Bryan Singer’s triumphant return to the Marvel Universe is every bit as good you’ve heard, and while the film does not quite eclipse the greatest comic book film of all time, it certainly earns a mention in the conversation.
X-Men has always been a comic for the grown-ups; what on the surface might seem hokey and contrived is, in fact, an intricate allegory of war and self-contempt, of racial prejudice and fear. And that’s exactly what makes the film version so unique and perfectly suited for the current cultural climate: X-Men: Days of Future Past is a film for the grown-ups: sophisticated, inspiring, and thought-provoking.
Set in the near future, the war between “normal” humans and mutants has decimated the world. The barren wasteland of a once-vibrant earth colors the landscape as Sentinels – mutant-hunting robots developed by Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) – scour the rubble for the few remaining mutants and the humans who dare to aid them. Able to absorb and repurpose the powers of any mutant they touch, the Sentinels are winning, but at the cost of complete destruction of civilization. Still holding on are Professor X (Patrick Stewart), Magneto (Ian McKellen), Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), and Storm (Halle Berry) who encounter another group of mutants led by Shadowcat (Ellen Page) and Iceman (Shawn Ashmore). When Shadowcat reveals to Professor X her ability to evade the Sentinels by utilizing her phasing ability, which can send the consciousness of a fellow mutant back in time to warn the others of impending attacks, Xavier and Magneto convince Wolverine to phase back to a key point in history that enabled Trask Enterprising to develop the Sentinels.
Wolverine must travel back to 1973 and find a young Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and convince him to team up with former BFF Eric Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) to save Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from making a terrible choice that sets in motion the events that will eventually lead to war. Still following me? What pains me to recap in a few paragraphs is effortlessly – and frankly better – explained by screenwriter Simon Kinberg – back for more after penning X-Men: The Last Stand – in a matter of minutes. It’s a good thing, too, because though high concept and exploding with story arcs, X-Men: Days of Future Past is, at its core, a character drama about becoming who you’re meant to be and fighting the idea that a mistake can forever define who you are.
2012’s fantastic The Avengers was able to navigate a myriad of characters with alternating goals to serve a central plot, and though I worship at the altar of Joss Whedon and have pledged my undying love to all things starring Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Hemsworth’s abs, X-Men: Days of Future Past is simply a better film. Never feeling rushed or sacrificing an earned moment for one of its characters, Days takes great care to complete journeys set in motion brilliantly in earlier films. You can argue the film is all about Wolverine, all about Professor Xavier, all about Mystique’s anger and ultimate triumphs, the friendship between Charles and Magneto, fear, war, oppression, hatred, hope – the truth is, you would be right every time. There is so much here. The quiet moments are every bit as powerful as the ones where the characters are in grave peril or running for their lives.
How the production team assembled such star power and true talent is a story for the ages, and I am sure those involved are somewhere sipping large quantities of Moët out of gold encrusted goblets. Bringing together Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Peter F-ing Dinklage, Jennifer Lawrence, and Nicolas Hoult in one film about SUPERHEROES, no less, is something I never thought could be accomplished outside a Christopher Nolan joint. (I won’t mention the inexplicable casting of Boo Boo Stewart, who someone is still trying to make happen.) McAvoy and Fassbender are probably the only duo that could recapture that indefinable Stewart/McKellen bromance and gravitas that so define the public’s view of Charles Xavier/Professor X and Eric Lehnsherr/Magneto. My husband – who so supports my comic-book geekness that he accompanies me to most films in the genre – was bothered by the inconsistent accents and traits between the cast’s younger/older versions, but he came around when I pointed out that it doesn’t really matter. The fact that McAvoy and Fassbender so match the early talents of Stewart and McKellen, and each are able to encompass that magnificent screen presence, we completely believe they are the younger Xavier and Magneto. I think it serves to the film’s purpose, actually, because Charles and Eric are completely different men in 1973 than what they will eventually become. In one of the best character motivations in the film, Xavier is literally broken after sending so many of his students to Vietnam and feeling powerless to stop the losses from piling up after Eric and Raven/Mystique have left him. He is such a poor imitation of the glorious dominating presence of Professor X. Without hope, his greatest power, he is simply a shell of a man. And perhaps most interestingly, the one person who can help him, who can convince him of this power of hope, is the hopeless, helpless, hapless rogue Wolverine. Goosebumps, Peeps. Goosebumps.
X-Men: Days of Future Past has managed to both reboot and reinvigorate a franchise by respecting the integrity of the original films and absorbing key beloved elements from them – including cast members – and peeling away the nonsensical and universally hated moments: see X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Deadpool. Maintaining a central canon — but piecing together moments that serve the story without worrying about complete continuity — is a tool utilized frequently in comics. X-Men alone has countless titles and variations: The Uncanny X-Men (where the Days of Future Past story originated), Astonishing X-Men, X-Men, Age of Apocalypse, House of M, Marvel 1602, Marvel 2099, Ultimate X-Men, X-Men Noir…I could go on all day.
A film for comic book fans, cinefiles, and casual moviegoers alike, Days of Future Past has something for everyone. Whether it is subtle nods to those in the know (like Quicksilver’s remark about his mother once knowing a man with particular powers), a sophisticated script with beautiful moments between the Oscar-winning and Golden Globe-nominated cast, or all those things that go “BOOM!,” I cannot imagine anyone leaving the theatre without feeling they’ve just seen something important.
Grade: A. The second-best film of 2014. So far.**
** After careful thought, it’s the third best movie of the year:
3. X-Men: Days of Future Past