X-Men Days of Future Past (2014)

Director: Bryan Singer

Starring: Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry, Nicholas Hoult, Ellen Page, Peter Dinklage, Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart

“Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.” ~Roger Daltrey

Bryan Singer returns to the director’s chair for the “X-Men” franchise after an eleven-year absence, during which time the series added another sequel and two solo outings for Wolverine (Hugh Jackman)… all of which were terrible movies. “X-Men: The Last Stand” had committed the most egregious offense in the way it botched the “Dark Phoenix” saga from the comics. After that fiasco, anything “X-Men” related would either draw limited enthusiasm or no interest whatsoever… even 2011’s “X-Men: First Class” which I ended up liking very much. So, when the announcement came that my favorite storyline from the comics was next up for cinematic treatment, I feared the worst and kept my expectations low. If they could screw up one of “X-Men”‘s two greatest stories, who could say that they would fair any better with the other? One thing was for sure… I would not be fooled again.

The future is a dark, depressing nightmare reminiscent of James Cameron’s “Terminator.” Mutants (and the humans who dare to aid them) are being hunted down like animals by an unstoppable armada of Sentinels, giant robots who had originally been created by Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) in the 1970’s as a deterrent against the perceived threat posed by mutants. The worst part is that the whole thing could have been prevented, if only someone had gotten to Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) in time to prevent her from killing Trask in 1973. A small group of mutants, among them Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), Magneto (Ian McKellen) and Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) have come up with a way to make this happen. Kitty has been using her powers to help her friends prevent/delay their own deaths. She sends their minds back into their younger bodies, but this trick only works for short time distances. To send someone back several decades, Kitty would need to be working with a mind not easily broken. Enter Wolverine, the only man for the job.

In 1973, Wolverine must locate and convince the younger Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) to work together to alter the future by saving the present. It’s a pretty daunting task that Wolverine’s been handed. Xavier has been wallowing in depression in the X-Mansion following the events of “X-Men: First Class.” Most of all, he feels betrayed by Mystique, with whom he’d been friends since childhood. Magneto’s as big a problem to reach, having spent the last ten years under lock and key underneath the Pentagon for murdering JFK with the “magic bullet,” although he has a much different account of events. The worst thing anyone could do is release the world’s most dangerous mutant from his cage, arm him with knowledge of the future and who’s responsible for its creation, and yet breaking Magneto out of prison was the only thing our heroes could have done.

Bolivar Trask is a man worth saving if it means preventing mass casualties on a scale no one’s ever seen before, but that’s about it. He’s been experimenting on mutants, which has resulted in the deaths of several characters from “First Class,” and he has his sights set on Mystique because of her powers of mimickery. He believes that he can perfect his Sentinels using her DNA to give them her ability to adapt, and he’s right. The Sentinels of the future win not just because they’re stronger, but because they can also mimic whichever power happens to be the one that neutralizes their enemy. Trask doesn’t care about flags, either. If the U.S. Congress doesn’t like his plan… the hell with them! Perhaps the North Vietnamese, who’ve just celebrated victory against the Americans, will be more properly motivated to hear him out. Never for a moment do you consider Peter Dinklage’s height when he is onscreen. His commanding voice gives Trask all the authority he needs.

The returning actors from “First Class,” who all did impressive work three years ago, feel much more like they are playing the characters as we had come to know them in Bryan Singer’s earlier films. Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique, having been on her own since November 22, 1963, has finally developed into the cold, world-hating woman who will wisecrack in the same breath as she is cracking your neck.  And yet these are not the same characters as in the first three movies. Like with “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” every change that our heroes make in the past will add up to a new, unpredictable timeline. The future is not set.

One of many things I was concerned about going into this movie was whether or not the PG-13 rating would mean that the movie would weasel out on the carnage in the future scenes. While it’s not particularly gory (it’s “X-Men,” not “Friday the 13th”), there is no real compromise going on here. Mutants die left and right, and they die horribly. I love the idea of giving the Sentinels the ability to adapt. In the comics, they basically just had three ways of killing you: spears shot from their arms, brute force, or Iron Man-like repulsor beams shot from their hands… on the extra-crispy setting. Giving them Mystique’s power makes them scarier than ever.

So how does the movie fare overall? Color me impressed. Very, VERY impressed. I would even go as far as to call this my favorite “X-Men” movie, and to thank Bryan Singer for paying respect to the original material while providing a new and exciting take on “Days of Future Past.” Finally, I have the “X-Men” movie I’ve always wanted! Also, we finally have an answer to the oft-repeated question, “Does it ignore ‘The Last Stand’?” It does. At the same time, I don’t feel any real excitement for any future sequels, the first of which will be “X-Men: Apocalypse” in 2016. In reading the comics, I was essentially done with it after “Days of Future Past” concluded with Uncanny X-Men #142. Likewise, “X-Men: Days of Future Past” feels like it has brought things to a proper conclusion. In both the case of the comics and of the movies, I don’t see how anything can ever top this X-traordinary chapter.


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