X-Men: Days of Future Past
Starring Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, Peter Dinklage and Halle Berry
Directed by Bryan Singer
From Twentieth Century Fox
Days of Future Past course corrects the X-Men franchise
by Michael Clawson of Terminal Volume
After six stupendously scattered X-Men movies, someone at Twentieth Century Fox finally straightened a paperclip and poked it into the back of this overcooked franchise. That much-needed hard reset is a refreshing development here in X-Men: Days of Future Past, a flail-free action bonanza that proves less is almost always more.
Right off the bat, you’ll notice there are fewer mutant superheroes. At first, though, it doesn’t feel that way as they are paraded out in their ridiculous outfits. There’s a fire guy, an ice guy, some sort of hawk man, a Thor clone, portal girl, metal dude and a mutant that needs to be charged like a cell phone before he goes into service. These are the future X-Men, the X-Kids perhaps, and they’re in trouble as giant robots descend on their corner of a futuristic wasteland. My expectations sunk as the film trotted out each character, introduced their superpower and then discarded them within a mindless action scene reminiscent of any action scene from any other X-Men movie — “More of the same,” I grumbled.
But then Days of Future Past jumped the rails and did something very risky: it went back in time. And it might have saved the entire franchise. The setup is rather simple, which is notable even in a film without time travel: Because of toxic mutant-human relations, an elite race of robotic future cops called Sentinels have been allowed to police the planet, which is now a gloomy apocalypse-strewn field of rubble. Our team of X-Kids have survived only because Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) has learned to take the group back in time in brief spurts.
When the real X-Men — Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Storm (Halle Berry), Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and the reformed tag-along Magneto (Ian McKellen) — turn up, they hatch a plan to send Wolverine back much further in time to stop the events that lead up to worldwide catastrophe. Only Wolverine can go, because he’s basically immortal, a convenient superpower (especially when he only takes his claws out like three times). The plan is to stop a mutant-hating scientist before he builds the first Sentinel prototypes. It’s a Terminator mission, and it allows the film to switch gears and detour away from the trappings of the last films.
Wolverine is sent back to the 1970s, presumably not long after the events of X-Men: First Class, where he finds young Professor X (James McAvoy) and blue teddy bear Beast. Other notable mutants are young Magneto (Michael Fassbender), shapeshifting Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) and the speedster Quicksilver, who can run so fast he can play ping pong with himself. Five mutants. That’s it. And it’s a perfect amount.
Much of the drama in the plot comes from Professor X trying to convince Magneto that, while they’re enemies now, in the future they’ll be best buddies, and they have to unite to stop the world from sinking into an anti-mutant hysteria that will doom them all. Mageneto, though, is a surly little bugger. Villainy just pours from him, and he can’t help it. We first meet him underneath the Pentagon, where he’s being held for the JFK assassination, which is likely a legitimate conspiracy theory according to someone somewhere.
His incarceration sets the stage for a break-out and what is ultimately the best scene of the film, and quite possibly the best from any X-Men movie. The scene stars Quicksilver (Evan Peters) as he zips through a Pentagon kitchen repositioning security guards, gently altering bullet trajectories and taste-testing airborne soup. The whole sequence, shot in extreme slow motion to show us Quicksilver’s time-bending speed, is scored to Jim Croce’s “Time In a Bottle.” The scene is a howler — the audience gave it a rousing round of applause and, for once, I felt compelled to join them — and it's easily worth the price of admission all by itself.
Other scenes, of Wolverine fighting the Sentinel prototypes and of Mystique doing her naked blue iguana kung-fu, aren’t as rapturous, but they serve their purposes. Fassbender and McAvoy are gifted actors, which is obvious as they split the seems on their respective characters. Magneto seems to be checking his watch until he can do his final-act supermove — hauling some really really big piece of metal around for no reason whatsoever. This time he flies in a baseball stadium to drop over Richard Nixon’s White House.
I’m not an X-Men fan. The previous movies were jumbles of bland characters, wandering plots, utterly stupefying comic minutiae, and horribly staged action centerpieces. X-Men: Days of Future Past doesn’t reinvent the wheel here, but it does not succumb to the problems of the previous films. The story is clean and concise, the characters and their motivations are easy to follow, the action is restrained and never zany, and the film ends in a way that allows for some very interesting possibilities for later entries in the X-Men story.
This movie seems to have righted a sinking ship, an exhilarating development for a franchise I had all but given up on. Until now.