From the same line of thought as The Avengers, Fast & Furious 6, and The Expendables comes another supermovie in which characters from other movies join forces in hopes of tripling their box office grosses while settling for a fraction of their normal screen time.
X-Men: Days of Future Past, the seventh film set in Fox’s version of Marvel’s mutantverse, may invite comparisons to the Back to the Future trilogy, but it’s based on an Uncanny X-Men two-parter cover-dated January and February 1981, four years before Marty McFly’s first trip, back in my day when the all-star creative team of Chris Claremont, John Byrne, and Terry Austin were on a roll (though Byrne and Austin exited after the next issue). Some plot elements have been added or reworked to mesh with the previous films (well, with some of them, anyway), but this adaptation doesn’t stray as far from the framework as I expected, throws in a couple of new surprises, and tries to give its award-winners reasons to return to a crowded ensemble.
Short version for the unfamiliar: In a post-apocalyptic year 2023 where the robot Sentinels rule the Earth and exterminate mutantkind like vermin, old Professor X (Sir Patrick Stewart) and old Magneto (Sir Ian McKellen) enlist the aid of thirtysomething Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) to use her never-before-seen mental-time-traveling super-power to send the consciousness of eternal Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back to 1973 so he can prevent young Mystique (Academy Award Winner Jennifer Lawrence) from assassinating the Sentinels’ inventor (Peter Dinklage), thus preventing America from buying into the Sentinels program out of fear, thus saving the world. Minor drawback: future Wolverine’s mind in past Wolverine’s body will need the help of young Professor X (James McAvoy) and young Magneto (Michael Fassbender), who aren’t on speaking terms or in the best positions to come to the rescue.
And there’re a lot more mutants where they all came from.
Hey, look, it’s that one actor!: Other actors returning from previous films: Storm (Academy Award Winner Halle Berry); Iceman (Shawn Ashmore); young Beast (Nicholas Hoult); Havok (Lucas Till), for a few minutes; Rogue (Anna Paquin) with even less time than him; and Colossus (Daniel Cudmore) with more scenes but fewer lines than ever.
Several new mutants are brought in from the comics, most prominent of which is Quicksilver (Evan Peters), who wins the first half of the film and earned instant forgiveness for that cheesy, bacony Hardee’s commercial. Comics fans may also applaud the screen debuts of Bishop, Blink, Warpath, Sunspot (in later X-force mode, when his powers became interchangeable with Sunfire’s), and the more recent Ink, who was unfamiliar to me before the film because my X-comics fandom ended years ago. Familiar characters with new faces include young Toad before he grew up to be Ray Park, and a young William Stryker before he fell in with the Weapon X program.
Near the end of the film, you’ll recognize three more familiar faces you probably thought you’d never see again. Times have changed since then.
Meaning or EXPLOSIONS? When last we left our young leaders-to-be in X-Men: First Class, a cocky Charles Xavier was secure in his righteousness and a vengeful Erik Lensherr was lashing out against those who took everything from him. Years later, Lensherr is more confident in his antihero walk, but Xavier’s foundations have been shattered. Betrayed by former friends and paralyzed from the waist down, Xavier wallows in self-pity and keeps himself perpetually doped up on an experimental drug that allows him to walk but nullifies his mental powers. Xavier has become a bitter hermit, abandoning his crusade to save his kind. This time, in one of the film’s most effective scenes, it’s Magneto who has to stage an intervention, to drag Xavier out of his morass by forcing him to see the damage and the brutality that continued unabated while he chose to whimper and hide.
At the same time, we also see a new schism between Magneto and Mystique when she’s left alone to carry on his pro-mutant agenda during his incarceration deep below the Pentagon. Circumstances and better intel bring Magneto to the side of Our Heroes, while Mystique, too wrapped up in her own devices, becomes the Big Bad who has to be stopped before she singlehandedly, inadvertantly brings doomsday upon them all. Both still share the same goal of saving mutantkind from humankind, but Magneto has the advantage of realizing that actions have consequences. Granted, his plan to save both mutants and history turns ridiculously grandiose by the film’s climax, but at least he’s thinking beyond his own furious impulses.
Largely, though, it’s a time-travel popcorn epic of good vs. evil where superhumans bash evil robots and each other a lot in increasingly more expensive ways.
Nitpicking? Back in the ’80s, comics fans used to complain about how pre-Crisis DC Comics had allowed Superman to become so ridiculously overpowered that it became de rigueur for him to shove planets out of orbit or virtually bend time and/or reality with his bare hands. Past a certain point of diminishing returns, what’s meant to be a staggering feat of godlike awesomeness turns into over-the-top hilarity.
I was reminded of this while being expected to accept Magneto levitating the entirety of RFK Stadium as a singular, unbroken, giant-sized space vessel and transporting it four miles east to the White House lawn. It doesn’t collapse, it doesn’t lose entire seating sections, it doesn’t sag around the perimeter, it’s not accompanied by scenes of Magneto flitting back and forth from section to section going “Oops oops oops nononononoNO!” and frantically trying to shore up any disparate portions like a comedic plate-spinner. It merely sheds a few loose signboards and light fixtures during its long flight because SuperMagneto has super-concentration powers allowing him to super-support all several blocks of it equally underneath, up to and including all the considerable chunks of it that aren’t even metal. All this to shoulder, and he’s multitasking with several other massive, inanimate objects along for the same improbable wild ride.
I’ll suspend disbelief to a reasonable point for the sake of sci-fi/fantasy stories, each evaluated on a case-by-case basis, but I reserve the privilege to un-suspend disbelief at my discretion. In this case, this feat didn’t strike me as the writers telling us, “Magneto is just this magnificently hyper-evolved,” so much as they were telling us, “THIS GONNA LOOK SO COOL.” If they’d pushed the producers harder, maybe they could’ve instead resolved everything by having Magneto use his magnetic powers to spin the entire Earth in the opposite direction, reversing the time stream, and saving the lives of both Peter Dinklage and Margot Kidder.
Speaking of powers they shouldn’t have: I’m unclear on how Kitty Pryde’s useful but basic power of intangibility receives a future power upgrade that allows her to magically send other people’s consciousnesses back in time to possess their younger selves. In the original Claremont/Byrne/Austin story, this plot-necessity power belonged to a then-unknown mutant named Rachel Summers, a blank slate with no preexisting parameters. I’m guessing the filmmakers weren’t prepared to open the can of worms labeled “Scott Summers/Jean Grey Multiversal Family Tree” and were desperate for anything else to facilitate this key plot point. Sure, it gives Ellen Page something important to do, but no in-story reason is offered or even implied. I get fidgety when a movie’s excuse for a peculiar development is “Shut up and buy it.”
(If they really wanted to keep Ellen Page busy, they could’ve followed the original story more closely and kept Kathryn Pryde Rasputin in place as the main character who’s sent back in time to save the day. But that would’ve left Wolverine without much to do and likely discouraged Hugh Jackman from returning. And Heaven forbid they dare another X-film without him.)
In terms of time travel issues: usually the causality holes leap out at me, but this seemed more restrained and less outrageous than other flicks of its kind. I struggled for a moment with the continuity issue of Wolverine’s adamantium claws versus his bone claws, trying to sort the movie chronology in my head, but somehow I managed to shelve that internal debate indefinitely when I realized I don’t care. I’ll understand if that earns me a hole-punch in my geek cred card.
One other nagging thing: I’m used to seeing comics characters butchered by the carload in comics, but for some reason it felt more disturbing to watch multiple familiar characters murdered in a row here. The DoFP alt-future is the bleakest X-movie setting we’ve seen to date, much more so than that climax of X-Men: the Last Stand where Dark Phoenix kept erasing entire waves of meaningless mutant henchman with the efficiency and emotional depth of a PC user deleting unwanted photo files. The good guys’ losing streak was entirely in keeping with the original comics story, but I couldn’t help feeling like I’d stepped out of a Marvel movie and into DC’s New 52. Maybe that’s just me.
So did I like it or not? I liked seeing new characters given things to do. The McAvoy/Fassbender tug-of-war remains as captivating here as it was in First Class, albeit a bit pressed for time and space. I thought Mystique enjoyed the character’s most confident appearance to date, freed as she was from the encumbering expectations of other men. The visual effects seemed to have fewer noticeable gaps than in previous films. I loved that Quicksilver reminded me of how much sheer, uproarious fun a superhero film can be. And I appreciated the film’s implied admission that The Last Stand was basically a waste of everyone’s time and resources.
Ultimately my intrigue with the all-star performances overrode my aforementioned annoyances for an overall conditional thumbs-up, if only because I didn’t feel like being a total Grinch about it. Just a partial Grinch, really. Among other X-films I’d rank it in the upper half, placing just beneath First Class and my fading memories of X2. I wish the series were as consistent as Marvel’s own in-house productions, but I still prefer Fox’s flawed works to the sprawling, convoluted, crossover-happy X-comics of today.
How about those end credits? To answer the burning question that MCC is always happy to verify: yes, there is indeed a scene after the X-Men: Days of Future Past end credits. You probably already saw headlines about this, but for those who missed out on this teaser for the next X-film, assuming Fox’s plans continue uninterrupted by scandals:
Millennia ago in the sands of ancient Egypt, thousands of subjects bow in worship before a young albino man who assembles entire Pyramids, millions of bricks weighing millions of tons and stacking dozens of stories tall in just the proper shape, using only the power of his mind. End scene.
For those who don’t read comics: this would be the young, immortal lad who grows up to become the world’s first mutant, who would later rename himself Apocalypse. He’s scheduled to be the Big Bad of the tentative next X-film, X-Men: Apocalypse, in which I expect we’ll see him shoving planets out of orbit and bending time and/or reality with his bare hands. Yay.