The first X-Men film came out fourteen years ago in the year 2000. While the series has progressed, comic book fans have seen the rise of Marvel Studios and their Avengers universe, two Spider-Man film series, two reboots of Superman, and the near perfect Batman trilogy by Christopher Nolan. Through it all the X-Men, far from the most iconic or popular brand in the medium, have built a bona fide franchise through good (X2, First Class) and not-so-good (X3, Wolverine Origins) entries alike. Over the course of six films in a dozen years the X-Men brand has at least found a footing in consistency that few series are ever afforded.
The new film, Days of Future Past, is somewhat akin to a TV series finale. Nearly every significant character returns for this climactic, no holds barred extravaganza that builds a bridge between the two time periods established in the previous films. Hugh Jackman returns as Wolverine (for the seventh time!), Halle Berry appears as Storm, and Xavier and Magneto are represented by both their younger and elder stars – Patrick Stewart and James McAvoy trade Professor Xavier and Ian Mckellen and Michael Fassbender share Magneto. Director Bryan Singer is even back on board after having sat out the last couple of sequels.
There is a lot going on in Days of Future Past which is one of the drawing points of the movie but also, as it turns out, one of its detriments. The film at times takes for granted that the viewers have seen all the other installments are familiar with these characters. That may not be a bad bet considering the blockbuster success of the series and the prolific pacing of the entries but it nonetheless makes the film feel insular and like an installment rather than an individually powerful outing. If you haven’t seen the other X-Men films, or just don’t remember them very well, some homework may be in order to fully appreciate Days of Future Past.
This effect is most severe in the opening ten or fifteen minutes, which, for the casual audience, might threaten to derail movie as soon as it starts. In the opening scene the effects laden action is laid on heavy and the story is already in motion with a cast of some of the more obscure mutant heroes. Introducing a story in conflict is a powerful technique when utilized carefully but the exposition of Days of Future Past might leave some viewers scrambling to catch up and feeling awkwardly detached to the initial set-up. It is only when the time travel element is introduced, and the casts begin to merge, that the film finds its footing.
The central draw of Days of Future Past – the dual casts and merging storylines – works wonderfully. James McAvoy arguably steals the show and his chemistry with Patrick Wilson is powerful and convincing, which is never an easy feat where time travel is concerned. The story is epic in scale, touching on major historical moments including the Vietnam War, Kennedy assassination, and Nixon presidency. The action is suitably grand with the near limitless power of mutants allowing for an extensive array of stylish mayhem and destruction. Days of Future Past is more than just another action packed, CG blockbuster but it elevates that element as well as any other movie this year.
Maintaining interest in a storyline for fourteen years isn’t easy. While movie history evidences that on its seventh film the X-Men brand should be running out of steam, Days of Future Past defies the odds and is quite possibly the best film in the series to date. Instead of retreading ground or giving way to some goofy degradation, this sixth sequel simultaneously preserves the long standing franchise while pushing it forward. Though not without flaws, Days of Future Past is a rare accomplishment and a homerun for comic book fans.
Posted by Terry Pierson, Library Clerk