So after months of champing at the bit Bryan Singer finally returned to the X-Men movieverse with Days of Future Past. The film is an interesting one-off story based loosely on the early 1980s Uncanny X-Men storyline of the same name. The basic premise is that the handful of surviving mutants still attempting to eke out an existence in a dystopian future where they have been hunted to near extinction, have pinpointed the moment in history where they believe their future was set and attempt to send Wolverine’s consciousness back into his body at the time in the hopes that he will be able to avert the tragedy that sparks off the Sentinel Project, which threatens to annihilate them. The incident which sets in place the building blocks of this nightmare future (in the film) is Mystique’s 1973 assassination of one Bolivar Trask (played by Peter Dinklage), scientist, designer of the Sentinel robots and early voice in the push to deal with “the Mutant problem” which you would later see echoed by villains such as William Stryker and Senator Kelly. This means that Wolverine has to go back to the early 1970s and convince a younger Xavier and Magneto (who after the events in X-Men: First Class now thoroughly despise one another) to work together in order to prevent the eventual extinction of all Mutantkind.
While I had mixed feelings about the film on the whole I would file it more into the category of an “interesting failure” than a bad movie and I would even go so far as to say that failure is too strong a word. There were aspects of the film that I did like quite a bit, there was also a lot of the film that I felt didn’t really work, however, much like Superman Returns the bits that didn’t work, for the most part, stemmed from the fact that he was genuinely attempting something unique in comic book films which is a rarity in this genre. I felt that the biggest problem with the film came from him attempting to shoehorn in such an established story arc into his X-Men movie reality. Now while in this instance I felt that the film got hung up on this, on the whole, I think part of what has made the X-Men films so good has been the fact that they just made their own continuity while at the same time keeping the characters very true to themselves and I don’t feel that it not completely working in this film in any way negates that fact. Time travel stories are tricky even in conventional sci-fi and while they’re an old chestnut in the comic book world they’ve rarely made it into the realm of comic book films which is one reason why, for all its faults, X-Men: DOFP is still definitely worth a watch and should be applauded for actually trying something new as opposed to simply regurgitating the same film multiple times and hoping for the best. (Yes, Christopher Nolan…I’m looking at you.)
I’ll start off with the things I disliked about the film so as to leave on a positive note. As I said initially, DOFP was a classic, well-loved and well-known storyline and some of the issues with the film stem solely from trying to make it fit with the established movie continuity. DOFP was, while not the first appearance of the character, Kitty Pryde’s first real starring story arc in the X-Men comics. Now, while I like Hugh Jackman as Wolverine (actually far more than I tend to like Wolverine in the comics) and nobody can quibble with how incredibly popular a character he is, he is not “the Star” of the X-Men and, it being an ensemble cast does not need to be the sole focal point of every X-Men film in existence. If you’ll all recall, First Class was great and he has about a 30 second cameo in it. I got where they were going with Wolverine’s healing factor being the reason why they could send his consciousness back so far without fear of doing irreparable neurological damage to him but I still thought that he was a weak choice to be the one sent back in time. Especially as they establish in the films that it is possible to do neurological damage to Wolverine that even with his healing factor, can take decades to fix. This dovetails into the next large flaw in the film which is Kitty Pryde somehow between X3 and horrible Sentinel slaughterfuture developing magical telepathic time-traveling powers which have no explanation whatsoever. I get that they were trying to give her something to do in her storyline which had been hijacked for Wolverine but it was just jarring in the film especially considering that they could have just done what they did in the comics and had the consciousness shift be handled by a random mutant we’d never seen before.
I also felt that the film was, at times, too self/pop-culture referential. I lived through the latter half of the 70s and while yes, it was a patently ridiculous decade, the mere fact that something occurs in the 70s does not automatically make it the funniest goddamned thing in the universe. Also, things like Magneto being involved in the Kennedy assassination were just ridiculous. (Though I did like that they never confirm or deny Magneto’s claim that he was trying to save JFK I still thought it was a little heavy handed.) I somehow don’t think that a known mutant terrorist assassinating a sitting US president would do less to damage the cause of Mutant’s Rights in America than assassinating a mustachioed weapons designer. That said my only other 2 big problems with the film were casting choices. DOFP could be argued to be the first ever “Beast heavy” X-Men film plot. Now, as Beast is my favorite X-Man, this should be cause for rejoicing. Unfortunately they brought back the Beast from X-Men: First Class and…how shall I phrase this….Nicolas Hoult is a horrible actor and makes a truly excruciatingly awful Hank McCoy. I thought he was the only weak link in First Class and carries this albatross-like tradition into DOFP much to the film’s detriment. The other problematic piece of casting was Evan Peters as Quicksilver. Now Quicksilver is an annoying character on his best day and Peters’ performance only amplifies this. Fortunately he is only a migraine inducing factor in the film for a mercifully brief time. Regrettably it was time that the film could have spent exploring cool things like a ton of later Brotherhood mutants all being involved in some shady medical experiments in Viet Nam including such iconic villains as Toad but it was not to be.
As I said though, my feelings on DOFP were mixed and there was quite a bit of good mixed in with the bad. I thought the Mystique-inspired Sentinels were cool and they did an excellent job of making the Sentinels scary. Even in the 70s when we were seeing the prototypes of the Sentinels they stayed threatening which is key. While I like James McAvoy as a young Professor X and enjoy the fact that the films are addressing that despite Patrick Stewart’s regal performance as the classic Professor X, the man is still a deeply flawed individual who grew into the icon he became, I didn’t think he was quite the breakaway character that he was in First Class. That honor goes to Michael Fassbender at least in this film. On the whole I think that Singer’s film franchise has handled Magneto beautifully. He is a well-rounded and engaging villain and the juxtaposition between the younger, angrier Magneto and the older, wiser Magneto was wonderful. I thought being able to encapsulate both his capacity for violence, extremism and manipulation with his capacity for nobility, self-sacrifice and genuine desire at the end of the day to see the lot of Mutants in this world improve was an impressive bit of filmmaking. Ian McKellen’s portrayal of Magneto in the future especially his incredibly noble (and BADASS) final moments and the final exchange his has with Charles at the end of their lives was phenomenal especially held up to the mirror of the unbelievable bastard that young Magneto is for much of the film. Jennifer Lawrence’s portrayal of Mystique at a major crossroads in her life was also noteworthy and one of the highlights of the film.
While DOFP was a flawed film with a great number of pitfalls I think it’s still worth a watch and was definitely not devoid of a few genuine gem moments even if the movie didn’t completely come together for me.
I think I’m going to link this to Facebook to see if I can actually get more than 2-3 people to read it.