X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) / Sci Fi-Action
MPAA Rated: PG- 13 for sequences of intense sci-fi violence and action, some suggestive material, nudity and language
Running Time: 131 min.
Cast: Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Peter Dinklage, Ellen Page, Nicholas Hoult, Evan Peters, Shawn Ashmore, Halle Berry, Omar Sy, Josh Helman, Mark Camacho
Small appearance: Anna Paquin, Michael Lerner, Chris Claremont, Len Wein, Famke Janssen, James Marsden, Kelsey Grammer
Director: Bryan Singer
Screenplay: Simon Kinberg
Review published May 24, 2014
Days of Future Past starts off in the near future, where mutants are being hunted to near extinction by super-sophisticated robots known as Sentinels. Not only mutants, but homo sapiens carrying the mutant genes as well as their human allies (so, pretty much everyone). The only chance that mutant-kind has is to send, via Kitty Pryde's (Page, The East) powers of transportation, Wolverine's (Jackman, Prisoners) current consciousness nearly 50 years in their past into his younger self. His mission is to stop Mystique (Lawrence, American Hustle) from assassinating an anti-mutant government scientist named Dr. Bolivar Trask (Dinklage, Prince Caspian), thereby stopping support for the government in launching the Sentinel project. This event results in Sgt. William Stryker (Helman, Jack Reacher) capturing the shape-shifting Mystique's DNA to create Sentinels that can adapt to whatever the mutants throw their way. In 1973, Wolverine must connect with the younger versions of Charles Xavier (McAvoy, Wanted) and Magneto (Fassbender, The Counselor), and get these enemies to unite in order to stop the bleak future from coming into existence.
Bryan Singer (Superman Returns, X2) returns to the franchise that brought him fame with X-Men: Days of Future Past, the seventh film in the overall X-Men film universe, and may have delivered the best of a fairly impressive bunch. Although running at a relatively hefty 131 minutes, there's not much time to spare, as the entry is jam-packed with nearly every known X-Men character from the original trilogy as well as from the popular prequel, X-Men: First Class, and has to deal with concurrent, complex storylines set in the past and future without becoming too convoluted to follow. Scripted with bursts of necessary info-dumping exposition by Simon Kinberg (This Means War, Sherlock Holmes), DoFP is a lesson in tautness, delivering a fast-moving plot, enough character touches to make the difference, bits of humor, mind-blowing special effects, and lots of good action. Singer and Kinberg don't miss many beats in what could have been a thorny effort to please all sides.
Singer may be spotty in other projects in terms of quality, but he has proven to be an elite ensemble superhero director. He's well-suited to bring out the action and the themes within the X-Men franchise, taking chances most wouldn't, such as in the use of handheld 8mm cameras to re-enact some of the action scenes from an eyewitness perspective, evoking the frightening footage of Kennedy's assassination (which we learn that Magneto was responsible for -- how else to explain the "magic bullet" theory?). It's effective, and most importantly, it's stylistically new and refreshingly different for a genre that has been growing ever more fatiguing in its approach. Another big highlight, which will likely go down as one of the best in a comic book flick, is in one brilliantly delivered action moment in which we see speedster Pietro Maximoff (Peters, Kick-Ass) -- aka Quicksilver -- run around the Pentagon kitchen to save our heroes from a flurry of bullets as he seemingly slows time down to a near standstill, all the while listening to Jim Croce's "Time in a Bottle" on his headphones (a bit anachronistic, but still effective).
The acting is what you expect, given that we've seen nearly all of these actors before in these roles, save for Peter Dinklage, who delivers very well as the tenacious and formidable Trask, though he's not built up enough to serve as a main boss. X-Men purists will scoff that the film's producers have decided to replace Kitty Pryde/Shadowcat's time-travel expedition from the comics with Wolverine for mass marketing appeal, but Kinberg finds an effective explanation (such a trip would damage anyone's mind, but Logan's healing powers render him invulnerable to it). Jennifer Lawrence has also become a superstar in the interim, so Mystique's role is beefed up well beyond her importance in the comics as well, which may also rankle longtime readers. Those same comics fans may delight in seeing the original 1981 "Days of Future Past" story arc author Chris Claremont in a cameo role. And speaking of cameos, some fans of certain X-Men characters will be chagrined at seeing some prominent roles reduced to bit parts, including, most notably, Halle Berry (The Call) in a tiny role as Storm and Anna Paquin (Free Ride) to a literal walk-on part as Rogue. Nevertheless, there are some nice surprises on this front for series fans, so it'll be hard to carp for long.
As with most time-travel movies in which changing the past affects the future, this one is liable to leave viewers with a logic hangover once all is said and done, but Singer keeps the pace brisk enough to suspend most disbelief while the plot is moving at a breakneck speed to its cataclysmic ending. If you're a fan of the film series, its must-see status is assured. If you haven't seen the prior X-Men flicks, it's worth the investment to get to this treat, even though there is always the possibility that the other films in the series might now be retconned out of the current timeline. Given that superhero franchises usually just reboot anyway after a few films due to the aging actors, escalating salaries, and dwindling ideas, the way the X-Men franchise has masterfully found a way to keep their millions of fans on board by keeping the narrative momentum going makes it a marvel (no pun intended) to behold. At some point, they'll paint themselves into the proverbial corner, but until then, it's fun to watch the innovative murals they create.
There is a scene following the credits that sets up the next First Class movie, X-Men: Apocalypse.
©2014 Vince Leo