X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST IS THE RARE SEQUEL THAT SURPASSES THE ORIGINAL AND TAKES ITS PLACE AS THE BEST MOVIE IN THE X-MEN FRANCHISE SO FAR
DIRECTOR: Bryan Singer
STARRING: Hugh Jackman, Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, Peter Dinklage, Nicholas Hoult, Evan Peters, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry, Ellen Page, Shawn Ashmore
STUDIO: Twentieth Century Fox
RUNNING TIME: 2 HRS, 11 MIN
When Twentieth Century Fox tapped Mat Vaughn to direct X-Men: First Class in 2011, it breathed new life into the merry mutant franchise following the critical and fan disappointment of 2006’s X3 The Last Stand. While First Class was a profitable fan hit for Fox, it raised the bar for future X movies and left both fans and critics alike wondering if producers could continue to produce fan pleasing films or if they’d fail the way X3 did, and the disappointing Wolverine movies did little to inspire confidence in many movie-goers. Fortunately, the smartly written, well directed and perfectly performed Days of Future Past clears the hurdles set up by First Class and raises the bar even higher.
Loosely adapted from one of the X-Men’s most popular stories, Days of Future Past begins ten years into the future. It’s is a bleak place, and not just for mutants. The mutant exterminating Sentinels have evolved to the point where they are virtually unstoppable, and have also begun targeting humans who could potentially give birth to mutant children, as well as any humans who dared protect mutants from the escalating genocide. Both humans and mutants alike face extinction and the X-men are reduced to a rag tag group of resistance fighters constantly on the run, any attempt to make a stand destined to fail. Things are so dire that Professor Charles Xavier and Magneto (Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen reprising their roles from the original X films) find themselves fighting side by side once again, though both know that defeat and death is only a matter of time. A desperate plan is hatched to send Wolverine (Hugh Jackman playing the clawed Canuck for the seventh time) back in time to a pivotal point in history to prevent the creation of the Sentinels and keep the war from ever starting. In order to succeed, Wolverine will have to recruit a young Professor X (James McAvoy), who’s abandoned his powers and fallen into a severe drunken depression, and a young Magneto (Michael Fassbender), whose terrorist tactics have gotten him locked up in the most impenetrable prison on the planet. The few followers Xavier and Magneto each had following First Class are gone, many having met with gruesome ends.
Future Past offers one of the best ensemble casts in recent memory, and perhaps the best one of any comic book movie. Fassbender’s portrayal of Magneto is just as excellent as it was in First Class. Magneto is perhaps the most sympathetic villain in all of comicdom; a Holocaust survivor who has witnessed first hand the horrific suffering human beings can eagerly inflict on each other. He’s gone from using his powers to hunt down Nazi war criminals to declaring himself Mutantkind’s protector and it’s leader to the top of the evolutionary food chain. And he kind of has a point since in every X-Men movie its apparent that most of the powers that be would exterminate every mutant they could get their hands on without losing a wink of sleep. Fassbender plays the Master of Magnetism with just the right blend of pathos and confident villainy, you want to root against him but can’t help empathizing with his motives at the same time. McAvoy is more than convincing as a young, depressed Xavier who wants for all the world to simply hide in his broken down, abandoned school and is terrified of taking responsibility for anything ever again. Jennifer Lawrence steals her fair share of scenes as Mystique, who spends a large portion of the movie being the chief badass and the focal point of the plot. Keep an eye on Game of Thrones favourite misanthrope Peter Dinklage, whose portrayal of sentinel inventor Bolivar Trask is equally memorable. Instead of making Trask a bigot bent on the destruction of the emerging mutant race, he professes admiration for them and sees them as the adversary that will unite humanity. But despite all that, he never refers to a mutant by name, referring to them only as “one” or “it,” experimenting ruthlessly and dispassionately on them for his own ends. Many of the (surviving) original characters return as battle hardened freedom fighters, giving just enough gravitas to their roles to stress that their time really has run out. And Jackman as Wolverine? You need to ask?
Singer does an excellent job balancing the story as it unfolds in the past while showing how events in the future are affected. Time travel is a tricky plot device, and it’s always been one of my pet peeves, but Future Past is smartly written, proving that the film-makers decided that the story should be just as important as the special effects; a refreshing change for a summer blockbuster. And the story injects plenty of humour in appropriate paces (without detracting from the idea that a genocidal future hangs in the balance). The inclusion of Piotr Maximoff (Evan Peters), the mutant speedster known as Quicksilver (a name Fox couldn’t use because Marvel studios owns that name as a member of the Avengers) was worth it’s weight in comedic gold and was perhaps the best display of super speed on the silver screen. Ever.
Future Past still leaves some questions unanswered, like how the X-Men figured out how to time travel in the first place. Or how Wolverine’s claws are once again laced with adamantium (they were reduced to naked bone during last summer’s The Wolverine). And what about Professor X’s resurrection (the last time we saw the good professor he was inhabiting a human vegetable after his original body had been destroyed by the Dark Phoenix in X3)? But given how smartly the story is written to address larger concerns, you can forgive those (I did, and I’m a huge stickler for story). The action is riveting, the effects are top notch and the movie offers plenty of Easter eggs and nods to fans along the way. And as usual, there’s a nice little cut scene at the end of the credits setting up 2016’s X-Men: Age of Apocalypse (whether or not Singer will return considering his current underage sex scandal remains to be seen). In the meantime though, X-Men: Days of Future Past will keep your comic book movie appetite satisfied until August’s Guardians of the Galaxy.