Few movies have been tasked with as monumental of a juggling act as X-Men: Days of Future Past. But the latest installment in the X-Men franchise manages to balance a decade and a half of films, a huge cast, and serious cinematic baggage to create an engaging and exciting film.
While DOFP does have its shortcomings, it is a film that is able to be so many different things at once without sacrificing its merits as a standalone movie. Director Bryan Singer, writer Simon Kinberg, and an enormous cast of actors have pulled off a film that could have easily failed due to a myriad of obstacles, most prominently its convoluted story.
Beginning in the distant future, almost all of mutantkind and the world as a whole has been destroyed by the Sentinels – powerful robots that were tasked with destroying mutants. The only way to avert this horrible world is to change the past. So through some convenient alterations in mutant powers, X-Man Wolverine’s (Hugh Jackman) consciousness is shunted back to 1973 to prevent the events that led to the creation of the original Sentinels and the eventual destruction of the world.
What makes DOFP so unique is that it manages to straddle both sections of the cinematic X-Men film franchise: the original cast of the 2000’s trilogy and the new cast of the semi-reboot X-Men: First Class. While First Class was clearly meant to sidestep the baggage of the original trilogy and give the films a fresh shot at new and interesting stories by beginning in 1962, the filmmakers obviously had a major shift in focus in the time since. By taking comic book writer Christ Claremont’s classic story of the same name from the early ‘80s and adapting it to the pre-existing film world, DOFP manages to be rather unlike most other comic book films that have been made before.
With time travel playing such a heavy role, the outcome of not only the film, but the franchise as a whole is at stake. Without spoiling anything, DOFP acts somewhat as a reset button for the X-Men. By creating alterations in the past and showing only some of its effects, the movies from here on out may be drastically different. It’s exciting, if somewhat confusing, and only the coming X-Men films will show where this newly revitalized franchise will head. DOFP may have come at the cost of spending more time with the First Class cast of characters, but it is a cinematic experience that would not have been possible in any other X-Men film.
But what’s most important about DOFP is the quality of the movie itself, not its effects on future movies. Jackman turns in another fantastic performance as Wolverine. This is a character that audiences have grown to know and love, but has also grown over the past 15 years of movies. And Jackman shows it. He still has that inner rage, sarcasm, and moral code that make up the screen version of the character, but he’s also matured and been affected by his hardships. He plays a pivotal role throughout the film and his interactions with younger versions of the people he’s known for years provide some of the best moments.
Thankfully, enough screen time is given to the rest of the major players, as well. James McAvoy’s Professor Charles Xavier is the real center of the film. We catch this younger version of the telepathic leader of the X-Men at a point in life where he is far different from the man we’ve come to know in so many other movies. His struggle with depression and self-loathing and his need to embrace hope, not just for himself but for the future of the world, is the core character arc of DOFP.
Michael Fassbender also makes a stellar return as Magneto, the mutant terrorist who believes his mission is what is truly right for his people. He plays him with many different layers, making him more interesting than a typical cackling villain and Fassbender really sells the massive power of the character. Unfortunately, he’s shockingly underutilized. He doesn’t have enough scenes and becomes too much of the same villain shown again and again in past X-Men movies.
As for the rest of the cast, Jennifer Lawrence is great as Mystique once again, showing the character at a true crossroads in her life and Nicholas Hoult is fun as young Beast, who’s dealing with major anger issues and a somewhat uncontrollable mutant power. Of course, Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan are pitch perfect as old Professor X and Magneto. They don’t have much to do, but are still a welcome addition.
But the real scene stealer is, shockingly, Evan Peters as Quicksilver. The speedster mutant seemed like such a wrongheaded version of the character in promotional materials leading up to the film, but his scenes are easily some of the funniest, most memorable, and most enjoyable of the entire movie. While it’s understandable why the character is in so little of DOFP, he’s quickly missed once he’s off screen. His high-speed prison break is one of the best scenes in recent films and represents the true heights that comic book movies can reach.
If the film has any major shortcomings, it is the lack of top notch action. Singer has never been known for making great action scenes, but the fights here somewhat disappoint. The battles against the strange-looking Sentinels of the future are rather repetitive, especially given the cannon fodder nature of the X-Men fighting them. In the ‘70s setting, action is mostly put on the backburner. Not that action should always be a priority, but it becomes noticeable when the giant finale ends up lacking in substantial fighting.
Thankfully, each character in 1973 remains interesting and substantial throughout the film. Their interactions and growth are what keep the movie dynamic and interesting. However, the film is overstuffed with characters at the end, even when running at more than two hours in length. Peter Dinklage’s Bolivar Trask, essentially the main villain of the story, is rather one note and given little to do. Additionally, every character in the future seems flat and uninteresting, both new and returning. It’s understandable. The story should be focused on the ‘70s setting. But it is still felt. And when almost-nameless characters die and die again, it’s hard to feel something substantial.
Altogether, X-Men: Days of Future Past doesn’t hit the ecstatic heights that some of its comic book movie brethren have, but it is consistently enjoyable, sometimes enthralling, and oftentimes unique. Where the X-Men films go from here is anyone’s guess. But for the first time in a long time, there is real hope for the series.