Review – X-Men: Days of Future Past

x-men-days-of-future-past-poster with ensemble cast

When the first X-Men movie came out in 2000, comic book fans were excited to see a superhero movie that managed to grasp the essence of the stories without making a “comic book movie,” which at the time usually involved a bunch of flash and campiness and generally tended to suck. Basically, X-Men was a comic book movie that was awesome, and though it was far from perfect, it kicked off a revolutionary franchise, featuring an ensemble cast of superheroes long before The Avengers. Then X2 happened and fans were so happy because it was even better. But with the third film, X-Men: The Last Stand, pretty much everything fans had loved about the series—the characters, the respect for canon even when plotlines were altered, the very message of hope and acceptance that is at the core of the X-Men story—vanished into a poorly done Phoenix plotline where all your favorite characters either died, lost their powers, or were left out completely. Last Stand was a rough blow to the franchise, and the critically-panned Wolverine spinoffs didn’t help. But the prequel/reboot X-Men: First Class was able to revitalize the series, shucking off some of the canon established previously (like, say, the fact that Magneto had helped Professor X build Cerebro, a vital plot point in X2, but now in the First Class timeline Hank built it) and focusing on the heart and soul of the X-Men: the message of accepting people’s differences and the relationship between Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr.

Storm, Wolverine, and Professor XX-Men: Days of Future Past is an attempt to bridge the gap between the original trilogy and the prequel/sequel/reboot First Class. It features the casts from both, though many of the old crowd appear on screen only for brief moments. The cast from the original trilogy have found themselves in a dystopian future where Sentinels have destroyed most of the mutants, though not their love of capes and leather outfits. Magneto has his powers back after losing them in Last Stand and Xavier is very much alive, without any real explanation, so continuity is clearly not important here. Even if it were, First Class picked and chose what it wanted to use from the original trilogy anyway, so don’t hurt your head trying to reconcile the two.

In this dystopian future, things are so bad that they decide the best course of action is to have a do-over. The future sucks, let’s erase it and assume whatever replaces it will be better! So Kitty Pryde sends Wolverine back in time to prevent the event they believe triggered their current situation: when Mystique killed the Sentinel’s creator Bolivar Trask. Of course, it might have been a better idea to go back to before Trask had ever come up with the idea of the Sentinels in the first place, but the logic makes sense within the story.

Now if you’re familiar with the Days of Future Past comic book storyline, then you might be ramping up for a good diatribe on the fact that they had Wolverine go back in time instead of Kitty. And while I’m with you on that—not just for faithfulness to the story, but because it takes away an important part from a female character just so that an Alpha male power fantasy gets to be the hero again—I can understand why the change was made. Wolverine has been in each of the X-Men films, including his brief but brilliant cameo in First Class. He is the most fully developed of the X-Men characters we have seen (why that is exactly is a rant for another time). Even casual viewers know who he is, while Kitty Pryde was played by three different actresses in the original trilogy, relegated to a minor background role in the first two and then upgraded to a main character in the third but alongside about dozen other main characters. Comic book fans know who Kitty Pryde is, but the average movie viewer? Probably not. So from a narrative point of view, using the most famous character in the movie-verse to bridge the gap between two timelines and movie series makes sense. I’m not necessarily happy about it, but I can see why they did it. Within the movie the change makes sense and, more importantly, it works on an emotional level. Throughout the original trilogy Professor X had counseled Wolverine while he was lost, now Wolverine gets to return the favor.

Charles and Erik playing chessThe majority of the movie takes place in the past timeline in the 1970s. This is to its benefit, as the heart of the movie is the Charles and Erik relationship, just as it was in First Class. Wolverine has to bring Charles and Erik back together after their violent divorce on the beach so that they can fight over Mystique’s agency. They have to stop Mystique from killing Trask, and they seem to approach this mission like a couple who has broken up but had bought a dog together, so now they’re calling to it to see which one it will go to. Mystique has her own plans, but she ends up in the crossfire between Charles’s and Erik’s differing points of view on how to deal with humans. This treatment of her character by them irked me because if they hadn’t been arguing over her like a houseplant they don’t remember which one of them bought then she would have been a very strong character who was in control of her own destiny instead of a pawn in their ongoing chess match.

Charles and Erik act like estranged lovers throughout the film, which was actually one of my favorite aspects. Seeing their older counterparts working together in the dystopian future breaks the heart because you can see that these two are fighting for the same thing, they just have very different ideas about how to achieve it. In fact, the climax of the film puts those differences on display as Charles tries to stop Mystique from killing Trask so that they can show that mutants are harmless, while Erik decides the only way to stop humans from terrorizing and discriminating against mutants is by killing all humans. I just shook my head at him as he carried out his elaborate scheme to stop Mystique so that he could screw things up instead. Erik still has a way to go before he becomes ready to stand by Charles’s side once again, and the movie leaves us with the two of them broken up as before. But at least they managed to avert the dystopian future, and completely erased the events of Last Stand, all in one go.

Quicksilver moving things around really fastThere are a lot of great character moments, a lot of scenes that might make you tear up, but there’s also an aspect of fun and humor, which made the first two films and First Class so enjoyable. By far the best sequence was the “Time in a Bottle” scene where Quicksilver—I mean, Peter Maximoff—uses his super speed to help break Erik out of prison. Before the movie came out, all the production photos of Peter had made him look completely ridiculous and I feared that his character would be a disaster. Never have I been so happy to be proven wrong. Peter was the breakout character, despite only appearing for a short time. They even gave a nod to the fact that Magneto is his father by having him tell Erik that his mom used to know a guy who could manipulate metal. He was funny, charismatic, and a joy to watch being an annoying little brat to everyone. This means that Joss Whedon and Aaron Taylor-Johnson better have something special up their sleeves or they’ll lose in the Quicksilver-Quicksilver showdown.

As is now the usual, there was also an after credits scene. This one exists entirely to set up the sequel, X-Men: Apocalypse, and will make no sense to anyone unfamiliar with the comics. And that’s all I’m going to say about that, so be sure to stay ‘til the very end.

This was a fun, exciting movie and one of the best X-Men films so far. It might even top some people’s lists, and I can see why. It has action and brilliant special effects, but it’s also very human—or should I say, mutant. The franchise is going strong, and the best part is we don’t have to pretend that Last Stand didn’t happen anymore, because now it actually didn’t. And that’s canon.

So what do you think? Where would you rank this among the other X-Men films? Let us know in the comments!