One of the Best Superhero Films of All Time, Heck, Films in General
A Film Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
When X-Men: The Last Stand arrived in theaters, it opened with an apocalyptic (laugh if you get the reference) $122 million plus, still the largest opening in the franchise. Unfortunately, the opening weekend was far from indicative of quality, it was in all respect completely the opposite. The Last Stand sucked, there is no question out of it. It sucked the entire life out of the X-Men franchise like a pack of bloody dementors, leaving every fan jaded and miserable for years to come. Then came Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class and suddenly it was as if Professor Lupin had given everyone a bucketload of chocolate. The franchise was saved. There were high hopes for the sequel and boy did it deliver. Every aspect of Days of Future Past is treated with exceptional care and each frame is worked with incredible precision. Director Bryan Singer comes back to top his best in X-Men 2, and screenwriter Simon Kinberg tops his work of First Class with aplomb. Time travel is always tricky to handle well and few filmmakers have done so. Singer and Kinberg make it work and surprisingly it takes little patience to understand it. What makes Days of Future Past so compelling ultimately is its dedication not just to great action set-pieces but understanding our mutants and the relationships they have with each other. The balancing between the original X-Men and the “new” gives the audience many poignant moments with call backs to all of the previous films in the franchise added in with precision for further panache. And then there’s that end credits scene, where a few would recognize the chant and go apocalyptic (it’s too good).
The film opens up in a horrifying dystopia in 2023, where sentient robots called Sentinels are crushing mutants and the humans that support them. Their reasoning lies in that humans have the genes that lead to mutants in the first place. There are dark sequences in the beginning that go through piles of bodies and a shot of a truck unloading dozens of more bodies into dug trenches. It’s a horrifying sight. Kitty Pryde is able to projects an individual’s consciousness back in time so they can deliver warnings of when the Sentinels are coming. This rather clever way is how some mutants have managed to survive the onslaught. Dystopia has become a fairly common theme, but Singer and team manage to make a distinct, dark-tinged landscape in New York and Moscow and that’s an achievement. The film lingers long enough on the landscapes before quickly cutting to the action, and what an opening sequence that was. A great battle sequence erupts with a few surviving X-Men before cutting to a monastery in China, where they’ve relatively managed to survive through Kitty. It’s a great short sequence that highlights different X-Men briefly (especially Blink, who’s fantastic), Kitty’s importance in the story, and the brutality of the Sentinels, who would have claimed several kills if not for Kitty’s tricks.
At the Chinese monastery, they meet Magneto and Professor X, where they learn of a plan that Professor X is hatching. See, the Sentinels came into existence because of a scientist named Bolivar Trask. He was assassinated by Mystique as revenge for the countless mutants tortured and killed under his command. His assassination had the opposite effect however. He becomes a symbol of the danger mutants pose, Mystique is captured, and her powers are used to create the all-powerful Sentinels of the future. The plan is to use Kitty’s powers to send Wolverine’s consciousness to prevent the assassination from occurring in the first place. But if anything should happen to Kitty and or Wolverine, the plan ultimately falls apart. This scene is great in its design to explain the plot but not beat it above everyone’s head with “This is what is going to happen. If you didn’t pay attention, here it is again.” It’s explained, we’re done and off.
The next scene is absolutely hilarious. Wolverine wakes up in 1973 with a girl by his side. He walks up naked (the film’s only use of gratuitous nudity, but it’s a male and not a female, so that’s rare in itself) and is accosted by gangsters. He has claws, of course, so that fight doesn’t exactly go for a lengthy amount of time. He travels to find a young Hank and a depressed Xavier. Destruction fell the school and most of the original X-Men have perished. Hank developed a serum for him which allows him to walk on his own two feet, albeit with a caveat: he can’t use his telepathy. Generally, it would seem to be truly idiotic decision, but in consideration of how much the mutant powers have caused him grief as he wakes and lives in that school, it kind of makes sense. Professor X’s mind is overwhelmed with grief, but it only makes Wolverine’s job that much more difficult.
But he touches a nerve when he mentions Mystique and Xavier is reluctantly onboard. There is, after all, something special with being two of a kind and growing up together. For that, they have to free Magneto, a prospect at which Xavier understandably balks. Magneto is currently imprisoned underneath the Pentagon for murdering President John F. Kennedy. The bullet curved and that’s why Xavier believes that Magneto was responsible. To help with the escape, they find the mutant Quiksilver. When Quiksilver was first announced, fan reaction was immediately derisive and it isn’t exactly difficult to figure out why that was the case. He looked odd and for most X-Men fans out there, was hardly reminiscent of the character in the comics. But what a freaking delight he is on screen, just pure dynamite. The Pentagon break-in sequence is fantastic, recalling the break-in at the Ministry of Magic in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 in the best ways. The slow-motion sequence with Quiksilver is freaking brilliant, hilarious and fun in equal measure. Magneto and Xavier are back in versus mode after the escape, their joint mission to make sure Mystique doesn’t kill Trask doing little to keep the tensions apart between the two of them. “You took everything away from me.” “Maybe you should have fought harder for them.” Nice beginning to a trip, don’t you think? At least they’re going to Paris (where they know Trask died), the City of Love. Maybe that would help?
Mystique finds herself in Vietnam, preventing William Stryker from taking mutants so Trask’s honchos could do research. She’s not exactly sure what happens, but it doesn’t seem like good news, so she puts a stop to it. It’s a great sequence full of some awesome Mystique action set-pieces. In a great classic mystery scene, we follow Mystique in Trask’s office, where she discovers that Trask Industries captures mutants and performs experiments of various kinds on them. And among those lie some of her old friends, the ones whom sat in a room together with her when her journey first began. Trask had to die. And where would she find him? Paris.
Meanwhile, Peter Dinklage is taking a break from King’s Landing and lobbying Congress for approval on his Sentinel program. It sounds like bull, and they tell him so. Not one to give up, his next opportunity presents itself in Paris at the Vietnam War conference. Mystique uses her charm to snag a Vietnamese general, whom she quickly destroys and impersonates in a meeting with Trask himself. Trask’s mutant signal goes off as Mystique is in the room and completely goes bonkers as Wolverine, Xavier, Magneto, and Hank all arrive together. Magneto’s version of not having Mystique kill Trask is to kill Mystique, which makes sense in a twisted sort of way. She escapes and a brawl erupts on the street, in front of millions of viewers who are horrified at the existence of the mutants. Magneto shoots Mystique in the leg and she escapes, but not before a bit of her blood spills onto the street for Trask’s men to pick up. To make this terrible situation more worse than it needed to be, 1973 Wolverine has a tense encounter with Stryker which cause 2023 Wolverine to strike Kitty, making her hold on him even more tenuous. If Kitty dies, then game over.
As a result of the little Paris fiasco, President Nixon goes a step beyond Watergate (I know it hasn’t erupted yet) and approves Trask’s Sentinel program. A bit bombastic, President Nixon plans a public unveiling “of the future”. Magneto intercepts the new Sentinels in a great train sequence. Back at the school, Wolverine convinces Xavier of the sheer necessity of him getting rid of the serum. True, it makes him “normal”, but what is the worth of normal if it takes away who you really are? Isn’t that what Xavier’s entire life had been about? He grabs onto Cerebro again, finding Mystique heading to Washington, D.C. to kill Trask.
President Nixon unveils the Sentinel prototypes in a grand ceremony on the lawn of the White House, complete with the red, white, and blue banners and balloons. Meanwhile Magneto appears literally out of the sky it looks like, raising RFK Stadium around him. He flies the stadium into the sky, landing neatly and surrounding the White House itself. As a result of his nifty train trick, Magneto commands the Sentinels to attack the crowd indiscriminately. Immediately a shaken President Nixon and Trask are taken into a safe room, where Mystique follows them in a disguise. Nifty power, eh? Xavier, Wolverine, and Beat team up to try to stop Magneto. Xavier is trapped by metal, Wolverine is implied with rebars by Magneto and thrown into the Potomac River, and Beast is set upon by the Sentinels before he injects himself with Serum, turning them back towards Magneto himself with great doses of irony. It’s a terrifically done sequence and not for a moment in the chaos does the film lose focus.
The assault on the monastery is a fantastic little sequence of set-pieces, even though in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t necessarily last a long time. Blink is fantastic as always, and I can’t wait to see more of her in future sequels as a fleshed-out character. Halle Berry does great work with Storm considering the little she is given to do and her powers are on great display here. Ian McKellan rising into the air alone is a great sight but him battling the Sentinels is just the cherry on top. Our heroes meet grisly ends, however, as the clock ticks ever so quickly as Mystique has a choice to make.
Plenty of films have done the whole destruction + Washington, D.C. thing, but having Magneto literally pull the metal safe house out of the ground is quite another. Before Magneto can kill President Nixon with the whole world watching, however, Mystique reveals herself through her disguise as President Nixon himself, wounding Magneto in turn. Bolivar comes under her radar, but Xavier persuades her not to kill him in the first place. This act of consciousness is displayed across the world and Mystiwque and Magneto flee the scene. The Sentinel program, what with the whole “firing into the crowd” debacle is canceled and Trask is arrested for fraud.
Wolverine then wakes up in 2023 at Xavier’s institution, where he (squeal!!!) meets with Jean Grey and Scott Summers. Wolverine asks Xavier to tell him what has happened since 1973, his semi-foggy memory a result of the time-warp. And back before the film begins its close, Mystique is impersonating Stryker as Wolverine is recused from the river. This little bit has massive implications for the X-Men universe as a whole. In the mess that was The Last Stand, Professor X gets his body blown to bits but his brain and thus consciousness is put into another body. For the other mess known as Origins: Wolverine, this last portion of Days of Future Past, contradicts the entire Stryker/Wolverine dynamic. I for one am not complaining. Normally I’m a stickler for these things, but consider how absolutely abysmal those two films were, if they were just unofficially written out of canon in this film, I have absolutely no problem with it. X-Men: Days of Future Past is an exceptionally crafted film with key messages that seep out. The theme of mutants as outsiders and how society treats those it deems different was a hallmark trait of the original films and it connects stunningly throughout every frame here, especially with the understanding of all the humans that stood up bravely against a destructive system to support what was right. Mutants are not an inherent threat, nor are those we deem different than us. Certainly realism has to be kept in perspective, but difference does not always equate with danger and systems that operate so deserve to be stood up against. The film makes a pointed case with the notion that violence rarely solves the problem. Mystique shoots Bolivar to prevent any more casualties from happening, but all that does is absolutely destroy the chance of that very peace from being achieved and creates a terrifying, murderous utopia. And when it comes to working together, the only way forward towards progress is resolving our differences and uniting. If Xavier and Magneto can do that, so can we.
So, the required Marvel post-credits scene. Something that looks like it was made for the Mummy movies but with better special effects. Most audience members who are not familiar with the X-Men comic universe are probably flabbergasted, but the young cloaked man standing at the top and building pyramids with his mind is a small individual named En Sabah Nur. Chronologically, the scene takes place in Ancient Egypt. What’s the connection to 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse, you may ask? En Sabah Nur is the original mutant and he is immortal, so there’s that. Behind him stand his four horsemen: Plague, Famine, War, and Death. Pleasant guys, I’m sure. That young boy grows and grows and grows to become the feared villain Apocalypse, hence the sequel’s title. We can’t wait.
Title: X-Men: Days of Future Past
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Bryan Singer
Producers: Lauren Shuler Donner, Bryan Singer, Simon Kinberg, Hutch Parker
Screenplay by: Simon Kinberg
Story by: Simon Kinberg, Matthew Vaughn, Jane Goldman
Based On: Days of Future Past by Chris Claremont & John Byrne
Starring: Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry, Anna Paquin, Ellen Page, Nicholas Hoult, Peter Dinklage, Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Shawn Ashmore, Omar Sy, Daniel Cudmore, Evan Peters, Fan Bingbing, Adan Canto, Booboo Stewart, Josh Helman, Lucas Till, Evan Jonigkeit, Gregg Lowe, Mark Camacho, James Marsden, Famke Janssen
Music: John Ottman
Cinematography: Newton Thomas Sigel
Editing: John Ottman
Studios: 20th Century Fox, Marvel Entertainment, Bad Hat Harry Productions, The Donners’ Company
Distributers: 20th Century Fox
Running Time: 131 minutes
Release Dates: May 22, 2014 (United Kingdom), May 23, 2014 (United States)
Image Courtesy: Screen Rant, News 4y @ Blogspot, X-Men Movies Wiki, Mum of Three Devils, @ Tumblr, Digital Spy AU, Huffington Post, HitFix, Comic Vine, Comic Book Movie, DailyMail UK, LA Times, NY Daily News, The Last Reel @ Blogspot, Elegant Paws @ Tumblr, Indie Ethos @ WordPress, Total Film