The X-Men Franchise Mutates into Something Excellent in "Days of Future Past" Review

With the release of X-Men: Days of Future Past, our superhero movie universe has officially become as cluttered as the comic book universe from whence they sprang. You may celebrate or grumble as you see fit; whether this is good or bad depends on you.

There have been reboots and questions of canon and continuity for several superhero franchises before now - we are now on our 27th Batman and I’m not sure if there have been two or three Incredible Hulks or if the Ang Lee-directed one counts or not, not to mention the consistent failure of every filmmaker to make a decent Spiderman movie - but now that we have an X-Men movie with time travel and alternate timelines, it feels like the silver screen superhero worlds have caught up to the comics in terms of chaos and alternate titles.

X-Men: Days of Future Past is a sequel to the events of X-Men: First Class, which features James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender as young Professor X and Magneto when they first form the X-Men and get up to shenanigans in the 1960s. Days of Future Past bridges the X-men of the 1960s and 70s with the X-men from movies one, two, and three (i.e. Patrick Stewart and pals) via time travel. Because of course.

The movie is fun to watch for two reasons. First of all, the cast is incredibly good. It’s hard to be awful when you’re giving Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan, Hugh Jackman, Jennifer Lawrence, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, and Peter Dinklage (rocking what can only be described as an extremely powerful mustache, by the way) a bunch of screentime. Halle Berry is an afterthought. Oh, Ellen Page is in it, too. The cast is ridiculous.

Second, the rest of the movie is well-made. That sounds general but let me explain. The pacing is good, the special effects are noticeably rad, and everything else - dialogue, music, etc. - is good enough that you don’t notice it in a bad way. A surprising number of superhero movies don’t meet these fairly unambitious standards (e.g. Thor, Thor 2, the Tobey McGuire Spiderman, Batman movies by not-Christopher Nolan, etc.). When I say the special effects are noticeably rad, I mean that the villains in the future have a very cool design, and the particular qualities of the X-Men they fight allow for more interesting fight sequences than a PG-13 movie would usually allow. It’ll make sense when you see it, but I don’t want to spoil it.

So all that makes it enjoyable to watch. I hesitate to say it’s a “good” movie because it’s incredibly predictable. As in, there’s one variable you aren’t sure of within the first 10 minutes or so of the movie, and it’s more of a “how many times will X happen” type of feeling than a “oh man I wonder if X will happen” type deal. Even if you try really hard not to think about how you know how things are going to play out, you’ll see what’s coming because obviously they can’t end it in the logical, peaceful way it would end if normal human beings were making decisions; there needs to be a villain and/or an obvious pickup point for X-Men 6 (yeah! This is the 5th X-men movie, not counting awful Wolverine spinoffs; isn’t that crazy?). Well, there would or could be, but that would take ingenuity on the part of superhero movie screenwriters.

Quicksilver makes an appearance in this movie and has by far the best scene. Evan Peters doesn’t have the cachet of the other actors he shares the screen with, but he steals every scene. Circling back to my earlier point about the movie comic universe starting to feel jumbled, we’ve now been treated to two different Quicksilvers in the last two months; this one and the one in the after credits scene in Captain America 2. That one seemed tortured and crazy (given that he was locked up and dashing around a cell in a straightjacket) while this one is funny and charming. Also, this one is owned by Twentieth Century FOX and the other one is owned by Disney. Given the different timelines - this Quicksilver is in his 20s in the 1970s, the one in Captain America 2 is indeterminately young, but in a contemporary setting - it seems unlikely there’ll be some kind of grand Avengers/X-Men movie crossover extravaganza. But with the promiscuity of the Marvel license, we’re treated to multiple Quicksilvers running around. But I digress.

The true shame of this movie is that the storyline came from a 1980s Uncanny X-Men plot that featured Kitty Pryde as the protagonist who gets sent back in time. Instead of sticking with that, for some reason the writers switched it so that Kitty helps send Wolverine back in time (because Lord knows we haven’t seen enough Wolverine). One would think that Juno and Inception would have proved that Page (who plays Pryde in this movie) can carry a movie. As Walt Hickey recently noted, the myth that moviegoers don’t like strong female leads is patently false. All this by way of saying: The way this was handled makes me skeptical that Fox will make the most logical possible spinoff from Days of Future Past, a movie that features Mystique as the protagonist.

Jennifer Lawrence is tremendously talented. Mystique is central and arguably the most important part of this movie’s plot; literally everything hinges upon her decisions, and the end of the movie leaves her fate in an ambiguous state. If I were a movie executive, this seems like a no-brainer project to do. But we’ll see.

If you enjoy super hero movies, you will enjoy this movie. Unlike The Avengers or Iron Man 3, you should probably not go and see it again immediately. If you don’t like superhero movies, you should avoid this movie like the plague. Seriously, there’s like at least a dozen superheroes in this movie. You cannot go more than 10 or 15 seconds without seeing one. Definitely avoid if that’s a problem for you.

"X-Men: Days of Future Past" opens May 23, 2014 and is rated PG13. Action. Directed by Bryan Singer. Written by Simon Kinberg, Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn. Starring Ellen Page, Halle Berry, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender, Patrick Stewart, Peter Dinklage.

May
23
2014
Richard Procter • Staff Writer

Richard Procter enjoys writing words about stuff he is interested in, and has done so for a variety of publications, including the San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco magazine, and Decades magazine. He has an abiding love of portmanteaus and has never had a donut. Really. 

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