For the past 14-years, the X-Men movie franchise has been churning out stories loosely based on Marvel’s seminal comic book series. X-Men: Days Of Future Past (DOFP), the 7th instalment in the movie franchise is without a doubt the most “comic-booky” chapter, which immediately places it in the top tier of the X-movies. Although this is a film that will certainly appeal to a very wide audience, I suspect that die-hard X-Men fans may still be left wanting.
The film kicks off in the not too distant future where mutant hunting killing machines named Sentinels have decimated the mutant population as well as turned on the human race that created them. Knowing that their defeat at the hands of the Sentinels is inevitable, and proving that at least one member of the team was familiar with the plot of The Terminator, the remaining band of X-Men rally together for a last ditch effort to save humanity. The remaining X-Men send Wolverine’s (Hugh Jackman) consciousness back into the past so that he may prevent the assassination of Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), the individual whose murder is the catalyst that leads to the initiation of the Sentinel program. Wolverine returns to 1973 only to find the era’s team of X-Men fragmented and the remaining members emotionally defeated. Armed with the knowledge of the future apocalypse (as well as terrifying bone claws that protrude from his knuckles), it is up to Wolverine to reunite a young Charles Xavier/Professor X (James McAvoy) and young Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (Michael Fassbender) at the height of their rivalry.
In movies based on comics, directors often feel that they have to put a unique spin of their own on their superhero film’s mythology and in the process, often strip the film of the familiar elements of the series that fans connect with. This time however, Bryan Singer (returning to the series after a 10-year absence) has lifted a classic X-Men story straight from the pages of the comics and translated it about as well as can be expected in a 2-hour film. Sadly, the majority of the mutants in the film have Lilliputian character arcs. The majority of X-characters in DOFP mostly just get to show their range of quickly bad-ass leather clad poses before quickly producing agonizing death faces at the cold dead hands of a Sentinel. Regardless of their limited screen time, it is still cool to see so many characters given a moment to shine on screen. Including so many characters in the film adds to the scale of the conflict and makes me feel like there are other stories going on in this expansive world while we happen to focus on this particular band of villains and heroes.
The true heart of the movie lies in the scenes shared between Xavier and Magneto and it is in these few moments where DOFP transcends being just another action flick. McAvoy and Fassbender leave it all on the table and their opposing terrorist versus freedom fighter philosophies convey enough earnestness to both their causes that much of the audience will leave the film questioning who the heroes and the villains of the film really were.
DOF is n extraordinary visual smorgasbord of commotion, and exactly what a comic-book movie is meant to look like. Seeing Iceman create a track of ice and slide across the screen was a dream that I had given up on after viewing X-2. CGI has advanced to the point where it is cost effective to render the powers of even C-list characters like Blink and Sunspot without the risk of bankrupting the studio. The battles between mutants and sentinels are just as epic as anything inked on a comic panel. What particularly stood out was the clever way that the film depicts the ingenuity of each character in the way that they use of their powers. A C-list character like Quicksilver was able to hi-jack the movie with his frantic prison break antics while Magneto ripping a baseball stadium from its foundation and using it as a barricade was as epic as anything seen on film this year. This is clearly the antithesis of the hyper realistic take on comic books displayed in Christopher Nolan’s Batman films.
The weakness of the previous X-Men films has always been an inability to capture the camaraderie shared within the X-family and sadly this movie is no different. I can understand the complexity of trying to script a film with such a multitude of beloved characters without giving someone the short end of the stick. Earlier films the eschewed the family dynamics of the X-Men completely, making the series into what felt like the Wolverine show. Fleshing out Wolverine and placing him as the anchor of the franchise relegated everyone else to the roles of mere asteroids in his planets orbit. Fans that are familiar with the X-Men universe understand that singling a character out to such an intense degree conflicts with the team components that are essence of the series. The X-men tales often cover complex themes about coming of age and finding out how important finding your true family is when you exist in a world that doesn’t understand you. Fans have adored X-Men stories for over 50-years for the soap opera type plot twists as well as the tender moments amongst characters that take place between all of the action. When opening up an issue you are just as likely to see a story about an uneventful Friday night spent on the couch, eating pizza and discussing break ups, as you are to see spandex clad heroes fighting maniacal villains. In DOFP, the stakes always feel so high that the film never takes its foot of the gas pedal to explore the quieter moments. Last summer’s Guardians of the Galaxy blended several unconventional yet compelling characters together into one dysfunctional superhero team that carried the weight of saving the universe on their shoulders, resulting in a hit film that completely out “X-Men’d” the X-Men movies.
Despite being the franchise that ushered in the age of the blockbuster superhero movie, in terms of being good overall films the X-Men series is a very late bloomer. As someone familiar with the X-Men universe, I found the film to be a fine superhero movie but not a great X-Men movie. As much as I enjoyed this film, I still couldn’t help but wonder if the X-Men, with their vast array of characters and numerous social themes might just be better suited for an HBO miniseries. The franchise seemed to have corrected course with 2011’s First Class reboot and refocusing the series attention on the dynamic relationship between young versions of Erik and Charles seemed to help the series find its narrative groove. Now that the films now have an engaging emotional centerpiece to go along with its stories about a ragtag group of misfits co-existing in this expansive mutant world, I feel like the foundation for an authentic X-Men story is now properly set in place. Although this is not the version of X-Men that I have been waiting to see represented on the big screen, I walked away from DOFP with a smile on my face and optimistic about what will come next.