Original X-Men director Bryan Singer returns to the X-verse for the seventh film in the series: X-Men Days of Future Past. Occurring both in the past and the future, Days of Future Past involves dozens of characters, a complex plot and a non-stop roller coaster ride of mutant war. While largely successful, the film fails to reach the character-driven heights of the first two X-films or even the stunning reboot in First Class. DOFP’s problem is that there’s so much going on that there’s very little time spent on examining the WHY and the personal connection the characters have to the stakes involved. I felt detached from the film in a way I never did in the other movies and, oddly, for a film 2.5 hours long, I feel that there’s a director’s cut of this film out there somewhere with another 30 minutes that might give it the breathing room between bombast that it badly needs.
None of this is to say that DOFP isn’t a fantastic bit of summer fun. Taking place in a future where adaptive Sentinels are exterminating both mutants and mutant collaborators, a final bastion of mutants devise a plan to send Wolverine’s consciousness back to the moment when the mutant/human war reached its tipping point. Wolverine can stop the war before it ever begins and the dire future will never exist.
The future mutants: Kitty Pryde, Colossus, Bishop, Sunspot, Warpath, Blink (one of my favorites and Fan Bing Bing was outstanding), Iceman, Wolverine, Storm, Professor X and Magneto take refuge in a Chinese monastery as they fight off sorties from the adapting sentinels (Blink’s choreography of the opening fight scene is fricking amazing). Wolverine is deemed the only candidate who could survive having his mind pushed back 50 years in the time stream because of his healing factor, so Kitty sends him back and he wakes in 1973.
Since we left off in X-Men First Class, things have gone very badly. Most of the characters have been killed, the school disbanded, Mystique pursuing a vigilante agenda whilst Magneto is imprisoned beneath the Pentagon. Xavier, using a formula Beast developed so he could control turning from Blue Beast to Hank, is walking but at the cost of his mutant powers. He’s a broken man and unwilling to help Logan. He is willing to try to prevent Mystique from destroying the timeline, but to succeed, they’ll need Erik.
This brings us to Evan Peter’s Quicksilver who completely stole this film. Aaron Taylor-Johnson has got some work cut out for him. Peters is hysterical and effortlessly powerful as the speedster thief. He agrees to help break Magneto out of the Pentagon largely for the challenge and the entire sequence from when he leads the breakout team (saving them in the kitchen by demonstrating the extent of his powers is the best representation of speed as a power that I’ve ever seen) to convincing Erik to help on the plane later is the movie’s best patch.
The best bits in all the X-films have been the relationship between Xavier and Magneto, whether played by Stewart and McKellan or McAvoy and Fassbender. From the very first scene of the very first film, the “brothers as adversaries” dynamic has provided the series’ best moments. There were so many other distractions in this film that we didn’t get as many, but the ones we got were stellar.
The villain of the piece, Bolivar Trask (a weirdly muted performance from Peter Dinklage), is trying to sell his Sentinel project to Congress and the Nixon White House. He’s also researching mutants on the sly, responsible for killing many. There feels like there should be more to him. We don’t really get to delve into his disturbing, Nazi-esque experiments or his motivation. He sells Nixon on the Sentinel program after the X-Men stop Mystique from assassinating Trask (the event that was identified as the tipping point when Wolverine was sent back).
This sets up a final battle at The White House as the Mark I Sentinels are unveiled. Erik breaks from the group in spectacular fashion and lifts RFK Stadium, transports it to Pennsylvania Ave. and drops it around the White House in one of the most impressive large-scale F/X I’ve ever seen. WIth Wolverine quickly put out of commission (I seriously have an issue with Logan surviving his dunking in the Potomac. He’s down there long enough that brain death would occur) and Professor X trapped by rubble, Mystique and Erik have a stand-off for the future.
In the future, the sentinels have found the last bastion of X-Men and are butchering them as we flash back and forth between future and past until Mystique makes her choice and saves the President and the future is reset. Logan wakes up in an idealized version of Xavier’s School. Scott is alive. Jean is alive. Professor X is alive (screw you, Brett Ratner). All is well. It feels very pat. It also feels like an ending, not a lead-in to X-Men Apocalypse.
For the original cast, this is their ending, and perhaps that’s what that ending serves. But, back in 1974, there really ARE no coherent X-Men as a team. We have Beast and Charles presumably restarting the school. Erik is on the run. Mystique, posing as Striker, for some reason fishes Logan out of the Potomac and takes him. Everyone else from the First Class team is dead (with the exception of Havok whom we see serving in the Vietnam War with a number of other mutants). Where is the momentum for the First Class timeline? I didn’t feel any. I didn’t feel engaged most of the film, actually. I think that’s because the film starts at an “11” on the action meter and stays there the whole film. There’s no ramping up to things, there’s no building to stakes, you’re dunked right into this war and there’s not a breath to be taken until the end.
X-Men Days of Future Past marks a welcome return of Bryan Singer to the X-franchise and I really am happy to have him back and running the mutants. This film just felt robbed of character building moments or structure that would have made the huge set pieces it showcases even more meaningful. I don’t think it’s inaccurate to say that Godzilla succeeded better at being the kind of film it was trying to be than X-Men DOFP succeeded at being the be-all, end-all mutant epic. It’s not without tremendous moments, though, and the end-credit scene with Apocalypse has me looking forward to the next installment in 2016.