, having Jackman basically leading this cast is nothing but a boon to the film. Jackman has been portraying Logan now for 14 years, and though he made the role his own the first time out, he’s added something new to his portrayal each time, as Logan’s understanding and acceptance of himself grew and his personal losses mounted. The Wolverine that inhabits and fuels just about every frame of X-Men: Days of Future Past is the logical evolution of the character across all the films, and Jackman’s portrayal makes the difference palpable and meaningful. Might make you wonder how else the producers of these films and Jackman himself might continue to evolve Logan in future films, because from watching him on-screen here, you can tell he’s far from popping those claws for the last time.
And speaking of finality, this film’s ending might prove a little confounding to folks who go in without having seen the series’s previous entries, so plan accordingly and have someone with you that’s more well versed in X-Men film lore. Be prepared, though, as even that person might well leave the theater stunned at the implications of the story’s resolution, and what it means for the series as a whole. As stated at the outset, it’ll have the fanboys and girls pondering and debating well into the wait for the next film, X-Men: Apocalypse, tentatively scheduled for May 27th, 2016.
Score: 3.5 out of 5
X-Men: Days of Future Past
Starring Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry, Anna Paquin, Ellen Page, Peter Dinklage, and Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart. Directed by Bryan Singer.
Running Time: 131 minutes
Rated PG- 13 for sequences of intense sci-fi violence and action, some suggestive material, nudity and language.
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