Loosely based on the Chris Claremont comic arc of the same name, X-Men: Days of Future Past opens in a dark dystopian future, where a war with robotic sentinels has left the mutant population devastated and helpless to fight back. On the run and fighting for their survival, the remaining mutants of the world have only one plan left: Send one of their own back in time, in hopes of stopping this bleak future from ever happening.
It’s an almost ironic plot, considering how truly horrible some of the X-Men entries have been. Those who were hoping this outing would act as reboot for the dying franchise can rest easy; X-Men: Days of Future Past is not only the hands-down best film in the series, it may very well be the best comic book adaptation of all time.
The time-travel angle may seem unoriginal on its face, but the story is so flawlessly executed that my suspension of disbelief never faltered. The plot avoids any convoluted guy-from-future-alters-past-in-unwanted-way tanglings, and wisely sticks to the basics. Wolverine’s (Hugh Jackman) consciousness is sent back in time to his younger body. Once there, he hopes to re-unite a feuding Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), and stop Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from assassinating a man named Dr. Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage).
Dr. Trask is the creator of the mechanized sentinels, and his death inspires the government to take action against the perceived mutant threat. More than that, Mystique, who has the power to transform into anyone, is captured shortly after killing Trask. Her mutant powers are weaponized, granting future sentinels the ability to adapt to mutant attacks and kill more efficiently. As you may have guessed, stopping this assassination and keeping Mystique’s DNA out of the hands of Trask’s evil corporation doesn’t go smoothly. Mystique doesn’t want to comply, and it’s hard to blame her.
Once we learn about the horrors Trask commits and see for ourselves the genocide his sentinels will unleash, it becomes easy to understand why Mystique would want the man dead. Needless to say, the film raises a lot of complex moral questions, and blurs the line between hero and villain into something that’s almost a matter of perspective. Magneto and Mystique’s ends-justifies-the-means philosophy and violent approach to achieving mutant freedom seems more warranted than ever, considering the disturbing future that awaits all of mutantkind.
It’s these sort of thought experiments, combined with the complex relationship between Charles Xavier and Erik Lenscher (Magneto), that makes the characters in X-Men deeper and far more interesting than any of those seen in the Disney-owned Marvel universe. We actually get to examine the X-Men; their individual motivations and rich history are laid out for us to see, and the audience has the opportunity to really know who each of them are.
To put it another way, Days of Future Past is incredibly smart. Mixing in themes about the growing military-industrial complex, and playing into the fear many of us have about an oppressive dystopian future, this movie is timely, and the questions it raises are poignant and thought-provoking.
Days of Future Past avoids the Marvel superhero movie formula entirely, shying away from an artificial good vs. evil dichotomy, and forgoing a finale that features costumed face punching. Hopefully it sends comic book adaptations in a welcome new direction – the characters and the drama take center stage here, not the special effects.
That being said, the special effects are awesome; they’re a welcome supplement that manage not to dominate the movie, instead serving to bring the mutant powers to life. Some of the most amazing action sequences I have ever seen are right here, which is interesting because most of the film is quiet and focused on character interaction. Director Bryan Singer has created a wonderful balance, and once again shows how CGI can be used to push the cinema arts forward. He takes care in assuring that the eye candy doesn’t trump the script, which is a rare feat these days.
As I watched the X-Men I love become victims of the relentless sentinels, I felt very real anger and sadness. This is a suspenseful movie, one that evokes genuine emotion not found in other superhero epics. The choice of Mystique, not a fistfight, determines how the future unfolds. And considering how beautifully complex she is, her choice isn’t certain until the film’s final moments. The movie made me feel like a helpless spectator destined to watch the world unravel before my eyes. Absolutely no other Marvel film has ever made me feel that way before.
Days of Future Past is so effective at wrapping you up in its existential drama that it becomes nearly impossible to take time for reflection until it’s all over. That’s the sign of an exceptionally good movie. This latest X-Men flick isn’t only one of the greatest comic book films of all time, it’s one of the greatest films of all time, period. With a brainy script and some truly gorgeous photography, the artistry here is easy to see. If anything I watch in 2014 turns out to be better than this, it’ll be a damn good year for movies.
5/5 Stars[amazon template=iframe image&chan=default&asin=B00FLML7HW]