X-Men: Days of Future Past

By on May 24, 2014

Of all the movies coming out this summer, “X-Men: Days of Future Past” is the one I was most looking forward to. The “X-Men” are my favorite of the Marvel superheroes (“Batman” being my fave of the DC brand, but of course), and I just plain loved the rebooted “X-Men: First Class.” Indeed, aside from “The Avengers” and the Nolan “Batman” trilogy, “First Class” may well be one of my favorite superhero movies ever.

Re-watching it again for this, I was thrilled at how well it held up and how it zipped along its merry way, introducing a slew of mutants and re-introducing others, all the while invoking a great retro-70s vibe that actually put it somewhere between a superhero movie and a spy flick, a la James Bond. We got to see a young Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), who was childhood friends with a younger Professor X (James McAvoy), before going, if you’ll excuse the expression, a bit rogue at the end and joining up with a younger Magneto (Michael Fassbender); as well as various other characters as they once were, such as Beast (Nicholas Hoult) and Stryker (Josh Helman).

Professor X (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) play the ultimate game of chess in "X-Men: Days of Future Past."

Professor X (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) play the ultimate game of chess in “X-Men: Days of Future Past.”

All of the above and a damn sight more appear in the massive follow-up, which combines both the older, original franchise, and the new recruits for the first time. That means you also get an older Professor (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen), plus people like Storm (Halle Berry), Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) and Iceman (Shawn Ashmore). Bridging the gap is Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), who doesn’t really age, as we know from his various movies, and is therefore the one who travels back in time to interact with the younger versions of Magneto and the Professor, in hopes of getting them to help stop Mystique from killing scientist Trask (Peter Dinklage, of “Game of Thrones” fame). Actually, technically, his mind goes there, while his body stays in the present, as the war that is looking to be the end of mutants- and everyone else- swirls on around them. The mission must be completed before the present Wolverine can be killed, thus eliminating any chance he has of changing the past to affect the present.

Got all that? Don’t worry, if you can get past the initial confusing scenario the film throws at you, which throws you right into the heat of the action, it’s pretty easy to follow. Of course, the plotline is straight out of the comics, so fans of the original will be one step ahead of everyone else here, though some changes have been made, obviously.

One controversial change was to have Wolverine be the one to go back instead of Kitty, but I think that was a change for the better. I ask you comics fans: would you really rather see Kitty getting into the scenarios that Wolverine does in the past, or the latter? I love “Juno” as much as the next person, but Wolverine just makes better sense in the grand scheme of things, and more importantly, within the frame of the movies rather than the comics. Besides, the movie gives her a key role in the process, by basically making the mission hinge on her ability to keep it together as the madness of war- and Wolverine himself- swirl around her. No small task that, so comics fans should be reasonably placated.

As you might have guessed there is a lot to take in here, to put things mildly. Some people are going to be way lost, which was a problem “First Class” didn’t have, being as it was essentially a reboot. This requires a whole lot of “X-Men” knowledge going in, and unlike “The Avengers,” it’s not as quickly-paced and fun. This is more on the darker sides of comics, a la Nolan’s “Batman” flicks, and, as such, if you prefer the lighter tone of “First Class” or “Avengers,” this may not be your cup of tea. Personally, I do prefer “First Class,” but that’s not to say there isn’t much to love here. For one thing, a lot hinges on Mystique, and I love me some Jennifer Lawrence, so I was very much on board with that.

Hey, buddy! My eyes are up here! Mystique kicks some butt in "X-Men: Days of Future Past."

Hey, buddy! My eyes are up here! Mystique kicks some butt in “X-Men: Days of Future Past.”

This is an angrier, more vengeful Mystique than we saw in the last film, and not always one to listen to reason. One of the more intriguing elements of this storyline is the way a lot depends on the ability of the “good” guys (and I use that term loosely, as both Wolverine and the Professor have their demons) to convert the “bad” guys to their way of thinking, which is easier said than done. For instance, no sooner have the good guys broken Magneto out of an underground prison than he’s off the reservation and getting into trouble in no time. You try talking sense to a guy with the ability to lift a stadium whole into the air and deposit it on the other side of town.

Writer’s note: Mild spoilers in the next two paragraphs.

Yes, it’s true that we know that it’s likely that all will be alright in the end. And the film definitely falls prey to the “dead- but not really” issues that are rampant on television right now, by which I mean those shows that “kill” off main characters, only to bring them back shortly thereafter, as if nothing happened. To quote “Pet Sematary”: “Sometimes, dead is better.” “X-Men: Days of Future Past” could have used a more permanent death or two. Lord knows, there’s enough mutants to go around to pick up the slack.

I get not killing, say, Wolverine- he has his own franchise to attend to, after all- but I don’t think it would have been so bad if they’d taken out at least one heavy hitter in the process for real. But that might be just me getting upset over all the times they’ve done this as of late on TV. If I recall correctly, a lot of what happens here in the end happened in the comic, so they’re just honoring that, but just know that, in this movie, at least, dead isn’t always dead, which is a bit of a disappointment for such an epic film. Joss Whedon certainly would have taken out a lower-tier character, but there you go. I did say I liked “Avengers” more- although come to think of it, Agent Coulson was one of those “dead- but not really” people! Curse you, Hollywood!

End of Spoilers

Alright, so, if you liked the last one’s tone, you might not like “Days of Future Past” as much, but if you like your superhero flicks on the darker side, you should eat this one up. Despite all the craziness going on, and elaborate plotlines and back-and-forth between past & present, it’s easy enough to follow if you know the gist of the “X-Men” story. But if you haven’t seen a single one, this is not where you want to begin, unless the sight of a naked-ish, blue Jennifer Lawrence is enough reason to get you into theaters, in which case, you will be very happy with this, though you should still see “First Class” at least.

So, in the spirit of all that, let’s divide it appropriately: for fans, this is an A all the way; for neophytes, it’s a B- at best, depending on your tolerance level for such things. The less tolerance you have for this sort of thing, the lower you’re likely to rate it. But come on, for the 70’s stuff alone, this is still a reasonably engaging movie. The Pentagon scene is a lot of fun, and the big showdown with Magneto and Mystique at the end is pretty awe-inspiring and this is definitely a movie to see in 3D for that reason and plenty more where that came from.

In other words, it’s the sort of film 3D was made for, so at least see it that way if this piques your interest. If not, you might want to stay home, because “X-Men: Days of Future Past” is not going to win any new fans over, unlike the previous installment. And yes, there is a post-credit sequence that will absolutely befuddle anyone not familiar with the comics, so point taken: What the rest don’t get, the geeks understand. And that’s all you could really ask for in a superhero movie, right?

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About Mark Trammell

Mark Trammell is the resident entertainment critic at UAB, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where he is also a Graduate Student and does a vid-cast movie review show. He is a life-long fan of films and has a pretty whacked-out, all-over-the-place movie collection that would give most sane people pause. He loves horror movies and Disney flicks and isn't entirely sure there is a difference. He one day hopes to put his money where his mouth is and inflict his own perverse vision on society, entirely so that he can tell people who ask: "If you think you can do better, why don't you make a movie yourself?" to shut up.
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