Directed by Bryan Singer, Starring Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, and Jennifer Lawrence
I think that most fans give the continuity work of this film far too much credit. Saying things like “the X-Men series has the least consistency of any long-running movie franchise” or “it’s almost as bad as the continuity of the comics” are completely fair, and everybody praises “Days of Future Past” for “fixing” the timeline. Calling it fixing is too generous. Fixing the timeline would require looking at specific inconsistencies and definitively choosing a side, or making a new explanation for how both sides could exist at the same time. This film just draws a big red X through the script of every X-Men movie other than First Class. Nothing from the original trilogy or the two Wolverine movies is part of the official timeline anymore. That has all been replaced by a world where the Professor X academy is running well in modern times. Rogue and Nightcrawler were not found in the early 2000s, Jean Grey never went crazy, and Deadpool was not created in a lab as a silent assassin. It also does a poor job of handling the timeline that it does want to keep. More than half of the mutants shown in “First Class” were killed offscreen between it and this newest X-movie. “First Class” is my favorite X-Men film, so I found it disappointing how little “Days of Future Past” feels like a sequel. As its own film, “Days of Future Past” is mostly adequate, but very flawed.
The story is founded on a fantastic concept. It uses a time travel narrative to combine the original and prequel casts into one film, although the prequel cast gets significantly more screen time. In the near future, sentinel robots have wiped out most mutants, so Wolverine must be sent back in time to stop the creation of the sentinels, which occurs when Mystique kills government leaders. Along the way, Wolverine has to recruit Charles Xavier and Magneto to help stop Mystique. These events all happen in the first hour, and unfortunately, I could not tell you much about what happens in the second hour. About halfway through the film, the mutants have an enjoyable fight in Paris. The movie is boring after that point, and it never does recover. I can enjoy periods of slow drama in action movies, but the drama in the second half here just isn’t engaging. Mystique runs away from problems, and Charles tells her not to a few times, and she doesn’t listen to him until she does. Magneto confronts his problems by returning to his villainous, extremist roots. Wolverine essentially becomes a spectator. This drama is all fairly well acted: Michael Fassbender is always great, Jennifer Lawrence is expressive and intense under her blue suit, Hugh Jackman is still perfect at becoming the character Wolverine, and James McAvoy is fine, with a single great scene in which he communicates with Patrick Stewart, the future Charles Xavier. McAvoy’s performance definitely isn’t bad, but it is comparatively less good than the Oscar nominees that he is surrounded by, and I think it was a mistake to place most of the dramatic acting on his shoulders.
Dull drama could be excused if the action was great, which it is for most of the film. Right from the start Bryan Singer throws the audience into a dystopian future where mutants might work together to fight off Sentinels for everyday survival. Some of your favorite characters from the original trilogy, along with some new ones, get to use and combine their abilities and work together as a team, the big ensemble point that this franchise often tries to achieve but sometimes struggles with. There is no struggle here. Blink throws her portals around for Iceman to use to aim some difficult shots, while Shadowcat runs through walls with Bishop so that he can go back in time to warn their past selves. It’s everything that a fan could possibly want to see. There’s also the Quicksilver sequence, made famous because it is awesome. It’s the highlight of the film and singlehandedly gave this movie a Best Visual Effects nomination at the Oscars, the first time an X-Men movie has ever been nominated by the Academy. Unfortunately, once again the movie runs out of steam before the final act battles, which mostly repeat fights that we’ve already seen before. The future fight is the same as the opening scene but with worse editing and less teamwork, and the past fight is just a variation of Magneto lifting a large structure and skirmishing with Wolverine and Xavier.
Losing Matthew Vaughn from the director’s chair hurts the film’s style. Whether you like “First Class” or not, everybody can acknowledge that it used its 1960’s setting to an intense degree, in many places feeling more like a retro spy romp than a superhero movie. The score and editing, especially in the use of montages, was unlike any superhero film that came before it. Bryan Singer’s 4th take on a superhero movie looks, sounds, and feels exactly like his others. He lacks a definitive style. As fine of a storyteller as he is, Singer has no directing skills that make his work stand out. His movies are as safe and technically bland as the homogeneous Marvel movies, which regularly receive criticism for their lack of craft or style but are usually on par with “Days of Future Past”.
“X-Men: Days of Future Past” is interesting in the sense that I consider it well made, but cannot truly enjoy it. That is not too rare of a distinction, but it is rather rare for a summer action movie. I would like to congratulate Singer and his crew for creating a superhero movie that in some ways transcends its genre, but in the opinion of this one man the movie strays too far away from “fun” territory in its second half, and doesn’t have the artistic skill to make up for it. It is definitely worth watching at a cheap price, but it lacks fun and rewatch ability compared to the best that the X-Men movies have to offer.