The X-Men franchise has had an interesting path over the last 14 years. After “Blade”, the original film really kicked off the age of superhero films that has yet to stop. The follow up, "X2" remains one of the best in the genre. From that point, the series has been uneven, hitting the bottom with a third movie and Wolverine spin-off. While “The Wolverine” proved that Hugh Jackson could still carry this franchise, it was “X-Men: First Class” that gave us the hope that the best was yet to come. The new cast gave us a stellar new spin on the characters we knew, but left us wondering how these fresh faces would tie into the original cast. Enter, “Days of Future Past”, a loose adaption of a classic X-Men story. More than just another sequel, this movie would bridge the gap between the two casts.
Warning: This is a spoiler-filled post. If you have not seen “X-Men: Days of Future Past”, turn back now.
I really enjoyed “Days of Future Past”. The movie celebrated both casts, giving us fun moments in both time periods. I want to see more with these characters. Marvel has raised the bar, and I’m not sure that the X-Men are keeping up with Capatain America and The Avengers; but this property is in good hands, which is more than I can say for Spider-Man. I’m sure that we could pick-apart the choices made with this movie (especially those involving time-travel), but I see “Days of Future Past” as a fun summer adventure.
Let’s explore a few of the specifics.
“Days of Future Past” was filled with moments where all of the strong casting in the franchise paid off. We’ve been enjoying these casts for years, but here we keep nearly every favorite character (even if there are two of them). Xavier and Magneto have been excellently cast, and seeing them act together is a treat. I wish Ian McKellen had a little more to do, but something has to give in a cast this large. McAvoy and Fassbender continue to shine as magnetic actors who don’t discount these comic book roles for a second. The remainder of the returning “First Class” cast, did well; but didn’t match their greatness in last film. I like Nicholas Hoult as Beast, but he spent most of the time as Xavier’s caretaker. Jennifer Lawrence played a pivotal role, but Mystique seemed like a more interesting character most of the previous movies. Maybe the makeup makes it hard for subtle acting to get through (Rebecca Romajn always played it a bit dramatic). In fact, I thought her best scene was the discussion with Fassbender as she seemed convinced that he needed to kill Trask. I didn’t dislike a thing Jennifer Lawrence did, she just wasn’t as strong of a character as she was in "First Class".
Speaking of "First Class", I am amazed that so many characters were not brought back. "Days of Future Past" has gotten plenty of attention for who was included from the original cast. I'm more fascinated by the realization that only five mutants returned from "First Class". In fact, only one of the new characters survived, and Havock only spent a minute or so on screen (forgot about him, didn’t you?). The more I think about this latest X-Men movie, the more it feels as if Singer and the rest of the creators cleared the chess pieces; choosing to set their own the course.
Also paying off here is Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. We’ve seen a lot of this character, and I believe that has a lot to do with Hugh’s excitement for it. This is a role that could easily be played as a cheesy action star, or a cartoonish animal, but Hugh’s portrayal of our hero has grown over these movies. When I heard that Wolverine would be the one sent back in time, I felt a little jaded. It seemed clear that the studio needed to ensure the popular character would be in every moment they could justify. Luckily, this movie earned Logan’s screen time. While I’m not clear as to why Kitty developed the power to send people back, I understood why Wolverine needed to be sent back. More importantly, Hugh Jackman played off of McAvoy and Fassbender well. His character had to remain calm, and that worked well for this story. As odd as it was seeing Logan as the sage, the man held back from most of the action, it worked.
Peter Dinklage was a great choice for villain that wasn’t just hateful, but had new twist on familiar desire to hunt mutants. Br. Bolivar Trask did not fear mutants, he didn’t hate them. While he stated that he admired them, he saw them as a means to an end. He believed he had good intentions of using a mutant threat to bring the world together. This franchise has seen villains with political motivations, but I find it surprisingly fresh.
Trask’s sentinels were also used well. While I would still like to see the beatable, mechanical sentinels of the 70's face a full mutant team, they served their purpose. While the presence of sentinels was important to the story, the robots themselves had little to do. For that reason, I am able to turn a blind eye to the fact that they were built with technology that was clearly beyond their time. The future sentinels were fun in their small doses, but I have no need to see more of those unbeatable, adapting juggernauts.
My favorite scene in the movie may have been the in-flight discussion between young Xavier and Wolverine. In this quiet moment, Logan puts his attitude aside, making Professor X promise that he will find the X-Men. Wolverine knows that he would be lost without the help he had received from the Professor, and has seen the good that has come from his creation of the X-Men. Its a touching, honest moment. However, McAvoy’s response seals this as a favorite scene for me. We see Xavier’s self-doubt all over his face. Our Professor X is bewildered by the thought of him rebuilding the school and recreating the X-Men. Wolverine trests him with reverence, and he can’t understand that. Its a natural reaction that we can only see played out in a movie like this. Think of any teacher or mentor that has greatly affected you. Can you imagine yourself telling a younger version of themselves how important they would become to you? What if someone you’ve never met tried to explain the same thing to you?
Of course, we also line up to see these movies for the big mutant action, and Days of Future Past did not disappoint. We see some fantastic action in the future (Magneto using the jet as a weapon!). We see imaginative use of powers in the past (Magneto using a stadium to fence in the White House!). There’s plenty of of great sci-fi action, but I must highlight the precious time we spent with Quicksilver. The use of this speedster felt fun and fresh. X-Men just showed DC how to make a Flash movie (I’m betting that the TV show creators took some notes). That Quicksilver sequence felt like something more than just the creators throwing in another mutant. I enjoyed the use of a mutant who wasn’t really choosing a side, or was afraid of their power. Quicksilver was interesting (easily distracted, loved going fast but forced to slow down), and was used in interesting ways (vibrating the glass, diffusing the entire kitchen standoff). I believe we got just the right dosage of this character; as I fear that we would grow tired of him, or it would seem too convenient if he was always around to help. Then again, we’ll see what The Avengers do with the same(ish) character next year.
One of my favorite choices in this movie is the return of John Ottman for the score. The score is fantastic in its own right, but I felt exuberant glee when I heard the return of the X2 theme as the credits rolled. He teased us at the opening, but the full return of the X2 theme cemented the excitement of opening so many doors for the franchise, while restoring the glory of the original cast. Ottman did an excellent job of incorporating themes from previous films, bridging the gap without letting them weigh him down.
I’ve heard it said that this movie wave a big middle finger to "The Last Stand". It erases any trace of that film from continuity. This is true, but it also erases nearly everything else, saving only "First Class" and about 10 minutes of the first Wolverine movie. This opens so many doors for the franchise, especially if you accept the departures from continuity. These movies have always taken the seeds from the comics, using them to tell their own story. If you’ve liked any of the X-Men movies in the past, you have no reason not to be excited about the future of the series.
One of the fascinating loose-ends at the end of the movie is the fate of Wolverine. After the Styker fake-out, we see our hero taken away my Mystique. She is the only mutant in the story that didn’t learn about Logan’s future. What use would she have for him? How will he get his adamantium skeleton? Will the Professor look for him, or assume him to be dead? I’m sure Wolverine won’t remember anything about the events of this movie, but he hasn’t faced the challenges of the Weapon X program yet. While I’m hoping that the creators don’t rehash the story, its an important part of his development. Perhaps we will learn just how hard it is to try to change fate/destiny.