A film review by Craig J. Koban May 29, 2014 


2014, PG-13, 131 mins.


Patrick Stewart as Professor Charles Xavier (Future)  /  James McAvoy as Professor Charles Xavier (Past)  /  Michael Fassbender as Erik Lehnsherr / Magneto (Past)  /  Ian McKellen as Erik Lehnsherr / Magneto (Future)  /  Jennifer Lawrence as Raven / Mystique  /  Nicholas Hoult as Hank McCoy / Beast  /  Hugh Jackman as Logan / Wolverine  /  Ellen Page as Kitty Pryde / Shadowcat  /  Shawn Ashmore as Iceman  /  Peter Dinklage as Bolivar Trask  /  Halle Berry as Ororo Munroe / Storm

Directed by Bryan Singer  /  Written by Simon Kinberg


X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST is a true cinematic first. 

It’s a sequel to a prequel that also just happens to be a sequel to a sequel.  

Now, before you go crossed eyed, this seventh film set in the Marvel Comics mutant universe is a literal follow-up to both 2011’s wonderful X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (the aforementioned prequel to the entire series) and 2006’s somewhat maligned X-MEN: THE LAST STAND, the third film in the original trilogy.  Rather ingeniously, X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST finds a manner of combining the characters of both the past and present (as well as the actors that have portrayed respective characters, both present and past) into one sprawling time travel narrative.  Even though the film’s ambitiousness matches its audaciousness and will, most likely, confound many lay viewers not familiar with the previous films, the rest of the franchise devotees will greatly appreciate X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST a stellar return to form for the series that many felt didn’t get a good send-off with THE LAST STAND. 

Returning quite triumphantly and confidently to the director’s chair – after a decade-long absence – is Bryan Singer, who helmed the very first X-Men film way back and 2000 and the series’ finest entry in X2: X-MEN UNITED.   Taking cues from a classic Chris Claremont and John Byrne comic book story arc of the same name from 1981, X-MEN DAYS OF FUTURE PAST focuses on a dystopian future when Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is sent back to the past (sort of, more on that in a bit) to change events in the early 1970’s in hopes of saving the mutant race of the future from genocide.  The inherent foible with all time travel films is the inherent nature of paradox (focus too much on them and the stories usually fall apart under modest scrutiny), but Singer and screenwriter Simon Kinberg wisely do not strain too much to explain the particulars of how temporal journeys work here.  Time travel just…well…is possible via a key mutant gift from one member of the team, and the fact that the film doesn’t waste our time establishing the hows and whys is ultimately the right path.   



X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST arguably has the darkest and bleakest introduction in the series.  It’s 2023 and the world is a war-ravaged, apocalyptic nightmare.  Mutants – and humans that have been harboring and aiding them – have been systematically hunted down and killed by shape shifting robots known as Sentinels, which all have a highly unique skill of adapting a defensive mechanism to all mutant powers, essentially making them all but invulnerable and impossible to destroy.  Realizing that the end is very near, the last pocket of surviving X-Men – lead by Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and his once sworn enemy, now ally, Erik “Magneto” Lehnsherr (Ian McKellen) – have formulated a bold plan to stop their annihilation.  Using the powers of Kitty Pride (Ellen Page), they will time travel one team member’s consciousness back into the body of his past younger self to alter the past.  Unfortunately, this dangerous trick will kill just about anyone that is not physically up for the challenge, which means that Wolverine – having the ability to regenerate from mortal wounds – is the only worthy candidate. 

The trickiness of their Hail Mary plan aside, the X-Men’s greatest challenge sending Wolverine back is to stop Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from killing Sentinel inventor Boliver Trask (GAME OF THRONE’s wonderful Peter Dinklage, a spirited addition here) 50 years ago in 1973; his murder would eventually make him a martyr, leading to the capture of Mystique, whose mutant powers will be reverse engineered to create the future Sentinels (still with me?).  Worse yet is that Wolverine has to find and convince the younger version of Xavier (James McAvoy) of his mission, who has now been reduced to an alcoholic, drug taking recluse.   To complicate matters even more, Wolverine has to further convince the jaded Xavier to bust Magneto (Michael Fassbender) out of federal prison (he was captured for being complicit in the assassination of J.F.K.) to work together to prevent the future from happening.  Many conflicts and personal complications inevitably ensue. 

The best X-MEN films, in my mind, have been on solid footing when they focus their storylines on relatable themes.  This go around, X-MEN; DAYS OF FUTURE PAST is an even deeper assessment on the nature of cultural extinction bred by decades of ignorance and fear, something that the previous films dealt with, but not with the somberness on display here.  In many ways, this entry further probes what makes the heroes and villains of the X-Men universe so thoroughly compelling, especially for the way that the storyline in the past is tied in to key political figures and social events from our own past.  McAvoy’s Xavier is easily the most intriguingly handled character in the film, whom began X-MEN: FIRST CLASS as a somewhat cocky and headstrong professor-to-be, but has now been reduced to a disillusioned and apathetic loner that has little hope for his kind (many of his prized pupils going to and being killed in the Vietnam War hasn’t helped him spiritually either).  His real challenge is to rediscover the long lost hero that resides within him, which gives this X-MEN film an added layer of psychological complexity.

Singer, if anything, understands these super powered, but deeply humanistic characters better than any of the previous X-Men directors.  Magento remains an endlessly fascinating foil to Xavier, the former who takes a more pacifistic approach to dealing with ignorant humans, whereas the latter – a child victim of the Holocaust – is a more militantly antagonistic and does not like being pushed around.  McAvoy and Fassbender are a real treasure in these films, as they establish the rhythms of their deeply problematic relationship and gives the series more edge because of it.  It could be said, though, that this is Wolverine’s film, and Jackman is as equal to the task as ever, especially in providing the film with much needed dosages of comic relief.  His future consciousness arrives in its past self while lying with a strange woman…in a waterbed, which is a dicey situation for a man that sometimes instinctively lets his claws spring from his knuckles on instinct. 

That is not to say that the film is bereft of action and spectacle.  Singer really has hit his stride in terms of marrying character dynamics and drama with awe-inspiring visual flourishes that comic book die-hards clamor for in films like this.  There’s a remarkably nifty Pentagon prison break sequence, during which time Xavier, Beast (Nicholas Hoult) and Wolverine enlist in Quicksilver (a super speedy mutant, played by Evan Peters) to use his powers to stop the onslaught of prison guards (the film slows down to show his P.O.V. as he mischievously uses the guards like puppets without their knowledge or consent).  Then there is a truly remarkable sequence involving Magento levitating John F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium off of the ground and then placing it around the White House to separate it from the outside world so that he can enact his own fiendish and twisted end-game in the film’s thrilling climax.  Singer’s command of pacing, visual effects artistry and ingenuity, and building tension as the film hurtles to an unavoidable conclusion pitting all powerful heroes versus equally powerful villains are all at their peaks here. 

Considering just how densely packed X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST is, it nonetheless suffers the same fate of its antecedents by losing focus of many characters as a result of its overcrowded nature.  Halle Berry, Ellen Page, Stewart and McKellan are sort of disappointingly reduced to glorified cameos here, and Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique seems more of a fringe figure of interest that is used more as a plot device to propel the story forward than she is as a captivating character set within it.  And, yeah, if you think about the logical loopholes of the film’s time travel it will ostensibly stymie your overall interest in it.  Still, Singer’s return to the mutant universe is a largely rousing and victorious one, as he understands the requirements of this series to hone in on the relatable quandaries of these super heroes in introspective moments while still delivering the requisite level of large scale escapist thrills that these films require.  Maybe more than the previous X-MEN films, this entry – as a direct result of it spanning multiple countries, time periods, and characters at different ages and mentalities – feels more epically staged and deeply personal than ever.  That’s a thorny dichotomy to pull off effectively for any super hero genre film…perhaps even more nifty Kitty Pride’s time travel mutant tricks.  

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