Warning: There will be spoilers aplenty in the paragraphs ahead. You should probably go see the movie and come back…
Director Bryan Singer’s film X-MEN back in 2000 knocked my dinosaur-patterned socks off! Being a huge X-Men fan (Cyclops!), and seeing my mutants on the big screen in live action was just wonderful. He nailed it. And he really set the bar for what a superhero film could and should be at that time. As the years move forward, what constitutes a “good” superhero film is changing a bit and leaning more towards reflecting the source material, colorful costumes and all. But it was X-MEN that showed us the water was warm enough to dip our collective toes in. Singer’s follow-up in 2003 X2: X-MEN UNITED proved the first was no fluke and it’s still considered the most solid X-film to date by the majority of fans I’ve spoken with. Theeeeen, things get a little stinky and sour much like most third entries in a superhero film series (SUPERMAN III, BATMAN FOREVER, BLADE TRINITY, SPIDER-MAN 3, etc.). This is largely due to Singer (and James Marsden, aka Cyclops) leaving the franchise for the “love it or hate it” SUPERMAN RETURNS. The result was the much loathed X-MEN: THE LAST STAND in 2006 directed by Brett “whoops” Ratner. Fans of the established movie franchise and comic book universe alike all collectively yelped as if Professor X himself mentally stabbed their brains. A rant for another time (sigh). Since then, we were shown that it could be worse and “worse” it was when 2009 rolled out X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE and slapped us in the face when we were down. After that, something had to change and luckily it did. Audiences were treated to something unheard of…an X-Men not starring Wolverine! And by gosh thanks to a talented team of creators and artists (mainly director Matthew Vaughn), we were treated to 2011’s X-MEN: FIRST CLASS. A film that explored the origins of Professor X and Magneto’s relationship and the beginning of a new era for the X-Men film franchise. Success! Soon after in 2013, we got a great stand alone Wolverine film, simply called THE WOLVERINE, that served as a sequel of sorts to THE LAST STAND, and it too was pretty darn great. And now that FIRST CLASS showed us X-movies could be good again, series originator Bryan Singer stepped back in the directors position for X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST and proved one thing…he needs to be directing these movies. Yes my friends, DAYS OF FUTURE PAST is damn good!
For those of you not “in the know”, DAYS OF FUTURE PAST is loosely based on a comic book of the same name and features most of the main players from the original X-movies (Professor X, Magneto, Wolverine, Storm, Colossus, Kitty Pryde and Iceman) along with some familiar faces from the FIRST CLASS reboot (younger Professor X, younger Magneto, Mystique, and Beast). The surviving mutants from the original films (with a few extra buddies in the form of Warpath, Bishop, Sunspot, and Blink) are now desperately surviving in a dark and disturbing dystopian future where humans and mutants alike are almost wiped out from an army of shape-shifting robots called Sentinels. It is a losing battle, and out of desperation, Kitty Pryde must use her “stage-two” mutation (don’t ask) to slingshot Wolverine (the only one powerful enough to withstand the physical trauma) back into the past to stop the deadly Sentinels from being created in the first place. And apparently it all revolves around the mutant Mystique and her decision to murder the creator of the Sentinal program Bolivar Trask. Yeah, this film is pretty plot heavy. And I will admit, for a film that deals with time-travel, it all makes a lot of sense and is done quite well (except for Professor X being alive in the future without explanation of course). Once Wolverine is thrust back to the 70’s to save the day, we meet up with our friends from the FIRST CLASS era and they team-up to stop the future they have in store for themselves in order to save their friends and humanity. Basically they are going to save the world. Classic. The interesting aspect DAYS OF FUTURE PAST has is that it is a sequel to both the original X-Men films that Singer started long ago and a sequel to FIRST CLASS creating a wholly unique movie-going experience rivaling THE AVENGERS massive team-up films.
Many will argue that these X-Men films just have too many mutants. And I wholeheartedly disagree. That’s what X-Men is all about! A crap ton of mutants bouncing off one another! The issue lays with a creative team and director that simply can’t handle all the awesomeness that is the X-Men universe. Bryan Singer is definitely the man for this job as far as I’m concerned. Not only did he balance a film bustling with a wide array of mutants, but he even managed to navigate the complicated nature of having younger and older versions of many characters throughout. When the dust settles with DAY OF FUTURE PAST, one of the key things I noticed was how each main character had a purpose, an interesting story arc, and mostly equal screen time. A balancing act most directors would struggle with. Once again seeing Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen as older versions of Professor X and Magneto was a dream come true. They simply shine on screen and were absolutely perfect as they stood together one last time and reflected on all the things they regret about the past and their complicated relationship. And seeing a hardened Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page), Colossus (Daniel Cudmore), Iceman (Shawn Ashmore), and Storm (Halle Berry) struggle in their horrible future was very exciting. Each of these original X-team actors brought their A-game and it really made me yearn for a true sequel with those characters. In the dark future segments, we also have newcomers Bishop (Omar Sy), Blink (Bingbing Fan), Sunspot (Adan Canto), and Warpath (Booboo Stewart) who are all pretty fun while we have them. Due to the randomness of these included mutants (except for maybe Bishop), it is my guess that these characters are some of Singer’s favorites and thus included for fun. Even still, they are pretty cool to watch on screen here and add to the growing list of live-action mutants seen on screen.
Returning from the FIRST CLASS side of things, we have Michael Fassbender as Magneto who is as stunning as ever. After seeing Ian McKellen on screen as Magneto for so many years, I never thought he could be replaced…until Fassbender came around that is. He is McKellen’s compliment in every way here and really owns the role. And James McAvoy as Professor X continues to impress. Especially here in DAYS OF FUTURE PAST where he really has to confront the kind of man he wants/needs to be in order to become a leader. Honestly, if I had to pick one person as the star of this film, it would be Professor X. He is like the anchor to the main plot points of this film and his decisions resonate the loudest. Other notables from the FIRST CLASS side include Jennifer Lawrence returning as Mystique (so says a 3 picture deal), Nicholas Hoult as Beast, and Lucas Till as Havoc in a hugely limited role due to the character being drafted for war in the film. Just like in FIRST CLASS, Lawrence and Hoult shine and give us great performances. Mystique is a character I usually don’t care about, but her relevance in this film is unavoidable, and Beast just hit a sweet spot with me here (see my drawing below!). He is such a likable character in these films and I just want to see more of him. Hoult is pretty cool. We also have a few brand new characters worth mentioning in the form of Evan Peters as the lightening fast Quicksilver and Peter Dinklage as the evil Dr. Bolivar Trask responsible for crafting the Sentinels in the first place. Both these guys are scene-stealers. Peters’ Quicksilver arguably has the best action scene in the film, and Dinklage hams it up as Trask and stands out as an interesting addition. All around great casting if you ask me. And last, but not least we have our mainstay in the form of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. Like him or not, Jackman IS Wolverine. He has been this character for 14 years now and hasn’t lost a beat. Sure he looks a bit older (appropriate for this film), but man does he still have it. He’s a force to be reckoned with and is really the constant in this film franchise and has been there for better and for worse…and even worse. My only question is when the man will pass on the role to someone else.
Really what I admired most about DAYS OF FUTURE PAST was it’s spot-on pacing and overall engagement. There was never a dull moment and I found myself glued to the screen in a tunnel-vision like trance for the entirety of this film’s 131 minute run time. I just had to know what happened next! Simply put, I was enthralled from start to finish. And isn’t that what any good movie should do? Enthrall and transport me somewhere else for while. The dark future segments with the original cast and friends was beautifully haunting, Wolverine finally battling side by side with the FIRST CLASS crew was a treat, and the time travel narrative here was perfectly fitting considering just how big this X-movieverse had gotten. Something else I realized about this movie was that it really wasn’t a traditional X-movie at all. Think about it. There was never really a time where the X-Men “suited up” and fought as a team (besides in the dark future). What we have here is a multi-layered narrative that breaks the norms and centers around a bunch of struggling characters as they battle through the ages to prevent a tragic and dark future. So in a sense, it was a team-up, just not the kind we are use to.
At its core, DAYS OF FUTURE PAST is a summer blockbuster. And with that comes some expected action and spectacle right? Well, DAYS OF FUTURE PAST never skimps in this department either. Everything in the bleak future is just a battleground full of amazing mutant abilities, turmoil, and death-filled battles. Seeing our original heroes duke it out against a common evil one more time was pretty damn fun. And once we hit the 70’s, the action does not let up. We have a few fun mutant scuffles, we finally see the Sentinels in action, Wolverine slashes and grunts his way through a few battles, and Magneto absolutely decimates his surroundings all leading up to one of the characters finest action sequences on screen. And as mentioned above, Quicksilver steals the show and wins the award for best action sequence of the film echoing the awesomness that was Nightcrawler in X2. Whatever happened to that guy!? My point here is that the action delivers.
So the credits are rolling and I’m at that nice time in between the feature and the inevitable “after credits” sequence Marvel movie fans are so accustomed to. My mind is still racing with thoughts about how amazing this film was. Singer really out did himself and has really crafted what is possibly the best X-film to date. I also have to touch base upon one of the final scenes where Wolverine wakes up in the X-Mansion and takes a stroll through the hallways. It was just perfect. It was like a dream to me and really embodied everything I ever wanted out of an X-Men film. The Mansion is full of students, the main X-Men are all teachers doing their thing. There is a hustle and bustle energy all around. Beast says hello, Rouge and Bobby share an affectionate moment, Kitty and Colossus team-teaching, Jean standing in a hallway speaking to Professor X in his office, and just as Wolverine is about to embrace the return of Mrs. Grey…CYCLOPS!! Yes! Anyone who knows me must know the sheer amount of joy coursing through my veins seeing James Marsden back in character as Scott Summers. It was movie-going bliss I tell you! And the cherry on top!? He grabs Wolverine’s arm and pretty much tells him to back away from his girl reigniting the classic love triangle comic fans know all too well. What did Bryan Singer do you say!? He basically course corrected the franchise he began and put all things where they belong. Some may scoff at this time-traveling solution for all the franchises’ problems (something the comics have done time and time again), but I say it was masterfully done and a true gift to all us diehard fans who have been waiting for that moment ever since THE LAST STAND. I’ve been very patient as Cyclops’ #1 fan. While I imagine the final scene was more of a final goodbye to that cast of characters, I can only dream of at least one last adventure with the team that started it all in 2000. But alas, it looks like the franchise has re-set and will continue on with the FIRST CLASS crew and recast all the main players such as Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Storm in their younger forms. While I would love for the old cast to get their own movie again, I am at peace knowing that no matter what angle they take, Cyclops and Jean Grey can be a part of it all once again. My shoulders can finally slump and rest easy.
The “after credits” tease is a direct set up to the already announced X-MEN: APOCALYPSE which also has Bryan Singer returning as director (phew). It looks like the FIRST CLASS crew including McAvoy’s Professor X, Fassbender’s Magneto, Lawrence’s Mystique, and Hoult’s Beast will be returning in 2016 hopefully alongside younger versions of Cyclops, Jean Grey, Iceman, and Angel. And if I were a betting man, I’d say Jackman’s Wolverine will be in the mix along with Gambit and possibly Nightcrawler. Let the speculation begin. Until then, know that DAYS OF FUTURE past was an excellent film due to it’s spot on pacing, great cast of characters, stunning action sequences, and overall plot that course corrected and reset the franchise in a fascinating new direction that has my mind brimming with possibilities! I simply can’t wait to see where they take the franchise next. That said, there is just one more thing I want to say directly to Bryan Singer. “Thank you.”
Final Score: 9 out of 10