“So many battles waged over the years… and yet, none like this. Are we destined to destroy each other, or can we change each other and unite? Is the future truly set?”
It’s been a long, bumpy journey for the Marvel comic book series, X-Men, on the big screen. The series, now reaching its seventh installment, has been lauded, reviled, and and generally mixed, depending on the film in the series. But the love for the characters, and the brand name recognition, has kept it moving along over the last fourteen years. Now, with original director Bryan Singer back at the helm, the X-Men series is showing signs of life that it hasn’t in a long, long time. X-Men: Days of Future Past is part sequel, part prequel, part reboot, and all parts awesome, taking the series in a very interesting and new direction, and finally making good on the promise of how good the series could be after X-Men 2: X-Men United.
After many years fighting a war that has left the mutants all but extinct, Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) comes up with a plan to send someone back in time, hoping to stop the events that would lead to the dystopian future they’re living in. Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is the only person who can handle the pain that the time travel will cause, and voluntarily has himself sent back in time. Wolverine finds himself in 1973, in a time when the younger versions of Xavier (McAvoy) and Magneto (Fassbender) couldn’t be any different, or farther apart from each other. Tasked to bring them together, they must try and stop Mystique (Lawrence) from being the mutant who unknowingly sets off a chain of events that will lead to the destruction of not just mutant kind, but the world. As things begin to widely go out of control, the question of whether the future is predetermined becomes a very real concern, and the Wolverine must find a way to make things right, to save not just his future, but those he cares about in the past as well.
As Days of Future Past begins, it’s clear that we’re returning to the roots of the series, with a voiceover from Charles Xavier, giving the film a feel of familiarity, as we’re dropped into a world that looks like nothing we’ve ever seen in the series before. Bryan Singer wants fans of the series to remember what it was that grabbed us from the first film on, and bring it back. His direction has sorely been missed, and having him return really gives the film the push it needs to make fans really embrace and love the series again. He understands this world better than anyone, and the way the characters tick, which is very apparent here. After he helped pen and bring to life X-Men: First Class, Singer finds himself bridging the old series and new series, while also trying to fix some of the problems that have long plagued the series since X-Men: The Last Stand, which is no easy task. Thankfully, it’s something Singer feels very strongly about, and you can tell he feels the need to make the series finally live up to what it promised so many years ago.
Screenwriter Simon Kinberg is up for the task as well, as his script and story is what makes the movie live and breath. He was one of the responsible parties for X-Men: The Last Stand, and you can tell he’s learned from his mistakes this time. The film doesn’t feel overstuffed and overbearing, with too many characters and too many plots. This film is much leaner, quicker, and more emotional than anything the series has had before. The film gives ample breathing room for the characters of Wolverine, Magneto, Xavier, and Mystique, who are really the four focal points throughout. Each is given plenty to do, and their stories all feel fleshed out, other than half baked and under utilized. Jackman once again gives a fantastic performance as Wolverine, and continues to show us why he’s so beloved as the character. But this time, he gets a little bit more of an emotional core, as he spends time trying to help the younger version of Charles get his life back on track. Jackman and McAvoy play off each other fantastically, really making the relationship between Xavier and Wolverine feel more poignant and real than ever before. McAvoy has really come into his own as Charles, really getting a chance to sink his teeth into, making the role his own, but also giving us a chance to see the beginnings of what what he would become, with a little bit of Patrick Stewart beginning to emerge in him. Of course, he and Michael Fassbender continue to have great chemistry together as well, with their storyline of their strained friendship over Mystique, really being the film’s emotional center. Fassbender, much like McAvoy, really owns the role of Erik, and makes it his own. You can see the beginnings of Sir Ian McKellen’s version inside, but this is a much younger, angrier, and more aggressive Magneto than we’ve ever seen, and Fassbender delivers in spades.
But it’s really Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique who really surprises in this film. Her performance is so different than the one she gave in First Class. This version of Mystique is much more inline with what we’ve seen with Rebecca Romijn’s in the films. There’s a real otherworldly feel to the way Lawrence plays her, and it can all be attributed to Singer’s direction. He really takes his time to let us get to know the characters, and give them room to breathe, so we can really take in the performances of the actors. But it’s just not the younger cast who shines, but the Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian McKellen as well. Seeing them return to the roles of Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsheer once again is a real treat, and it feels like a day hasn’t passed since they played these characters. They completely embody their characters and their personalities, as well as their very tumultuous relationship. You can feel the pain and friction in their friendship, but you can tell they want nothing more than to fix what they inadvertently created, and they’ll do anything to protect each other after everything they’ve been through. There’s no way these two won’t be remembered in these roles, and it’s great they got to return once more.
The film also flows really well, for the most part. The film never feels too long, and with it clocking in at just under two hours and fifteen minutes, it has a lot of story to cover. Unfortunately, because of the runtime being that way, a few of the mutants seem to get a bit shafted. While Hoult really is good as Beast, he’s just not given enough to do or a story to really bring the character full circle like the others are. Likewise, Colossus, Ice Man, and Kitty all seem to be there more for plot convenience than as full fledged characters. Thankfully though, all the aforementioned characters do get something to do, and get some fun screen time to at least show off their powers in action, which is a pleasant surprise. Unfortunately though, Anna Paquin’s Rogue is missing from the proceedings, and her presence is very much missed. Time constraints had her role trimmed out, and it’s hard not to be a little bit annoyed by the fact she’s no where to be seen in the future battles. It’s really a minor gripe in the grand scheme of things, but it’s still one that really feels off as a whole. Thankfully, the action and story more than make up for her being missing in action, and Singer has really brought his game for the action scenes in the film. They’re fast, furious, and intense, and lead to one of the best third acts in a film in quite a while. He’s really learned to shoot action well over the last few years, and his growth as a filmmaker really shows, and it’s great to see him more experienced now, bringing what he’s learned to the series that he started so long ago, and giving it a new lease at life.
X-Men: Days of Future Past is a film that really shows exactly what this series is capable of, and really what it should have been, over the last several years. Bryan Singer returning to the series seems to be just the shot of adrenaline that the series needed to fully get back on track, and he’s delivered a film that new fans and old fans will flock to. Featuring an excellent ensemble cast, some fantastic action, and a story that sets the film universe straight, this is a film that is going to leave audiences cheering. It’ll be very interesting seeing where the series goes from here, because Singer has left the series in a very strong place, and one that leaves you wondering exactly where we’ll be headed next. But wherever it is, lets just hope it’s as strong and fun as this film, because this is as fun as blockbuster cinema gets.