I don’t mean that in the sense of it having decent odds (although they were definitely stacked in its favour), I mean imagine how utterly tragic it would have been if Days of Future Past had turned out to be a complete failure? The return of Bryan Singer (the director who first brought the franchise to screen), the merging of past and present casts, the willingness to completely undo the damage done by X-Men 3 and X-Men Origins: Wolverine and the mind-shatteringly awesome post-credits tease, imagine if all that effort had resulted in nothing more than an awkward death knell to a once laudable series of films. Thankfully we don’t even need to imagine it, because the film is probably the best entry to the franchise since X2 and accordingly, it has given the X-Men the revival that it was clamoring for.
This is one of those films that you’re enjoying even before it actually starts, with the 20th Century Fox fanfare briefly deviating into that memorable overture theme from the first movie whilst the fading logo lingers on the ‘x’ in Fox. From there an explosive opening sequence introduces us to a bleak future which has been ripped apart by a war between humans and mutants, with the remnants of the X-Men desperately fleeing the sentinels, mutant-hunting robots represented here as something akin to the bastard children of Gort and the T-1000. Professor X (Patrick Stewart, joyous to see back in the role) plans to use newfound time travelling means to return to the 1970s and undo the events that lead to the implementation of the sentinels and as it turns out Wolverine is the only one capable of making the trip without having his mind ripped in half, given that in this version of things, the consciousness is the only thing that goes back, the body stays put.
From there we’re taken back to the antiquated vision of Cold War America first established in 2011’s excellent X-Men: First Class, complete with all the players first drafted in that film. Wolverine (having awoken in a stranger’s bed with something far more displacing than a nasty comedown) first finds Xavier, who has more-or-less adopted the ‘washed-up rock star’ persona, milling about in a dressing gown with long, frowzy hair and a dependency on a DNA-altering serum that denies him his powers and grants him his legs, which kind of serves as a dead ringer for heroin (this might be the first 12A film ever to find a way to get away with a ‘shooting up’ sequence, never mind all the swearing). Xavier is understandably skeptical about Wolverine’s claims but after a certain amount of cajoling and the support of Nicholas Hoult’s Beast, he reluctantly agrees to go along with it all, which is pretty commendable considering their first task: recruit Magneto. Whilst in the future Xavier and Magneto are allies again, in this version of things their last encounter left Xavier minus two working legs and one blue adopted sister, who herself is very much pivotal to what follows.
Despite the inherent complexity of framing a 2-hour film around alternative timelines, the plot never loses sight of what’s significant and the emotional weight never subsides since the script wisely recognizes that the relationship between Xavier and Magneto is by far the most poignant aspect of the story. Beyond that though we’re also given some of the best action and dry humor to appear in any X-Men film, particularly in a magnificent sequence involving Quicksilver, the hyper-fast kleptomaniac mutant perfectly realized for screen by Evan Peters (and how much do you think the Kick-Ass 2 team are kicking their own asses for leaving him out of the sequel now). Peter Dinklage also does an excellent job playing Bolivar Trask, the inventor of the sentinels, more of a deluded realist than a straight-up villain. However, as interesting as all the espionage and turmoil that happens in the past is (framed expertly through super-8 home video footage, historical cues and lots of Nixon fun), it’d have been nice to spend more quality time in the future with the veteran cast. Several other well-known mutants from the franchise are also involved in these sequences like the portal-hurling Blink and energy absorbing Bishop and although they get plenty of time to fight the sentinels, characterization falls by the wayside.
As disappointing as that is, it’s unlikely that this is the last we’ll see of any of them. The 70s timeline is brought to a close by a remarkable finale in Washington (which has Magneto flexing his muscles in new and terrifying ways) and now the table is set for an iteration of the franchise that makes the best of both worlds to take on a new life under the care of Singer and all the other familiar faces. Beyond just being a highly enjoyable sci-fi action piece, this film hits the reset button and undoes the failures of X-Men 3; it clears the water again, which is a very exciting prospect. It’s always nice seeing risks like this pay off and Days of Future Past pays like a broken slot-machine, reminding us just how much potential for quality storytelling there is in X-Men. This is the best Marvel film to come out thus far this year, far more interesting than the ‘safe-bet’ paint-by-numbers tedium of the Thor, Iron Man and Captain America sequels and leagues ahead of the shitshow that was brutally inflicted on an undeserving Spider-Man. Well worth your time. One final word, if you’re any kind of fan you’ll want to stay until the end of the credits, your patience will be rewarded and then some (or I could be playing a horrible trick, you’ll just have to judge for yourselves).
Check out the trailer below, featuring optimum levels of Dinklage.
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