One day, I will have grandchildren who tire of hearing about MY days of future past…
In order to avoid fighting an unwinnable war that could destroy humans and mutants alike, the X-Men send Wolverine back in time to the 1970’s to attempt to change history. He must find the younger versions of Professor X, Mystique, and even Magneto and convince them that the path they are on will lead to their complete annihilation.
A major advantage to being the seventh film into a series such as this is that the filmmakers can forgo the introductions and jump straight into the action. Director Brian Singer and his writers do exactly that as, after a grim opening narration, we are immediately thrust into a typical, but still thrilling, not-yet-contexted opening battle. The film is perhaps less action-oriented than most of its predecessors, but it starts with a bang and still has its fair share of follow-up bangs. You won’t be bored for a second.
Fortunately, with the time travel motif, they wisely avoided the urge to over-complicate things. Wolverine travels back with the intention of changing events, but not a whole lot of time is spent worrying about how the present is affected until he has either accomplished or failed in his mission (no disappearing and reappearing McFly family members here). Naturally, their variation of time travel raises a few silly questions – why did they cut it so close when surely just going back another day or two would have given them plenty of time to accomplish what they needed to get done? Why does the young Professor X, who has the ability to read and control minds and is standing next to a large, blue-haired mutant, have such a tough time believing that Wolverine has travelled through time? But, none of that matters – it’s all in fun.
One of the wisest moves made here is that the movie has fun with itself. The previous films have all had a sense of humor running through, but the latest film ups the ante quite a bit. Wolverine remains always cocked and loaded with a barb and there are quite a few excellent gags that reward viewers’ familiarity with the previous films. Of course, not every joke lands – there are a few political riffs (mostly Nixon-related) that elicit a chuckle, but seem a bit too easy and on-the nose, and when Wolverine first wakes up in the 70’s, we worry that they may go too far into “culture shock” humor, but fortunately, the sequence ends quickly and stops short of Austin Powers territory. Still, all in all, it’s nice that in a series such as X-Men, which has never shied away from darkness and death (even more so here), they remember to temper it with a healthy sense of humor.
The funniest, and best, new addition here comes in the character of Quicksilver. Evan Peters plays him with all the smarminess you’d expect of a rebellious teenager, and is able to make a character you’d have a hard time spending a single moment with in your real life an actual likeable presence. One particularly fantastic sequence takes Quicksilver’s lightning-fast speed and slows it down for audiences, giving us a glimpse into how he pulls off what he does. It’s an absolutely hilarious couple of moments (or, is it seconds?) and the upcoming second Avengers film is going to have a tough time topping Peters’ take with their interpretation of the character.
In addition, the rest of the acting is pretty solid across the board. Hugh Jackman absolutely embodies Wolverine for viewers at this point. He’s done the gig so many times that we would forgive him for sleepwalking through it, but he gives it as much gusto as ever. James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, and Jennifer Lawrence all reprise their roles from X-Men: First Class and have the biggest character arcs in the film. They form the emotional core of this mostly story-driven film, and they all handle it quite well, upping the ante from their previous appearances. Lawrence, in particular, is given a lot more to do here than before and she is more than up to the task. Nicholas Hoult spends more time as Hank than his alter ego Beast, but he brings a presence and dorky likability that pairs well with Jackman. Plus, unless I’m mistaken, Beast may have invented the VCR here!
Perennial besties Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan are both as great as ever, but besides a late-film dramatic scene well played by each, they are not given much to do here. In fact, that may be an issue for many as the majority of the film takes place in the past, relegating most of the non-First Class characters to mere cameos (some briefly extended, some not at all). Halle Berry’s Storm makes a welcome return, but don’t expect much. Even worse, however, is Anna Paquin’s Rogue. Despite her retrospectively ridiculous credits placement, the quick glimpse we get makes one wonder if she may have just been accidentally caught on camera from a distance while visiting the set. A few other old favorites pop up here and there as a nice treat, but the First Class representations are the ones who get the most screen time. Peter Dinklage is effective as the new “villain” here, but he’s underused and mostly steps aside for another, more familiar, character to become the real bad guy of the piece. Who exactly that is will come as absolutely no surprise to anyone who has seen an X-Men film, as it’s been the same on all group outings. We’re teased with perhaps finally avoiding that all-too-familiar route, which would have been a nice change, but ultimately, they just can’t help themselves.
Visually, the film has easily surpassed the previous entries. The cinematography by Newton Thomas Sigel and editing by John Ottman combine to give a very distinct look and end up creating a few absolute knockout set-pieces – in particular the aforementioned Quicksilver scene and an amazingly executed piece involving Magneto, Mystique, and a group of witnesses that cuts back and forth between Sigel’s lens and footage which has been captured on news cameras covering the incident, lending a sense of reality and creepiness. Ottman also returns as the composer here and when his familiar orchestral hits make their appearance, it can be incredibly stirring. On a side note, the 3D here is mostly wasted – it’s never a distraction, but it certainly feels like an afterthought. You can see the film in 2D with the utmost confidence that you’re not missing anything.
JASON’S FINAL THOUGHTS:
Certainly a contender for the best X-Men film to date, Days of Future Past is largely concerned with the overall story and emotional journey of its central characters, but there is no need to fear –plenty of action helps ensure that it never overstays its welcome. Combining an engrossing storyline, plenty of action and humor, and a group of actors that know exactly what we want from their character by now, X-Men: Days of Future Past is one of the best comic book-based films of recent memory. Also, if I’m not mistaken (and, what are the odds of that?), this is probably the film with the largest overall number of appearances, large or small, by members of the X-Men.
Review by Lead Film Critic/Writer, Jason Howard