Taking one of the biggest ensemble casts, both in terms of star power and numbers, and using them to adapt one of the most revered storylines in X-Men history has to fail, right? A lot of hopes, from not just fans but the production companies, were riding on X-Men: Days of Future Past. The last two franchise entries, The Wolverine and First Class, were well received, but they weren’t the slamdunks at the box office that 20th Century Fox wanted them to be. With the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the Nolan Batman Trilogy raking in the big bucks, Fox had to get something together in the hopes of their keeping the rights to the X-Men franchise viable. Is Days of Future Past the movie they needed?
Opening in a bleak apocalyptic future, Days of Future Past (DoFP here within) quickly introduces us to the extremely deadly threat of the Sentinels. These new Sentinels of the future are differentiated easily from their 90’s cartoon versions not just due to their appearance, but more so to their effectiveness being established in a rather gruesome sequence including a beheading. From the very beginning of the movie the enemy’s threat is palpable, helping viewers understand the stakes are the highest they’ve been in X-Men movie history.
And as the few remaining X-Men regroup in a hidden alcove, it’s hard to imagine them playing the same trick to survive encounter after encounter with the never ending Sentinel threat (I said the future was bleak!). See, Kitty Pride (Ellen Page) is using a new power to thwart attacks before they ever happen: she’s sending someone’s consciousness back in time so that person can warn the others before they’re attacked. Just in time for the cameras to be rolling, Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen) decide to use this power to its ultimate limit: send someone so far back to see if they might just change the past.
When most people think of changing the past, the first idea in their heads is either killing Hitler or the Terminator movies. Instead, the object of this conscious time-travelling is to stop a fellow mutant from killing someone whose fate ties deeply to the Sentinels. But to succeed, there’s also the trouble of uniting Magneto and Xavier to save the day. If you watched First Class, then you know they didn’t really end things on good terms with each other, but even if you haven’t it’s rather easy to pick up on here. Shortly after a few lines of dialogue setting-up why Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) holds the best consciousness to be sent so far back, we’re back to the early 70’s and a rather hilarious scene regarding Wolverine’s then current job.
Being 10 years past the events of First Class, the world has changed a bit with the knowledge of mutants scaring the general populace and the military. This brings the popular and powerful theme of our favorite mutants being ostracized for their powers (even though we viewers know they’re just as human as we are) back to the forefront of the franchise. It hasn’t been that dominate of a sentiment since The Last Stand, where it boiled over into a full out war. But after it was handled pretty poorly by that film, it’s nice to see it back under the direction of Bryan Singer, who played it so well in the first two films. Plus, it’s refreshing to see again considering how the general public’s reaction to superheroes isn’t a big focus of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it’s used in the X-Men film franchise to help humanize these beings with powers very effectively.
It’s through the fear and fascination of mutants that Boliver Trask (played by Game of Thrones’ Peter Dinklage) has begun work on an expensive program dubbed the Sentinels, something Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) is doing everything in her power to stop. What she and the others might not realize is just how important she actually is to the future of the Sentinels, with or without killing Trask. Mystique is Wolverine’s mission, but only the man whose ideals she loved and the man she loved as a brother could possibly convince her not to assassinate Trask and prevent Wolverine from having to kill her instead. Those two men are at polar opposites at the moment and it’s watching young Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and Xavier (James McAvoy) attempt to regain their friendship to save the future where we spend most of the movie.
While it would’ve been nice to keep the focus on the future more with mutants fans have been dying to see on screen again, the relationship of Magneto and Xavier has always been important to the series. So what might seem initially disappointing that we stay in the past more than the future, it’s all thanks to the First Class actors and how they deal with their place in a possible destiny (and their interactions with Wolverine) which carry the film. After their great performances in First Class, Fassbender and McAvoy continue to chew up scenery here, with Xavier’s initially drunken and powerless appearance, broken by his experiences 10 years prior and Magneto’s ever righteous and idealistic nature, even if he is sitting in prison. But Jennifer Lawrence fires on all cylinders as Mystique again, seemingly more comfortable after an Oscar win and several nominations. Under that determined demeanor is someone who makes calling her a villain really hard.
The honor of being the villain, when the future’s Sentinels aren’t on screen, falls on Trask. Unfortunately, Dinklage isn’t given nearly enough screen time nor strong enough material to really sell him as a credible villain. But Dinklage doesn’t seem to let either setback stop him from giving another great performance. And since the normal villain life-span in a film usually ends with their death, it makes Trask more interesting in that he must be kept alive, even if he’s been up to no good and the slaughter of mutants (which gives us a few disappointing off-screen deaths for characters from First Class).
Much like the fun the first two installments had with the setting and characters, DoFP has that in spades, helping to alleviate some the bleak tone set by the future’s setting. In particular to note is Quicksilver’s limited, but scene-stealing appearance. His part in breaking out Magneto is one the biggest highlights of this film and sets a precedence Avengers 2 will have a hard time topping with their usage of the character. And like I mentioned earlier, Wolverine’s interactions with characters of the past and his knowledge of their futures are spot on for him, even if fans will begrudge his continued tentpole status in the X-Men film franchise.
Thankfully DoFP handles its large cast rather well. Like I mentioned earlier, Dinklage could’ve gotten more screen time, but the ensemble cast mostly gets just enough time without making the film seem bloated from unnecessary character arcs or plot-cushions. Instead the film is fast-paced and doesn’t let up too much, though the middle does put on a little weight. But it’s in those quieter moments of the middle when we get a focus on the very real and very human feelings our seemingly invincible mutants go through, which is something worth bloating a movie down a bit for, and has been an important part of X-Men film franchise.
UPDATE: Review of the “Rogue Cut” version below:
Fans hoping to see more of Anna Paquin as Rogue will get their wish in this slightly longer edition of the theatrical release, including new scenes and tons of little details hidden throughout. However, Rogue’s part in the film is so small and inconsequential, her appearance here feels fan-servicing at best, which the same could be said for her even briefer appearance in the theatrical release. Towards the tail-end of the film, Magneto, Xavier, and Iceman set out to free Rogue from a lab so that she can absorb Kitty’s powers and take over as time-travel guide due to Wolverine injuring Kitty earlier. There’s some fun things about this alternate path: Xavier helping Magneto break into the X-Mansion (yes, their lab is in the old Cerebro room, though it’s never really explained why); Iceman dies…again; and a chopped off Sentinel arm stuck on the Blackbird during their escape explains how the Sentinels find their hiding spot. What Rogue does for the film isn’t much, making it completely understandable why they left her scenes on the cutting room floor for the theatrical release. They are nice additions, but don’t do much more than bloat the film a bit more.
That being said, the Rogue Cut does feel like the definitive version of the film, thanks to a handful of little moments added throughout: Wolverine and Xavier have a great conversation about the original team on the plane, the mutants of the future get a little more to say and do, and there’s some exploration of the romance between Beast and Mystique which started in First Class. In the end, I only say it’s definitive because it adds those scenes, all of which are nice touches, but those of you who don’t buy this edition won’t be missing out on too much.
Here are a few other things:
- Groan or love it, the mention of a U.S. President being a mutant is a fun play on history and makes me wonder what his power would’ve been.
- Quicksilver’s off-handed line to Magneto should put some smiles on comic-book fans and makes fun of the fact the character is unfortunately split in two between competing Marvel films.
- Blink and you might miss all the off-screen deaths of First Class mutants.
- The Charles talking to Charles scene is spectacular.
- The 70’s Sentinels might look more familiar to fans than the future ones.
- In the future they think with portals, making for some great action sequences.
So in beginning of this review I staged the question of whether or not Days of Future Past was the movie the X-Men franchise needed to prove its relevancy and my answer is the same answer you could use for the following questions: Are both Mystique and Beast blue? Does Magneto have the power of magnetism? Is Professor X played by Patrick Stewart? Does Wolverine ever say ‘bub?
+ Mutating sentinels are a real tangible threat
+ Impressive visual and special effects
+ Fairly good use of large cast
– Not enough Dinklage
– Not enough Quicksilver
– Off-screen deaths