REVIEW: “X-MEN: Days of Future Past”

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The X-Men franchise (and I’m including the Wolverine films) has been filled with great movies and great disappointments. It was only two years ago that we saw a reboot of sorts and a new direction for these cinematic superhumans. Now they are back in a film that at first sounded risky and potentially disastrous. Instead of continuing with a storyline strictly focused on these rebooted characters, “X-Men: Days of Future Past” mixes them with the characters (and the performers who played them) from the past series. So my first question was is this “X-Men 4″ or X-Men: First Class 2”?

This huge mash up could have went terribly bad. I’m so happy to say that the opposite is true. In fact, after a somewhat disorienting start, the movie turns into what is easily one of the best movies of the entire franchise. Bryan Singer, the architect of the original X-Men films returns to direct this ambitious and large-scale blockbuster which gets its title from the classic comic book storyline from Chris Claremont and John Byrne.

 

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The future world is a dark place especially for mutantkind. Giant robot mutant hunters known as Sentinels have chased mutants to the edge of extinction. The X-Men of the future (played by the original cast members from the first films) have traced the origins of the Sentinels back to 1973 and a man named Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage). Led by Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen), they devise a plan to send the never-aging Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back in time to influence the situations that lead to the Sentinels’ creation. You with me so far?

When arriving in 1973, Wolverine is tasked with enlisting the help of the younger Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender). The problem is a lot has changed since the final credits scrolled in “X-Men: First Class”. It’s this landscape, filled with political tensions, shattered relationships, and fragile psyches, that Wolverine must navigate if there is any hope of averting their future extinction. Obviously several major threats are at work both in the past and in the future. The movie hops back-and-forth throughout but the main focus of the film is Wolverine’s mission in 1973.

The movie literally plunges into its bleak future setting with practically no buildup whatsoever. We do get some exposition that sets the table, but it took me a few moments to get my feet planted and, aside from the familiar faces, it took some time to connect this movie to any of the earlier films. But once the story begins to take form it is an exhilarating and captivating experience. In fact, the story is the movie’s greatest strength. “X-Men: DOFP” features one of the smartest and most layered stories that you’ll find in a superhero picture. Even more, the story never becomes convoluted or confusing. I loved how everything unfolded and numerous connections to other X-Men films are sprinkled everywhere.

Another thing I appreciated is how everything had importance and carried weight. Every decision had to be made with careful thought given to their consequences. Convictions had to be questioned and actions had to be scrutinized. There are very few wasted scenes in this movie (there are a couple – for example the Wolverine butt shot? Seriously Bryan Singer?). I also think the way they joined the old with the new was smart, effective, and It avoided all of the traps that it easily could have steppedl in. Narratively this was a huge treat right up to its very satisfying payoff.

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As for the performances, can we just go ahead say without question that Hugh Jackman IS Wolverine? Once again he is very good, but he was not his normal action-fueled centerpiece and I’m fine with that. The real highlights for me were Fassbender and McAvoy. Fassbender is one of our best working actors today and his Magneto is menacing and unpredictable. He’s a man of conviction and unharnessed anger and Fassbender paints him perfectly. But the best performance may be from McAvoy. He’s tasked with conveying a huge range of emotions and I never questioned the authenticity of what he was doing. It truly is brilliant work that sets itself apart in a profound way.

I can’t believe I’m saying this again, but here we have yet another really strong 2014 blockbuster. On an almost unprecedented level, this year’s big budget movies have really taken steps up (minus a couple of disappointments). “X-Men: DOFP” is really good. It’s start is a bit jarring, the future Sentinels look pretty generic, and I could list a few other nitpicks. But in terms of story, storytelling, and sheer entertainment, the movie scores where it counts. Now the big question is where does it go from here? Have we seen the last of the “First Class” X-Men? Will the old timers take back the reins? I don’t know but after seeing this movie I am really intrigued.

VERDICT – 4 STARS

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31 thoughts on “REVIEW: “X-MEN: Days of Future Past”

  1. Good to hear you really enjoyed this one. It had the potential to be a mess didn’t it. I hope McAvoy and Fassbender return for the next X-Men. The old timers, except for Jackman, I’m okay with them not returning.

    • It really could’ve went off the rails. Instead it was a smart and extremely fun big-budget blockbuster. Sooo happy with how it tuned out. And I’m with you, the absence of Fassbender and McAvoy would be terrible.

  2. Good review, Keith. I agree with you. My favorite character/scene was Quicksilver. Wasn’t his breakout of the Pentagon hilarious? I agree, they could have left out many older characters, which had little impact in the film, and gave more time to Quicksilver. I also liked the use of the old film feel of the 70s when they were in Paris. Fassbender was great–I love McAvoy, but he did break into a Scottish accent and that seemed incongruous with Xavier. Trifles.
    A fine block-buster, indeed πŸ™‚

    • Quicksilver was a hoot. I can see him having a much bigger role in the next film. What’s really going to be odd is seeing an entirely different Quicksilver in the Avengers movie next year.

  3. The cast of First Class once again stole the show for me here, although the original X-Men certainly give it their all. You enjoy this one a tad more than I, but there’s no doubt it’s one of the stronger outings in the franchise. Terrific post, Keith :).

    • I loved that the First Class bunch (at least the ones that mattered) were center stage. I think that’s what kept it from being a big mishmash mess. It had a central focus and it served the story nicely.

  4. Hey Keith, glad we’re in the same camp on this one. I reviewed this before I left on holiday, it really lived up to my expectations and then some.

    • Thanks Ruth. You know I was excited but a little apprehensive. I was thinking that the big combining of the two casts would be more than a gimmick but you never know these days. So glad that it was more than a gimmick. I have yours and several other reviews of this to go back and read. I was so late getting this one up.

  5. Good review. I liked the film, I mean I have some problems from a total comic nerd point of view but yeah its good.

    The visuals and 70’s timeline worked really well and the acting was really good. Quicksilver steals the show.

    This wasnt greatness but Apocalypse might πŸ˜€

  6. I refuse to complain about Wolverine butt shot πŸ™‚

    I thought he movie was all right – not bad, but not great. However McAvoy’s performance was so good it was as it was lifted from a far better movie.

    • I was really blown away by McAvoy. It was such a strong performance and you don’t often see them this good in these types of movies. Really impressed.

      Thanks for the comments.

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  8. Was on the fence about seeing this in theaters. I tend to agree with a lot of your reviews, so if it’s still running this weekend, maybe I’ll get over there. Haven’t been to a movie in a long time.

    • Thanks for the words.

      It is definitely worth seeing and a much better X-Men movie than most of them. I was a big fan of the first film (from 2000) and I would put this one up there with it. It’s smart but also a lot of fun.

      If you see it let me know what you think.

  9. Just a fine, fine review Keith. So relieved to see it make a big impression on you in a good way as well. I’ve noticed a fair amount of slandering against DOFP. I think a lot of it attached with Bryan Singer’s strangeness. (It honestly passed right by me that shot of Wolverine that you mentioned, lol)

    But to me this movie rocked. It held my attention from beginning to end, which at over 2 hours long is impressive to begin with. Throw in paralleling stories, multiple characters and multiple villains and a packed theater, and you’ve got one of the better movies of the year (in my books) on your hands.

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