At the Movies with Alan Gekko: X-Men: Days of Future Past “2014”

At the Movies with Alan Gekko: X-Men: Days of Future Past “2014”

MPAA Rating: PG-13/Genre: Superhero/Stars: Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Patrick Stewart, Michael Fassbender, Ian McKellen, Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry, Nicholas Hoult, Elliot Page, Peter Dinklage, Shawn Ashmore, Omar Sy, Evan Peters, Josh Helman, Daniel Cudmore, Fan Bingbing, Adan Canto, Booboo Stewart, Anna Paquin, Lucas Till, Evan Jonigkeit, Gregg Lowe, Michael Lerner, Mark Camacho, Zehra Leverman/Runtime: 132 minutes

I think it’s safe to say that, long before the current trajectory of the MCU, if you wanted the superhero franchise that was known for being quite the rollercoaster ride then look no further than the X-Men franchise. Indeed I say this because at one time, for as great as the first X-Men from 2000 or X2 from 2003 were and still are, there was both X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine waiting in the wings to take things down a significant notch or two. Perhaps this is why in the long-ago year of 2011, Fox decided to just push the big red reboot button on the whole affair and give audiences an origin story in the form of X-Men: First Class. A film that very easily could have been a disaster and yet instead turned out to be both extremely entertaining as well as a potentially intriguing new path for these time-honored characters to traverse upon for future big screen adventures. As much of a gamble as First Class was, there’s no doubt in my mind that the next film the creative powers that be had in mind was undoubtedly seen by the general movie going public as even riskier if not downright calamitous should the execution of it be a complete and utter failure. That being a slice of superhero cinema that, rather than just moving forward with a narrative that put its focus solely on the reboot cast of players, would combine these characters with the ones (to say nothing of the performers themselves) from the first few movies. In other words: make a slice of cinema that could not only be a sequel to First Class, but also to the incredibly divisive (to put it lightly) X-Men: The Last Stand. Fortunately, dear reader, having seen the finished product more than once since it first came out all the way back in the long ago year of 2014, I can safely say that the follow up question, or as it is now known X-Men: Days of Future Past, is an absolutely incredible cinematic outing to put it mildly. Indeed is this a perfect cinematic outing by any stretch of the imagination? Honestly no though not for lack of effort on the part of anyone involved be they in front or behind the camera. Even with that in mind though there is no denying that, with the aid of truly heroic work on both sides of the camera, X-Men: Days of Future Past not only makes for an engaging example of a summer blockbuster done right, but also does a wonderful job at bringing together two very much distinct corners of the same universe for a truly riveting story that manages by the end to tidy up a very messy narrative and, for a time, really brought to this franchise a sense of the ship being on the right track again….

The plot is as follows: Taking inspiration from the 1981 Uncanny X-Men storyline of the same name, Days of Future Past gets its riveting narrative underway in a take on the year 2023 that is quite distinct from the one we have had in the real world. Indeed while the worse thing we deal with in our day to day lives is usually traffic or Starbucks not getting our name on our latte right, the 2023 in this film is one where an untold number of mutants and people who either have the genetic potential to be a mutant and/or try to keep mutants safe have been viciously slaughtered. We soon see that the reason for this annihilation is due to a type of robot known as Sentinels which, among other abilities, can absorb and subsequently replicate mutant powers. A fearsome talent that we soon see a group of these not-so-friendly (and definitely not-so-green) giants showcase during a battle with a group of mutants including Colossus, Iceman, and Kitty Pryde among them. Yet, just when it looks like the mutants have been viciously decimated, we see that this turns out not to be the case when every mutant in the room mysteriously vanishes. With that in mind, you’ll be glad to know that this isn’t a Danger Room session like the one at the beginning of X-Men: The Last Stand. Nor for that matter is this a situation where the rest of this movie is told in flashback. Rather, what is going on is that Kitty’s mutant gift has grown to such an extent that she is now able to someone’s consciousness back through time. A useful gift when one lives in a dystopic future where they are hunted by murder-bots, but which also incidentally happens to be a key component to a plan that Xavier and his frenemy Magneto have cooked up. A plan that involves Xavier wanting to send his consciousness back in time to the long-ago year of 1973. This is because it was in that year that a mutant named Mystique murdered a man named Bolivar Trask who just so happened to be the creator of the Sentinels. To make matters worse, Mystique would also be captured shortly after the murder and her genetic material would be used to make the Sentinels the menaces they are in the present. As well thought-out as Xavier’s plan is however, there is unfortunately one little thing he didn’t take into consideration. That being that his mind might not be able to physically or psychologically make the trip without enduring significant strain at best and at worst…well you get the idea. Fortunately, there is among the group one mutant who could make the trip due in no small part to his healing factor (to say nothing of charming personality). That being our long-time guide through this superheroic shenanigan-fueled world Wolverine. Thus can ol’ Wolvie go back to 1973, find a younger and more demoralized Xavier, and persuade him to work alongside a younger (yet no less devious) Magneto so they can prevent Mystique from inadvertently bringing this future upon the world or is this one future that is tragically set in stone for both man and mutant alike? That I shall leave for you to discover for yourself….

Now right off, it should be said that the work done by the various departments behind the camera is nothing short of superheroic in its own right. This starts with the work done by helmer Bryan Singer and scribe Simon Kinberg. Indeed this film is one that is quite substantial in narrative with a lot of intricate pieces on the board so to speak and in the wrong hands could have collapsed in on itself rather quickly. Thankfully, we see that Singer and Kinberg are able to keep every single piece balanced out with as little befuddlement as possible. Yes there are some moments here and there where the gears on the narrative struggle perhaps a little bit, but by and large this film’s story is told in a remarkably to the point and comprehensible manner. The work done by Kinberg on the screenplay also is terrific in how it manages to thread in and even further develop key themes that both First Class and the first X-Men from 2000 laid the foundation for. Perhaps the best example of this is how, in the first film, there is a moment where Xavier desperately tries to find a degree of hope in Magneto’s mind and that comes to play here in a superbly acted scene that I won’t go into too much detail on except to say it’s one of the more genuinely moving moments in the entire film. Alongside that, it should also be said that even though there is more than enough in the way of intriguing action beats to keep action hounds more than satisfied, this film does a wonderful job of ensuring its priority is on both the story at play and the characters at the heart of it. As a result, we see that even when the film chooses to focus more so on interactions between the various characters in this it is still able to remain a wonderful blend of extremely riveting and intriguing in equal measure. Speaking of those aforementioned action beats it should be said that from an incredibly filmed one at the Pentagon in the 70s to the scenes of combat against the Sentinels in the future each of them not only is quite distinct, but they all will in their own way leave you on the edge of your seat in the best way possible. Of course, one of the big things that definitely helps when it comes to those action beats is the fact that, surprise surprise, the work done by the visual effects and CGI departments on display here is nothing short of incredible. This is especially when it comes to such things as Magento’s particular abilities especially when it comes to what one version of the character does at the end of this film to say nothing of the Sentinels themselves which might look absolutely nothing like their comic book counterparts, but are nevertheless absolutely terrifying. Not just in terms of appearance, but also in terms of how they are able to handle our pack of mutant heroes. Suffice it to say that when you also factor in wonderful work from the costume department at really making the time we spend in the 70s during this film feel authentically like the era in question especially in terms of the characters’ distinct hairstyles and fashion choices and editor John Ottman at ensuring the tempo of this film is engaging yet never feeling like it is being far too swift for its own good to say nothing of a terrific musical accompaniment that manages to go from poignant to thrilling with even a wonderful tip of the hat to the stylish music from blaxploitation films of the era it’s clear that this truly is, by and large, majestic filmmaking through and through.

Of course, there is no denying that this whole cinematic affair would not work nearly as well as it is ultimately able to if it were not for the fantastic collection of performances given in front of the camera. This, without a doubt in my mind, starts with Hugh Jackman in what would, at that time, be his 7th portrayal of perennial favorite Wolverine and he is phenomenal. Yes Jackman brings his distinct mix of gruff, delightfully sarcastic, and physicality to the role, but this time we see he does a wonderful job at also bringing an vulnerability and even a hint of sadness to the part as he tries to act as a guide/mentor to the younger Xavier much in the way that Xavier will (eventually) do for him. Indeed it’s yet another terrific turn from an actor who, much like RDJ as Iron Man and Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool, will always be the first person one thinks of when it comes to the respective portrayal of an iconic comic book character. Alongside Jackman, we also see that this slice of cinema is able to acquire a pair of equally as engaging turns from James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender as the younger Xavier and Magneto respectively. Yes the work done by Sirs Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen in reprising their respective takes on these characters is wonderful, but in all fairness it is McAvoy and Fassbender who play them for most of the film. With that in mind, we see that in the role of the former that McAvoy does a terrific job at playing a take on Xavier that is very much the definition of broken and/or hopeless respectively. Even so however, it is genuinely moving to see McAvoy really take this character on a journey out of this pit and toward becoming the older Xavier audiences already know. As for the latter, we see that Fassbender does a terrific job at really tapping into not just Magento’s more than slightly duplicitous nature, but also his righteous fury when it comes to what he sees as fighting the good fight for mutantkind. A fury incidentally that is showcased in at least one stunning moment aboard a private jet.  Alongside these individuals though, and in perhaps the standout performance, is Evan Peters (American Horror Story) as Quicksilver. I mean not only does he bring a genuinely delightful degree of positivity to the otherwise dire proceedings, but he also plays a key role in one of the best moments in the entire film. Indeed if there is even remotely anything wrong with the character it’s not anything Peters does. Rather, it’s just that there’s not more of him in the rest of the film. Lastly, I think praise should also be afforded to none other than Peter Dinklage as this film’s main (?) antagonist Bolivar Trask. Indeed I have long admired Dinklage as a performer and here he does a terrific job at playing someone who is very much the definition of arrogant and extremely sinister. With that said though, it should be noted that, unlike say Kevin Bacon or Brian Cox, Dinklage really isn’t given the opportunity to be as riveting a foe as he could have been. As such, this does feel a wee bit like a missed opportunity despite Dinklage truly giving his all here. Suffice it to say that when you also factor in wonderful efforts from such talents as Jennifer Lawrence who is heartbreakingly good here in her reprisal of Mystique, Nicholas Hoult, Shawn Ashmore, Elliott Page, Halle Berry, Anna Paquin (even though a lot of her material would be restored in the aptly named Rogue Cut), Omar Sy, Josh Helman, Daniel Crudmore, Michael Lerner, and Adan Canto among others it’s clear that there might be some issues with this slice of cinema, but the work done by this cast is certainly not one of them no matter how big or small the size of their role may be.

All in all and at the end of the day, is X-Men: Days of Future Past the best superhero movie ever made let alone in the franchise of which it is a part? Sadly that is definitely not the case for either of those respective categories though it definitely is among the top 3 (or 5 if you include the first 2 Deadpool movies) in the latter category for what it’s worth. With that said, is this the worst entry in the X-Men franchise to say nothing of superhero films in general? Oh heck no! Not even close; not by a long shot. I mean don’t get me wrong dear reader: a lot of the characters in this don’t get nearly as much material to work with as they should and the story at times (even if you are an X-tra big fan of this franchise) can be a bit hard to follow in the beginning among other things. Even with those particular detriments in mind however, there is no denying that the cast is still able to give top-tier performances, the work done behind the camera is equally as skilled, the action beats on display prove to be as riveting as ever, and there is a wonderful blend of both humor and pathos weaved into the rest of the film to say nothing of some delightful surprises that I shan’t reveal here. Suffice it to say then that yes you could make the argument that Days of Future Past was (at the time) a wonderfully made big red reset button that, alongside both First Class and The Wolverine in 2011 and 2013 respectively, rectified certain eye brow raising choices that the franchise had made (looking at you X-Men Origins: Wolverine), but the truth is dear reader that this slice of cinema is so much more than that. Rather, this is a slice of cinema that is a riveting, slightly bleak, and yet quite potent entry in a superhero saga that (even in the comics) has long chosen to showcase for audiences a team of people who, despite facing daily the tragically very real concepts of prejudice, fear, and discrimination, still do what they can to either help the people who fear them and/or hold out hope that they can change for the better. Not just because they can with their respective abilities, but because they feel that in their hearts that they should. Make of that what thou will dear reader. On a scale of 1-5 I give X-Men: Days of Future Past a solid 4 out of 5.