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X-Men: Days of Future Past

May 23, 2014

In preparation for the reboot/previous trilogy mashup that is X-Men: Days of Future Past, I actually went back and read the two issue story arc that inspired the movie. The trade paperback comes bundled with the three previous issues (and the Christmas themed one that follows) where Kitty Pryde is introduced and Wolverine fights a Wendigo with Canadian Superteam Alpha Flight. So, obviously, when I sat down in the packed theater I was fully expecting a cold open where Hugh Jackman is fighting a Wendigo with no explanation.

While there was no Wendigo, we do get an awesome Patrick Stewart voice over that gets us into the dystopian mindset of the X-Men’s future. For those of you who have somehow never been exposed to one of the X-Men’s most famous storylines, Days of Future Past the comic was written by Chris Claremont and simultaneously takes place in 1980 and the then far off future of 2013. In 1980, Mystique and a reformed Brotherhood of Evil Mutants assassinate a presidential candidate and set in motion a series of terrible events that lead to a horrific future where both mutants and humans live under the brutal rule of the robotic Sentinels. The only chance the X-Men have to save the world is to send Kitty Pryde’s mind back in time to when she was 13 and convince the X-Men to stop Mystique.

Obviously, since only a few of you might remember Ellen Page’s stint as Kitty Pryde in X-Men: The Last Stand (and how her powers somehow lead to the infamous, “I’m the Juggernaut, bitch!” line), she gets switched out for fan favorite Wolverine in the film. After a riveting open sequence where a few X-Men fight the highly advanced Sentinels, we’re introduced to Kitty Pryde’s ability to send Bishop’s mind (another fan favorite whose presence made the fanboy in me squeal with delight) back in the past a few days to warn them. Xavier and Magneto, now best buds again just like they are in real life, plan to use the ability to change the course of history. Since it’s too dangerous to send them, they send Wolverine.

There’s not much reason to give away any more plot as the rest of the movie wildly deviates from the comic book that inspired it, which in my opinion resulted in something much better. Despite high stakes that literally affect the very course of history, the story actually narrows its scope to focus in on about six characters and returns us to the ideological struggle that has always been at the heart of the X-Men: how do you protect those that fear you?

The film definitely succeeds in grappling with this question, and many other ideas that have wound their way into X-Men lore (the idea of ‘passing’, being in the closet, social alienation, etc). It manages to internalize all of these problems into the characters, and the story moves forward because of their actions and their shifting opinions. While we’re constantly reminded that everything they do has a greater impact (through flashforwards and Wolverine’s dialogue), the film lets them tell us the story rather than fumbling about and turning the characters into mouthpieces. Or well, at least not more obvious mouthpieces than Xavier and Magneto have always been.

While there are big action sequences, they’re always straight forward and easy to understand, even when there are characters on the screen that we never get fully introduced to. Bryan Singer has been around the block more than a few times, and that experience shines through when the big battles and action sequences go down. What’s actually far more interesting though are the lulls inbetween, where the powerful dialogue and how Singer frames shots can really take center stage.

Speaking of dialogue, the performances of the various actors are very strong and possibly the best part of the movie. Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen’s experience both with the characters and the tropes they represent shines through in every line. However, much like First Class, it’s McAvoy and Fassbender’s takes on their characters that are actually why we’re here. Fassbender in particular has a way of delivering these weighty proclamations that rides the careful line between scene chewing and actual charisma that is perfect for a comic adaptation (of course, I’ve known that since Hex). Hugh Jackman, Nicholas Hoult, and Jennifer Lawrence are all great in their roles. Most surprising, Lawrence is the weakest link here and it’s really more the stunt doubles and stunt coordinator who deserve the credit for making Mystique interesting rather than the actress playing her. Of course, I’m also comparing her to Beast who has very few lines (or much to do at all) and an actor who has had 6 movies to get into character, so perhaps this is merely nitpicking.

The real breakout performance of Days of Future Past that will surprise no one who has watched even gifs from Game of Thrones is Peter Dinklage. His voice can take on that surprisingly deep quality that instantly makes him the center of attention, and he uses this to great affect in every scene he shows up in. Everything he does or says captures the zeal and drive that made Bolivar Trask such a well known X-Men villain while never straying into the hammy villainy of his actual comic book appearances.

Overall, it’s a fantasic movie that’s perfectly paced, has great performances, and wonderful direction. There’s little to complain about, especially for a big budget action film, and the ending (and post-credit sequence) will definitely make Chris Claremont proud and Fanboys happy.

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