Mark Reviews Movies

X-Men: Days of Future Past


3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Bryan Singer

Cast: Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Peter Dinklage, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Evan Peters, Ellen Page, Josh Helman, Halle Berry, Shawn Ashmore, Omar Sy, Daniel Cudmore 

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of intense sci-fi violence and action, some suggestive material, nudity and language)

Running Time: 2:11

Release Date: 5/23/14

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Review by Mark Dujsik | May 22, 2014

It took five movies (seven, really, if you count the spin-offs following one character of the team), but the war between humans and mutants has finally happened in X-Men: Days of Future Past. Note the tense of that statement: The war has happened. We come into it at the point where it's pretty much finished, with humans having built an army of robots that have effectively killed every mutant, every possible mutant, and every mutant sympathizer on the planet.

New York City is in ruins, and in the heart of Manhattan is a massive prison camp. Those who have been captured in the fight or arrested for what they are or what they believe form long lines inside the camp, and then the film cuts to a pit into which piles of bodies slide down a chute and crumple on the ground. The X-Men movies have never been playful affairs. This is a series, after all, that started with one of its primary antagonists in a Nazi concentration camp, and there's no denying that history is repeating itself in the opening shots of this film. These movies go for social relevance in the guise of comic-book action (Mutants are a convenient analogy for just about any downtrodden group) and usually wind up focusing on the latter.

It wasn't until X-Men: First Class, though, that the characters—or at least two of them—felt relevant unto themselves. They weren't just vessels for superpowers; they were representations of dueling philosophies whose superpowers helped defined them.

This dual-purpose sequel, which simultaneously serves as a continuation of First Class and X-Men: The Last Stand, benefits greatly from the character groundwork laid out by its chronologically immediate predecessor. If the battle between Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) is between different opinions of how to react to a human attack on mutants, this film actually gives them a human attack on mutants to which they can respond.

Of course, as was pointed out before, the attack itself is basically over when the film starts, and it doesn't begin with Charles and Erik but with their elder selves—Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen)—in the 2020s, where they have put their differences aside to serve as the leaders of the last line of resistance against the effort to eradicate mutants. With their defeat an inevitability, Professor X comes up with a plan. Using her mutant ability, Kitty Pride (Ellen Page) sends Wolverine's (Hugh Jackman) present consciousness back into the Wolverine of 50 years ago in order to stop events that will ultimately result in the mutant genocide. One would think this power could have come in handy a few times before now.

The screenplay by Simon Kinberg spends so much time catching us up to the events that the previous movies left out of their narratives that it's kind of amusing that the logistics of time travel here are the least explained and most straightforward element of the present-day story. The rest of that timeline consists of the mutants both familiar (Halle Berry as the weather-controlling Storm and Shawn Ashmore as the frost-controlling Iceman) and new (including Daniel Cudmore as the silvery strongman Colossus and Omar Sy as the energy-blasting Bishop) preparing for the approach of the Sentinels, the mutant-killing robots that can adapt to whatever their foes dish out at them and execute their enemies in pretty gruesome ways (including but not limited to combustion, skull-crushing, and decapitation).

The bulk of the narrative is set in 1973. Charles has become an alcoholic and is taking a serum that enables him to walk but eliminates his powers of telepathy (Wolverine is stunned Charles can walk, but nobody seems surprised that present-day Professor X has returned from the dead without explanation). Erik is in a metal-free prison cell 100 feet below the Pentagon, having been arrested for the assassination of John F. Kennedy ("The bullet curved," Charles offers as evidence, and the truth is even stranger). Just as its predecessor used the Cuban Missile Crisis as a backdrop for its finale, the film has fun with its historical context, including an action sequence set at the Paris Peace Accords, where the mutants must stop Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from killing Sentinel-creating Dr. Trask (Peter Dinklage), and, in probably the funniest bit, a Richard Nixon (Mark Camacho) who actually thinks to turn off the tape recorder when he's talking about the mutant problem.

The most invigorating scene, though, comes with the brief appearance of a mutant named Quicksilver (Evan Peters), a kleptomaniac teleporter whom Wolverine and Charles recruit to help break Erik out of his cell. He moves so fast that time seems to slow to a crawl, allowing him to play a few pranks on Pentagon security before gently moving oncoming bullets out of the path of his accomplices. It's the only time the film stops in tracks to provide a showcase for the ability of one of its characters, but the sequence is so cleverly choreographed by director Bryan Singer (who returns to the franchise after directing its first two installments) that we hardly notice.

It all builds to a climax that intercuts between past and present, but again, it's not the action (which is quite impressive, with a relocated baseball stadium serving as a makeshift fortress) that keeps us involved. There are personal stakes here, or at least there are in the past, where the characters have some depth to them. As we've been enduring an onslaught of comic book movies, it's quite easy to become numb to them in their adherence to formula. Above all, X-Men: Days of Future Past is a reminder that these movies needn't rely on the usual. They can engage in complex stories featuring characters who exist apart from their abilities, and they can do it in a way that is as imaginative as, well, a comic book can be.

Copyright © 2014 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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