The X-Men films are our last connection to the superhero films of the early 2000s. The films weren’t particularly great, with the series hitting a low point beginning with X-Men: The Last Stand and being followed with the absolutely awful X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Whatever good the first two movies had done, disappeared, and no one could understand why 20th Century Fox just didn’t reboot the franchise.
However, something remarkable happened. X-Men: First Class, a reboot of sorts, serving as a prequel to the original movies but also at the same time ignoring them. First Class completely ignored the tone of the first three films, going for something more fun than a drag. Director Matthew Vaughan completely embraced the Mad Men/60s era, hitting just the right amount of camp, without it becoming too silly.
Then came The Wolverine. Besides the disappointing last act, the film was fun, filled with great action sequences and managing to be an atypical superhero film. Then they brought back Bryan Singer, and I lost faith in the franchise again. He did a commendable job with the first two films, but really what he did was make the X-Men into Batman.
I’m making it sound like I hate Singer’s first two X-Men films, but I don’t, I just have a complicated feelings towards them. Because you get amazing sequences like the opening attack on the White House with Nightcrawler, but you also get really bland and boring visual diversity in many scenes. What I’m trying to say is that there are a lot of hallways in his films. However, by some miracle, Bryan Singer has made his best X-Film to date, and my second favourite X-Film of all time.
X-Men: Days of Future Past opens up in the dark and depressing world of the Singer X-Films, and from there he works to eradicate the world he himself created. What’s even more remarkable is that the film spends more time in the colourful and vibrant 1973 than the dark apocalyptic world of the future.
If they were to have continued the X-Men movies, after X-Men: The Last Stand, the sequels would have probably led to the future we see the film open with and this future is bad, like concentration camp bad. Sentinels are now patrolling the skies and have been programmed with Mystiques’ shapeshifting powers to adapt and defend themselves from the powers of other mutants. To fight this new threat, Professor Xavier & Magneto send Wolverine subconsciously back in time to 1973, when they realize that it was the capture of Mystique and the assassination of Trask by her hands that caused the Sentinel project to be put into effect.
How do they send Wolverine back in time? With Kitty Pryde’s new, never seen before, powers. She is able to send a person’s consciousness back in time to their past selves. So obviously Wolverine was the only one who could be sent that far back in time but apparently his mind can survive the trip back into time and someone like Professor Xavier couldn’t. Don’t question it, just go with it. It’s a comic book film after all.
It’s really easy to point out plot holes in Days of Future Past, or it’s lapses in continuity with past films of the franchise, but that’s not the point of the film. Days of Future Past is meant to be a soft reboot to the original franchise and its time-travelling story allows for a full reboot to become a reality. The future X-men still exist and their stories still happened, the difference is the outcome. The plot of Days of Future Past is not memorable. It’s a standard, paint by numbers plotting for a time-travel story. The only difference is that the future will only take into effect when Wolverine lands back into his future body. So you don’t have characters slowly disappearing out of existence like in Back to the Future or Looper, (Note: both those films are amazing, I’m just noting the difference when compared to traditional time travel storytelling).
However, you can’t help but feel that where Matthew Vaughan fully embraced the 60s in First Class, Singer feels constricted by the 70s in Days of Future Past. Cerebro looks like it does in the 90s, there’s no retro design to it, same goes from the basement it’s housed in. Even Trask displays his sentinel designs on a LCD flatscreen. These are obviously minor complains but they do prevent the film from reaching the level of entertainment that First Class was able to provide.
The films biggest asset is it’s cast. With the best members from First Class and the best members from the X-Men trilogy returning, Days of Future Past, provides the biggest and most complex live-action X-Men film yet. Old favourites such as Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan, and Hugh Jackman return but the real stars of the film is the returning cast of First Class. James McCavoy Michael Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence are all a lot more fun and dynamic to watch, and their conflict is where Days of Future Past really shines. The film also rightfully puts more of a focus on the story taking place in the past; the characters from the original trilogy are mainly brought in for fan service but are put to great use.
Days of Future Past is the first X-Men movie where the scale of the set pieces finally matches that of current superhero movies at the theatres. Especially since most of the big set pieces in Singer’s X-Films took place indoors, it’s great seeing Magneto pick up an entire stadium or action move from the interior of a building onto the streets Paris, it all helps to make for a much more visually exciting film. It’s dangerously fun watching your favourite X-Men characters die so graphically on screen, numerous times. Don’t worry, there’s time travel involved so they won’t stay dead.
The scene with the most visual excitement happens during a prison raid when we get to see Quicksilver’s powers in action. It’s the film’s standout sequence and one that silences a lot of the negativity the character was getting when he was first shown to the public. Even the way Evan Peters plays the character adds to Quicksilver’s likability and charm.
Quicksilver isn’t the only character that feels improved and different that what we saw of them in previous films. Singer manages to showcase every mutant ability in creative ways through some great fight choreography and visual effects. It’s great to see Iceman finally live up to his name, by actually being composed of ice, Colussus finally putting on some serious hurt. Even characters like Blink and Bishop who have little screen time, make some serious impression. Blink’s power is the most visually enjoyable power amongst the cast. The way they use her powers as a method of attack, retreat and transport in the middle of all the action gives everything great fluidity.
Days of Future Past reaffirmed something I was worried about with the future of the X-Men franchise: that they were going to use this film to go back and continue with the original X-Men trilogy. But as it now seems, the sequel, X-Men: Apocalypse, will take place in the 80s. It is safe to say that X-Men franchise will remain it’s fun and entertaining new self instead of falling back to it’s black leather wearing ways of the past.
Days of Future Past shows 20th Century FOX’s commitment to the rebooted (sort of) X-Men franchise. The film puts a bigger focus on the cast from First Class and treats the original cast more as cameos in an attempt to erase the X-Men: The Last Stand from existence. Days of Future Past values it’s characters more and every scene manages to squeeze great performances and drama from its old and young cast. Days of Future Past may not be the best X-Men movie ever made but it sure as hell is Bryan Singer’s best movie to date and that should be a good enough sign for future films.
Score: 8.0 out of 10