In 2014, it’s admittedly hard to get psyched for superhero movies the way I did in the early days of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or even the early 2000’s when the X-Men franchise first hit theaters. When the last shot of X-Men 2 teased Jean Grey’s Phoenix or when Nick Fury surprised Tony Stark after the credits rolled on 2008’s Iron Man, the giddiness was palpable.
But yearly entries have dampened the excitement and raised the bar of expectation, and several iterations of the X-Men franchise in particular have suffered from a bad case of a “we can, so why not?” mentality from 20th Century Fox.
X-Men: Days of Future Past is the remedy the series has badly needed. Melding the best of the early X-Men films with the fantastic performances delivered by the younger actors in 2011’s prequel X-Men: First Class, DOFP is an exciting, action-packed and emotional(ish) chapter in the X-Men saga.
Don’t get too caught up in trying to figure out grammatical tenses of the title: there IS time travel here, but it’s as straightforward as you can get. Set some years after 2006’s abysmal X-Men: The Last Stand (we don’t talk about that one), DOFP begins in a dystopian, scorched-earth future where mutants and humans are hunted and enslaved by sentient robots called Sentinels. Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and bitter rival Magneto (Ian McKellan) have found common ground in the fight for the future of mutants against this deadly and insurmountable threat. Their solution is to send Wolverine’s (Hugh Jackman) consciousness back in time to set the younger versions of Prof. X and Magneto (James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, respectively) on a path to hopefully foil the schemes of Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), the man originally responsible for the development of the Sentinels.
DOFP deftly walks the line between fan service and accessibility, and benefits greatly from this. Under the microscope there are easter eggs and loose threads to be found, but the bulk of the plot is digestible with cursory knowledge of previous events.And when the action is on, DOFP is pure, unadulterated fun. While the obligatory attempts to pull your heartstrings may fall a little short (the characters are a little on the flat side to feel completely moved, but hey, this is summer blockbuster stuff), it’s all forgiven because of just how entertaining it is.
The core of the original films – Jackman, Stewart, McKellan & co. – haven’t gotten rusty in bringing a believable authenticity for their larger-than-life characters. McAvoy, Fassbender, and a subtle Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique round out this superb cast and lay the groundwork for the future of the series. Oddly, the weakest link here is Peter Dinklage’s Trask — obviously stifled as a white-collar, non-supernatural baddie, he never quite flexes his acting chops to a degree that satisfies compared the rest of his body of work. But again, the rest of the cast is firing on all cylinders, so it’s easy to overlook.
X-Men has always been a loose parable for our country’s rich history of fearing those different from us, with less than subtle nods to racial segregation and the like. The filmmakers have not laid that on quite as thickly this time around, and that’s probably a good thing. This time, the series has gotten a little self-reflexive: just as our heroes are looking to the past to right the wrongs of their universe, so has 20th Century Fox looked to the past, in performing one of the better retcons of our time. They’ve thrown down the gauntlet and said “Hey. We know we’ve messed up. We can do better – let us prove it.”
And I say, “Well done. Bring on the sequel.”
Written by Joe Whiting