I’m usually not one to nitpick, but for director Bryan Singer’s massive mutant mega-sequel, X-Men: Days of Future Past, I’m going to have seriously pick the hell out of those nits. And this, believe it or not, is a good thing. Why? Because if it wasn’t for me getting microscopic in my criticisms, I would probably end up spending the next 1000 words or so just rewriting variations of “HOLY CRAP, THIS MOVIE IS AWESOME!”.
So let’s get the tiny foibles out of the way: writer/producer Simon Kinberg’s script does a very good job of adapting the classic Chris Claremont comic book story arc from which the film gets its name, but as these things usually go some details are changed in translation. The most pertinent being that a role occupied in the original tale by Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page), is now taken up by Wolverine (Hugh Jackman). I have zero problem with this, as the reason for the limelighting of everybody’s favourite cutlery-fisted Canadian is actually justified quite well in the script. What isn’t justified or explained at all is how Kitty Pryde – who you may recall has the power to phase through objects – can now suddenly send people’s consciousness skipping back along the timeline. This is one of a few “stop thinking so hard about it and just go with it” moments in the film, most of them involving pretzel-like time travel logic.
Also, as attested by the never-ending barrage of character posters that have been released, this movie is stuffed to the gills with characters, many of them long time X-Men fan favourites, as this film brings several of the long running franchise’s elements together on screen for the first time (some brushing up on said elements is recommended). And as expected with a cast this big, there is some marginalization that occurs, in some cases to the point of a character being nothing more than a glorified cameo, sometimes even mutely so. This includes newcomers like Bishop (Omar Sy) and Sunspot (Adan Canto), and returning characters like Havok (Lucas Till) and Rogue (Anna Paquin) – Fan Bingbing’s Blink gets plenty of love though, through the ridiculously cool use of her powers. Luckily, this cold shouldering barely detracts from the main storyline, which revolves primarily around the gravitas-laden trio of young Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), young Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence). Yes, this is finally not the “Wolverine and Some Other Guys In Costumes” show.
But more on them later, back to being nitpic- Oh, wait. Actually, that’s everything. So without further ado…
HOLY CRAP, THIS MOVIE IS AWESOME!
After the all-round swinging sixties success of Matthew Vaughn’s prequel, X-Men: First Class, it was uncertain whether Singer – who had kicked off the franchise 14 years ago with the very well received first two X-Men films, but had recently been turning in just okay-ish fare – would be up to the task of reconciling his original leather bound, grungy take with Vaughn’s slicker, bouncier vitality and bigger emotional stakes. And the answer is a resounding “Yes”.
One of the best things the franchise ever did was casting the powerfully talented McAvoy and Fassbender, and Singer takes full advantage of their on-screen gravity, giving us several emotionally charged verbal jousts that just electrifies. And when not involved in explosive word-sparring, these two actors – and the folks around them, all now forced to up their game – bring a tragic heft to proceedings that strikes just the right emotional note without delving into melodrama.
What’s more, while Singer stages the type of visually impressive FX-laden, super-powered fisticuffs expected of the genre with bombastic aplomb, it’s this dramatic energy that actually provides the central impetus of the narrative. This is a story where a man in a purple cape and helmet uses his natural gifts and some vague hand waving to pick up and then drop an entire baseball stadium on some people, and yet it’s the unexpected dramatic intimacy and clear maturity of the material that impresses the most.
And for those of you not in the know, said material involves a stygian future in which now older members of Singer’s original cast, led by Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart, gracious and noble as always) and Magneto (the ever reliable Ian McKellen), are fighting a losing battle against extinction, courtesy of an army of Sentinels – highly advanced, human created robotic hunter-killers that have very nearly exterminated the mutant race. A “Hail Mary Pass” plan is concocted whereby Kitty uses her aforementioned new gift to send Wolverine’s mind back into his body in 1973, on a mission to unite the two at the time mortal enemies in Charles and Erik so that they can rewrite history by stopping their mutual love, Raven, from committing a crime that kicks off the end of days.
It’s an impressively ambitious story, with the focus rubber-banding back and forth between the nightmarish future where the last remaining X-Men are engaged in their last stand, and the politically charged post-Vietnam 1970’s – authentically recreated, right down to spliced in grainy film footage – in which a fear-mongering weapons developer, Bolivar Trask (the steadfastly impressive Peter Dinklage), is trying to start a war on mutants.
And Singer and Kinberg deftly makes it all look easy, as they expertly juggle characters (it never feels overstuffed like a recent super-arachnid’s outing) and tone (timeously injecting humour into the seriousness), all while keeping the gripping tale moving along at a brisk and expertly escalating pace, despite the film’s 130 minute running time, and culminating in an explosive, cleverly edited world (or is that time?) changing finale.
Speaking of things moving briskly… As arresting as McAvoy and Fassbender, and even a grotesquely muscled Jackman, are in the film, there is absolutely zero doubt as to who is the biggest scene stealer: Evan Peters’ Quicksilver. The silver-haired super-speedster not only brings an infectious and refreshing levity to the rather dark proceedings, but he is also responsible for one of the most entertaining 15 minutes of film I have ever seen. Due to some complex legal issues, the film rights to Quicksilver is owned by both Fox and Marvel, resulting in Aaron Taylor-Johnson portraying a different take on the character in the upcoming The Avengers: Age of Ultron. And while Evans initially received a lot of flak (including from me) when his garish costume was revealed, it’s Taylor-Johnson that’s now the definitive underdog in this superhero showdown, as Singer and co have just set the bar exceedingly high with the character.
In fact, in the wake of Days of Future Past, that sky-high bar applies to the franchise as a whole. With Singer currently engaged in a very nasty legal battle, it’s uncertain whether or not he will return to direct the already announced follow-up, X-Men: Apocalypse. Whether its Singer or somebody else that eventually takes the reins, they’re going to have to mutate some directing superpowers of their own, as with its compelling focus on character drama, superlative performances, impressive action sequences and daunting ambition, X-Men: Days of Future Past is simply the best X-Men film we’ve seen to date, and the current front-runner for the best comic book film of the year.
PS: As much as you will want to rush off to start telling all your friends about how good the movie is, you better keep your butt in its seat until after the credits, because there is one hell of a teaser after that.
Last Updated: May 19, 2014