Film Review: X-Men: Days of Future Past

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Plot: In the near future, mutants have been killed and hunted down by advanced technology known as sentinels. Facing extinction, a small band of mutants lead by Professor X (Patrick Stewart) continues to fight for survival. In order to prevent the creation of the sentinels, the X-Men send Wolverine’s (Hugh Jackman) consciousness back to 1973, where he is tasked with saving a hopeless young Professor X (James McAvoy) so they can prevent an event changing assassination.

When I saw The Dark Knight in 2008, I said to myself I can die happy never having to see another Batman movie. X-Men: Days of Future Past has accomplished that same feat with the X-Men franchise. Bryan Singer returns as director, and delivers one of the most stunning, emotionally powerful, action-packed, sci-fi epics I’ve ever seen. This movie has everything you could ever dream of for an X-Men film. I won’t be able to talk about half the elements I want to in this review, but I’m going to try my damnedest as I break down this absolute masterpiece of cinema.

We’ll get to Bryan Singer, but we have to begin with one of the greatest casts ever assembled. Whenever somebody says, “This superhero movie is going to suck, there are too many characters,” now we can point to this film as disproving that. It can be done. Yes, most superhero movies get buried under the weight of all their characters. The Spider-Man films are especially guilty of this. The difference between something like The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and this film though is that a studio forced a lot of the characters in Spider-Man, but with X-Men, everyone had a legitimate reason for being there, and served the story appropriately.

Let’s start with the two Professor X’s, both of whom you could argue give the best performances in the entire film. Patrick Stewart commands the screen as the older Professor X. What they get across in this film that I don’t think is accomplished as well previously in the franchise is his undying care for mutants, especially his X-Men. As great as Stewart is though, McAvoy had the tougher job, playing an absolute shell of himself from the previous X-Men film, First Class. It’s an emotionally charged performance that demands your attention, truly heart-breaking. One of the best scenes of the movie, and this isn’t spoiling anything because it’s in the trailers, is when both versions of the character talk to each other. It’s just as incredible as you would imagine.

On the other side of the spectrum, we have Magneto. If I had to pick one member of the cast who was slightly underutilized, it was probably Ian McKellen. He’s superb, but doesn’t get the same moments that Patrick Stewart did. There’s one sequence in the second half though where you see the old Magneto in all his glory. It’s a shot of him walking out to this ledge with his cape flowing, and it’s one of the most epic images you will ever see in a superhero movie. Someone who doesn’t get underutilized is the younger version, Michael Fassbender. Out of everyone in the cast, Fassbender was the MVP. He gives you everything he did from First Class, but this time he’s a complete and utter mad man. Fassbender is truly unleashed in this film. Him and McAvoy have a scene on a plane where Fassbender gives an Oscar-worthy moment.

Oh, did I forget to mention Hugh Jackman and Jennifer Lawrence are in this film too? What can you possibly say about Hugh Jackman as Wolverine at this point? I love the role reversal between him and Professor X, which allows Jackman to play with some new elements with the character. Aside from that though, it’s classic Jackman as Wolverine all throughout the film. As much as I feel for the guy who has to play the next Joker, following Jackman will almost be just as difficult. There is no way I can imagine someone else as this character.

What I admire about Jennifer Lawrence’s performance is that despite how big a star she is, I didn’t even think of her when watching Mystique. She completely transforms herself. And yes, it helps that you’re completely covered in blue, but Lawrence’s intensity in the role really caught me off guard. I hope she gets to play this character in ten more films.

With the major players out of the way, like a bad infomercial, “BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!” Everyone gets a chance to shine, and all these characters are used very efficiently. Ellen Page as Kitty Pryde plays a crucial role, and even though you don’t see a ton of her, Page was extremely powerful in what she was given. Shawn Ashmore returns as Iceman, and I love the subtlety in his performance – very effective. Also, Iceman is just a joy to watch when he uses his powers. What also shocked the hell out of me were all the new future mutants they introduce. Even though we barely know them, because of their situation and acting, I immediately sympathized with these guys. Their opening scene is fantastic, and the future sentinels are terrifying. The way they are powered is ingenious. Bishop, played by Omar Sy, is especially awesome, and Bingbing Fan as Blink has one of the coolest mutant powers ever. I could have watched her create portals all day.

One of the other original cast members who makes a return is Halle Berry as Storm. To be honest, I’ve never loved her performance, but in small doses, this was the best I’ve ever seen from Halle Berry as this character. Storm gets one big epic moment, and it’s the Storm moment I’ve always wanted to see. Her and Bishop have a really bad ass scene together as well. Nicholas Hoult as the younger Hank McCoy/Beast also returns, and with Beast being one of my favorite X-Men characters, he finally got his due. Not only was Hoult fantastic, but they finally showed off Beast’s brilliance.

The other new characters that have to be mentioned are Bolivar Trask and Peter Maximoff/Quicksilver, played by Peter Dinklage and Evan Peters respectively. Dinklage is perfect. What makes the X-Men franchise great is that they can have threatening villains who are merely human, and Dinklage is right up there with William Stryker in X2 as that villain. Speaking of Stryker, he shows up as his younger self, played flawlessly by Josh Helman, who emulates Brian Cox perfectly. There’s also a very intense scene where Wolverine freaks out at seeing Stryker, which was great.

The other new character I teased was Evan Peters as Peter Maximoff/Quicksilver. The actor was charismatic and hilarious, and emulated what a speedster should act like. And let me just say this about his speed scene – they should retire all super speed sequences in movies after this one. The end.

I’ve spent this entire review talking about how extraordinary the cast is, and for that, the true MVP of the movie really is Bryan Singer. And to get this out of the way, I have no idea what the story is in regards to his legal troubles, and certainly if all that proves to be true, then to hell with Bryan Singer. I’m here to evaluate the guy as a director though. As a director, I can’t imagine how difficult it was to not only organize all these characters, but the scope of the story as well, yet none of it felt forced or clunky. That’s certainly a huge credit to the screenwriter, Simon Kinberg, but it’s Singer who has to execute it. His direction is masterful. He also takes some big risks by intercutting back and forth between the past and future, but it was done at just the right moments, and for the right amount of time.

The tone of this movie also could not have been handled better. The beginning is especially dark and grim, and was very reminiscent of the opening to the original X-Men back in 2000, which in my opinion was very intentional. But Singer knows when to incorporate well timed humor. Even though I don’t like a lot of humor in superhero movies, this is how you do it right. It’s not shoved in your face every two seconds like in a Marvel movie, where you see Stellan Skarsgard running around with his pants off, or deliberately setting up comedic moments between Captain America and Black Widow in an Apple store. All the humor here is subtle, natural, and went with the flow of the movie. It’s not a bunch of constant one-liners. Take some notes, Kevin Feige.

If I had to find one criticism, it’s that some of the inconsistencies from the franchise weren’t properly explained. There are certain plot points I’m happy to make assumptions with, but there are some significant holes in regards to events that happened in previous X-Men films. At the end of the day though, who gives a shit? When your movie is this good, I can forgive it.

There are so many nice little touches amidst all the grand aspects as well. The time period of the 1970’s is fantastic, and the soundtrack and score are gorgeous. The last thirty minutes are absolutely riveting, and I truly had no idea where everything was going to end up, especially in regards to one character in particular. The way this all wraps up though was pure bliss. While I said I can die happy never having to see another X-Men film, I’d be lying if I wasn’t salivating for the next installment. I’m not sure how many other directors could have pulled this off, including some who have even won Academy Awards. I’ve basically written a novella love fest on this film, but what I admire and appreciate most was how dedicated everyone was to this project. They left it all out on the field, and it’s a movie experience I will never forget.

Rating: 9.5 out of 10 (O…M…G)

Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow’s fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.

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