If you read my X-Men Retrospective—and if you haven’t, why are you reading this first?—you’ll know that I hold the first two X-Men films by Bryan Singer in high regard. However, ever since Singer departed the franchise to go screw up Superman, the X-Men series has been on shaky ground. It took some solid steps forward with X-Men First Class and The Wolverine, but I was still nervous about X-Men: Days of Future Past. Singer was back in the director’s chair, but his track record hasn’t been great lately and Fox has a habit of screwing up my X-Men. So, it’s really difficult to write this review, because I’m trying to think of a grade that can appropriately sum up how I felt about this film.
We’ll start with this: X-Men: Days of Future Past is the best X-Men film since X-Men 2.
The story is loosely based on the Uncanny X-Men two-parter of the same name from the early 80s. I won’t delve into the storyline of the comic, as the movie’s version is dense enough. In the year 2023, the Earth is a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Why? Sentinels—giant mutant-hunting robots. Mutants and their human allies are being herded into concentration camps and killed by the millions. It is some dark, dark imagery. A handful of mutant freedom fighters are still free: the X-Men. Their leader, Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) has a crazy plan to prevent this horrible future from ever coming to pass. Xavier wants to send the consciousness of one of his students back to 1973 to prevent the inciting event that created this dark timeline. The student who is ultimately selected to complete this dangerous mission is Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), as he’s deemed the only one who can survive the process. While his mind is transplanted into his younger body in the past, the X-Men will protect his sleeping body from the sentinels hunting them.
The process works and Wolverine wakes up in his younger body. His first task is to find a young and completely broken Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and convince him of the whole crazy story. Basically, the goal is to stop Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from murdering the creator of the Sentinels, Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage). To do that, it’s determined they’ll need the help of Magneto (Michael Fassbender) as well, considering the events of X-Men First Class. With the help of Quicksilver (Evan Peters) and Beast (Nicholas Hoult), the trio tries to stop Mystique, but will stopping her prevent the dark future or create something even worse?
That’s a lot of story to digest and the beginning of the film is understandably clunky as the actors struggle with the expository dialogue to get all the major plot points across. Once Wolverine gets sent back in time, though, the film really starts rolling. However, while Wolverine is the fulcrum that gets the action going in 1973, he’s not the main character of the piece. That would be Young Xavier, who has to embrace the mantle of leadership of not only the school that bears his name, but of all of mutantkind as well. Singer, directing from a script by Simon Kinberg and a story by Kinberg, Jane Goldman, and Matthew Vaughn, tries to give all the ’73 characters as much time as possible, to keep the enterprise a true ensemble. He does a decent job with this, but obviously, the future timeline gets shafted. If I had one major complaint from this film, it was that I wanted them to spend more time in the future. Not only did that setting focus on the X-Men I knew from the first three films, but I just love post-apocalyptic scenes like that. The imagery in 2023 is breathtaking at times. To see drop ships dump hundreds of Sentinels into the air to hunt our heroes is daunting to say the least. This film raises the bar for how dark mainstream superhero films can go—the fights in the future are absolutely brutal.
Of course, the lack of time to cover everything that needed to be covered in this film goes toward the argument that the X-Men are not really suited for feature films and should, instead, be a high-budget television show. The X-Men are a team first and there are a lot of characters that need and deserve screen time, whereas The Avengers are a team made up of solo heroes brought together by circumstance. The Avengers are built for big budget features, while the X-Men are geared toward more serialized storytelling. I can still dream.
I found the switching between past and future to be seamless and never got confused by the story at all. Granted, I have a little more experience with the X-Men than regular moviegoers, but it should be pointed out that despite that, I was on the edge of my seat for about the last thirty minutes of the film. There is a twist about halfway in the film that turns the mission on its head and I loved it. It was a great story and told about as well as it could be. Maybe another ten to fifteen minutes might have helped smooth out some of the clunky edits early on, but overall, I was impressed with the epic scope of the film and Singer’s skill in telling the story.
The acting, as can be expected from a cast with this pedigree, is topnotch. As mentioned, not everyone gets to shine—Ian McKellen and everyone in the future are kind of shafted, except for Patrick Stewart, though they do well with the time they have—but the actors in 1973 really give standout performances. McAvoy does very well with Xavier’s arc and Jackman is ever-reliable as Wolverine. Fassbender proves he can go full-on supervillain (FINALLY) and still not completely cheese it up like Kevin Bacon in X-Men First Class, while Lawrence continues to do great work no matter what the genre. Dinklage is great as Trask, though I would have liked a little more background on him. Remember, while the main story is only adapting a two-part story, Trask’s tale began long before that in the X-Men books, so it was going to be impossible to get it all into a 130-minute film. Evan Peters is the real surprise as Quicksilver. When images first surfaced of him in costume, naysayers immediately came out of the woodwork to declare that his character was a failure. Guess what? He’s one of the best parts of the film. His action scene was reminiscent of Nightcrawler’s from X-Men 2, but this one is done with such a great sense of humor, which was important in a film filled with so much death and despair.
I don’t want to give a lot away, so I’ll just say that X-Men: Days of Future Past needs to be seen to be believed. There are several fantastic set pieces throughout the film and the cast is clicking on all cylinders. The ending, I felt, was perfect. It serves as a nice coda to the original trilogy and definitely resets the series going forward. This film truly was an apology to fans for X-Men 3, X-Men Origins, and, to a degree, X-Men First Class as Singer has only kept what is essential to move forward. There are plenty of ways they can go from here—a glimpse into the future of the series is found ALL the way at the end of the credits—and I’m sure many of those possibilities will be discussed in Episode #38 of The Hodgepodge Podcast (shameless plug).
As I said, I was struggling with the grade for this film, trying to invent a new one that exists between B+ and A-. Subsequent viewings may strengthen my choice or make me re-think it, but while I still give the edge to X-Men 2, I’ll lean toward the positive and say…