Since the latest Godzilla flick, I’ve fallen behind with this year’s genre movies. I haven’t yet seen Chef or Edge of Tomorrow, which will probably have to wait for video, but I did catch X-Men: Days of Future Past. This Marvel Comics adaptation cleaned up some of the continuity problems of past films, but its appeal is probably limited to fans of the ever-growing mutant ensemble.
Plot: For those not familiar with the original Chris Claremont and John Byrne storyline, in one bleak future (actually 2013 in the comics, but probably the near future in the movie), mutants and their allies are hunted by robotic Sentinels and put into concentration camps. This is a direct allegory of the Nazi death camps and U.S. internment of Nisei during World War II.
A few survivors are sent back in time (to 1980 in the comic, the early 1970s in the movie) to stop fellow mutant Mystique from assassinating someone and thereby preventing or at last delaying war between fearful humanity and the mutant minority.
This movie shifts the time traveler from Kitty Pryde/Shadowcat to the popular Logan/Wolverine, and the person who must not be killed changes from Sen. Robert Kelly (who has already appeared in other X-films) to Dr. Bolivar Trask, creator of the Sentinels, and Pres. Nixon.
While many details have changed, the overall story and tone of Days of Future Past are faithful to the source material. Like Watchmen and the Captain America films, this X-Men outing successfully juxtaposes different time periods, national crises, and superheroes.
Cast: Arguably, the best part of Days of Future Past is seeing the actors from the first batch of X-Men movies (from 2000 through 2009) plus the cast of X-Men: First Class (2011). Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine is still burly and wry and serves as the glue holding Days of Future Past — and arguably, 20th Century Fox’s whole franchise — together.
While I would have liked to see more of buddies Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen as mutant leaders Prof. Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto, respectively, it made sense for them to pass the torch to younger actors James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender in the same roles.
In the dystopian future, we get glimpses of Halle Berry as Ororo Munroe/Storm, Ellen Page as Kitty Pryde, Daniel Cudmore as Piotr Rasputin/Colossus, and Shawn Ashmore as Bobby Drake/Iceman. Unfortunately, Anna Paquin’s cameo as Anna Marie/Rogue was all but cut for time.
In addition, we see some impressive fight scenes between numerous tough Sentinels and acrobatic newcomers Omar Sy as Bishop, Bingbing Fan as Blink, Adan Canto as Sunspot, and Booboo Stewart as Warpath. With exotic names such as these (and I applaud more diverse casting), the X-Men should start a baseball team.
Most of the character development takes place in the past, however, with the aforementioned telepath Prof. X and master of magnetism Magneto. Jennifer Lawrence, who inherited the role from Rebecca Romijn, is again part of their triangle as the shapeshifting Raven Darkholme/Mystique.
Also noteworthy are Evan Peters as wiseguy speedster Peter Maximoff/Quicksilver and Game of Thrones‘ Peter Dinklage as the misguided Dr. Trask. There are too many characters and battles for a lot of character development, but that’s typical for any non-print incarnation of the X-Men.
Direction: Bryan Singer, subject of troubling but as-yet unproven allegations, returns with a sure hand to direct the franchise he helped create. The action scenes, actors’ performances, and overall pacing are solid.
While time travel can be an overused plot device, it’s central to this story, in which Singer fixes some of the fictional history that was needlessly convoluted in past films in this series (to say more would give away “spoilers”). Days of Future Past did a better job than Star Trek: Into Darkness of straightening out continuity kinks.
Cinematography: As with Disney/Marvel’s Avengers, the state of the art is kept high for visual effects, fight choreography, and recreating bits and pieces of Washington, D.C., in the 1970s. The dark future is less successful, featuring the same bombed-out urban centers, rainscapes, and computer-generated killer robots as many other dystopian films.
The scene with Quicksilver helping to break Magneto out of a cell beneath the Pentagon rivals Nightcrawler’s attack on the White House in X2. In fact I missed Alan Cumming as teleporter Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler.
Soundtrack: The musical score of Days of Future Past includes themes from previous X-Men movies, period songs, and the right level of punctuation for the action scenes. There were few really memorable moments, but I think this was a more fitting soundtrack than for several other recent superhero movies.
Rating: Overall, I’d give X-Men: Days of Future Past, which is rated PG-13 for violence, brief nudity, and language, four out of five stars, an 8.5 out of 10, or a B+. I found it a worthy continuation of Marvel’s mutant saga, and here’s how I’d rank it among its peers:
- X-Men (2000) ***
- X2 (2003) ****
- X-Men: the Last Stand (2006) *
- X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) **
- X-Men: First Class (2011) ***
- The Wolverine (2013) — I haven’t yet seen this.
- X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) ****
Only longtime X-Men fans will recognize the allusions in the postcredits teaser for Age of Apocalypse, which will likely use a remixed version of the team. Other movies I’m looking forward to include over-the-top noir Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For and stop-motion The Boxtrolls. I’ll try to post my favorable review of animated fantasy How to Train Your Dragon 2, which I saw this past weekend.
I’ll also try to get around to my impressions of the past year in genre television soon.