Article By: Dan Clark
“Just because someone stumbles and loses their way doesn’t mean they’re lost forever.” After the staggering disappointments that were X-Men 3: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine it appeared the once promising X-Men movie franchise was heading towards extinction. Faith was restored when X-Men: First Class showed there was still life left in the children of the atom. Now with much of the original cast returning, along with director Brian Singer, anticipation may be at its highest point yet. X-Men: Days of Future Past not only pays off the massive hype, it builds upon it and gives us hope for what’s to come.
Loosely based on Chris Claremont’s legendary Days of Future Past two issue comic arc, it tells a story of a not so distant future where human arrogance has left the world a lifeless shell of its former self. The Sentinel program once designed to protect humans against the mutant threat has turned on all of humanity by targeting anyone who may pass the mutant gene onto future generations. The few remaining X-Men have designed a desperate plan to stop this future from happening before it ever starts. Kitty Pyrde (Ellen Page), the mutant who can phase through matter, uses her power to pass Wolverine consciousness into his past self—in hopes of uniting the X-Men and stopping the Sentinel program from getting off the ground.
There is so much that can go wrong with a movie of this nature. With such convoluted plot and an enormous ensemble cast it is difficult to wonder who would be narcissistic enough to believe they can actually pull it off. It’s akin to trying to make two Avengers movies at the same time, and then throwing in the element of time travel just to make things interesting. Behind the force of Bryan Singer’s direction and stellar performances it avoided pitfall after pitfall by focusing on the most important element that has made past X-Men films such a success.
Thematic richness is not a quality commonly associated with even some of the best superhero movies. The X-Men franchise however, is only second to the Nolan Batman films when it comes to providing commentary on vital social and culture issues. From its inception the allegorical implications on acceptance and diversity have been a driving force. That theme has helped shape a number of multilayered relationships and rivalries. Often the conflict is not one of simple good against evil, but one of complex factions who provide a legitimate justification for their actions. When the focal point has been on these relationships another level is reached.
Obviously it begins with the rapport between Xavier and Magento. Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen have always brought a gravitas to their unique connection, however James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender have took the large shoes MckKellen and Stewart left to fill and outgrown them. Some of the best moments are when these two are simply conversing. A powerful argument aboard a mile high airliner gets to the heart of what drove these two apart. Fassbender’s sheer force of will nearly brings their flight to a fiery end. Unfortunately with so much involved in the plot their interactions were far too limited.
More time was spent on the person who is slowly becoming the new face of this franchise, Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique. Her killing of weapons expert Boliver Trask (Peter Dinklage) is the key event that eventually leads to their dark future. Lawrence has made this part her own, and brought new depth to the character that was never there before. The triangle of Lawrence, Fassbender, and McAvory should make any other genre film burst with envy. Three of the finest young actors working today showing they do not hinder their performances just because they are in a summer blockbuster.
Many of the tertiary characters try their best to steal the show from our main stars and some succeed. Nicholas Hoult gives a shy innocence to the character of Hank McCoy and a wicked veraciousness to that of Beast. Perhaps the biggest surprise in the entire film is that of Evan Peters as Quicksilver. Many, myself included, scoffed at the marketing material used to promote the character. Personally I have no issues eating crow as Quicksilver had what may be the best scene in the entire more, and gave the only real shred of levity in an otherwise dire film.
Such a diverse group of characters provides a great recipe for creative set pieces. It is much more than an assortment of punches and massive explosions. There is no fear of repetition or worry the action will become tired. It is not about making each set piece bigger than the last, but finding inspired ways to use the differing characters. Magneto is guaranteed to have a standout moment or two, and in this he has several—from his clever use of a baseball stadium to giving new meaning to the phrase ‘magic bullet’. Some of the new mutant additions, like fan favorites Blink and Bishop, also lead to some inventive displays of mutant prowess.
Not all new additions where as successful. Peter Dinklage’s take on Boliver Trask was a shocking disappoint. Trask is not much more than a figurehead used for a plot point. There was no personality, no intrinsic motivations, and characteristics beyond a funny haircut and silly glasses. He is easily the most forgettable element of the entire film. Considering Dinklage’s notable talent it is hard not to expect more than he gave.
With this being a time travel story one might hypothesize that some remarks will be made on the past. The decade of the 1970’s surely gives you a lot to comment on. Unlike X-Men: First Class past historical events are not used to add additional weight to the central conflicts. Seeing Richard Nixon quote J. Robert Oppenheimer as he reveals the Sentinel program may hammer home an obvious point of man’s pride, but it is a hallow attempt to supplement additional subtext. Besides a few over the top fashion choices this could have taken place during any time period.
Habitually comic book movies are instantly compared to one another in order to determine the height of achievement. Ranking becomes the decisive factor of a movie’s greatness. Is a movie as cinematically advanced as Dark Knight or does it provide the level of pure entertainment of The Avengers? X-Men: Days of Future Past continues the X-Men movie trend of giving meaning behind its excitement. Allowing its talented array of actors room to flex their dramatic muscle in the midst of engaging action sequences. It may not be the new high standard, but it corrects past missteps to return the franchise to proper footing.