- X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) movie review: Featuring elements from The Terminator and 12 Monkeys, among other “dystopian future prevention” thrillers, director Bryan Singer and screenwriter Simon Kinberg’s X-Men entry is a superhero film for adults.
- X-Men: Days of Future Past was nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Visual Effects category.
X-Men: Days of Future Past movie review: Latest installment in the X-Men franchise offers what most other superhero movies lack
With yet another spring and summer movie season overstuffed with superhero extravaganzas, 20th Century Fox’s X-Men series, which debuted in 2000 and spans more than half a dozen films, now feels like the granddaddy of the genre.
It certainly felt ready for retirement at the conclusion of Brett Ratner’s X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), a sequel so over-amped and underfed that it mothballed the series, allowing 2008’s first Iron Man movie to usher in the era of Marvel-produced spandex spectaculars.
Nowadays though, franchises don’t die; they’re rebooted with a nine-figure budget and an eye towards an exploding Chinese moviegoing market that was hardly a consideration during the high times of DVD. That’s why Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class (2011) was such a pleasant surprise. It was a retro-cool and whip-smart infusion of new energy into a tired series.
And unlike Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man, released 13 months later, the ’60s set X-Men: First Class was fresh and exciting. Its success, of course, required the creation of another X-Men saga. So three years and $200 million later, here we are, hoping X-Men: Days of Future Past continues the series’ upward trajectory.
Bryan Singer returns
The sequel sees the return of Bryan Singer, who directed the first X-Men 14 years ago and established the franchise’s mix of mutant/human dialectics and fanboy action.
Singer has been in a slump lately (Jack the Giant Slayer, anyone?) and could use a hit. X-Men: Days of Future Past is definitely it – and more. The movie is a rollicking, if sometimes convoluted, good time, featuring a high-toned cast and a seriousness of purpose that sets it apart from the candy-colored Marvel-produced films and Sony’s underwhelming Amazing Spider-Man series.
Like the best of the X-Men films, X-Men: Days of Future Past never backs away from what it’s really about: Outsiders struggling to navigate a world that doesn’t understand them and won’t accept them, a theme that resonates strongly with the teens and young adults who comprise a healthy percentage of comic book readers.
The action in Simon Kinberg’s dense, twisty screenplay – from a screen story by Kinberg, Jane Goldman, and Matthew Vaughn – is always a result of character, no small feat considering the film takes place in two time periods and features what amounts to two different casts.
In the bombed-out, dystopian future, Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart), his former nemesis Magneto (Ian McKellen), and a group of other mutants hide in a Chinese monastery from an army of vicious robots – called Sentinels – who’ve wiped out most of the mutant population and reduced the world to rubble.
Humankind’s only hope involves the “just shut up and go with it” use of time travel, here employed in a manner (highly) reminiscent of James Cameron’s The Terminator. The plan is for Kitty Pride (Ellen Page) to transport the consciousness of Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back to 1973 to stop the assassination of Sentinel creator Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage).
In a less polished story, the plan would be to assassinate Trask; in X-Men: Days of Future Past, the plan is to prevent his assassination, since his murder hardened anti-mutant sentiment and led to government approval of the Sentinel program.
It’s no coincidence Wolverine is deemed the only mutant who can survive the temporal time trip. He’s nearly indestructible and he’s the series’ most popular character, having been gifted a pair of mildly entertaining spin-offs.
As before, Hugh Jackman completely owns Wolverine’s gruff cynicism, but this time he’s less of an ass-kicker and more of a mediator. His task, assuming he survives ’70s-era horrors like waterbeds and lava lamps, is to convince young Xavier (James McAvoy) and future-Magneto Eric Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) to put aside their differences and find the blue-skinned Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), the key figure in Trask’s murder.
In doing so, we’re reminded that the X-Men movies carry the weight of human interaction and consequence more than any other superhero series – a low bar to be sure, but still an accomplishment.
Quicksilver to the rescue
Everyone is on the defensive in X-Men: Days of Future Past, either emotionally or physically, none more than Xavier. Wolverine finds him a disheveled, drunken wreck, living in the ruins of his beloved School for Gifted Youngsters and estranged from lifelong friend Mystique. Even his powers are severely curtailed, a side effect of the serum that allows him use of his crippled legs.
Watching the reawakened Xavier, with his ever-hopeful humanism, rhetorically duke it out against a kill-or-be-killed revolutionary like Magneto is one of the movie’s chief pleasures. But first, these two frenemies must be reunited, which requires breaking Lehnsherr out of a prison deep below the Pentagon, where he’s been stashed away for his role in – wait for it – the Kennedy assassination.
Springing him from the pokey are Wolverine, Xavier, Beast (Nicholas Hoult), and a new character, Quicksilver (Evan Peters). Quicksilver has two powers: He can run at supersonic speeds and he can steal every scene he’s in, culminating in a cheeky and altogether fabulous slow-motion sequence where he dashes around the Pentagon kitchen redirecting bullets and fists away from the escaping X-Men.
Treating audiences like adults
It’s refreshing to watch a superhero movie that treats the audience like adults, and that’s not just a reference to the profanity.
X-Men: Days of Future Past weaves historical events into its story without feeling cheap, pretentious, or disrespectful. Trask’s assassination is meant to happen at the Paris Peace talks that ended the Vietnam War, which is where Xavier, Magneto, and Mystique come together for the first time.
Disguising herself as a Vietnamese general, she is hellbent on carrying out her role in the event that will result in Earth’s nightmare future. Yet, while Mystique is crucial to the story, she actually doesn’t have much to do except fight, leaving Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook, 2012) a more muted presence this time out.
Otherwise, the performances in X-Men: Days of Future Past are practically Shakespearean for this type of movie. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender underplay their anger issues, a camp-free strategy that gives the movie a genuine heart. Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, two old pros, lend funereal weight to the end of their lifelong struggles.
On the downside, most of the other mutants are either wasted (Halle Berry’s Storm, Anna Paquin’s Rogue) or just run around fending off Sentinels (including Blink, played by Chinese beauty Fan Bingbing in the now-obligatory nod to the Chinese market).
It’s a busy story with lots of moving parts and editor John Ottman (who doubles as composer) keeps it all together and mostly coherent.
Emotionally satisfying drama
Both Captain America: The Winter Soldier and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 climaxed with enormously scaled super-battles meant to widen the eyes and moisten the lips of fanboys everywhere. X-Men: Days of Future Past does not end this way and it’s a better movie for it.
Most superhero films consider emotional authenticity an inconvenience when there’s still a couple buildings in the immediate area that haven’t been leveled to the ground. As far as it goes, X-Men: Days of Future Past satisfies in ways those other films don’t, reminding us what’s been missing in the modern era of superhero moviemaking.
X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
Director: Bryan Singer.
Screenplay: Simon Kinberg.
From a screen story by Kinberg, Jane Goldman, and Matthew Vaughn.
Cast: Hugh Jackman. James McAvoy. Michael Fassbender. Jennifer Lawrence. Nicholas Hoult. Halle Berry. Anna Paquin. Ellen Page. Evan Peters. Shawn Ashmore. Fan Bingbing. Ian McKellen. Patrick Stewart. Peter Dinklage. Daniel Cudmore. Josh Helman. Adan Canto. Booboo Stewart. James Marsden. Lucas Till. Evan Jonigkeit. Famke Janssen. Omar Sy. Mike Dopud. Gregg Lowe. Michael Lerner.
Cameos: Bryan Singer. Kelsey Grammer.
“X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) Movie Review” endnotes
X-Men: Days of Future Past box office information via boxofficemojo.com.
Hugh Jackman and Michael Fassbender X-Men: Days of Future Past movie images: 20th Century Fox.
“X-Men: Days of Future Past Movie (2014) Review” last updated in January 2022.