‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’: light on subtext, heavy on fun

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X-Men: Days of Future Past

Written by Simon Kinberg

Directed by Bryan Singer

USA, 2014

The key virtue of the X-Men films has been their mutant-like ability to seamlessly blend with other genres. The Wolverine worked as samurai cinema. First Class played well as a Cold War-era Bond thriller. Since the comic’s inception, X-Men has been the “…in bed” fortune cookie joke of superheroes. So it comes as a refreshing and disconcerting surprise that Days of Future Past‘s best moments come void of any social commentary and chock full of pure science fiction.

The seventh entry in Bryan Singer’s film series, and most beloved comic book arc, finds its heroes in a dystopian nightmare, hunted and largely executed. Through a series of what may as well have been Vaseline-smeared lens flashbacks, we are briskly taken through the relevant events of First Class. The surviving X-Men have once again united against a larger evil: Sentinels, which are behemoth, mutant-hunting robots whose ability to identify mutants from humans has overlapped. It’s up to underground rebellion fighter Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page, reprising her role from The Last Stand) to send Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back to the 1970s, before the Sentinel program began. A more detailed explanation would only serve to confuse the uninitiated, but that’s not to warn off newcomers.

For a film that lavishly revels in the style and look of the 1970s, it has very little to say about the era. Beyond some vague allegories about addiction, an obvious drone strike analogy, and the standard heavy-handed voice over about the nature of mankind from Professor X (it’s to Patrick Stewart’s credit that his gravitas lends those any merit), it sticks to geeky entertainment, though you don’t have to be a geek to enjoy it.

The seventies look and sound terrific. Singer keeps his references broad enough to relate to the mainstream (Pong, Star Trek) and they meld into the geeky fun the director is clearly having behind the lens. He keeps multiple balls in the air at all times, weaving through time and space only to reconcile them in a breathtaking duelly-fought climax in both past and future.

Despite a few deftly handled setpieces sprinkled throughout, the film is at its best on a character level. Free from any origin story, stalwarts after 13 years playing their respective roles, Stewart and Ian MacKellen continue to give heart and depth to comic book sketches. As their young counterparts, James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender have managed to reach the same depth of chemistry over the course of just two films.

It’s the days of the future where the film falters most. Singer offers the same murky, CGI post-apocalypse audiences have seen a dozen times. Even with a standard deus ex machina ending, Days of Future Past creates the same continuity errors and plotholes most time-travel films leave in their wake. As much as fans want to erase the existence of Origins: Wolverine, it’s still canon. But even Singer tries to gloss over it.

Though due as much to the nature of time travel stories as well as its actual storyline, Days of Future Past feels more like a spiritual sequel than a direct one. This works for it as much as it does against. Marvel has launched Phase Three of their expanded film universe, something from which the X-Men films are kept at arm’s length. Though with the ambitious, multiple comic book storylines and general lack of repetition, Days of Future Past has created a fully lived-in universe. It only took 13 years.

— Kenny Hedges

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