‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’ a decent return to form for director Bryan Singer

xmen_days_of_future_past_ver5_xlgX-Men: Days of Future Past

Written by Simon Kinberg

Directed by Bryan Singer

USA, 2014

It may be a slightly ominous sign that the best scene in X-Men: Days of Future Past features a totally new character to the infinite universe of mutants, who then all but vanishes from the rest of the film. Still, the newest entry in the franchise, directed by its original helmer, Bryan Singer, is a decent enough revival of so many familiar characters, young and old. As a continuation of the story from X-Men: First Class, Days of Future Past is as competently made as a Marvel movie can be. If nothing else, this is a welcome return for James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender as the young versions of Professor X and Magneto.

The story opens a decade in the future, where the all-powerful Sentinels, created by a mutant-fearing scientist named Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), have taken over the world in such a way that mutants and humans who support them are hunted down and killed. Because of this apocalyptic life, the elder versions of Professor X and Magneto (Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, taking a break from inundating Twitter with their adorable friendship) join forces and convince Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) to travel back to 1973 so he can prevent Trask’s assassination at the hand of the young Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence). Of course, to do so, he’ll have to unite the young Professor X and Magneto, while keeping in mind that whatever he does in 1973 will impact everyone in 2023 and possibly destroy the future even more than it already is.

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There’s a whole hell of a lot of plot going on in X-Men: Days of Future Past, and screenwriter Simon Kinberg mostly deals with it through exposition. The setup and frequent reminders about the setup grow more and more unnecessary, to the point where Wolverine and McAvoy’s Professor X and the young Beast (Nicholas Hoult) end up refreshing their own memories about the stakes of keeping Trask alive. Also, as strange as it may sound, though Dinklage is fine as Bolivar Trask, he’s a less-than-menacing villain who’s somewhat wasted on the whole. Characters constantly talk about the threat Trask and his Sentinel program poses; in the future sequences, it’s plainly evident that letting the Sentinels be created would be disastrous. And there’s a glimmer of an allusion to the notion of being able to travel back in time and kill Adolf Hitler, preventing the Holocaust. But Trask always seems like more of an idea than a flesh-and-blood character, in spite of Dinklage’s presence.

The saving grace, then, is a handful of legitimately delightful action sequences. Although the 3D in X-Men: Days of Future Past–apparently, the film was shot in the format, but it looks far muddier than the recent post-conversion on Godzilla–often detracts from the nighttime scenes, that still can’t eliminate Singer’s flair for staging a memorable setpiece. The true highlight is the introduction to Quicksilver (Evan Peters), who’s recruited to help Wolverine, the Beast, and the young Professor X break Magneto out of a particularly maximum-security prison cell, as well as the ensuing escape. The way the scene, specifically the escape, is shot (as well as scored, with a clever usage of “Time in a Bottle”) is enough to inspire intentional chuckles. So rarely these days is a superhero action sequence allowed to be fun; this is the pleasant exception.

X-Men-Days-of-Future-Past1Elsewhere, there are flashes of wit and personality, particularly in McAvoy’s introductory scene, before he embraces the straight-arrow goodness we know the elder Professor X embodies. But even when he’s accepted his mutant status once more, McAvoy’s take on the character is a welcome respite from the general one-dimensional nature of so many of the characters in this franchise. Much of the cast are onscreen, basically, for cameo appearances; Halle Berry as Storm, for instance, has maybe two lines of dialogue, to the point where you have to wonder why they even brought the character back. But such is the problem with a 131-minute X-Men movie with two different versions of a lot of mutants. You can only devote so much time to each character and storyline; even Jackman’s Wolverine–though he’s billed first in the credits–seems like a background player most of the time despite being the catalyst for so much change.

Considering that it’s the seventh film in a lengthy franchise, and even features a character who will soon be in the second Avengers film, X-Men: Days of Future Past is decently made but is never quite so consistently remarkable. There are a few moments that will likely stand out amidst the summer-movie dross; in truth, the Avengers sequel has a fairly high bar to clear in terms of how it utilizes Quicksilver. But many of the characters we’ve known for over a decade on film don’t get a ton of time to shine, aside from McAvoy and Lawrence as Mystique. As a brief reminder of why these mutant heroes are special or so memorable, X-Men: Days of Future Past is fine, but it’s never able to focus for long enough on any of them to be equally special.

— Josh Spiegel

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