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Review: X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

Directed by: Bryan Singer

Premise: The seventh film in the X-Men series. Most directly following the events of First Class and The Last Stand, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is sent back in time from a point in a distant, alternate future in which the world has been devastated by war and both human beings and mutants have been enslaved and exterminated by robots. Traveling back to the early 1970s, Wolverine must find the young Charles Xavier/Professor X (James McAvoy) and Erik Lehnsher/Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and unite them to prevent the war.

What Works: The X-Men film series has been uneven with impressive entries like X2: X-Men United and First Class offset by lesser titles such as X-Men Origins: Wolverine and The Last Stand. Days of Future Past is an upper tier superhero movie and one of the better entries in the X-Men series. This film is the beneficiary of the successes of earlier installments, especially First Class. Like that film, the core of Days of Future Past is the triangular relationship between Professor X, Magneto, and Mystique. However, where First Class was primarily about Magneto and Professor X, Days of Future Past puts Mystique at the center of the action. Wolverine is there as an observer and participant but it is Mystique whose actions really move the plot and determine the outcome of the story. Jennifer Lawrence returns in the role of Mystique and she delivers a terrific performance, in some ways better than the role that got her an Oscar in Silver Linings Playbook. Mystique is a conflicted revolutionary, trying to fight for her dignity and the dignity of her kin but she is caught up in forces bigger than her own life and Lawrence manages to convey that conflict through the character’s heavy makeup. Also impressive is James McAvoy as the younger Professor X. One of the innovations of First Class was to imagine the young professor as a very different person from the character played by Patrick Stewart in the earlier films and Days of Future Past continues to develop the character in ways that are very satisfying and give McAvoy a chance to do something interesting with the role. New to the X-Men series is Quicksilver played by Evan Peters and the young actor brings a lot of humor to this film and provides a youthful counterpoint to the older cast of characters. Like other X-Men movies Days of Future Past is primarily an action picture and the film has some outstanding visuals with most of the fights and chases holding up with or exceeding the set pieces of earlier X-Men movies. As a time travel story, Days of Future Past takes place in two different temporal locations and the filmmakers use that novelty to simultaneously build suspense in both settings so that the outcome in each time period impacts the other.

What Doesn’t: Days of Future Past can only be enjoyed by viewers who have watched all of the X-Men movies up to this point. Unlike First Class or the standalone Wolverine movies, there is no point of entry for viewers who are unfamiliar with the series. That’s not a flaw of Days of Future Past; it is reasonable for filmmakers to expect viewers to watch earlier instalments of an ongoing series. However, the investment of time and effort by the audience isn’t well rewarded in this movie. Days of Future Past brings back the core cast of all the X-Men features but the actors of earlier films aren’t used very much and so it feels like a squandered opportunity. Also, the X-Men movies have become somewhat predictable with the same issues and scenarios of earlier films repeated in Days of Future Past. This becomes very apparent in the relationship between Professor X and Magneto and at times their dialogue exchanges and conflicts seem lifted right out of previous movies but without any development of the characters and their ideas. Days of Future Past is a time travel story and like most movies about time travel the logic and the plotting are very fragile. Even within the conceit of a superhero time travel movie, the plot of Days of Future Past gets absurd and it does not make much sense at all if the viewer stops to think about it. As part of the time travel gimmick, the filmmakers do something that will be maddening to fans of the series. Days of Future Past is only watchable by those who have seen the earlier X-Men movies but in the course of the story the filmmakers negate every film chronologically following the original picture, thus rebooting the franchise. In this way the filmmakers tell the audience that all of the earlier films are irrelevant and the time and emotion invested in those movies is for naught.

Bottom Line: Despite its tenuous logic and other flaws, X-Men: Days of Future Past is a very enjoyable picture. The movie may not have the emotional or thematic weight of X2 or First Class but it is frequently spectacular and highly entertaining and it does manage to pull this series together, even if it does so for the purpose of negating most of it.

Episode: #493 (June 1 ,2014)