I’ve been a fan of the X-Men for a long time (ever since weather-mutant Storm made a cameo on 80s cartoon, Spider-man and His Amazing Friends) and I keep waiting for the perfect X-Men movie that captures all that I love about this comic-book super-team. With all the very positive buzz around X-Men: Days of Future Past, I thought this was going to be it, but unfortunately, I had a lot more nits to pick with this movie than I thought and it just didn’t live up to my expectations. In all the hype and anticipation, I had kind of forgotten that this movie was intended to be a sequel to X-Men: First Class and despite the presence of Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, Patrick Stewart’s Professor X, Ian McKellan’s Magneto, and a whole slew of others who have reprised their roles from previous X-films in varying sizes of cameos, the focus is really on the 1980s versions of Professor X (played by James McAvoy), Magneto (played by Michael Fassbender), and Mystique/Raven (played by Jennifer Lawrence).
The basic premise is that the future (which I believe is meant to be contemporary to our present) is bleak for the X-Men (and presumably the rest of the world, but we don’t see much of it). Everything is under the grip of the Sentinels (killer robots who seem bent on killing mutants, like the X-Men, and presumably go too far in their zeal). This alternate timeline has a more than faint whiff of the dystopia from the Terminator movies — apparently robots are always going to destroy humankind. Anyway, the “future” X-Men decide that the moment everything went wrong was when Raven — the blue, shape-changing mutant from First Class killed inventor/robot magnate Bolivar Trask (played with a bit less wit by Peter Dinklage than he normally employs as Game of Thrones‘s Tyrion Lannister) and gets herself captured. So, with a newly-made-up super-power that allows Kitty Pride (played by Ellen Page) to send peoples’ consciousness from the future into their past selves, they decide to send Wolverine back to the past (since he’s still got those mutton-chops anyway, it wouldn’t be much of a shift) to get Prof X and Magneto to stop her before she screws up the future/present. Simple, right? Well, as any sci-fi fan knows, a good time-travel story is pretty difficult to come by. Not only was it a bit confusing because the First Class movie was set in the past relative to us today, so it’s already in the past — versus the movie’s future, which is supposed to be our present. Then there’s the fact that the whole goal is to undo something that already happened, so not only is there the paradox (which one of the characters describes as time being like a self-correcting river) that the bad future/present should not have existed, but the viewer also doesn’t really care about those future X-Men (some of whom are killed by Sentinels) because we know that once the past is rewritten, those events and those deaths will all be undone. (It doesn’t help that they end up in some abandoned Tibetan monastery like some Mortal Kombat rejects.)
As an 80s set X-Men film, it had its cool moments (though being a child of the 80s, I have a love-hate relationship with using the era for nostalgic backdrop). Prof Xavier and Wolverine have to break Magneto out of the Pentagon, so that whole ‘mission impossible’ is a pretty good sequence (including a hilarious scene featuring a young Quicksilver — he’s super fast, so he has fun with that.) Unfortunately, besides Magneto, the others don’t really flex their genetically-enhanced super-powers. Even Wolverine barely gets to whip out his bone claws and Prof X is minus his telepathy (despite the fact that it costs nothing to depict telepathy on the screen) so the mutant-powered fireworks that I always look forward to are toned down. A lot of this movie is focused on the relationship between Xavier, Erik/Magneto, and Raven/Mystique. As usual, Xavier is trying to take the path of cooperation and understanding between humans and mutants while Magneto always ends up taking the shoot-first approach to race-relations. In the middle falls Mystique, who has become a bit of a freedom fighter for mutantkind (as opposed to the misguided villain that she was in the comics). I don’t really enjoy comic book movies where they use a lot of talking, character scenes to resolve the situation because let’s face it these characters are never as fully realized as normal dramatic characters. They’re comic book characters. They’re meant to be painted with broad brushes. The character-driven stuff always seems a bit superficial in this context.
On top of that, there are many gaps in the logic of the plot that I could pick at for days. However, I don’t want to spoil anything more than I’ve spoiled already. Suffice it to say that there’s a lot of disbelief being suspended here. In the end, Days of Future Past was still a top-of-the-list X-Men movie. It’s a nice sequel to First Class as it shows some of the impact of events from that first movie and takes the arguments even further. If it didn’t need to be a summer tentpole movie, shoring up major box-office and trying to reach a wide audience, I would have preferred that the writers took their premises a bit more seriously and made things more believable and realistic (at least relatively realistic). They shouldn’t just pick up one of the seminal plot threads from the X-Men comic books and drape an ill-fitting screenplay over it. Nevertheless, I still kind of enjoyed the movie. It’s still fun to see a bunch of my favourite characters running around/flying around with their super-powers. Ultimately it served its purpose of bringing beloved comic books to the silver screen — and they even tried to jam together all the X-Men and related movies into a single reality and timeline. Funny that it even brought the comic book practice of retconning to the movies as well. Maybe this would have been a 5 in an alternate timeline, but for now I think it’s only a 4 out of 5.