'X-Men: Days of Future Past'
By the time the credits roll on the last screening of ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’ this weekend, plenty of people in sold-out theaters across the planet will have a new favorite ‘X-Men’ movie. Packed with action, brilliant actors, relentless pacing, and wrapped in a clever conceit, this is easily the most purely entertaining entry in the series to date. Whether it’s the best is up for debate (‘X2’ is preeeeetty good), but there’s no denying that this mutant epic delivers the goods.
Based on one of the most beloved storylines in the history of ‘X-Men’ comics, ‘Days of Future Past’ is a wonderful bit of fan service and a movie that could never have been made when the film franchise began 14 years ago. The technology wasn’t ready, and no studio was willing to fork over this type of cash for a Marvel movie yet. Most importantly, the groundwork just wasn’t in place. ‘Days of Future Past’ is the type of comic book story that can only happen midstream, once an entire universe has been established. It’s the type of epic crossover story that makes fans drool and is delivered rather admirably without any handholding for new viewers. You’ve either done your homework for this movie or you’re cast aside. It’s a parade of cross-references, in-jokes, continuity corrections, and massive set-pieces made by ‘X-Men’ fans for ‘X-Men’ fans. It’s also probably the most purely entertaining movie in the franchise to date. Director Bryan Singer does an incredible job of balancing competing timelines, plot threads and a vast collection of characters without ever losing momentum or overstaying the movie’s welcome at a trim two hours. Sadly, the discrimination metaphors and subtext that made the early movies so intellectually rich have been pretty much abandoned with so much else going on. Yet even though that subtext is certainly missed, it’s hard to complain when the text is this gloriously entertaining.
Things kick off in a dystopian future where mutant-hunting sentinels have killed off almost the entire mutant population and even enslaved most of the surviving humans for good measure. Singer reunites the core of his initial ‘X-Men’ cast (Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan, Halle Berry, Hugh Jackman and others) in an epic action setting with high stakes that gleefully indulges in the most stylized elements of the ‘X-Men’ universe that simply weren’t technically possible or financially affordable when the movie franchise started in the early 2000s.
Then, to prevent this horrible future, the filmmaker takes a trip back to 1973, where the charismatic trio of James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence revive their younger takes on the characters from ‘X-Men: First Class’ in a glorious bit of historical fiction that ties them all into such events as the JFK assassination and the Vietnam War. At the center of it all is Jackman’s Wolverine, and the film somehow honors all of the successful elements of previous ‘¬X-Men’ movies without losing its relentless action-focused narrative momentum or wasting any of the stars. Singer even manages to introduce a couple of new characters like Quicksilver (Evan Peters), and that speedster’s central bullet-stopping set-piece is easily the most inventive and satisfying action sequence in an ‘X-Men’ movie since Nightcrawler’s trip to the White House. The film is a thrilling bit of blockbuster entertainment that balances so many elements so perfectly that it’s kind of a miracle that it all came together.
Much like ‘The Avengers’, any flaws the movie has (and there are a few) are easily ignored in light of the unfiltered blast of pure comic book entertainment on display. This is the type of superhero story that comic geeks used to dream of seeing, yet assumed would never happen. The movie proudly ranks alongside ‘X2’ and ‘First Class’ as the masterpieces of the franchise. Singer even finds clever ways to take advantage of the timeline-altering premise to erase the damage done by the Bret Ratner cinematic skidmark that was ‘X-Men: The Last Stand’.
As a result, the movie feels like a franchise jumpstart that corrects past mistakes and sets the series up for a glorious future. This is also the first Marvel movie from Fox that was supervised by beloved comics writer Mark Millar and it’s a doozey of a statement of intent for where the brand will go from here. While it’s still a shame that Marvel Studios doesn’t own all of its franchises to weave into a single cinematic universe, it’s nice to know that Fox has someone in charge who will treat the properties right. That’s good news for comic book fans, because now Kevin Feige and his roster of talent have some legitimate big-screen superhero competition while Sony and Warner Brothers struggle to figure out what to do with their catalogues of comic book classics.
Clearly, the golden age of comic book movies is only just getting started. What a time to be a nerd.