by Philip Price
Everything about our comic book movies that we receive these days are dictated by what works in others and what has become outdated, but when it comes to the X-Men films they are the ones who set the trend of what has now been flourishing (for the most part) for nearly fifteen years and with their latest installment they continue to be able to change with the times while also sticking to their roots and using what has come in the past to influence the relationships between the characters and make the impact of the events that occur in the latest installments all the more powerful. I was a big fan of First Class three years ago as it was able to give the series a much needed fresh start after the perceived misstep of The Last Stand (which wasn't ALL that bad) and the definite blow that was X-Men Origins. Not only was the series getting a fresh start, but it was also a chance to see what has always been the core of the franchise, the relationship between Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr, blossom and become the iconic battle of ideologies that guided each of the original X-Men trilogy films. In saying that the X-Men films continue to adapt to the current climate of superhero films is to reference how this latest installment, which is technically the sequel to First Class, incorporates the idea of continuity and world building. The idea to bring in everyone from past films, essentially creating an all-star roster for an embodiment of everything the past films have been leading up to is the new niche studios are pushing after the success of not only The Avengers, but the Fast & Furious films. The X-Men have always been an ensemble though so their way of putting a spin on this approach is to connect the original franchise with that of the First Class world and in doing so have created a universe where every X-Men film that has been made can co-exist in the same space (except for maybe Origins, but that bears little matter here) and in that regard Days of Future Past doesn't quite feel as spectacular or as epic in scope as it probably should, but it is still highly entertaining and more satisfying on a level that leaves us with a film that will resonate with us the more we watch it rather than becoming less impressive over time because it's nothing more than empty spectacle.
After the events of last years The Wolverine where we saw what trouble Logan gets himself into outside Xavier's school for gifted youngsters we saw a tease that not only glazed over the fact Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Erik (Ian McKellen) were not only both alive and well despite the conclusion of The Last Stand, but that they'd apparently teamed-up and were actively looking for Wolverine in order to stop an impending threat in the form of Trask Industries (which was also slightly teased) which comes to be known more specifically as Boliver Trask (Peter Dinklage). This all to give us some context for when the three of them, along with Halle Berry's Storm, show up in the not too distant future to aid a few former students, Bobby Drake aka Iceman (Shawn Ashmore), Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) and Colossus (Daniel Cudmore), as well as a few new mutants that include Bishop (Omar Sy), Blink (Bingbing Fan), Sunspot (Adan Canto) and Warpath (Booboo Stewart) as they fight to avoid the wrath of the latest wave of Sentinels that the government has sent out to do away with not only mutants, but humans who they detect might have mutant children. It is a bleak future and in an opening fight sequence we are shown how real the consequences truly are; prompting the idea that it is necessary for those with the power to re-write what they can of history, putting the world on track for a future that might be more pleasurable for us all. Due to some mutant jargon that is unnecessary to delve into here it becomes clear Wolverine is the only one with the ability to travel far enough back in time at the hands of Kitty's abilities and so trusty Hugh Jackman's consciousness is sent back in time to his 1973 body where he has to put plans in motion to stop a specific event spearheaded by Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) that gives way to advances in the technology of the Sentinels as well as the climate for the mutant movement and its damning effects on their integration into society. To do this, Logan ventures to collect his old friends who are much different people in this decade then when he came to know them some thirty years later. Xavier (James McAvoy) has given up on teaching and moving forward altogether as he's given up his powers to a serum created by Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult) that allows him to walk again while he mourns not only the loss of Raven (aka Mystique) but boils with hatred for Magneto (Michael Fassbender) after he took everything from him.
Needless to say, there is a lot going on in X-Men: Days of Future Past, but the film itself never feels overcrowded or bloated in ways that the narrative structure isn't designed to handle. We are given the parallels between the two time frames only when necessary and the majority of these flash-forwards and flash-backs are used in order to up the tension rather than spill exposition or dialogue that is simply meant to inform rather than move the story at hand forward. There is no hesitation in jumping head-first into this world and into the conflict that is currently pitting these mutants against the latest antagonists they have to face in their fight for equality and unfortunately the efforts made in all the previous films seem to have led to nothing more than what looks like utter extinction. The film hops around the world to several major cities, but the landscape, the clouds, the overall tone is all the same and in giving us this desolate emptiness we feel an overwhelming sense of failure as we see the worn and weathered looks on Stewart and McKellen's faces as they exit their ship for the first time. It is in the hands of original series director Bryan Singer that all of this is orchestrated with real depth and understanding. While I have enjoyed each of Matthew Vaughn's directorial efforts and very much engaged with the time period setting and his quick, insightful storytelling methods that gave First Class its style and good reception as much as the terrific casting it is unlikely he would have been able to handle the reigns of something as massive as this the way Singer so delicately has. Singer is a master of building individual scenes to be that of a full experience only to allow them to breathe as much life as they can and need into the overall arc of the film and he does that countless times here. Not only is the opening fight sequence a collage of creativity with the assorted powers the mutants possess, but the introduction of Quicksilver (Evan Peters) and his assistance in helping break Magneto out of prison are among some of the best character work and choreographed action we've seen in a film like this in a long time. It is, to put it quite simply: classic. The thing is, Singer understands these characters, he has been there with them through everything that has brought them to this point in their lives and in directing the younger cast members he knows what they will become allowing for each performer to lend a new sense of discernment to their characters.
Speaking of performances and digging deeper into these characters, if there is anything Days of Future Pastexcels at rather than simply checking off the list it is the ability to not just understand the end goals these mutants are each going after, but more importantly the internal conflicts and how they play into the current situation they are having to deal with. This is always relevant in Jackman's Wolverine who by this point we can't pick up a bad performance on because Jackman is so committed to the character he inherently knows where to go in any given situation. The more interesting cases here are of course the dynamic between Stewart and McAvoy and Fassbender and McKellen who, while the elder two could be chalked up to little more than glorified cameos, give serious influence to the way we watch McAvoy and Fassbender execute the actions of these respected icons in their youth. We see the gravitas Fassbender is employing to greater effect this time around in his voice while we pick up on the way in which McAvoy attempts to further distance himself from the initial perception we have of what a younger Xavier might have been. If nothing else it makes for a more interesting evolution and that is what these films are all about, right? The focus here truly is on Mystique though, which I'm sure has nothing to do with the fact Vaughn was smart enough to cast a pre-Katniss Lawrence in the role, but no matter the reasoning her service to the story is completely justifiable as her powers have consistently been called out throughout the series and have been highlighted as completely unique to the point it makes sense that Trask finds her the most fascinating, the most potentially useful. Lawrence gets to play several scenes with the most variety of co-stars, but the tension between her and Fassbender and our slight uncertainty about how far it went that is somewhat confirmed by how far it goes is some of the most interesting conversation in the film. In saying that, the biggest task Days of Future Past was always going to face was that of balancing all of its characters and everything it had going on and the expertise with which this is handled really shines in the final half hour as the editing moves us not only between the big finale (which is more concerned with resolving its themes than mass destruction) but also keeps us in tune with the implications of all that we are seeing unfold. Singer has returned to the X-Men and in doing so has given us some resolution in what he started and then allowed to go astray those fourteen years ago bringing his audience and his characters only more to look forward to.