A Look at X-Men: Days of Future Past

After being teased about it midway through the credits of The Wolverine, we arrive at the next installment in the X-Men film franchise.  Remember?  When Logan returned to America, he received an unexpected visit from both Magneto and Professor Xavier.  The two warned him about a severe threat to mutant-kind.  Thus, we have X-Men: Days of Future Past.

X-Men Days of Future Past- Comic cover

The film itself is adapted from the 1981 comic-book storyline of the same name, written by Chris Claremont and John Byrne.  It serves as both a sequel to X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men: First Class, but isn’t a film made just to cram as many mutants and famous faces into it as possible.  For my money, Days of Future Past is probably the most ambitious X-Men film to date.  The focus here is less on the mutant question and more on the mutant solution in a time where Sentinels have wiped out most of human and mutant-kind alike.

X-Men Days of Future Past- Kitty Pryde with Bishop

The film begins in the year 2525, if man is still alive.  All right, we start in the apocalyptic future of 2025, but close enough.  Mutants and their human allies live on the brink of extinction.  In Moscow, Sentinels are dispatched from pods into the area to contend with the mutants.  Some are familiar faces: Colossus, Bobby and Kitty Pryde.  The new mutants include: Bishop, played by Omar Sy, Blink, played by Fan Bingbing, Warpath, played by Booboo Stewart, and Sunspot, played by Adam Canto.  Kitty and Bishop rush ahead to a vault, where Kitty links with his consciousness.  The others put up a decent fight, but they can only endure as the Sentinels adapt to their powers and eventually overwhelm them.  Before the Sentinels can also kill Bishop and Kitty, the two vanish.

X-Men Days of Future Past- Xavier and company in China

We then cut to China and see the familiar X-Jet board.  Offloading are Professor Xavier, Magneto, Storm and Logan, who has gotten himself a spiffy new suit and new adamantium claws since the last time we saw him.  They meet with Kitty and the other mutants, all alive at a monastery.  Through film exposition, Kitty explains some of the new mutants’ abilities, as well as her newfound ability to link with a mutant’s consciousness and send it to their younger self days before, as she did with Bishop, to warn them about the incoming Sentinels.

This plays perfectly into Erik and Charles’ idea to stop all of this: travel back in time to stop the Sentinels, product of Dr. Bolivar Trask, played by Peter Dinklage.  Trask began experimenting on mutants by using their DNA.  This did not please the young Mystique, who assassinated Trask.  She was soon captured, but Trask’s death persuaded the government to continue with the Sentinel program.  However, Mystique’s DNA became useful in that it gave the Sentinels the ability to adapt to mutant powers.

X-Men Days of Future Past- Logan about to be sent back in time

The plan is to send Professor Xavier back in time, but Kitty’s powers could cause almost anyone sent back to be ripped apart due to the instability of time travel, they need someone who can be broken, but easily fixed in no time.  Hence, Logan is the only realistic choice.  His consciousness will be sent into his younger body.  After that, he’s to recruit not just Xavier, but Erik as well.   Erik and Mystique are already on dark paths, so they may need a bit extra persuasion.

So in the past, Trask lobbies the Sentinel program to Congress, but the Senators believe it would be of no use since, at the time, mutants consist of such a small percentage of the population.  Trask is convinced that such a small number will grow in no time.  Despite this, the Senators do not advance the project.

Meanwhile, after an incident involving a lava lamp, a water bed and a naked woman, Logan heads to a near empty and uninviting looking X-Mansion.  Answering the door is Hank, who tells Logan to go away.  Logan forces his way in and lets Hank know that, in the future, the two of them are good friends.  So when Logan heads upstairs to see the Professor for himself, Hank transforms and the two fight until Charles Xavier walks down the stairs.  Walks.

Logan informs Xavier of his mission, but Charles is in no mood to help, so he tells Logan to fuck off.  Technically, Charles, Logan told you and Erik to go fuck yourself, but I’m not a stenographer.

When Logan asks how Xavier is able to walk, Hank explains that he developed a serum that allows him to walk, but at the expense of losing his mutant powers.  Charles just got tired of all of the voices.  That, coupled with losing Erik and Raven, and his students being drafted into the Vietnam War- which led to the school’s closure- has led to the downtrodden Charles Xavier that we have before us right now.  However, in no time at all, Charles reconsiders.

Though they’ll need Erik’s help, it turns out that Erik is being held in a maximum security cell in the Pentagon for assassinating John F. Kennedy by curving the bullet.  Now there’s a conspiracy theory you hadn’t heard before!  But without Charles’ powers, Cerebro can’t be used to help locate Erik.  Logan knows a guy who can help them break into the Pentagon, but with no Cerebro and no internet, the three must rely on the ancient piece of technology known as a phone book.

Time to reunite the band!

Like First Class, Days of Future Past works well as a period piece, though this one is less of a period piece since some time is devoted to the future X-Men.  Additionally, the film gives us a glimpse of who these characters were before becoming their well known selves from X-Men and onward.  It continues to show how important it is for Xavier to show mutantkind that there is a better way to coexist alongside humans that doesn’t involve violence.

X-Men Days of Future Past- Erik, Peter and Charles

Charles’ case is made more important because the catalyst that set off the chain of events leading to Logan’s future is also his greatest failure: Raven.  He couldn’t convince her to see things his way because it meant having to hide who she really was from humanity.  Contrast this with Erik’s point of view, which allowed Raven to embrace her true skin.  As always, the conflict comes from Erik and Charles’ eternal struggle over how to live amongst humans.

X-Men Days of Future Past- Coming back to Cerebro

Bryan Singer’s direction really stands out, both in the fight scenes, but the dialogue as well.  As much as I enjoy the sleek direction Matthew Vaughn gave First Class, Singer’s direction, particularly with the action scenes, reminded me a lot of X-2: X-Men United.  The man knows these characters and clearly has a lot of respect for the source material, and that shows through how he directed this film.  For example, during some fight scenes in the past, battles are shown through the point of view of people with handheld cameras, giving the fights an almost documentary-like feel to them.

Given the apocalyptic future the older X-Men live in, it’s no surprise how bleak and unpleasant the film’s tone can be at times.  The future hinges on Logan succeeding, but while he’s in the past, the mutants still have to contend with incoming Sentinels, which are pretty damn durable, given how they can adapt certain mutant abilities to survive almost anything the X-Men throw at them.  The Sentinels are ruthless and there are some surprisingly graphic death scenes, but I won’t spoil them for you.

X-Men Days of Future Past- Sentinels attack

X-Men Days of Future Past- Sentinel blasts Wolverine

Side-note, as a comic book fan, yes, I still would have preferred to see the giant mutant hunting robot Sentinels I remember from the comics and especially the animated series, but these Sentinels are still brutal and stop at nothing to hunt down mutants, so at least that part about them is right.

X-Men Days of Future Past- Sentinels

Though if Sentinels look like this in the future, I guess that means the Sentinel head we saw in X-Men: The Last Stand was just there for fan-service and not a prototype.

????????????

The overarching theme deals with hope.  As old Charles tells his younger self: “Just because someone stumbles and loses their way, it doesn’t mean they’re lost forever. Sometimes we need a little help.”  And Charles is right- everyone needs help, even if from an unlikely source.  Logan needs both Charles and Erik, who both hate each other, but acknowledge that they’re both necessary if they want to ensure a good future.

X-Men Days of Future Past- Young, broken Charles

James McAvoy does a great showing us a downtrodden and defeated Xavier.  From his facial expression and the flippant way he dismisses Logan’s cause, we’re seeing a man who went from giving lost mutant hope to not having any hope for even himself.  He’s broken because he couldn’t handle all of the voices in his head or losing Raven.  By giving the ultimate sacrifice, his mutant powers, he acknowledged that he failed, so he has nothing left to do but mope in his huge mansion with his trusted companion.

Dark Knight Rises- Bruce and Alfred

Wait…

X-Men Days of Future Past- Erik about to attack

Though Charles is shown as a shell of his former self, Erik’s solution to the human problem could not be hardened any further.  Michael Fassbender is also great in expressing Erik’s rage, not just at humanity, but Charles for being too idealistic to think that humanity would accept them.  As we saw in First Class, Charles and Erik don’t want the same thing, but neither of them is completely right, either.  We may side with Charles because, you know, his method of living alongside humanity doesn’t involve murder, but Erik isn’t in the wrong because he knows that there will always be a segment of humans who hate and fear mutants simply because they’re different.  It’s a battle over ideas that has no end and, like in First Class, I like how desperate Erik is to have Charles see things from his point of view.

He has a great scene, that’s partially used to explain the fates of other mutants from First Class,   where he lashes out at Charles and basically calls him a coward for not protecting the very mutants he sought to teach and embolden.  I have to wonder if Erik partially blames himself for this as well.  After all, he was the one who nudged Mystique to show her true colors instead of hiding herself from the world.  Erik may have some good intentions, but he’s still a murderer who would prefer if the world had no humans in it at all.  Like McKellen’s performance, I was wrapped up in the words of a man who would prefer to see me dead.

X-Men Days of Future Past- Charles and Erik

Speaking of, while Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen don’t get nearly the amount of screen time that they did in the previous X-Men films, I did enjoy seeing them reflect on the wasted years fighting each other.  These are the weary, battle-fatigued mutants who have seen the worst of what mankind can produce, but who also see how failing to find common ground on an issue that affects them both has ultimately driven them together in the face of certain death.  I still relish every bit of dialogue the two share.

X-Men Days of Future Past- Mystique prepared to assassinate Trask

Ultimately, though, I would say this is more Mystique’s chance to shine than anyone else’s.  Here, we see her developing into the strong leader that walks her own path instead of blindly following Erik and his Brotherhood of Mutants.  She’s fleshed out and given a purpose to exact revenge against humanity: humans murdered those she once considered friends just to experiment on them.  In her mind, she has justifiable cause to murder Trask.  However, Mystique is neither Charles’ nor Erik’s protégé at this point.  She doesn’t buy into Charles’ optimistic vision that human and mutantkind can coexist peacefully, but she also isn’t out to exterminate humans and create a world for mutants alone, as Erik would have it.  She’s her own mutant and won’t be defined by someone else’s ideology.  That’s the confident leader that I know!

X-Men Days of Future Past- Erik and Raven in booth

And is there really anything else to say about Jennifer Lawrence’s performance that hasn’t already been said?  She gives Mystique such dimension and the character herself works better on her own, I think, as opposed to being on a team.  We see a lot more of Raven as a human than I expected.  It’s not a problem, but I did notice it.  Best guess is now that Jennifer Lawrence is an Academy Award winning actress, we’re going to see more of her instead of just Mystique in her transformed state, and I’m fine with that.

X-Men Days of Future Past- Evan Peters as Quicksilver

The standout performance, as many have already said, has to go to Evan Peters as Quicksilver.  My goodness, so much controversy over this guy just based on his appearance.  I personally don’t have an issue with it.  Yes, his jacket looks like it’s made of tin foil and the goggles may be a bit much, but…he’s rocking a Pink Floyd shirt.  Pink Floyd!  I think he fits the look of the decade, but more than that, I think he’s got Quicksilver’s personality down.  Quicksilver is only here to help bust Magneto out of the Pentagon and has, for my money, one of the film’s most memorable moments, if not the most memorable.

On that same note, for a film that’s so dark, there’s plenty of humor.  Most of it comes through Hugh Jackman’s performance as Logan and how he adapts to existing in 1973.  He has one of my favorite moments when he walks through a metal detector and has a confused look on his face because, as he only has bone claws, he doesn’t set off the alarm.  Also, his reaction upon learning that there are only three television networks and PBS is hilarious.

And, as always with many Marvel based films, there are plenty of nods and winks for comic fans, such as Quicksilver saying that his mother knows someone who can move metal.

X-Men Days of Future Past- Quicksilver's sister

Though I’m pretty sure she isn’t the Scarlet Witch.

There’s so much to say about this movie, and I’m sure I’ll have more once I see the film again, but I just want to get some nitpicks out of the way.

X-Men Days of Future Past- Bolivar Trask, played by Peter Dinklage, with a young William Stryker

As much as I like Peter Dinklage as an actor, I don’t think he was used as much as he could have been here.  He mostly exists to discuss the Sentinel program and get the ball rolling, but we don’t get into his head the way we do with Stryker in X-2.  Speaking of Stryker, by the way, Trask has a great moment where he tells a young William Stryker that he doesn’t hate mutants, but sees them as allies alongside humans in fighting their common enemy: extinction.  I wish we got to see more of that or at least some scenes of him experimenting on mutants.  We know he’s done it based on the autopsy reports that Mystique finds, but I didn’t find Trask to be as menacing or that much of a threat as Stryker was in X-2.

You’re asking for trouble when you introduce the concept of time travel, especially in an already established universe that’s stumbling over its own plot holes.  First Class introduced its own set of continuity errors, but Days of Future Past had me wondering at times about certain glaring errors that pop up because we’re dealing with time travel.  For example, before Logan goes back through time, Charles tells him that he and Erik could not have been further apart at that point.  So why didn’t Kitty just send Logan back in time a bit further?  It just felt like a reason to give Logan a conflict he needed to resolve.

X-Men Days of Future Past- Comic Kitty Pryde talks with Storm and Professor Xavier

Oh, on that: so Kitty can phase people through time now?  I mean, it works as a nod to the comic since Kitty was the one who was sent back in time.  However, since Kitty is still relatively young in this universe and Ellen Page doesn’t look a day older than she did in X-Men: The Last Stand, sending her back in time wouldn’t work.  I know, I really shouldn’t question mutant evolution in a series that all about mutants being the next stage of human evolution, but it just stood out to me.

Magneto has metal rip through Logan

Speaking of nods to the comic books, there’s a particular moment when Magneto does…something, I won’t say what it is, but I couldn’t help but think of this image.

Anyway, back to time travel and continuity issues: with this and First Class, are we officially ignoring X-Men Origins: Wolverine?  In First Class, Emma Frost is older than she’ll look in Origins, which, chronologically, takes place First Class.  Whenever we go through Logan’s mind and see glimpses of his future, we only see the X-2 version of Stryker, played by Brian Cox, never Danny Huston, who played Stryker in Origins.  So…is Origins a distant memory?  If so, that’s fine by me.  And since Senator Robert Kelly was already introduced in this universe, guess we can’t try to assassinate him anymore.

I thought Charles and Hank bought Logan’s time travel story a bit too easily.  Again, in a world populated by mutants, time travel isn’t exactly a stretch, but since Charles has already met Logan in his time, I have to wonder why he accepted so quickly that the same man he’d met before was now from the future.

X-Men Days of Future Past- Warpath and Sunspot

Also, we don’t get to learn much about the new mutants, though I understand the writers not wanting to just overload the movie with random mutants who get little screen time.  Unlike The Last Stand, the new mutants do serve a purpose when battling the Sentinels.  Bishop, Blink and Warpath’s abilities in particular just pop with vibrant color in the middle of a dreary future.  I can’t recall if they’re all actually named in the film, but better that they serve a purpose instead of just showing up for fan-service.

X-Men Days of Future Past- Havok

The same can’t be said for others.  For example, Havok is only in one scene to be freed by Mystique, but other than that, he doesn’t return to help out Charles and Hank.  At least he can control his powers and doesn’t shoot his energy beams like they’re hula hoops.

X-Men Days of Future Past- Rogue

And I’m even more confused as to why there was such confusion on whether to keep Rogue in the movie.  At the end of the day, I have to wonder why she was even included if she’s not integral to the plot?  I mean, Anna Paquin does show up, but she’s there for maybe five seconds.  Blink and you’ll miss her.

X-Men Days of Future Past- Bishop in animated series

However, I did like the inclusion of Bishop, if only for the nod to the animated series Days of Future Past adaptation where Bishop was sent back in time.

Days of Future Past is a very thought provoking entry into the X-Men film franchise filled with tense moments that leave you wondering about the mutant’s fate.  Singer takes the characters and source material very seriously and has crafted probably the most serious X-Men film so far.  Days of Future Past asks whether we choose to accept help just because we stumble.  Do we accept it or walk our own path?

Is the future predetermined or can we fight to secure a world worth living in?  The film is fast and entertaining to watch, but it knows when to slow down and let viewers soak in the gravity of the situation both mutant and humankind find or will find themselves in.  It brings the cast of both the original trilogy and First Class together to create a well-made film.  The time travel does raise a lot of questions about both the past and future of the film franchise, but nothing deterred me from enjoying an excellent movie.

And by all means, stay during the credits.

 

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