The X-Men franchise is caught between different worlds, on and off the screen, in X-Men: Days of Futures Past. It’s a sequel, a reboot and an event film rolled into one movie or as I like to call it: seqbootvent. If that definition sounds bizarre, that’s because it is.
In a distant future that resembles the opening of Terminator 2: Judgement Day, the human population has been enslaved by artificially intelligent creatures called Sentinels. The prime directive of the Sentinels is to destroy all mutants. A small band of X-Men collaborate to send Logan/Wolverine’s (Hugh Jackman) consciousness back to the 1970s to stop the chain of events that lead to the creation of the Sentinels by military scientist Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage).
A lot of Days of Futures Past is director Bryan Singer and screenwriter Simon Kinberg hitting Control-Z on the keyboard of the X-Men universe. The time travel plot enables Kinberg to build a bridge between the older characters of the first five films in the series, and the younger ensemble of X-Men First Class. Singer is delivering an Avengers style event film but, essentially, this is a sequel to First Class that features cameos from the stalwarts of the franchise whose agents each deserve a medal for getting Patrick Stewart (old Professor X), Ian McKellan (old Magneto), Halle Berry (Storm) and Ellen Page (Kitty Pryde), a credit and an appearance fee. Most of these actors are reduced to money shots of them only using their powers, so prepare for lots of hand waving and flashy special effects. But wait, there is more fiddling. Due to Back to the Future like meddling in the space time continuum, whole chunks of X-Men cinematic canon (mainly The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine) are erased due to Wolverine’s actions setting off a butterfly effect. This is sure to be debated to death over comic book store counters around the world, but Singer applies the changes like forensic cleaner on a crime scene. It also enables a passing of the torch from the older cast, provide the perfect fan service to Singer loyalists, and allow the First Class timeline to continue with new adventures, characters and recasting.
The time travel paradoxes of Days of Futures Past are both a blessing and a curse. Early on, time travel is used conveniently like in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure as an easy problem solving exercise. Characters die but then are revealed to be alive and the explanation is: time travel, duh. Once Kinberg gets deeper into the actual concepts of time travel, and not just the gimmick, it becomes vastly more interesting. Variables in the past can still lead to the same outcomes or character origins, and the nature of destiny is revealed to be that a war between humans and mutants, as well as the internal squabbles between Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and Professor X (James McAvoy), is inevitable. Fassbender and McAvoy help elevate this idea as they convey the bond of two people destined to continually clash over their ideals throughout time. Magneto has a stealth set of jaded morals and Fassbender does a fantastic job of showcasing the silent danger and power of a man set on establishing the superiority of the mutant race. While Magneto buries his emotions, McAvoy’s Professor X/Charles Xavier wears his emotions closer to the surface and conveys a desire for peace and reconciliation with his former friend.
Once again, it’s hard to tell where Jackman ends and Wolverine begins, and vice versa. It’s fun seeing the character thrown into the 1970s, but despite being the primary lynchpin of the narrative, he gets lost amongst the supporting players that begin to pile up and isn’t given much to do. It’s a similar case for Jennifer Lawrence’s shape shifting Mystique whose biggest acting stretch is to, literally, limp through scenery. Dinklage is good showing restraint in the villainy department (rare with superhero baddies) without ever being truly threatening.
Evan Peter’s Pietro Maximoff/Quicksilver is the best thing to come out of Days of Futures Past; that’s why I’m giving him his own paragraph. The mutant with the gift of lightning speed is the perfect, wise-cracking foil to the gruff, ‘world ending’ demeanour of his comrades. Singer crafts the perfect display of Maximoff’s powers and wit during a break-in sequence at the Pentagon where he causes chaos at the speed of light. The character is disposable in the scope of the plot but his appearance is sure to have audiences wanting more.
Within the bounds of the 1970s, Singer does a good job on touching upon the civil rights subtext that the early X-Men comic books. The fear of America post-JFK assassination combined with the military wound of the Vietnam War, presents the perfect storm for mutants to become humanity’s punching bag. Singer also shoots a lot of the public appearances of the mutants in a home-movie style similar to The Zapruder film that’s a nice stylistic touch of authenticity away from the destructive, effects heavy action sequences.
One final aside and personal warning as a fan of the Chris Claremont and John Byrne comic book arc the film is based on. The title is all they have in common. Don’t go looking for the comic book in the movie as there are only shreds of the original story left.
Days of Futures Past is a jumble of mutant melodrama that’s pleasing but never wholly poignant.
Cameron Williams - follow Cam on Twitter here: @MrCamW