X-Men: Days of Future Past Blu-ray|Blu-ray 3D|DVD|Digital HD|Amazon Instant Video Directed by Bryan Singer Written by Simon Kinberg Starring Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Peter Dinklage, Ellen Page, Nicholas Hoult, Halle Berry, Anna Paquin, Shawn Ashmore, Omar Sy, Daniel Cudmore, Evan Peters, Fan Bingbing Rated PG-13|131 minutes 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment Release Date: September 23, 2014 (Digital HD)|October 14, 2014 (Blu-ray)
Read Adam Frazier’s review of this film from May here.
X-Men: Days of Future Past is the X-Men movie I’ve dreamed of since my youth, back in the day when I mowed lawns during the dog days of summer to save up enough money to buy the latest X-comics off the shaky wire racks at my neighborhood 7-11. Those were the days when the comics were written by the great Chris Claremont and drawn by his gifted artistic equal Jim Lee and Future Past is the closest we’ve come yet to having a motion picture that brings those bold emotions, visuals, and outrageous “only in the funny books” style of four-color storytelling to explosive life.
As the late, great Mickey Newbury once sung, the future’s not what it used to be. The world has long been ravaged by a war between an alliance of mutants and sympathetic humans and the relentless robotic mutant hunters the Sentinels. Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and his X-Men are now the last remnants of the resistance and every day their numbers get lower. Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) and her ability to project a person’s consciousness back in time has helped give them a slim advantage in the ongoing battle and that power must now be used to send someone back to the point in history when the war became unavoidable: the assassination of Sentinel creator Dr. Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) at the hands of Xavier’s former friend and surrogate sister Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) in 1973.
The only member of the X-Men who can mentally survive the trip is Logan (Hugh Jackman), and once there he must recruit a younger and bitter Xavier (James McAvoy) and break Magneto (Michael Fassbender) free from an impenetrable prison cell beneath the Pentagon in order to stop Mystique from killing Trask and ensuring doom for all mutantkind. Things don’t go exactly according to plan, leaving Logan, Xavier, and Beast (Nicholas Hoult) alone to save the future themselves as Mystique and Magneto put their own diabolical plots into motion.
“So many battles waged over the years… and yet, none like this. Are we destined to destroy each other, or can we change each other and unite? Is the future truly set?”
Just when it seemed like the X-franchise had become a creatively lobotomized shell of its former self with the sole remaining purpose of making boatloads of cash for 20th Century Fox the series experienced the sort of fiery return from the grave that is all too commonplace in the pages of Marvel Comics’ most popular titles. 2011’s X-Men: First Class and last year’s The Wolverine (the latter terrific in its Blu-ray extended cut form) gave a lot of fans of the movies hope that the big screen adventures of Professor X and his team of gifted students still held the promise of boldness and life even as Marvel Studios’ stranglehold on the comic book blockbuster marketplace continues to expand.
“I don’t know karate. But I know crazy.”
Matthew Vaughn, whose direction of the sprightly and emotional First Class helped give the moribund series a healthy dose of creative adamantium, was originally set to return for Days of Future Past when he decided to devote his energies to the upcoming Kingsman: The Secret Service instead (though he retains a story credit on Future Past as does his wife, First Class co-writer Jane Goldman). His presence is certainly missed at first, but once the film really gets going you might find yourself appreciating his replacement Bryan Singer even more.
Singer, more than any other director in the industry, understands the social and political subtext that X-Men co-creator Stan Lee inserted into the comics from the very beginning. If his first X-Men had not been a hit when it was first released in the summer of 2000 the idea of comic books providing the inspiration for the biggest box office smashes of the past decade would have probably suffered a slow death. Singer’s direction brought intelligence and maturity to the material even as it was compelled to plunge headlong into Saturday morning cartoon silliness by the end. 2003’s X2: X-Men United was even better than the first, but once Singer ended his involvement with the franchise so he could hop on over to Warner Bros. and take a valiant stab at rebooting one of their greatest superhero properties with Superman Returns things were never quite the same from that moment forth. For some reason when I heard that he had replaced Vaughn in the director’s chair on Future Past I felt it to be a huge step backwards for the series. The wit and wonder of First Class would give way to grittiness and plain black leather outfits and the franchise would once again be hobbled just as it was finally finding its legs once more.
“I’ve been in a lot of wars, I’ve never seen anything like this. And it all starts with her.”
Silly me for being a doubting Thomas. If anything, the dazzling style and verbal verve of the best Marvel comics of the ’60s and ’70s that Vaughn and Goldman helped bring to First Class that made that film stand out from most post-Matrix comic book movies has been carried over to Future Past relatively unscathed and blends perfectly with Singer’s own directorial style. But if the ’60s were about hope and promise then the ’70s was very much about the loss of those things as well as our national innocence and previously unshakable faith in our leaders in government, and the tone of Future Past has naturally evolved (maybe you can call it a mutation) to reflect the darkening of America’s collective mood during that era. The country’s bitter defeat in Vietnam was becoming a certainty and between the ending of First Class and Wolverine’s return to ’73 we had also experienced the Civil Rights Movement, the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy (which Magneto was accused of carrying out, leading to one of the film’s brilliant Watchmen-style retconnings of U.S. history) as well as his brother Robert and Dr. Martin Luther King, the Stonewall riots that kicked the battle for gay and lesbian rights into gear, the beautiful thing that was the first Woodstock and its bloody polar opposite in the Altamont Free Concert, the horrifying killing spree of Charles Manson and his followers, and so on.
Thus, if you choose to call Days of Future Past yet another dark superhero movie then first at least the times in which it takes place. Even the future that was supposed to be bright and full of renewed optimism has turned into a wintry, post-apocalyptic nightmare where anyone carrying the X gene or supportive of those who do are fair game for the wrath of Sentinels. That doesn’t mean that the film is a 131-minute festival of depressive agony. The screenplay credited solely to Simon Kinberg, hardly a name that inspires confidence and excitement if you’ve ever seen his IMDb page, is based mostly on the two-part “Days of Future Past” storyline from issues 141 and 142 of The Uncanny X-Men by Chris Claremont and John Byrne from early 1981, and is full of terrific one-liners and sequences infused with energy and fun. This is a movie based on a comic book after all and audiences should be able to watch and have a good time, but Future Past doesn’t deliver on those expectations by sacrificing its brain, heart, and soul.
Casting is key; Singer was miraculously able to assemble the bulk of the casts from both the original X-Men trilogy and the First Class reboot in one film, and give most of the supporting players fleeting screen moments to shine while allowing the stars to take center stage as the plot requires. He did this without making Future Past feel overstuffed and inert as the influx of underdeveloped mutant characters in X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine did to inflict further damage on their floundering narratives. Hugh Jackman is now and forever Wolverine. His portrayal of the iconic Canadian badass in every X-flick went way beyond what most actors could have been capable of. Having the character’s trademark claws stripped of their indestructible adamantium coating in The Wolverine was a risky move that has been wisely carried over to Future Past. In doing so Singer and Kinberg are compelled to find more for Logan to do than just slice things up while looking damn good at his job. Here he has to serve as more than just the X-Men’s resident man of few words and louder-speaking actions and Jackman proves more than up to challenge of bringing some of Logan’s underutilized traits to the forefront, such as his inherent leadership skills.
In maintaining the rebooted continuity of First Class its three stars James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, and Jennifer Lawrence returned to Future Past with roles that greatly expand on the fine work they each did before and add extra dimensions to characters that were often denied such tribute in the first three X-films. McAvoy gets to play a much darker and downright hopeless Xavier than ever seen before, a booze-addled shadow of the man he once was who has developed a dependency on a serum developed by Hoult’s Hank McCoy that allowed him to recover the use of his legs while slowly wiping away his heightened mutant telepathy. You see the difficult passage of time in Xavier’s face and posture and the usually welcoming environs of his mansion that once housed his school for the gifted. Watching him recover his lost hope for the future is one of Wolverine’s primary tasks and one of the film’s most interesting and rewarding subplots that pays off beautifully, with a performance by McAvoy that really sells the character’s internal struggle without relying heavily on melodramatic flourishes (though there are plenty of those in this film).
Fassbender also scores as a sympathetic but still dangerous Magneto, changed greatly (and not for the best) from the person we originally met in First Class. The anger and resentment the character feels towards mankind coupled with the actor’s charisma and haunting grace makes for a wonderful villain we hope will be stopped without giving up faith that he can be redeemed. Now an Oscar winner, Lawrence’s performance as Mystique is one of Future Past‘s most enduring successes. Her character has also gone through tribulations and battles since First Class that have understandably warped her sense of justice and fairness. Lawrence can register years of pain and horror in her expressive eyes and doesn’t require a page-long monologue to give us an unflinching look at the emotional trauma that threatens to send her down the darkest of paths for all time.
Peter Dinklage is good but underused as Bolivar Trask, the morally compromised scientist servicing evil in the belief that it will result in universal peace. The character isn’t threatening or intimidating enough to be the villain of Future Past and as a result comes across as more of a fascinating adversary for our heroes, with Magneto and Mystique essentially becoming the baddies in the process. Returning players like Hoult, Ellen Page, Shawn Ashmore, and Halle Berry get their chances to shine and who aren’t hampered by limited screen time thanks to our familiarity with the characters from previous movies, but the same can’t be said for mostly wasted newcomers to the X-universe like Omar Sy (Bishop), Bingbing Fan (Blink), Booboo Stewart (Warpath), and Adam Canto (Sunspot). As a longtime fan of the X-Men comics it was disappointing almost to the point of heartbreak to see a great character like Bishop get such short shrift. At least it’s wonderful to see Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen return to their signature roles in the franchise but bringing their own off-screen friendship to the proceedings to invest their limited screen time with warmth and regret.
“Where were you, Charles? We were supposed to protect them! Where were you when your own people needed you? Hiding! You and Hank, pretending to be something you’re not! You abandoned us all!”
The real winner of the cast newbies is one who is ironically one with some of the least time on camera and that’s Evan Peters as the classic Marvel character Quicksilver. Given a bouncy wit as fast as his mutant superpower, Peters is a pure delight in his every scene. The sequence where he assists in breaking out Magneto is one of the more memorable in any movie released in 2014. Without spoiling too much, you won’t be able to listen to Jim Croce‘s “Time in a Bottle” and not think of Days of Future Past for the rest of your life. Singer brought back most of his trusted production crew to the film including cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel, costume designer Louise Mingenbach, editor/composer John Ottman, and production designer John Myhre. As usual they all do fantastic work in their fields.
X-Men: Days of Future Past is currently available on Digital HD at iTunes for $14.99. The picture and sound quality are both comparable to watching the film on Blu-ray (which will be available on October 14, 2014), so naturally this download is well worth your streaming dollars. Extra features offered through iTunes include five brief deleted scenes with optional commentary from Singer, a gag reel, image gallery, and a behind-the-scenes featurette for a sequence that didn’t make the final cut, complete with audio introduction from the director. Regardless of your viewing format, this is by far the best of the X-Men movie series to date and one of the finest superhero films ever made.