When X-Men Days of Future Past was announced at San Diego Comic Con, and every single X-Man was brought out on stage to take a bow, it was hard not to be excited at the prospect of such an ambitious film. But it was also a little frightening to conceive; could this melding of generations possibly work? Could this many X-Men on screen at the same time even make sense? What is a day of future past anyhow?
Springboarding off of 2011’s First Class and the aftershocks of the contemporary movies, DoFP brings together a decade and a half of X-films without breaking a sweat. And not just by putting all the actors in the same film, but by unifying these stories on the same front to teach a powerful lesson about how history might be righted in the face of an untenable future.
Minor spoilers for the film below.
The film sets up its conceit in a firefight flurry of action, yet somehow it doesn’t feel like a cheat. Being brought to the table as a terrible future is unfolding for mutant and humankind, we are given a very clear picture of what went wrong instantly—there are robots called Sentinels that adapt to mutant powers. All of the mutants are being wiped out, and since barely anyone can stop these adaptive machines, many humans are as well. There is only a small contingent left of Charles Xavier’s gifted younsters, and he and Magneto have made peace with each other in the interest of survival. Both their dreams—one of co-existence and one of dominance—have failed, leaving them defeated here, at what feels like the end of time.
They have one last gamble, though. They think they’ve got the moment where it all went wrong pegged, and they can send one person back in time to stop it. That process is a little destructive, though, so only someone who is able to constantly heal can make the trip. So Wolverine is up. These events occur at whiplash speed (something Magneto gets warned about in a weird way…later on) but you’re glad for it—the movie has a lot of story to tell, and although it’s great to see the old cast again, the main story belongs to the events that occur in the 1970s. The mutants do their thing, Logan wakes up in the past, very nude, and it’s time to dance.
Getting the former versions of Professor X and Magneto on board isn’t quite so simple, but then, Wolverine was warned about those challenges ahead of time. Days of Future Past stays true to the damage caused by the events in X-Men: First Class, when we meet both men, they are still reeling from the schism that formed at the end of that film, even ten years later. Both Charles (now James McAvoy rather than Patrick Stewart) and Erik (who has switched flawlessly from Ian McKellen to Michael Fassbender) have not been better for wear since their first team broke up on a beach in the 1960s, and those wounds have so many reasons to refresh themselves.
The film really deserves points for knowing how to use its large cast of characters to their maximum potential. In the future, we get to see lots of our favorites from the first three films make their mark regardless of the fact that there is little they can do to affect the plot. You don’t feel swindled out of time with them, but you don’t feel like their actions are needless either. And there’s something particularly heartbreaking about watching Stewart and McKellen’s Charles and Erik reaching out for each other while everything falls apart around them, now made hyper-aware of how intertwined they have always been and the mess they’ve made by falling apart.
Though fans showed some concern over the sudden appearance of Quicksilver in the past’s narrative, it’s actually one of the highlights of the film. In a way, it points the finger at places where other X-Men films failed badly at similar attempts; the appearance of Gambit in X-Men Origins: Wolverine looks particularly depressing and poorly conceived next to the jaunt we get to have with Peter (they call him Peter in the film, not Pietro), even with the handicap of a ridiculous silver pleather jacket. (Yes, it looks goofy. Whatever. The 70s were probably like that for everyone. I’m sure he looks super cool in the future.)
Peter Dinklage lends just the right amount of gravitas to Bolivar Trask, the man responsible for the creation of the Sentinels. The character could have easily become a camp villain in less deft hands, but Dinklage knows exactly how real this man is, even if the mutant superheroes he rails against are not. He knows how to play the fearmonger, and how to do it without going over the top. Like every good antagonist from these films, his menace is born out of a surety that he is right about the danger of mutants. The film repeatedly proves him right on that point, as any good X-Men tale does. But where Trask fails as a person is letting that belief convince him that their eradication could lead to a new era for humanity.
Since First Class was primarily concerned with how Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr’s friendship fell to pieces the first time around, Days of Future Past naturally spends a lot of time peeking into that relationship and wondering out loud about how it can be mended. It becomes more clear in this film than it was in the last one exactly how Magneto’s methods are a problem, even if we can sympathize with his fears. (Although the two barely interact, Trask and Magneto’s methods play off of each other very well in this regard.) It also becomes clear exactly what Charles Xavier has to offer the world, not simply as a powerful mutant, but also as a human being. It’s one thing to get introduced to the gentle professor who runs a school for frightened children and helps them develop their powers in safety. But for all that we think we know that comfortable paternal figure, it never gives us a window into what makes Charles Xavier the right person for this job. Looking beyond his inherent compassion, McAvoy’s Xavier has some painful decisions to make, and the audience is given the chance to understand just how difficult it is to become the Professor X we know and love.
But the secret MVP of this film (maybe not so secret considering her stature in the movie posters) is easily Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique, though I will avoid saying exactly why. It’s safe enough to point out that the trailers very cleverly hide her true purpose in the narrative, and she does an excellent job on calling people out for their failings everywhere that it’s due. (People are failing all over in the 1970s, so it’s definitely needed.) I didn’t understand how a Mystique spin-off film could be considered before watching Days of Future Past. Now I feel like one needs to happen, and I will sit in the front row and throw money at screen during each scene transition.
The film will bring up continuity questions galore, which is not really a problem so much as an interesting observation. It will be fascinating going forward to see what the fan community makes of it. In addition, while the film devotes a lot of time to exploring how these characters are growing into their mature counterparts, it is still utterly action-packed and books it from end to end.
I guess the best recommendation I can offer is simply this; when the movie ended, I immediately wanted the next one to begin. After a disappointing show in the middle there—preferences aside, X3 and the Wolverine films were sloppily rendered and unsettling—the X-Men movies are firmly back on track and I want to see every single one of these actors reprise their roles again and again. (Including the historical cast, I am never letting go of McAvoy and Fassbender, the world will just have to go along with me on this one.) It’s the blockbuster equivalent of coming home.
Emmet Asher-Perrin has been crying over Charles and Erik since First Class and really thinks McKellen should have just kissed Stewart at some point and had done with it. You can bug her on Twitter and read more of her work here and elsewhere.