Good news! If you liked X-Men: First Class, then you will really like X-Men: Days of Future Past.
The same things that a lot of people love about X:FC show up again in X:DoFP. For example, having the movie largely a period piece, in 1973, rather than the present day or some vague “not too distant future.” For another, having the focus on a core group of conflicted characters, namely Xavier/the Professor (James McAvoy and Patrick Stewart) and Erik/Magneto (Michael Fassbender and Ian McKellen) and Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence).
In fact, I appreciate the last one the most, as it creates a very personal drama that is balanced by a very epic scale. The setting ranges from both past and future, and all over the globe – Russia, China, New York, Paris, Washington DC. The stakes are quite high, too – nothing less than the destruction of life on earth, after all, and the conflict of human/mutant is not left to some abstract reference; we actually get to see this very-real conflict in a framing device as Sentinel robots battle older-Professor and older-Magneto and other familiar X-Men.
And what a battle it is. There is a creative use of powers, here, as characters use their powers in genuine teamwork for the most effective moves. Watch for Blink’s (Fan Bingbing) portals to play around with physics, a visualization of power that is more effective on film than on a comic’s page. And I never knew I was so excited to see Warpath on the big screen, here played by Booboo Stewart, along with Storm, Iceman, Sunspot, the Professor, Magneto, Colossus, and Wolverine. The oppressive and hopeless tone is exaggerated here. Heck, their final stand takes place inside a tomb! But thematically, they hold their own because of their teamwork, best expressed with Bishop (Omar Sy) who can absorb and redirect others’ energies, and, of course, Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) whose out-of-phase powers can also send others’ spirits back in time.
If you are hoping to see more of these characters, however, you will be disappointed. Because the key to their teamwork is in the past, when there wasn’t a team at all. So Wolverine gets sent back in time (his spirit is sent into his past-self’s body) in order to make sure younger-Xavier and younger-Magneto can play well together and stop Mystique from making a big mistake.
Let me just say BEFORE THE SPOILERS that it’s a good thing you’re smiling so much at the look and casting and costuming and sets and CGI/animation and everything. Because these smiles are enough to distract you from squinting a bit at the plot. Don’t look to too hard, or annoying things like QUESTIONS will come to your mind.
SPOILERS! Now in Question Form!
So… in the future, why do the X-Men try to send someone’s spirit back AT THAT POINT? Surely they would have had this conversation prior to their, uhm, Really-The-Last-Stand-This-Time. They’ve been using Kitty Pryde’s power for a while, right? so maybe I missed the point where suddenly it seemed like a good idea to use it THIS way.
Also, WHY does Magneto say they need his past-self when clearly they don’t “need” him since they reach Mystique in the moments she first tries to shoot Trask? I suppose past-Xavier needs him since he won’t know where Mystique is, but older-Magneto wouldn’t have known that, right?
Are we REALLY supposed to expect that Mystique has NEVER killed anyone prior to her confrontation with Trask? That’s a LOT of action for her to have seen to have “never” killed anyone.
Why is Trask in some random meeting with the President’s cabinet to be “glad he asked that question” about the Sentinels? Isn’t he just a businessman?
How many days was Wolverine in the past, and why doesn’t it take the same amount of “time” in the future?
And, of course, it’s best not to think about the whole time travel thing anyway, as it leads to questions like: how does Old-Wolverine return to his body which will become New-Wolverine the moment the timeline is “fixed” into it’s new version of history? It’s a neat idea, like your time travel is all a dream and doesn’t become “real” until the moment you wake up, but there are some philosophical implications to physics and identity and paradox which I guess you just have to accept in a superhero movie.
And which I guess pretty sums up the answers to any of my questions above, which is: “just because, OK?!”
Kind of like the answer to why Wolverine doesn’t “lose it” every time he doesn’t “think calm thoughts.” There’s only one time when it would be dramatically important for him to do, and so that’s when he does, despite clearly many other opportunities to do so. The film takes these moments as it needs them to keep the plot and characterization flowing. It’s quite impressive that it gives the audience an important emotional or expositional beat just at the right time, so thank you screenwriter Simon Kinberg and director Bryan Singer, although it’s not glowing praise as I’d appreciate a bit more logic to the flow as well.
News Flash! Professor X Is a Jerk! (But Gets Better)
Clearly, this film is really all about Professor X/Charles Xavier, as played by McAvoy. Despite this film’s billing as an ensemble cast filled “with the most X-Men characters ev-ah!!”, it really all comes down to Xavier’s heroic journey. His is the character arc that starts him off in the lowest place for him to be: crippled emotionally but not physically, a man who once helped mutants is now one who has no mutant powers. He must receive help from his fairy godmother, here played by Wolverine, and must go on a series of quests to return him to his rightful place.
To be clear, yes, this means that Wolverine is actually more of supporting character in terms of plot, despite his placement on a movie poster. The guy has good lines, helps move the plot forward, and is recognizable/ marketable, but in fact he doesn’t have any sincere motivation, character growth, or internal struggle. He does what he needs to do so the plot can advance, which again is pretty much like all those “Just Because” things I talked about.
Thematically, it’s interesting that Xavier’s turning point is in a big speech about how “good” pain and suffering is. Turns out, it has something to do with hope, or at least that what he says out loud, but I think the film overall makes a better case that it’s about teamwork. Magneto “loses” for example, because he breaks from the group to take matters into his own hands. Mystique “wins” because she joins Xavier’s side, if only for that moment.
And both antagonists have a warped idea on what teamwork/community really is. Magneto’s ideas is more about blindly lashing out, uniting as a force for war and vengeance, the best defense a good offense. Trask’s ideas is about how humans will need to come together with mutants as their enemies so each side will make the other strong. Or something. His big villain speech was one of those “oh cool! … oh wait” don’t-squint-too-hard-or-it-won’t-look-right kind of moments.
BUT WAIT! There’s More!
Usually, movies like these have some pretty definitive endings– namely, the antagonists die. In this case, however, Magneto flies away after his battle is lost, and it’s more of a philosophical battle, to boot. Trask, also, is spared– obviously, of course, or since that’s pretty much the nature of the quest in the first place. Certainly, that can only mean one thing– sequels!
In a very intriguing move, the nature of this time-travel story means that any sequel we get next, however, will be pretty much a brand-new movie. If you didn’t like any of the previous movies in this X-Men film series by 20th Century Fox, then don’t worry. All of that has been erased, for all intents and purposes. Even that woman who Wolverine was so angsty about in over four films spanning nearly 15 years is back– Jean Grey, with a cameo by her original actor, Famke Janssen.
I’ve Run Out of Room…
and maybe you didn’t get this far anyway. I didn’t get to talk about the acting in general (very good,) the effects (ranging from good to OK), and the score (also good.) I didn’t get to talk about Quicksilver stealing the show (which I found fun) and becoming an audience favorite, judging from the theater I saw it in. I didn’t get to talk about the somewhat “choppy” feel of the film (which I didn’t like), as if each sequence of the film felt like it’s own mini-movie or series of related vignettes. But overall, I enjoyed the film and it’s balance between the epic scale and personal struggles. I think it’s even better than its predecessor, X-Men: First Class, which I rank among the X-Franchise’s best.
On the scale of Yes to No, I recommend X-M:DoFP with a hearty “Heck Yeah!”
By Danny Wall