Review: 'X-Men: Days of Future Past' Secures Future of the Series
by Jeremy Kirk
May 23, 2014
The past of the X-Men franchise is a rocky road to success. The rough patches mostly came around the middle. While stumbles like X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine made audiences cringe at the thought of another mutant adventure, most of the series has been solid. X-Men: Days of Future Past marks yet another achievement, continuing the high marks left behind by recent entries X-Men: First Class and The Wolverine. An intriguing story development mixed with sporadic bouts of top quality action is pretty much all we ask for in a summer blockbuster. Thanks to returning director Bryan Singer back behind the wheel, X-Men: Days of Future Past delivers, safely securing the franchise's future. For now.
It's not as if Days of Future Past yields edge-of-your-seat excitement and plot twists designed to amaze right from the start. Patrick Stewart, returning as the telekinetic Professor X, opens the film for us with some hardcore setup and exposition. It's now years after a war has finally broken out between the humans and the mutants. Fearful of their vast array of powers, the humans have created giant robots, Sentinels, that are able to adapt to any and all mutant powers, allowing them to take out large groups of the evolved race with ease. What's more, these Sentinels have begun targeting humans who have the potential to birth future mutants, and what began as a safety measure against a feared group has become genocide of both mutants and humans alike. Sound like Hugh Jackman should get involved.
Singer, directing from a screenplay by Simon Kinberg, knows exactly in which direction he wants this film (and this franchise) to head, and it doesn't matter how long it takes the audience to get on board. Yes, the idea here was to combine the two timelines of the franchise, continuing the stories and developments set down in both the present X-Men series as well as the prequel First Class. The present story has suddenly taken a huge sci-fi turn, and somewhere between The Wolverine and now, things got extremely post-apocalyptic. It's a shift that takes an adjustment period settling into, but not to fear. That adjustment period comes and goes with little discomfort.
The opening moments of Days of Future Past comes complete with a solid Sentinel attack that quickly establishes how they work and how the mutants have to combine their forces to take robotic killers down. We're then introduced to the last surviving members of the mutant resistance, character that allow for some familiar faces from the series' past to make new appearances. The combined efforts of Stewart, Ian McKellen as Magneto, Ellen Page as Kitty Pryde, and others to convince Jackman's Wolverine/Logan to assist them. Naturally it wouldn't be much of a movie if he didn't.
The mutants' plan is to send someone to the past, to the precise moment when humans decided the Sentinels were our best security. That moment is when Jennifer Lawrence's returning Mystique murdered Dr. Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), the scientist behind the Sentinel program, in cold blood. It's now up to Logan (since he's the only one capable of physically making the trip back to 1973) to convince a young Professor X (James McAvoy) to assist him in his latest mission. They even find time to add some new mutants to the fray, most notably Evan Peters as Quicksilver, whose super speed allows for one of the film's more creative action sequences. This scene rivals X2's opening White House setpiece as far as Singer-directed action goes, and it comes early enough in the film to really kickstart the proceedings.
It's not until the Wolverine is sent back that Days of Future Past really gets interesting. Sure, we can watch mutant combining their powers to take out giant robots all day, but the real interest in these films have always been the twists and turns their narratives take. When this latest film finally finds the meat of its story and the momentum begins building, it's a steady climb up to some of the highest points this franchise has delivered so far. That goes for story and action.
Kinberg's screenplay places heavy motivation on all of its characters. They aren't all-good or all-bad here, which is usually enough for Summer blockbuster fare. The X-Men, Logan in particular, have always had a strong hold on the gray area. When choices are made, they may not always be the noblest, but it's clearly understood why the choice was made in the first place. When it's all said and done, all sides are accounted for regardless of how many times those sides flip-flop throughout the film. Mutants switching sides like WWE wrestlers has also been a constant staple with the X-Men, and Kinberg and Singer seem to find a certain level of glee is having their characters do so.
Speaking of Singer, talk about a welcome return to the franchise. While actors like Stewart and Jackman are constants to the series, the director at the helm has been swapped around a few times. Having directed the first two films, Singer had the strongest hand in providing the look and atmosphere that would be carried on throughout. Directors like Brett Ratner, Gavin Hood, and Matthew Vaughn have been giving us their takes on X-Men universe, but Singer's version is still the blueprint. Hell, his movie was first of this latest and seemingly never-ending batch of superhero movies.
Singer's work should also be noted when discussing range of actors pulled together for this film. The rather sizable casts of two separate films are whittled down to the select squad here, with the stronger performances coming from those found in the period storyline. Lawrence, McAvoy, Michael Fassbender as the young Magneto, and Nicholas Hoult as Beast are all powerful inclusions to the film, all of them giving performances that hit both harder and more nuanced than their turns in First Class. Not much more can be said for the strengths Jackman brings to the Wolverine. The role simply would not exist in 2014 were it not for his embodiment of the character. The other performances are all spot-on, even Halle Berry who is given practically nothing to do here save for look cool wearing all-white contacts. Thanks for coming, Oscar nominated actress.
It most other regards, it feels like a return to form for X-Men: Days of Future Past. Both large swaths of Singer's direction (the inventive action sequences and heavy character development) as well as minute details (the opening credits and composer John Ottman's familiar score beats) all play a hand in the director getting his franchise back. By the time the film reaches its series-busting conclusion, you've practically forgotten about those other directors. This is, once again, Singer's franchise, and it's hard to be thankful for much more than that.
Jeremy's Rating: 8 out of 10
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