Days of Future Past might be the best X-Men movie yet
The newest movie in the X-Men franchise is already out in my country. X-Men: Days of Future Past is the second movie in the prequel series about a young Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr, and also the fourth movie in the original trilogy about the older Professor X and Magneto, and the seventh movie overall in the X-Men franchise.
It sure has been a long, bumpy ride, with plenty of ups and downs. But when thinking back upon the X-Men franchise, it’s indeed worth taking into consideration what the original two X-Men movies actually did.
Here in 2014, we’ve just had a Captain America movie with a political corruption theme, and before that, an Iron Man movie that made a smart jab at how the world views terrorism, and how that fear can be used against us to hide the real truth. But back in 2000, before the big Marvel movies and Christopher Nolan’s Batman, no one believed in comic book movies. No one thought they could ever earn real money, and certainly no one ever thought they’d be more than just silly figures in shiny capes doing things with no meaning behind them.
The X-Men franchise changed all that. Suddenly, the world saw that comic book movies could in fact be so much more. For the first time, a superhero movie dared to send a direct message to society about racism and tolerance and how much hate a person can get for being different.
Of course, the first two movies haven’t aged all that well, and in comparison to the superhero movies that came after, they don’t really hold up. They’re flawed movies, but they did show it was possible to tell stories about comic book characters that were much more than just meaningless fights against stock villains.
And here we are fourteen years later, and the X-Men franchise now has a couple of good movies under its belt as well as a few shitty ones. And now it’s decided to just go nuts with its own concept.
The movie opens in the middle of the apocalypse, where the last few surviving mutants are making their last stand against the Sentinels, giant robot things that can adapt to their powers, which means that even mutants are helpless against them. Quite clearly, this is not within the continuity of the original trilogy; there are way too many things wrong with this picture already.
Eventually, Professor X, Magneto, Storm, and Wolverine arrive to aid these mutants, and we find out that one of them has the power to send a person into the past. Or rather, send a person’s mind back into their past body. They come up with a plan to not only survive the attack, but stop the apocalypse from ever happening in the first place, by sending one of them all the way back in time to before the humans built the robots that would destroy all life on earth, mutants and humans alike.
Unfortunately, being sent back that far is much too dangerous for most people, because it’ll make your head go boom or something like that. But since Wolverine has instant healing abilities, he’s the perfect candidate. I know it doesn’t make any sense, but just go with it.
He’s sent back to 1973, ten years after X-Men: First Class, and we see the outcome of the events of that movie, and it’s… not good.
Charles has lost everything and fallen into a deep depression, Magneto is in a maximum security prison for the murder of John F. Kennedy, and Mystique is soon to become the rampaging murderer we all know and love from the other X-Men movies.
Unfortunately, if you were attached to any of the side characters from First Class, like Emma Frost or Tempest or Banshee, you’re out of luck; they are all dead except for Hank McCoy, which basically explains Xavier’s drinking problem and Magneto being pissed off at all of humanity.
Logan, however, is here to give these three characters new information, which is that all of this doesn’t really matter, because the choices they make now will have a huge impact on the future. And if they don’t make the right choices, things will indeed go to shit, not just for mutants, but for everybody. Armed with this foreknowledge, it’s up to Xavier, Magneto, and Mystique to decide for themselves what to do to change the future.
And that’s the greatest strength of this movie: after Wolverine delivers his message, he becomes little more than a side character, because what this movie is really about is these three characters and the choices they make for themselves. Choices that decide what kind of people they’ll become, and how that will affect the world.
They’re not flawless people; they each have their own reasons to be hurt, and sometimes they do incredibly stupid things. But you absolutely get why they’re doing them, and where they’re coming from. And you can sense how their choices will indeed affect the entire world, which makes for a much more tense and personal finale than most of these films.
By the movie’s ending, it’s not even the great action scene in the apocalypse that gets you, but the situation of the characters in the past, which carries such high stakes that this alone had me on edge, and I had no idea what was going to happen next. But I was fully immersed in the story regardless.
The script is brilliant, and it all rides on these fantastic characters, all played wonderfully by our three lead actors.
James McAvoy is amazing as a young, broken down Charles Xavier. He has just enough wit and humorous timing that he manages to steal the entire show whenever he’s on screen. This is not a Xavier who’s that sure of his ideals yet, which makes this a perfect continuation to First Class, where it was easy for Xavier to have the higher moral ground, since he hadn’t really been persecuted by humans yet. Now, however, he’s in a state where it starts to really sink in how bad things can get, and he’s experienced loss as well. He has yet to really believe in people, but you can see how he’ll one day become the wise professor we all know.
Michael Fassbender is of course really good as Magneto, who’s much more determined in his own goals, and truly believes that what he’s doing is for the greater good. And Jennifer Lawrence gets to really bring it as Mystique, the one person caught between Xavier and Magneto’s ideals, who’s trying to figure out her own part in this whole mess. By the end, everything will hinge on her.
We all know that Hugh Jackman just is Wolverine—there isn’t even anything to discuss here. But once he delivers his message to Xavier, he might as well not be in the movie at all. He has a few well-delivered small speeches here and there, as he tries to talk some sense into the young Magneto and Xavier, but at the end of the day, this movie is not about him. It’s about what Xavier, Magneto, and Mystique choose to do with the things they’ve learned.
If you’re trying to reconcile this movie with the continuity of the other films, let me just save you the trouble. There are valiant attempts to make this film fit together with the original X-Men trilogy, but the continuity is so severely messed up that we’ll all be much happier people if we don’t think about it. We’re now at Doctor Who levels of continuity when it comes to the way this movie uses time travel. Don’t question it, and just enjoy the ride.
However, the continuity with X-Men: First Class is pretty strong, and it uses the events of that movie as the perfect setup for the characters’ motivations. This puts all the more weight and depth into the characters so they really feel like people.
At the same time, the movie manages to be fun. Quicksilver shows up only to vanish completely from the movie again, and there was actually no real need for him to be here, but I can forgive that, because he was fun to have around.
This might in fact be the best movie of the X-Men franchise so far, and I honestly have no clue what they’re going to do after this. But I will admit I’m deeply curious to see where this series goes next. This movie left me wanting more, rather than leaving me frustrated, which is high praise for a film that deliberately screws over its own continuity this much.
I loved everything about Days of Future Past. It’s a film I actually want to watch again, and it’s rare that I feel that way about a movie these days.
[—Editing/cleanup/revisions to this article provided by Dr. Winston O’Boogie and Elliot Hodgett.]