In the years since Bryan Singer left the Marvel universe, the iconic X-Men faced a trio of cinematic duds. But following on the heels of the successful X-Men: First Class the franchise is now back on track and looks to stay that way especially with Singer back at the helm for the foreseeable future. Taking inspiration the 1980s comic series that inspired it, X-Men: Days of Future Past shows us that the only way to save the future mutantkind is to revisit their past. Boy, doesn’t that just eerily parallel three of the last four X-based films we had to endure? Fans deserve better and Singer’s film not helps make up for poorly handled characters and narrative misfires but also lays down a superb foundation for future adventures starting with 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse…but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
The film opens with a very dark vision of the future and mutants are on the brink of extinction. This is not a time travel film in the traditional sense which makes the adventures of Logan, Charles and Erik in the 70s so much more interesting. It’s really just a vehicle to, again, make Wolverine the center of attention but here, under the care of Singer, he’s set among the fantastic ensemble cast, not made to stand proud of it; that was a mistake in nearly every post-Singer film. Now it’s easy to spot quality film-making and in first act alone Singer makes up for not only Superman Returns but all of the woeful X-Men films made since his absence.
Matthew Vaughn, with help from Bryan Singer (as producer/writer), knocked X-Men: First Class out of the park. It was an amazingly fun story that succeeded on all levels, and DoFP now takes the best parts of that prequel (which is pretty much everything) and jelled it with the most popular characters in Bryan Singer’s series. The result is an astounding film that is, as trite as this sounds, the best X-Men film to date. Further it may be the best superhero film to date. Your move Whedon!
Successfully executing a film of this size and scope is no easy task especially when you start trying to intertwine and overlap multiple characters and story lines. So enter Jane Goldman, Simon Kinberg & Matthew Vaughn to rework the heralded comic storyline on which this is based. Step one, this is a comic, so have fun with it and truthfully there is a lot of fun to be had, especially when the audience, and the main character, knows much of what lies ahead. That succeeds in making the jokes a little more tongue in cheek and delightful.
The respective casts return in top form and while this might be pitched as Wolverine’s story, it’s McAvoy and Fassbender who lead this very dark and heavy film. But new characters like Quicksilver, in what is easily the best and most crowd pleasing seen in the entire film, Bishop and Blink also help expand the narrative canvas and show what may be in store for future films. Now making Wolverine the quasi-center of this story isn’t the worst idea (remember, Logan is just a visitor this time), as his popularity is, excuse the pun, uncanny, but like Thor he doesn’t need his own film – there’s only so much you can do with a character who is nearly invulnerable. He’s better in a group because, aside from the cool factor, or having enviable powers, he’s a one trick berserker which makes him kind of boring. That’s a whole other discussion but as if in response to The Avengers this X-Men ensemble is a reunion as much as it is a way of righting the wrong that was X-Men: The Last Stand.
Singer handles this story with confidence but also uses the film as a way to look at social issues, not just awesome action. It comes across as socially relevant as the themes he explored in X2 dealing with issues like persecution and acceptance in society. But it never gets too heavy and yes, there’s plenty of action to go round. Not only that but there’s laughs are as big as the action making this a triumphant, and long overdue return for Bryan Singer. Amid all the good the film has a few flat beats; it has trouble rounding third and the pivotal resolition seems as forced as it is unlikely -especially when considering the sophisticated idea that time is immutable. But much of the film walks down a path focusing on character above plot. As such, and with much enjoyment, we visit characters and events yet to happen to the X-Men and placing dots which will inevitably be connected later (like William Stryker and the Weapon X program).
That said, the main reason for this myriad of multiple characters, like young Charles, Erik and Raven, (aside from the source material just begging to be put on the big screen) to coexist on screen is simple: they were too good to waste in a prequel that was actually worth something. So it behooved the studio to find a way to explore their lives in the broader Marvel universe and they did that here hinting at things very subtly, like the fact that Magneto is actually Quicksilver’s father (as is his unseen twin sister Scarlet Witch). That is the type of thing fans want to see and will pick up on even if many movie goers might not make the connection.
DoFP builds extremely well. The story carries a lot of weight and it has to do with the emotional rift between Erik (Michael Fassbender), Charles (James McAvoy) and Raven (Jennifer Lawrence), not, as the marketing campaign might imply, Logan. The trio of Goldman, Kinberg and Vaughn earn top marks for their efforts making the story this cohesive and air-tight…and the bit that’s not air-tight gives them enough room for the sequel. Whether we see many of these characters again (it’s still unclear at this point if this film is a true passing of the torch) in X-Men: Apocalypse remains to be seen. But, with Singer back where he belongs, things really look good for Xavier’s gifted youngsters, both past and present, and 2016 can’t get here fast enough.