The Future Is Looking Pretty Rough
X-Men: Days of Future Past
At the time that Days of Future Past came out, the X-MenLaunched in 1963 and written by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the X-Men featured heroes distinctly different from those featured in the pages of DC Comics. Mutants who didn't ask for their powers (and very often didn't want them), these heroes, who constantly fought against humans who didn't want "muties" around, served as metaphors for oppression and racism. Their powerful stories would form this group into one of the most recognizable superhero teams in comics (and a successful series of movies as well). series was in a bit of an odd place. The original timeline for the series was still going strong with the second Wolverine film (which followed up the events from X-Men: The Last Stand) making many fans quite happy. At the same time, though, the series had seen a kind of prequel/reboot with X-Men: First Class featuring a new cast playing familiar characters. The question remained where the series would go from here; would it stick to the present day timeline or follow up on events with the prequel versions of the characters?
Days of Future Past elects to have it both ways featuring sections of the story in the near future while also spending much of its time in the past, circa the 1970s during the end of USA involvement in Vietnam, and then allows the two sides some limited interact via the magic of time travel. It's a twist taken right from the original run of comics (also called "Days of Future Past") but given a few movie universe twists to suit the differences between page and screen.
The film opens in the future (circa the 2020s) and the world is on the brink of extinction. Humanity is patrolled by the Sentinels, giant robots that search for, and eliminate, mutants along with anyone that might have mutant markers in their DNA (that could then have mutant children) and any supporters of the mutants as well. It leaves the entire world a dystopian ruin and the only ones capable of stopping this horrible world are the X-Men. The whole team gets together in the mountains of Tibet, using this location as their final base of operations, all for one crazy plan: Kitty Pride (Ellen Page), using her mutant powers, would send the consciousness of Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back to the 1970s so he can take over his own body and work to change the events of the past to save the future.
In the past, Wolverine had to team up with the past versions of Charles "Professor X" Xavier (James McAvoy), Hank "Beast" McCoy (Nicholas Hoult), and Erik "Magneto" Lensherr (Michael Fassbender) because only with these men can they change what had to be changed. Raven "Mystique" Darkholme (Jennifer Lawrence) was waging a one-woman war to save mutant kind and when she got intel that a new mutant-hunting tech was coming out from Trask Industries, she took it upon herself to kill Trask (Peter Dinklage). However, killing Trask only leads to her capture and then, with her imprisoned, Trask Industries experiments on the mutant to gain knowledge of her powers. This then, over the next decades, allows the group to design better and better Sentinels that (using a variation of her power) can adapt to anything thrown at them, making for invincible killing machines. The team has to stop Mystique and prevent the Sentinels from ever coming into being.
Despite it's sci-fi twists and, honestly, rather complicated plot, Days of Future Past moves along at a pretty solid clip, keeping things light and energetic despite the heady concepts the movie tackles. That's a credit to the screenwriter, Simon Kinberg, as well as director (and complete slimy worm of a human being) Bryan Singer, who together take a movie that could easily have been incomprehensible and make it into something that's easy enough to follow and enjoy. It's a small credit, though, as the movie is not without its (sometimes glaring) flaws.
For starters, the movie doesn't exactly fit together as well as might have been hoped. Because of all the storylines the film has to balance and work through the film doesn't really get going until the mid-point of the flick. There's enough stuff going on that you don't really notice the first time through, but on repeat watchings the seams really start to show. The film has to first introduce the X-Men team of the future (lead by Kitty Pride), then it has to reunite this group with the classic X-Men we remember form the previous films and then explain the plot. Then the movie sends Wolverine back in time only for him to find the younger versions of the X-Men and explain the plot again. Then they all go and rescue Magneto and explain the plot again. Plus, Mystique is off doing her own thing which requires it's own intro. It's a lot of starting up, over and over, before we finally really start cruising.
And I do mean cruising in quite a literal sense and the film really gets going with the introduction of Quicksilver (Evan Peters), a speedster (who's also Magneto's son). During events between First Class and this film Magneto was arrested and imprisoned in a concrete bunker beneath the Pentagon, so the heroes have to break him out. Quicksilver is instrumental to this, getting a great scene set to Jim Croce's "Time in a Bottle" that's a real show-stopper. With the team together they then can actually focus on the plot of saving Mystique and stopping Trask.
One tragic thing, though, is that Quicksilver, easily the best new character introduced in this film, leaves the movie after the mid-way prison break. This is obviously to focus the movie on the core cast (plus, of course, having a speedster that powerful in the group would unbalance any future fights throughout the film). But the story for the rest of the movie, while interesting and engaging enough, doesn't have that tight, visceral energy of the "Time in a Bottle" speedster sequence. They do such a great job of introducing Quicksilver that it seem strange to just ditch up so quickly after he's brought in. Not that the movie cares as it's on to the next chapter, the next section of the segmented adventure.
This also, indirectly, weighs down the end section of the film. After the prison break we then have the big encounter between the X-Men, Mystique, and Trask, and this portion of the film works well. But the final section of the movie is all about Magneto (who, understandably, views Trask and his Sentinel program as a threat that needs to be eliminated) going up against Trask, and this section just doesn't have any energy to it. Partly that's because we've seen this kind of thing before -- Magneto sees a threat, violently overreacts, and then the rest of the X-Men have to stop him -- but also just because it's nowhere near as energetic or exciting as the previous fights we've seen (especially in comparison to the "Time in a Bottle" sequence). Something was just missing to really bring the end of the film together.
Really, while the film should be credited for working as well as it does, all things considered, it's easy to envision a better version of this film that brings everything together much better, and that version should, honestly, be two movies. The first film should deal with the future section of the movie, with the classic cast joining together and search for some way, any way, to win the war with the Sentinels. When all else fails and they get pushed back again and again, losing more and more allies in the process, they could then come up with the last-ditch plan to send Wolverine into the past and try to change things from there. That would then have been the end of the first film with a cliffhanger leading into the second movie focusing on the new cast. From here we then get Wolverine joining with Charles and Beast, tracking down Mystique and Magneto (because keeping each character apart just drags things out), and then having them all focus on stopping Trask.
What this film needs, more than anything, is tightening up. It's a bit loose, unwieldy in the way it's cobbled together (which, honestly, is a flaw with every Kinberg script, starting with the third film in the entire series, The Last Stand). And it's tragic because the actors are all putting in great work to hold this film together. As I noted, the first time you watch the movie you don't really see the flaws and that's because of the game cast having a great time making this movie. It's only when you go back (like I did for this review) that you notice the issues -- the unnecessary (if fun) cameos from the original cast, the constant reintroductions to the plot, the less-than climactic final act -- and start to question what went wrong.
For me, Days of Future Past has a lot in common with Star Trek: First Contact -- both are films that take place in a long and well established franchise starring new casts taking over the series from the old guard and both are, without a doubt, the best in their series starring their group of actors. And yet, that's damning with faint praise on both accounts as the other three movies featuring each group of actors are all pretty bland by comparison (with movie four being the absolute worse in both cases). I like Days of Future past (much as I like First Contact) but, due to its flaws, it doesn't stand in the same league as the best films in the X-Men series. It's close, but just not quite there.
Continuity and Issues:
The start of the movie is all the original characters and cast, along with a few new additions. This means that we get the original actor for Colossus, Peter Cudmore, playing the future of the character. As we well know, the Deadpool movies changed Colossus to be a hulking (CGI) Russian dude, much closer aligned to his original comic portrayal. This is one of those continuity issues that we'd expect the movies to fix if, (a) it didn't happen in a Deadpool movie which, obviously, will stick it's middle finger at continuity and, (b) if Disney hadn't taken over the franchise and was essentially throwing all the old X-Men movies out with the bathwater.
Meanwhile, we also have new additions of Blink and Warpath (along with Sunspot, but no one cares about Sunspot). Blink and Warpath create their own continuity issues only because different versions of the characters (played by different actors) show up in the X-Men spin-off TV show The Gifted. In all fairness, the producers of the TV show did state that their series takes place in a different continuity from the movies (a move that likely didn't help keep fans interested in the show, nor did the fact that the show royally sucked), but it's still one of those things where a viewer would sit there going, "but I thought these characters were different in the movie..."
Of course we also have to point out again that Bolivar trask here (played by the amazing Peter Dinklage) is a different character from the Trask that showed up in X-Men: The Last Stand. He'd have to be because otherwise how do you explain him going from being white and around four feet tall to black, heavy-set, and closer to six feet tall. Also the third X-film took place in the late 2000s while this movie is set in the early seventies and in each case the actor is around the same age. Trask would also have to be 30 years older in the "later" appearance which, clearly, wasn't the case. The only other explanation is some really good, and very experimental, plastic surgery.
It's unclear to me how Kitty Pride can send the consciousness of other people back through time. In the original comics Kitty sent herself back which at least makes some sense -- if she can phase through space, why not time? But to send other people back would seem to be a very different power-set for the character. At that point, since Blink is in the piece, it would just make more sense to have Blink make a portal to send people back and forth. But Kitty did it in the original comics, so she has to do it here. Sending Wolverine back makes sense in that context since this movie is set in the 1970s and Wolverine is ageless. Still, it's an odd change to the story that really doesn't make much sense when you think about it.
For one brief sequence we get to see a returning Havok (from X-Men: First Class) and Toad (last seen in the first X-Men film). While Havok is a nice touch of continuity I was much more excited seeing them bring back Toad again, even if it was just for this one scene (and then, sadly, never again in the series).
Mystique's power creep is another matter in this film, though. As we touched upon before, she can subtly change her shape as well as mimic voices and create clothing, all from just pictures and her own abilities. Even accepting that, which is a lot, the fact that she can also shrink herself down to Trask's size is a bit much. He's smaller than her by a fair bit, so where does all her extra matter go? Blowing herself up is one thing since, presumably, she can get a little stretchy, maybe have an internal air pocket, but it's much harder to explain away lost matter like that. Plus she can create exact thumb prints without actually touching a person in real life? Really?
This film gives us one of the best characters for the reboot series, Peter Maximoff, aka Quicksilver. Those of you that keep up with the various superhero franchises will know that we also had a different version of Quicksilver show up in the Marvel Cinematic UniverseWhen it first began in 2008 with a little film called Iron Man no one suspected the empire that would follow. Superhero movies in the past, especially those not featuring either Batman or Superman, were usually terrible. And yet, Iron Man would lead to a long series of successful films, launching the most successful cinema brand in history: the Marvel Cinematic Universe. in Avengers: Age of Ultron. That's a curious case of the way the licensing for the X-Men characters was contracted as Fox goes the rights to everyone that was a mutant but Marvel retained the rights to anyone who had been an Avenger up until that point. Peter, and his sister Wanda (aka Scarlet Witch), were both Avengers in the past so both Marvel and Fox got to use the character. And, in this instance, Fox did a better job with the character -- Peter in the MCU totally sucked.
During the big mid-point fight, Wolverine sees trask and then freaks out, losing his cool and causing his time-displaced mind to freak out. He flails about, injuring future-Kitty in the process. In the normal movie she continues to plug on, barely keeping him in place until the end. In the director's cut of the film, the "Rogue Cut", Iceman, Charles, and Erik in the future go to the former X-Mansion to rescue Rogue so she can use her copying power to borrow Kitty's ability and take over for the injured woman. The Sentinels then follow a tag in Rogue to find the heroes and cause the big, climactic end fight. There are also a couple of other minute additions to the film (a sequence of Mystique at the X-Mansion, an extra tag ending for Trask), but that's the primary narrative difference and, honestly it doesn't add or change a lot about the overall story.
It's amusing, of course, because without all that footage, Rogue is essentially reduced to a one-scene cameo at the end of the film without any explanation. Not that she was really missed.
This movie sets Mystique on a different path after this one where she isn't the second-in-command to Erik (largely because of the couple of times he betrays her here). This would have a big effect on the future movies of the series (the original trilogy). But then it also sets up Wolverine to forcibly join the Weapon X project in a different way, which puts him on a different path (and thankfully reboots X-Men Origins: Wolverine right out of continuity (so it's not all bad news there). That said, Mystique (dressed as Stryker) is the one to pull Wolverine out of the river at the end of the movie so how he ends up in the Weapon X program after that is a bit of a mystery. Likely the producers simply forgot that little detail when the next movie came along, screwing up continuity there.
Also, sadly, despite the happy ending we see in this film, it's not all sunshine and roses for the future of mutants, as we see in one of the final films for the continuity, Logan.