Better than The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, X-Men: Days of Future Past is the superhero film of the year so far…
Inspired by the 1981 Uncanny X-Men storyline “Days of Future Past” by Chris Claremont and John Byrne, the latest film in this expanding franchise shows the ultimate X-Men ensemble fighting a war for the survival of the species across two time periods, with the characters from the original X-Men film trilogy joining forces with their younger selves from X-Men: First Class. In the dystopian post-apocalyptic future where both human and mutant kind reaches extinction, the mechanised mutant-killers, the Sentinels, reign supreme, and all hope has been lost. The X-Men teleports the mind and soul of Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine back from the apocalyptic future to the retro-70s past in order to achieve a Terminator-style rewriting of the past in order to save their future. Teaming up with a reluctant Beast (Nicholas Hoult), a calculating Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and an emotionally damaged Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), Wolverine must prevent Jennifer Lawrence’s misguided Mystique from carrying out a political assassination that will inadvertently lead to the rise of the Sentinels, thus facilitating the downfall of both humans and mutants in generations to come.
After having the X-Men universe go through a lot of twists and turns in a series of sequels (X-Men 2, X-Men: The Last Stand), prequels (X-Men: First Class) and spin-offs (various Wolverine flicks), Days of Future Past brings everything together in a very plot heavy sci-fi/time travel tale with lots of iconic moments and deeply moving scenes. When Joss Whedon made The Avengers, he successfully managed to combine and balance the intriguing character development of these extra-ordinary protagonists with the huge explosive action set-pieces that you get from blockbuster cinema. In the case of this, it’s a credit to both director Bryan Singer and screenwriter Simon Kinberg as they have achieved that exact balance of all those elements with relatively little confusion, which has resulted in what could possibly be the best X-Men instalment to date.
This is certainly the darkest entry as the film deals with themes of nihilism, apocalyptic futures, the flaws of humanity, playing God, as well the prospect of losing hope, but then finding it again, which is the prime theme of this story. The biggest strength of the X-Men franchise has always been its metaphorical embracing of diversity; a celebration of the talented misfit in an age of bland conformity, and it’s true that Bryan Singer still has his eye on the outcast. The main outcast here is the younger Charles Xavier, who has become a shambling, emotionally damaged version of the man we met in X-Men: First Class. He has completely lost his way, brooding about what he’s lost, no longer wanting to hear all the voices and suffering, and who has completely lost hope since losing his “sister” Mystique to Magneto’s side. James McAvoy plays that absolutely brilliantly, and his arc from self-pity to the hopeful leader/teacher embodied by Patrick Stewart is deeply moving. The dynamic relationship between Xavier and Magneto has been the franchise’s main driving force, other than Wolverine’s presence, and McAvoy’s relationship with Michael Fassbender is just as compelling and intriguing as Patrick Stewart’s and Ian McKellan’s, and Fassbender does lend weight as the errant Magneto as he’s released from his non-metallic prison to wreak havoc anew.
Hugh Jackman is still fantastic, as well as supremely buff, as the main thread joining the two time periods together, this time being more of a guiding force for McAvoy’s Xavier, rather than just being the badass anti-hero we saw in the previous films. Jennifer Lawrence is emotionally powerful as the troubled Mystique, as is Ellen Page as Kitty Pryde, the person that makes the time travel possible. One of the movie’s biggest surprises is Peter Dinklage as the suavely sinister Dr. Bolivar Trask, one of the main antagonists whose shape-shifting robotic Sentinels set the time-warping action in motion, allowing the bad doctor to take creepy geniality to a whole new level. Another real surprise is actually the character that’s been the greatest subject of online scorning: Quicksilver. Evan Peters’ Quicksilver’s is not only awesome in this film, but he pretty much steals the show at one point with his big slo-mo scene proving to be a memorable highlight. Besides the Quicksilver scene, the film’s other action sequences are fantastically well done and engaging, from its apocalyptic opening sequence of the future X-Men falling to the might of the Sentinels (who are brilliantly realised for the big screen), to the Paris standoff, through to the climactic showdown in Washington D.C.
Beating both The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and Captain America: The Winter Soldier as possibly the superhero blockbuster of the year, X-Men: Days of Future Past is an epic, action-packed, and surprisingly witty, high-stakes adventure film that is on par with The Avengers as one of the best superhero movies of all time. It is the most ambitious entry in the franchise and also the most rewarding, completing the mission of redeeming the tarnished X-Men film franchise begun by First Class and continued in The Wolverine. Plus, it allows the franchise to be reset (Star Trek style) in the wake of both the disappointing X-Men: The Last Stand and the terrible X-Men Origins: Wolverine, even as it raises many big questions about where the X-Men can possibly go from here, both past and future. However, after the inevitable post-credits scene, roll on X-Men: Apocalypse.