“The Future Begins”
Directed by Bryan Singer
Starring Hugh Jackman, Jennifer Lawrence, Jame McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan, Nicholas Hoult and Peter Dinklage
Almost a decade before the Marvel Cinematic Universe struck gold, the company’s go-to allegory for prejudice hit the big screen with X-Men (2000). The property had gained considerable traction thanks to an acclaimed 1990s animated series, and in the hands of The Usual Suspects director Bryan Singer, mutants took the world by storm (almost literally, as the release coincided with co-star Halle Berry’s Oscar, resulting in a much larger, if somewhat inconsistent, role in the sequel.) A direct sequel – X2 (2003) – was widely held to be even better, but 2006’s disappointing X-Men: The Last Stand squandered the goodwill – save perhaps for the little bit that was then pissed away by X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) – and threatened to kill the series dead.
The Reboot/Late Sequel
The actual reboot of the series came with 2011’s X-Men: First Class, a 1960s set Cold War adventure, with McAvoy and Fassbender as the younger versions of feuding leaders Charles Xavier and Magneto, previously portrayed in their more patrician years by Stewart and McKellan. First Class did a lot to win back fans with its portrayal of the early years of the X-Men and the break between the two men, and hopefully I’ll get to reviewing that, but then Days of Future Past appeared in 2014 as a late sequel to the original trilogy, as well as a reasonably timed sequel to First Class and so converted the straight reboot into a Star Trek-syle in-universe soft reset of the series as a whole through time travel shenanigans.
In the future, things are completely shit. Mutants are cool and badass in black leathers, but utterly outclassed by the Sentinels, big robots capable of adapting to combat any mutant ability and programmed to hunt down mutantkind and their human sympathisers. As a hail Mary play, Xavier and Magneto, not united in purpose, ask Kitty Pryde (Elaine Paige) to send the consciousness of Wolverine (Jackman) back in time, into his younger self, to unite their younger selves and stop weapons designer Bolivar Trask (Dinklage) gaining access to DNA samples from Mystique (Lawrence) which will enable him to develop the Sentinels’ adaptive technology.
Teaming up with Young Xavier, Hank McCoy (Hoult) and a young man named Peter (Evan Peters), Wolverine leads a break out to extract Magneto from the Pentagon. Unfortunately, Magneto goes off book, attempting to end the threat by eliminating Mystique, then by usurping the Sentinel programme to assassinate Nixon.
What’s wrong with it?
This isn’t really a reboot, but rather something altogether darker. It’s a retcon. It goes back and essentially rewrites what happened before and says that anything that Singer didn’t hold with didn’t happen, explicitly including a scene at the end in which Rogue and Iceman are still together, and Jean, Cyclops and Xavier are still alive. It’s a bit of a rip for Kitty Pryde, who kept Wolverine in the past as she bled to death and ended up preemptively dumped for her trouble.
And yes, in the ‘Rogue Version’ it’s Rogue who does the keeping in the past, but I’m not reviewing that.
Although teased in the inevitable credit scene of The Wolverine, this film does not follow directly on, as future Wolvie still has his adamantium claws.
The future mutants are wicked cool, and basically just there to show how the monsters work, including Storm.
What’s right with it?
Well, The Last Stand was in dire need of retconning, and I think I’ve finally worked out what was wrong with it (besides all the really obvious stuff in my review of that film.) The first two X-Men films heavily featured Wolverine, but when push came to shove, they were telling Rogue’s story. The Last Stand forgot that, was mostly about Wolverine and had Rogue’s tale end in a cul-de-sac when she goes to get rid of her powers then disappears for most of the last half hour of the movie. In a similar way, despite the prominence of the McAvoy and Fassbender versions of Xavier and Magneto, the ‘second trilogy’ (viewing Origins: Wolverine, The Wolverine and Deadpool as their own deals,) is Mystique’s story, and the more interesting for it.
For a wibbly wobbly, timey-wimey story, the pacing and plot of the film are tight.
The effects are amazing, and the film manages to capture the epic scale of Xavier and Magento’s powers wonderfully.
In a cheeky nod to The Last Stand, Magneto carries a stadium to drop as a cordon around the White House, and it works, not least because there is a purpose to it beyond mere spectacle.
The future X-Men are really quite cool.
How bad is it really?
Days of Future Past is one of the cornerstones of modern superhero cinema, and manages the difficult job of bridging two significantly different continuities without leaving the viewer thinking ‘but how does McAvoy turn into a CGI-smoothed Stewart by 1979 at the latest and then be McAvoy again in 1983?’ It’s full of great performances, McAvoy and Fassbender holding their own against geek gods Stewart and McKellan, great action and some pretty good character moments, especially for Mystique.
Best bit (if such there is)?
The ‘Time in a Bottle’ scene rapidly and deservedly achieved classic status, as Peter ‘not Quicksilver’ Maximoff unhurriedly takes out a room full of guards before Magneto and Wolverine can kill anyone, or be killed.
What’s up with…?
- Poor Havok? He gets a moment here, then dies quickly in the next one.
- Magneto insisting they need him to stop Mystique? How did he ever imagine that young Magneto would want her to not kill Trask?
Production values – Days of Future Past combines a lovingly recreated past with top-notch effects and good film-making. 4
Dialogue and performances – The script is bubbly and fun, with poignant moments, and the performers play both with energy. Peter Dinklage gets a stand out moment, playing Mystique-disguised-as-Trask, with a tear rolling down his cheek after reading the autopsy reports of murdered mutants. 4
Plot and execution – This is a complicated plot, but sharply defined. Some people rave about the Rogue cut, but I can’t see how the additional subplot would add to what is a very slickly composed story. 5
Randomness – There are a few odd moments born of the mixed pedigree of the film, but all in all it holds in a remarkably busy plot with aplomb. 6
Waste of potential – Given what it was trying to do, this could have been a complete train wreck of a movie, but it wasn’t. 4