X-Men: Days of Future Past,
directed by Bryan Singer, Matthew Vaughn
(20th Century Fox, 2014)

Quicksilver (Evan Peters) is so cool. That said, so is the rest of this excellent movie.

In a dystopian future, giant robots called Sentinels have almost eradicated all mutants and their followers. The world is an apocalyptic wasteland and most of humanity is gone. So bleak is the outcome that mutant leader Charles Xavier/Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and his former-adversary-turned-friend, Erik/Magneto (Ian McKellen), team up for the ultimate Hail Mary pass: sending a mutant back into the past to stop everything from happening. Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page), the mutant capable of sending people back through time and space, warns that the travel is too difficult for anyone but the strongest mutant. Off goes the ageless, self-healing Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) into the body of his younger self, but with a consciousness attached to the future.

There's a very funny, very cool moment in which a younger-but-older Logan awakens in 1973 America in a hotel room to the strains of Roberta Flack's "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" playing on the LED clock radio, with sunlight filtering through the lava lamp as he floats on a waterbed (never a good choice in bedding for this particular mutant). Then the movie quickly gets serious.

Linking the original trilogy -- 2000's X-Men, 2003's X2 and 2006's X-Men: The Last Stand -- with 2011 prequel X-Men: First Class, director Bryan Singer and screenwriter Simon Kinberg traverse decades, interweaving characters, pasts and futures during a desperate attempt to save the future by stopping an occurrence that created the war. Fellow mutant Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) plans to kill Dr. Trask (Peter Dinklage), creator of the Sentinels. This incident turns humanity against mutants and sets into motion events that lead to the war. To stop her, Wolverine has to convince the younger versions of Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and Professor X (James Macavoy) to help him locate and end the blue-skinned shapeshifter's agenda. And to do that, he has to first get Xavier out of his self-induced stupor of alcoholism and self-hatred; after which he has to convince a suspicious, hostile and simmeringly angry Erik to aid them on their mission.

Singer and Kinberg and an excellent cast really capture the heart of what makes the X-Men so enduring and endearingly popular: the interesting insight into outsider/misfithood. Their status is similar to the minority status of many subcultures, with acceptance vs. outcast the primary conflict. Can people with special and unique gifts live peacefully within society? Will mutants themselves work together or will they destroy one another in pointless power struggles? The heart of the conflict is the heart of the movie as represented by Professor X, who wants to live in peace with humanity, and Magneto, who wants to destroy them all in what he believes is a preemptive gesture. Is humanity destined to destroy itself? Can the X-Men stop destroying themselves long enough to find out if it's possible to alter the past to save the future?

The smart, character-driven movie handles everything well, from action set-pieces to the great performances of everyone in the film, from Jennifer Lawrence giving her Mystique just enough subtlety and depth to Evan Peters making Quicksilver likeable and an absolute joy to watch. His scenes are among the most memorable in any recent movie and completely steal the spotlight. That's true throughout the film: the characters always stay in focus. This is not a movie about abilities. It's a movie about people, whether they are human or mutant.

The script does pull some ridiculous stunts like having Wolverine question things he should know about, and there are a lot of tent-pole action sequences, with some aspects of the crisscrossing time travel becoming very convoluted, but hey, it's a comic-book movie. There's hardly a dull moment, and that's what counts, really. The bleak tone of the opening brightens as the story unfolds and the mutants eventually come together to erase a dark future, bearing out Xavier's hope that destiny can be changed and that a peaceful future is possible.

The effects are cutting-edge CGI and the stunts are terrific, including the final fight sequence which is filmed Zapruder-style. The massive cast doesn't get a lot of individual screen time but it's terrific to see them all working as a team, wielding their powers together.

Although the handling of time-travel leaves a lot to be desired and the overstuffed cast doesn't get enough screen time, overall X-Men: Days of Future Past is consistently engaging throughout, well-paced in spite of a few missteps, and supported by intense performances from everyone, spotlighted or not. All of the action set pieces are terrifically done and overall, the movie is compelling is not enthralling and a fine addition to the trilogy.

review by
Mary Harvey

4 April 2015

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