X-Men: Days of Future Past succeeds at being a thrilling and fun superhero movie, balanced by well-earned dramatic weight.
X-Men: Days of Future Past imagines a near-future in which both mutants and humans have been decimated by deadly killing machines known as The Sentinels. In this nightmarish dystopia, Professor X and his "old friend" Magneto gather the most powerful surviving X-Men together for a last-ditch effort to stop the Sentinel war: altering the past so that it never happened in the first place.
That plan requires Kitty Pryde sending Wolverine's consciousness back into his 1970s body, in order to stop an event that forever sets history on the course of a dark future. But things are bleak in the past, as well: young Charles Xavier, Magneto and Mystique are all damaged and estranged from one another; the events of the Cuban Missile Crisis (seen in X-Men: First Class) have already inspired the beginnings of the Sentinel program; and with every passing moment in the future, the Sentinels get closer to eliminating the last of the X-Men and destroying all hope of altering history.
At the center of this desperate mission lie some big questions: Can history be altered, or is destiny set in stone? And can Wolverine play the role of mentor to his own mentor in time to repair some very broken people and save two timelines?
X-Men: Days of Future Past is by far the most ambitious film in the franchise - an attempt to take the entire six-film saga (and all of the notorious continuity errors that come with it) and soft-reboot it via a story that is both character drama and spectacle, meant to honor both the Original Trilogy and First Class halves of the franchise. Against all odds, Singer manages to deliver all of the above, resulting in the best X-Men movie to date, and a comic book movie that could (arguably) be placed in the company of the genre's elite.
It is with a sad note of irony that, on a directorial level, Bryan Singer has delivered his best film ever. Days of Future Past is a showcase of directorial talent, to the point that it is arguably a handful of well-crafted movies, woven together. The futuristic sci-fi world and mutant action sequences are awesome spectacle, while the future Sentinels are dark, frightening creatures; the '70s period piece is colorful, gleefully retro, and well-staged in nearly every scene; and there's an excellent character drama at the film's core, utilizing great actors who deliver performances above and beyond expectations of the genre.
Uniting these eclectic parts is a steady thematic and tonal pulse that retains the fun, the fantastical action and the emotional resonance which have been the defining blend of X-Men comic books since their inception. Days of Future Past also boasts set pieces and sequences that raise the bar for the franchise, and in some instances, comic book movies in general. Futuristic battle sequences and certain '70s sequences (read: Quicksilver) make the film totally worth seeing in 3D; you want the full X-perience with this one.
Like the direction, the script combines eclectic elements into a fine blend. The story idea comes from First Class architects Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman, with the actual script written by X-Men: The Last Stand scribe Simon Kinberg (who is now the franchise's narrative architect). Kinberg's DoFP script keeps things steadily moving at a tight, focused pace; there are welcome injections of fun and humor, and the story manages to hit the proper beats of character and narrative development to make each action and interaction feel important and compelling. For hardcore fans of the film series, the movie pays proper homage to both the Original Trilogy and the developments of First Class, while not being afraid of wiping away that past, in order to set up (what looks to be) a better, more cohesive future... But that's not to say that this film is the total savior of continuity errors past.
By combining both the Original Trilogy and First Class mythos into one world, the filmmakers do manage to tie their franchise universe together; but there are a number of contradictions still left on the table by the end. The hope was likely that with a fast-paced and entertaining story, any hangups about continuity or character adaptation (read: Quicksilver) could be ignored - and for the most part, that is the case. Days of Future Past is good enough that it's easy to accept its telling of things over any other cinematic telling that may have come before (or even the comic book source material); but if you want to go looking for the continuity errors, you'll see that the movie cannot completely circumvent them. They are never distracting, but they are there.
Then again, it's hard to complain about which characters are present (or what state they're in) when the cast of actors is delivering strong performances. Hugh Jackman leads the franchise once again, but manages to be an effective team player this time. His performance is much more restrained and nuanced, drawing on Wolverine's
overexposure extensive history in the franchise to create an interesting spin on the character as an older and wiser mentor. The core First Class squad - Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), Magneto (Michael Fassbender), Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) and Beast (Nicholas Hoult) - deliver even more of the best elements of that prequel film (i.e., improved character drama), with Jackman serving as a welcome addition to their half of the franchise.
Meanwhile, Original Trilogy stars like Patrick Stewart (Prof X), Ian McKellen (Magneto), Halle Berry (Storm), Shawn Ashmore (Iceman), Ellen Page (Kitty Pryde/Shadowcat) and Daniel Cudmore (Colossus) all return to deliver better, more confident (if not smaller) performances, in what would be a fitting epilogue to their portion of the franchise. (Then again, they also manage to remind us why seeing some of the original squad return isn't so bad, so who knows what the future will be...)
New additions to the franchise like "International X-Men" Blink (Bingbing Fan), Bishop (Omar Sy), Sunspot (Adan Canto), and Warpath (Booboo Stewart) all get moments to shine in some of the franchise's best mutant action sequences, and for all the controversy about his adaptation, Evan Peters' Quicksilver steals every moment of his screen time. Game of Thrones star Peter Dinklage likewise shines in his moments playing Bolivar Trask, the designer of the Sentinels, while Josh Helman (The Pacific) does a fine riff on the William Stryker character seen in X2 and X-Men Origins: Wolverine. There are also a number of nice cameos and fun nods to both comic book and historical figures, but those are best saved for the viewing experience.
In the end, X-Men: Days of Future Past succeeds at being a thrilling and fun superhero movie, balanced by well-earned dramatic weight. It may only be three-quarters successful in forging the fractured franchise into a unified whole, but it does manage to distill the best parts of the saga and use them to push things forward into a (semi-)fresh start, where fans can forget sins of the past and once again feel optimistic about the notion of X-Men movies.
...And according to the implications of the post-credits scene, there is hint that the future of this franchise is going to continue to be a bigger, bolder, and ultimately more exciting one.
X-Men: Days of Future Past is now playing in theaters. It is 131 minutes (its goes fast, don't worry) and is Rated PG- 13 for sequences of intense sci-fi violence and action, some suggestive material, nudity and language.
Want to discuss SPOILERS? Head over to our Days of Future Past Spoilers Discussion. Have questions the film didn't answer? Read our Days of Future Past continuity Errors article. Confused about that scene at the end of the film? Read our Post-credit Scene Explained article or listen to the editors discussion on the XM:DoFP episode of the Screen Rant Underground Podcast.
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