With director Bryan Singer back we finally get another good X-Men movie. Some quick catch up for those not familiar. The first X-Men was a solid comic book movie while X2 is widely considered one of the best ever made. In 2011 we got the prequel X-Men: First Class which tells the story of how Professor X and Magneto began they journeys. It was a solid summer movie that had fun with itself, but was really only worth watching for Michael Fassbender’s performance as Magneto and his transformation. X-Men: Days of Future Past is more of a sequel to First Class than the originals. It has a whopping 91% on Rotten Tomatoes and is being universally praised as one of the best comic book movies. I think that’s going much too far, but this is a solid and fun summer movie. Besides Batman and Spider-Man, the X-Men are probably the most interesting and compelling comic characters. They’re outcasts of society and have their own battles within their mutant community. It’s interesting to watch them interact and their stories are always at least somewhat engaging on a thematic level because of the civil and human rights subtext. I gotta be honest though, I’ve never been a huge fan of the movie adaptions.
The film opens in the future with voice-over telling us about this dystopian future. It’s straight out of Terminator 2. Sentinels are machines that hunt down mutants and destroy them. Few mutants are left and they create a plan to go back in time and reset the path of the future. Patrick Stewart and Ian Mckellen reprise their roles as Magneto and Professor X in what are essentially extended cameos. With about 10 minutes of only setup and exposition to catch people up we watch as Wolverine is sent back to the 70’s to find Magneto and Professor X. They need to stop Mystique from assassinating Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage!) who is the creator of the sentinels. It’s sounds a bit confusing, but it’s not that hard to follow. It doesn’t even begin explore the science of time travel. The beginning is actually held back because it jumps into the exposition rather than taking time with its setup and characters. Here the time travel is more of a plot device to tell us a story about these characters.
Hugh Jackman as Wolverine is always fun to watch. He just screams charisma. It’s pretty cool to watch him interact with young Magneto and Professor X here. Unfortunately Wolverine’s relevance is pretty minimal besides moving the plot along. Jackman still has presence, but he’s given little to do and it’s the lack of utilizing these characters that ultimately bogs this down. I did very much enjoyed the past stuff in the 70’s. Visually and tonally it’s completely different to the dark dystopian future, which is a nice parallel. At the core it’s about Professor X becoming the man who helps people find their way. The problem is that he’s lost his. McAvoy does solid work here and manages to make Professor X a compelling character. That’s where this film is the best and when it gets away from that it loses steam.
Michael Fassbender does equally good work as Magneto and with Bolivar Trask being an incredibly weak villain it was essential to have Magneto become the villain at points here. There’s a few fun sequences with Magneto causing mayhem and problems. Fassbender is just amazing to watch even without a big character arc or great material here. His screen presence is a gift from the movie gods. Most of the change is found in Professor X, but Magneto has a decent enough role for Fassbender to flex his acting muscles. Simon Kinberg’s script focuses mostly on the relationship between Professor X and Magneto, which is what made First Class work and here it’s furthered. There’s obvious parallels to Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. After all, X-Men is a metaphor for civil rights. The problem here is that the script is a bit literal and it doesn’t organically build it’s story. It’s stitched together with a bunch of really cool scenes and actors who make their characters better than they are written. Those major issues aside, it’s still a compelling enough story to make you invested.
If there’s a character that not given enough it’s Mystique who is the driving force of the events. She’s the macguffin of the piece. Jennifer Lawrence is a good actress, but the script just doesn’t allow her to be on par with Professor X and Magneto. Nor is she great enough to elevate it to something memorable. That trio together is what makes the film interesting. Part of the problem is that because we don’t get to see her build her revenge motivations from the events of First Class at all. We grasp and understand her motivations, but we never feel for her like we do with Magneto and Professor X. Most of the screen time is given to Xavier and Magneto because they’re the primary characters being explored. Mystique getting short changed really hurts the film though.
There’s an uneven balance between the trio of main characters. As a result the finale doesn’t work on as many levels as it wants too. It’s a tough balancing act here and the time travel doesn’t help. It doesn’t end up achieving anything profound with its characters or themes. The cast is sadly underused in favor of the main three who aren’t written strong enough to hold their own. The action while choreographed well isn’t always shot coherently and felt inserted into the story so there was action beats.
Problems a side, this is a film with a bit of personality, which is sorely missing from most modern blockbusters. Most sequels feel so uninspired and feel like they’re company made. This is another installment in a huge franchise, but it at least has its own style. The credit goes to Singer there for making it something that stands on its own. Most of all I liked the exploration of Professor X, Magneto, and Mystique and how they intersected with each other even if it’s muddled. It’s actually kinda smart for a superhero film, which must be applauded. I must also praise the character of Quicksilver played by Even Peters who helps break Magneto out of prison. There’s a scene that is absolute gold with him. Surely my favorite scene of the year. It’s just pure cinematic awesomeness. The set pieces and action are solid enough to hold attention throughout the film. The cinematography unfortunately just isn’t that compelling to look at. A few times the CGI was distracting (mostly the sentinels).
It’s a fairly ambitious film and even with Mystique being underwritten, she’s still made interesting because of Jennifer Lawrence’s talent. Bolivar Trask is the weakest character with a prominent role. He’s an uninteresting character and villain, which holds the film back from any real menace until Magneto makes a few key decisions, but that seems to happen too late. The future characters and story fall to the side in favor of the stuff taking place in the 70’s, which causes the film to lose power thematically with its past and present parallels of character. The stakes also lose a great deal of power because there’s not a balance between the two timelines. That’s where the film gets the messiest in trying to say things about fate and destiny. They don’t really pull it off and say anything noteworthy, which is the films biggest weakness. The good action sequences, style, and performances are what make this film a decent summer flick. Quicksilver is a scene stealer and McAvoy and Fassbender are able to create truly compelling characters.
Here the story doesn’t come off as organic, but the character work makes it better than most comic book flicks. It’s got some BIG notable faults and isn’t near X2 or other superhero flicks, but it is an entertaining ride, with some fun scenes. Cohesively it does not work that great, but certain characters and scenes are great. Most Singer movies seem to have great moments, but lack cohesiveness.
Even with some messiness I’d take this over most of the Disney Marvel movies. It’s definitely not as balanced as The Avengers, or Iron Man, but it’s not a cookie cutter movie. I still have major issues with the episodic structure and need to appease fans with these big franchise movies. At times they simply feel unauthentic and too caught up in their own franchises aimed too make more money and set up the next film. They’re not true unique stories with things too say. That’s for another time though. This film does have a charming quality and some fun scenes and characters but all of it feels stitched together and lacking. X-Men: Days of Future Past doesn’t elevate the genre, but it’s a decent piece of comic book cinema that even when it gets messy, is fairly entertaining.