(Insert superlative starting with ‘X’ here)
With the X-Men franchise, the seventh time is the charm.
Okay, that’s not exactly fair considering there have been several good films in the series, but Days of Future Past surpasses them all in
terms of epic storytelling, thrilling action sequences, and, best of all, character development and drama.
The strength of X-Men as a franchise has always been its large cast of iconic characters. Some of the previous films struggled with all
those pieces, leaving many characters and subplots underdeveloped. Days of Future Past tells the most complex X-Men story yet, but also
manages to successfully balance it with characterization.
Days of Future Past marks a jarring shift from the rest of the films, picking up decades into an oppressively bleak future where mutants are
on the verge of extinction.
They are hunted by Sentinels: human-created, super-advanced robots that can adapt to mutant powers and wipe them out at will.
The only defense against them appears to be Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page reprising her role from The Last Stand). Kitty possesses the ability to
send a mutant’s consciousness back in time. She cleverly uses this method to send warnings back through time to her group when they
are attacked, then using that knowledge to evade the attack.
Hopefully your head isn’t spinning yet, because the time-travel elements only become more complex.
The film throws us right into the mind-bending action with a brilliantly choreographed action sequence as Kitty and company race to elude a
Sentinel attack. The highlight here is a mutant named Blink, whose mutation gives her the ability to open teleportation portals. This
potentially incoherent lack of spatial consistency is wonderfully visualized by director Bryan Singer, and makes for an outstanding theatrical
recreation of the Portal video game series.
Singer returns to the helm after directing the first two films and outdoes himself with these visually engaging sequences.
Our more familiar characters (Led by Patrick Stewart’s Professor Charles Xavier) track down Kitty with a plan to utilize her power. They want
her to send Xavier’s consciousness back to 1973 in order to prevent an assassination that eventually leads to the creation of the Sentinel
program, thus changing the current hopeless future.
It turns out the process of sending someone that far back is a brutal one, and only Wolverine (Hugh Jackman in his career-defining role)
with his super-regenerative power could survive the trip.
Logan is tasked with finding and reuniting the 1973 versions of the Professor and series villain Magneto (Now working together in these
This ingenious device allows Days of Future Past to not only utilize the original X-Men cast, but the outstanding group from the prequel, X-
Men: First Class.
Logan is transported back and awakens in the age of lava lamps and disco.
He soon tracks down Xavier, who has lost his way following the betrayal of Magneto and Mystique during the events of First Class.
James McAvoy is outstanding once again as the young Xavier, this time playing an angry, vulnerable man who has lost faith in the world and
his loved ones. He takes a serum that cures his paralysis, but also inhibits his telepathic abilities, a nice metaphor for the character’s
journey. He would rather live in seclusion and darkness than open himself to the pain of betrayal.
Logan only gains his aid when he reveals that the mutant whose actions they must prevent is Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence).
Enlisting Magneto turns out to be a bit more difficult as he is being held by the US government in a subterranean prison within the
Pentagon. Apparently he was implicated in the Kennedy assassination, giving new meaning to the ‘magic bullet’ theory.
This leads to an incredibly enjoyable Mission: Impossible-inspired breakout sequence thanks to the scene-stealing Quicksilver, a cocky
young mutant who can move at light speed. Although his role is disappointingly brief, the hyperactive Evan Peters is hilarious, and he’s
featured in a show-stopping action sequence in which he subdues a room of security guards while extracting Magneto.
Singer shot the scene to replicate an ultra-slow-motion camera speed of 3600 frames per second. It’s an incredible marriage of visual
majesty and comedy, all amusingly set to Jim Croce’s Time in a Bottle.
It’s a real shame there isn’t more Quicksilver in the film. He all but disappears following this sequence.
Once reunited, McAvoy and Michael Fassbender (as Magneto) are every bit as outstanding as they were in First Class.
Where Xavier believes humanity and mutants can live as one, Magneto seeks to crush humanity, seeing them as inferior and incapable of
returning the compassion his friend grants them.
The relationship between them as both friend and foe has always been a fascinating element, and these performers continue to be an
inspired choice to portray the iconic pair.
So much of the film revolves around fear of the unknown and how it is dealt with. Magneto and Mystique fear human intolerance and
hatred, humans fear mutants as a threat to their species and the usually infallible Xavier withdraws in perpetual fear of reopening his old
This culminates in a number of powerful dramatic sequences, one of the most effective being a cross-time telepathic meeting between the
future and past Xavier. The elder implores the younger version of himself to remember the hope he once had (and will have again), and
that the pain he feels will make him stronger. It’s a pivotal, beautifully written, directed and acted scene that forms a poignant emotional arc
for the character.
Even as the film races to its conclusion with the requisite action set pieces, Days of Future Past’s climax isn’t about defeating a villain, but
about Xavier desperately trying to redeem his surrogate sister, Mystique. It all comes down to an ethical decision between forgiveness and
Lawrence has a lot of fun here as the anger-driven shape shifter, and there are a couple strong exchanges where Xavier confronts her,
revealing the inner conflict masked by her outward hostility.
It’s this focus on character and morality amid the time-shifting plot and action that makes this entry something very special. Compared to
other films in the genre, Days of Future Past is downright profound.
There are certainly plot conveniences and similar trappings that time-travel and superhero movies inevitably fall into (How is Magneto able
to control the programming of the Sentinels by inserting metal beams into them?), but none are egregious, and the film’s strong elements
easily overshadow whatever nitpicks I could mention.
The film really focuses on the First Class characters. Aside from Jackman and Stewart, the original cast is only given cameo appearances.
Even so, fans of the originals shouldn’t be too disappointed, as Singer delivers a wonderful sendoff (?) to his characters in the film’s
surprisingly endearing, nostalgic conclusion.
Also returning along with Singer is composer John Ottman. This score isn’t quite as notable as his fantastic work in X2, but he hits all the
right dramatic notes for the film’s emotional scenes. It’s also great to hear several of his previous themes return, giving a semblance of
musical consistency to a series that has had almost none previously.
Ottman also edited the movie, and his work here is perhaps even more significant. The action sequences are expertly cut, and despite all
the plot complexities and epic scale, the pacing is tight at a very reasonable 131 minutes.
We’ve seen good X-Men films before, but Days of Future Past plays like a highlight reel of many of the franchise’s best attributes. The cast
is superb, the plot engaging and the character drama surprisingly powerful.
Sorry, but I just can’t resist… It’s X-ceptional.
* * * ½
(out of four)
DAYS OF FUTURE PAST
Directed by: Bryan Singer
Written by: Simon Kinberg
Starring: Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael
Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry
Music by: John Ottman
Cinematography by: Newton Thomas Sigel
Released: May 23, 2014; 131 Minutes