Sunday, May 25, 2014


The X-Men movie franchise continues to emerge from the creative tailspin it was in a few years ago, after the one-two punch of the loud, brain-dead mess that was 2006’s X-Men 3: The Last Stand and 2009’s soulless, pointless, utterly disposable X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Things started to look brighter when the director of the first two films, Bryan Singer, returned from his ill-fated excursion into the world of Superman to produce and co-write 2011’s highly enjoyable prequel/stealth reboot, X-Men: First Class. And then Hugh Jackman, the only member of the original cast to have appeared in every single one of these films, teamed up with director James Mangold to make last year’s excellent The Wolverine. Which now brings us to X-Men: Days of Future Past, based on the seminal 1981 comic book story by John Byrne and Chris Claremont published in The Uncanny X-Men #’s 141-142. Singer is back in the director’s chair this time, and it is clear that he is one of the very few people in Hollywood who really has a handle on this material.

The plot, which was set up at the very end of The Wolverine, involves the surviving X-Men of the future fighting a hopeless war against the Sentinels, an army of highly advanced mutant-killing robots. With their numbers dwindling and time rapidly running out, the X-Men, led by Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), launch a desperate plan to send one of the team back in time to 1973 to change history. The mission: Prevent the shape-changing mutant known as Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from carrying out an assassination that ultimately leads to the creation of the Sentinels and the extinction of mutantkind.

It is determined that only Wolverine can make the trip back in one piece, and he submits to an unusual procedure in which Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) projects his consciousness back 50 years to inhabit his younger body. (In the comic-book version, it was Kitty herself who made the journey.) Arriving in 1973, eleven years after the events of First Class, Wolverine must convince the young Xavier (James McAvoy), who is wallowing in self-pity and drug dependency, to help him find and stop Mystique. Even more complicated, they need the help of Xavier’s friend-turned-arch-enemy Magneto (Michael Fassbender), who is imprisoned beneath the Pentagon for his involvement in a certain presidential assassination that took place in Dallas. After their bitter split, which left Xavier in a wheelchair, can these two men possibly work together again? Can history really be changed? Can this movie series finally and fully emerge from the shadow cast upon it by X-Men 3 and X-Men Origins: Wolverine? For at least one of these questions, the answer is, “Ehhhhh, could be!”

Seriously, Days of Future Past is a blast. It’s the ultimate X-Men movie, bringing together nearly all of the elements from all of the previous films. The scenes set in the future bring back cast members from the first three movies, including the aforementioned Stewart and Page, Ian McKellen as the older Magneto, Halle Berry as Storm, Shawn Ashmore as Bobby Drake/Iceman, and Daniel Cudmore as Colossus. In addition to First Class returnees Lawrence, McAvoy, and Fassbender, Nicholas Hoult is back as Henry McCoy/the Beast. And of course, at the center of it all—but very much part of an ensemble this time instead of the dominant figure—is Jackman as  Wolverine. (Hugh Jackman, now a star in his own right, truly epitomizes the term “team player.”)

I wasn’t sure such a massive undertaking would work, but it does—quite well. Given the nature of the story, and the fact that the majority of it is set in 1973, not everyone has a big part (poor Anna Paquin, especially!). There’s not a lot of screen time devoted to the X-Men of the future, but despite their limited roles, Stewart, McKellen, and Page make an indelible mark on the film. (I’m now convinced Ellen Page is simply incapable of ever turning in a weak performance.) On the other hand, Halle Berry is pretty flat here—and it doesn’t help that she has an absolute minimum amount of dialogue. Her inclusion seems more a matter of “for old times’ sake” than anything else.

One of the things I loved most about First Class was the character building and the relationships, and I feared that would be lost here, with so many characters involved and so much going on. My fears were quickly dispelled. The chemistry between McAvoy and Fassbender is wonderful, and I very much felt like I was revisiting the characters of First Class, ten years later. Fassbender in particular is an incredibly strong presence, rivaling even Jackman, and it’s a pleasure to watch him. 

Jennifer Lawrence, in a pivotal role, is able to convey so many different emotions and deep internal conflict, even buried under all that blue prosthetic makeup. As the Beast, Hoult does not get as much of a story arc here as he did last time, but he brings a quiet sadness and dignity to the role and successfully conveys a sense of tragedy. His scenes with Jackman are a highlight.

Beyond the series veterans, the absolute standouts here are Evan Peters as mutant Peter Maximoff and Peter Dinklage as Dr. Bolivar Trask. Maximoff, who has the gift of super speed (and is also known as Quicksilver in the comics) is recruited by Wolverine to help break Magneto out of the Pentagon. Trask is the mutant-fearing scientist who develops the Sentinels. 

Evan Peters, who has been so consistently impressive in the TV series American Horror Story, is simply fantastic. He’s funny, energetic, arrogant, and mischievous—absolutely on target. The entire section of the film involving his character is extremely well done, both in terms of performance and direction. The scene at the Pentagon had me smiling from ear to ear and laughing out loud. 

It will be interesting indeed to see how Aaron Taylor-Johnson portrays the same character in next year’s Avengers: Age of Ultron. One thing’s for sure: He’ll have to show a lot more than the one-dimensional stoicism he displayed throughout the new Godzilla to match what Peters accomplishes here.      

I’ve never seen Peter Dinklage be anything less than excellent—he is one of the main reasons for the success of Game of Thrones—and he is very effective as Trask (complete with an early-70s porno mustache). 

I do wish the movie developed his character just a bit more and provided greater context for his motivations. It is notable—and admirable—that throughout the movie, no reference is ever made to the fact that Trask is a little person. It’s simply not an issue. But I can’t help but think that director Singer was subtly aiming for a sense of irony here, in that someone who, as a dwarf, would himself be considered “different” in our society is so determined to eradicate an entire race of people because they are outside the mainstream. Sort of along the same lines as Magneto, a Jewish Holocaust survivor, adopting some of the same tactics as his oppressors for the sake of his own “superior race.”

(Incidentally, who knew that legendary comic-book writers Chris Claremont, who wrote most of Marvel’s X-Men titles for 17 years, and Len Wein, who led the successful revival of the X-Men in 1975 and created Wolverine, were such fine thespians? I sure didn’t! Both appear as U.S. senators early in the film, both have lines of dialogue, and both deliver their lines quite convincingly. Nice work, gentlemen!) 

There are some wonderful surprises, clever in-jokes (“My mom used to know a guy who could do that”), call-backs to previous movies, and, despite all the heavy drama and apocalyptic stakes, a genuine sense of fun. (Zack Snyder, David Goyer, and Warner Bros. would do well to take that last part into account as they move ahead with their super hero movies. But somehow, I doubt they will.) 

Diehard fans of the X-Men movies may find themselves perplexed, frustrated, or even appalled, as this film does play havoc with the continuity set up in the previous films. (To be fair, so did First Class, but this film goes much farther.) It seems there are no sacred cows here—Singer is even willing to mess with, and sacrifice, stuff from the films he directed. Casual fans and newcomers probably won’t mind all this, and some viewers may not even realize the extent of what has been done—I’m sure even I don’t. But there is a story reason for it all, and as far as I’m concerned, the end definitely justifies the means. I know I’m being cryptic here—to do otherwise would be to get deep into spoiler territory.

It is safe to say that Days of Future Past is one of the best X-Men movies ever made. I place it in the top three, alongside X-Men 2: X-Men United and X-Men: First Class. Stay to the very end, after the final credits, as a seed is planted for the next installment. With the series now firmly back on track, and the knowledge that the next film, tentatively titled X-Men: Apocalypse, will take the First Class cast into the 1980s, I am looking forward to spending more time with the movie mutants.

© All text copyright Glenn Greenberg, 2014.


  1. FYI: Len Wein's taken years of improv training and I do believe that Chris Claremont was a theatre major in college. So, you never know.

  2. Thanks for the info, M.C.! As big a fan as I am of Len's work--and I've interviewed him at least once for BACK ISSUE magazine--I'm afraid I didn't know much about his "outside" pursuits. As for Chris--I should have known he was a theater major, considering how theatrical he always is! (I worked with him at Marvel, so I know of what I speak.) :-)

    Thanks for posting!

  3. Again we are on the same wavelength, Glenn; my review hit essentially all the same points and reached the same conclusions. We'll have to talk sometime about some of the liberties taken with characters and how ultimately we felt about them. (In a spoiler-free space.)

  4. I agree with most of your comments and I am glad where this film leaves us, but I thought the jump ahead in time to the 70s sacrificed some stuff. Havok gets a token scene, no mention is made of Moira, most of the other cast don't feature at all.
    Granted First Class was more about Xavier and Magneto but I think losing characters just established was a bit of a waste.
    Otherwise it was great stuff, tonally spot on, Quicksilver was a total triumph!

  5. thinkingcog--

    I missed Moira too, I think Rose Byrne is GREAT. But I was thinking that maybe her absence was a key contributing factor for young Xavier being in the state he's in when we first see him.

  6. I agree with you. This is a great movie.

  7. Singer eventually succumbs to the usual building destroying mayhem, but before he does, he stages two brilliant sequences early on that rank among the best set-pieces in any of these types of films.

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