X-Men: Days of Future Past
by Bryan Singer (dir), Simon Kinberg, Jane Goldman (wr)
Review by Drew Bittner
Twentieth Century Fox
Date: 04 June 2014 /
Not long from now, mutantkind is on the brink of extinction. Sentinels have hunted them, adapting to their powers, obliterating any who stand in their way... all because of a murder decades past. Now, the hope of mutants--and mankind itself--rests on one man and a crazy plan to change history.
The future is a grim place. Mutants and human sympathizers have been rounded up into concentration camps; those who are free are hunted by squadrons of biotech Sentinels, capable of adapting to any power used against them. Professor X (Stewart) and Magneto (McKellen) are the leaders of a depleted and demoralized group of X-Men, fleeing from one uncertain sanctuary to the next. It is only a matter of time before they are wiped out...but time may be the answer to their problem.
Kitty Pryde (Page) has discovered that her phasing power allows her to slip not only through solid objects but also through time as well. Pushing her power to the utmost, she can send one person back to a crucial moment in history: the moment Mystique (Lawrence) murdered Bolivar Trask (Dinklage), inventor of the mutant-hunting Sentinels. Thing is, such a feat runs the risk of horrific brain damage to the time traveler. The only one who might survive is Wolverine (Jackman). So Logan gets ready to make the trip, even as heroes like Iceman (Ashmore), Colossus (Daniel Cudmore), Warpath (Booboo Stewart) and Blink (Bingbing Fan) prepare to hold off an incipient Sentinel attack.
Once in the past, 1972 to be precise, Wolverine learns that things are worse than he imagined. Erik Lehnsherr (Fassbender, aka Young Magneto) is a prisoner in the Pentagon's highest security sub-basement, while Charles Xavier (McAvoy, aka Young Professor X) is a drugged up and burned out shell of a man, rattling around his empty mansion (once a school) with only Hank McCoy (Hoult, aka Beast) for company.
Not only that, but Raven (aka Mystique) is now on her own, hunting down where mutants have been captured for study or exploitation. She liberates a small group in Vietnam, including Havok (Lucas Till)--who was featured in X-Men: First Class--and a bunch more. Her ultimate goal, however, is to hunt down and kill Trask. See, he's not just an inventor; he vivisects mutants to study their powers.
Charles, Hank, and Logan go to break Erik out of prison, with help from Quicksilver (Peters), a super-fast youth with a motormouth and a mischievous streak. (Honestly, his scenes are some of the best in the movie.) Once liberated, Charles and Erik have a long-delayed throwdown about how each failed the other and their people; for one thing, we learn why some characters from First Class did not return for this movie.
Meanwhile, Trask testifies before Congress and convinces them of the need to deploy his cutting edge Sentinels. He has a technology that will detect mutants, now he needs the government to buy his weapons and put them to use.
A peace conference in Paris turns into a debacle when the mutants clash, a three-way struggle between Charles, Raven, and Erik. Although Raven escapes, Charles and Erik hash out a plan to turn the Sentinels against Trask and ruin his presentation. Unfortunately, not everyone is aligned with this plan...and that White House debut will be the perfect moment for Raven to make her attempt on Trask.
Back in the future, the Sentinels are closing in and time is running out. This will be the X-Men's Alamo moment; they cannot afford to run, not this time, lest everything be destroyed. But Wolverine's own shock at confronting Maj. William Stryker (Josh Helman), a spectre from his past, may undo everything anyway when emotional trauma breaks the link to his past self.
With everything on the line, it will come down to one decision, a choice, upon which the fate of the future rests. That's one big throw of the dice indeed.
X-Men: Days of Future Past is based upon a classic two-issue story by John Byrne and Chris Claremont, when they were writing (and in Byrne's case drawing) The Uncanny X-Men comic book series in the late '70s. It was a parable of man's fears unleashing a technological horror far worse than the danger they intended to defend against, and became (unintentionally) one of the great landmark stories in all of Marvel Comics history. The Sentinels, once a sort of joke, were now terrifying. Mutantkind was on the edge of annihilation. It was strong stuff indeed, and the movie pays great respect to the source material.
Although Hugh Jackman has played Wolverine six times previously, the new movie gives him ample opportunity to shine. He plays a weary soldier facing the end of everything, and then a man out of time whose foreknowledge is itself a danger to his mission. He balances the conflicting drives inside Wolverine expertly and turns in perhaps his best performance to date.
McAvoy and Fassbender reprise their roles as the young Xavier and Lehnsherr, this time with a lot more personal intensity right from the start. Erik blames Charles for ducking any responsibility to his fellow mutants. Charles blames Erik for, well, putting a bullet in his back. It gives both actors plenty of fuel for high drama and they make the most of it. McAvoy in particular has a strong story arc, as a desperate and dissolute addict who's surrendered to despair; if the future is to have any chance at all, he must believe again. And McAvoy makes the audience believe.
Dinklage proves as masterful here as he is in Game of Thrones, bringing complexity and nuance to what might have been a very shallow character. Trask isn't a moustache-twirling madman; he's a scientist who believes mutants are amazing...and yet must be controlled. His clinical detachment and amorality make him exceptionally dangerous and, frankly, deserving of death.
Lawrence continues to amaze as Raven, the woman at the heart of this drama. She has seen friends killed and learned what greater horrors await if Trask is allowed to succeed. Her own desperation mirrors that of the future, with unintended consequences multiplying around her with every move that we viewers know will lead to catastrophe. Even so, she plays Mystique as a morally complicated young woman whose life has led to this pivotal moment. She really brings her A-game.
Stewart and McKellen have less to do as Professor X and Magneto, but they are surrounded by familiar faces including Storm (Berry) and Iceman. Their gravitas conveys the impending doom they face, while Page makes the most of a limited role as medium for Wolverine's time travel.
And finally, Evan Peters is whimsical and thoroughly delightful as Peter aka Quicksilver, to the point of it being puzzling that he didn't get more screen time. He's just that good.
This review would not be complete without noting the many, many Easter eggs and surprise appearances embedded within. A handful of notables make return visits, and even comic book creators Chris Claremont and Len Wein (who created Wolverine in the pages of The Incredible Hulk) get in on the fun. If you miss anything, ask a friend who's into comics--there's a LOT going on here.
Beyond the performances, this movie gives the studio a chance to reboot the franchise selectively. Certain events from past movies are clearly undone; the past is NOT what we know it to be. What happens next? Well, the mid-credits cut scene shows a young blue-lipped man in ancient Egypt, shaping a pyramid with the power of his mind. He's Apocalypse, an ancient mutant, who will be the next great enemy faced by the X-Men... in 2016. Mark your calendars.
This is perhaps the best X-Men movie to date, with loads and loads of subtext and social commentary wrapped inside an exciting, action-packed thriller of a film. It sets a new bar for the franchise and opens the door to lots of possibilities yet to come. In short, it's worth it. Go see it.