X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014, Bryan Singer)


Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

In the near future, a war is waging between mutants and robot killers called Sentinals. Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr realise their only hope for victory is to send Wolverine back in time to prevent the fighting ever starting…

Get used to multiples names…
* Charles Xavier aka Professor X (Patrick Stewart and James McAvoy) is just one of numerous characters who we see in both the 2020s and the 1970s – hence two actors playing the role. The main body of the film takes place in the past: it’s been 11 years since the events of X-Men: First Class (2011); Charles has been abandoned by most of his friends and is also a junkie. The drugs help him walk but subdue his telepathic powers.
* The action opening features a number of newly seen mutants fighting the Sentinals: Blink (Fan Bingbing), Warpath (Booboo Stewart), Sunspot (Adan Canto) and Bishop (Omar Sy). Bobby Drake (Shawn Ashmore) and Colossus (Daniel Cudmore) from the original trilogy are also part of the team, as is…
* Kitty Pryde (Ellen Paige) is using her powers to evade the Sentinals. The plan sees her send a colleague’s consciousness back in time to warn their past selves of upcoming attacks. (Keeping up?) She uses the same trick to send Wolverine to 1973. She then has to spend the rest of the film holding her hands either side of his sleeping head.
* Ororo Monroe aka Storm (Halle Berry) is still fighting with Professor X and still doesn’t have much to do.
* Logan aka Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is the movie’s lynchpin. His consciousness is sent from the 2020s into his 1973 body (very Desmond-in-Lost). He gets the gig because a) his mutant healing powers mean he has the best chance of surviving such a procedure, and b) he doesn’t age so Jackman can play the character throughout.
* Erik Lehnsherr aka Magneto (Ian McKellen and Michael Fassbender) is, in the future scenes, working with Charles and the others. But they’re estranged in the 1970s. Since the events of First Class, he’s been arrested for killing JFK and locked up in a cell under the Pentagon.
* Boliver Trask (Peter Dinklage) is the bad guy of the story. In 1973 he plans to build robots who can hunt down mutants. Ironically, however, the war in the future is the direct result of his death in 1973. So Wolverine has been sent back to save his life.
* Raven Darkhölme aka Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) has found out about Trask’s plans so is plotting to assassinate him. However, she doesn’t realise that this will lead to war. Since filming First Class, Jennifer Lawrence had won an Oscar and become a huge star, which might explain why the usually minor Mystique is so crucial to this plot. (That’s being cynical, of course: her storyline works well.)
* A scene in an army base in Vietnam features William Stryker (John Helman), Alex Summers (Lucas Till) and Toad (Evan Jonigkeit) – all characters seen in previous films.
* Hank McCoy aka Beast (Nicholas Haunt and Kelsey Grammer) is still at Charles’s side in the 70s. In the new future timeline we see at the end of the film, Kelsey Grammer features in one shot.
* Peter Maximoff aka Quicksilver (Evan Peters) is a young lad who Charles and Wolverine recruit to help free Erik from jail. His mutant power is that he can move at lightening speed. After the prison-break sequence, he goes home – presumably because he’d be able to solve any problem the team encounter and the film would lose any tension. There are hints that Peter might be Erik’s son. (A couple of months before this film came out, Quicksilver also debuted in the Avengers series of movies. He’s played by a different actor in those films, and is not intended to be the same guy as here.)
* President Richard Nixon (Mark Camacho) features a bit. There’s a gag about switching off the tape recorder he has stashed in the Oval Office.
* The alternative future seen at the end of the film features cameos from old characters Rogue (Anna Paquin), Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) and Scott Summers (James Marsden) – the latter two had been killed off in X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) and are being used to here to demonstrate how Wolverine has changed the past.

Crossovers and continuity: There are a few elements that are contradicted or expanded in future movies.
* The fact Charles is alive in the future – despite dying in X-Men: The Last Stand – was addressed in Easter-egg scenes in that film and The Wolverine (2013).
* When Raven finds autopsy photos in Trask’s office, they’re of First Class characters such as Azazel and Angel. Erik later specifies that other mutants such as Emma Frost and Banshee have also died in the last 10 years.
* Stryker mentions his son, Jason, who appeared as a grown-up in X2 (2003).
* As mentioned, the happy ending resurrects Jean and Scott, who died in The Last Stand.
* A post-credits scene set in Ancient Egypt teases the 2016 film X-Men: Apocalypse.

A comic-fan writes… Because I know next to nothing about the source material, I’ve asked my friend Johnathon Hughes to talk about this film: “Where the other films cherry-picked elements of plots from the long history of the comics, Days of Future Past is the first in the series to adapt one single story – even using it as the movie’s subtitle. In many ways it’s the ultimate X-Men story – a balanced mix of serious social comment (genocide, political corruption, hate crimes) with sci-fi/fantasy thrills (time travel and cool robots). It’s one of the more overtly political comic-book stories: published in 1980 on the eve of the US election that saw Ronald Reagan become President, it warns this is an integral point in history for mutants and predicts dark days ahead if they don’t act now, represented in the ravaged future timeline (set in 2013!). It’s hard not to read this as a statement on right-wing Republicanism that marginalised minorities, and reaffirms the allegory of mutant mistrust to society’s treatment of gay and ethnic communities. There are inevitable tweaks in the film, the biggest being that Wolverine is sent back from the future, not Kitty, but this is understandable as Kitty would not have been born in 1973 going by the chronology (up to this point) of the films. Plus Wolverine doesn’t age and Hugh Jackman’s star power makes him the more obvious choice as a protagonist who can straddle both timelines of the film franchise. And it’s anti-mutant politician Senator Kelly (played by Bruce Davison in the first two films) not Boliver Trask that Mystique plans to assassinate in the past. But in terms of the overall concept, themes and tone it’s pretty faithful to the source material. The post-apocalyptic future and design of the Sentinels are particularly well realised. As one of the most revered comic-book stories of all time, there’s no need to really mess about with it.”

Alternative version: A few months after this film’s release, an extended version called The Rogue Cut was released on DVD. There are a number of significant changes, so I’ll blog about that separately.

Review: There’s plenty to enjoy here, especially if like me you’ve recently seen all the previous movies again. This is one for the fans: if you’re a newcomer, good luck. Days of Future Past is a sequel to both the original trilogy and X-Men: First Class, and it assumes a level of knowledge and understanding. Marry that with a complex, time-shifting plot and it can be a struggle to keep with the mechanics of what’s going on. A second (or in my case third) viewing really helps, though, and it’s worth the effort. The first 15 minutes are necessarily grim – very Tech Noir, very The Terminator, very purple – but then it’s great fun once Wolverine wakes up in 1973 and the parallels with TV show Life on Mars start to mount up. There’s fish-out-of-water comedy, lots of action, lots of sci-fi trappings… but with Bryan Singer back as director the film never forgets to focus on character and story rather than explosions or paradoxes. If there’s one major flaw, it’s the nagging sense that the structure falls between two stools. As lovely as it is on a geek level to see the original cast and the First Class actors all involved in the same story, the future characters feel perfunctory and functional. (It must be the least-demanding acting Ian McKellen’s ever done on a job.) But with sequences such as the Pentagon heist, we’re often back to the swagger of First Class. Good fun.

Eight Eiffel Towers out of 10

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