Page to Screen: X-Men — Days of Future Past (2014)

X-Men: Days of Future Past
based on “Days of Future Past” by Chris Claremont and John Byrne

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x-mendaysoffuturepast

While I’m always excited for summer movie season, X-Men: Days of Future Past grabbed my imagination because I couldn’t quite believe it was happening. Every new detail released about the film promised simply too much to fit into one summer blockbuster: a cast of thousands, from both sides of the reboot! Sentinels! Time travel! I had no idea how all of this could even fit into a single film—and, unfortunately, neither did the film.

X-Men: Days of Future Past is both a sequel to the reviled X-Men: The Last Stand and the positively received X-Men: First Class, using Chris Claremont’s iconic “Days of Future Past” arc as an opportunity to both tell an iconic X-Men story and fix the continuity snarls that happen when you try to soft reboot a franchise. (The fact that one such continuity snarl is The Last Stand itself is just icing on the cake.) Balancing both sides of the film franchise is a tall order, because they’re quite different films. Revisiting the original X-Men trilogy takes us back to the first superhero film boom of the early aughts, when there wasn’t much competition, while X-Men: First Class made its mark in the second superhero film boom of the late aughts with its focus on interpersonal relationships, personal politics, and willful datedness. (The thing separating the booms, of course, is the release of Iron Man and the beginning of Marvel Studios’ thousand year campaign upon this earth.)

Only the first half of X-Men: Days of Future Past manages this trick. The film’s frenetic opening in the dystopian future is engaging and efficient, introducing the struggle and its main players by letting them do their things. It feels a little like X-2, right down to the hilariously aughts title sequence. Once Wolverine (taking the Kitty Pryde role from the original comic) is sent back to the past to stop Mystique from assassinating the creator of the Sentinels, First Class’ style kicks in, reminding us that its the seventies at every turn and having Charles and Erik angrily hash out their feelings on an airplane. From there, the film goes on swimmingly—until it lands in Paris, where Mystique’s assassination takes place.

That’s the point in the film where the need to reset the original X-Men trilogy and resolve it overtakes the careful character work we’ve come to expect from First Class. Erik, whose rise to villainy was so carefully and complexly plotted in that film, suddenly becomes an erratic, walking plot device instead of a character unto himself. As someone who adored X-Men: First Class, I was gutted by this, after the promise of the first half of the film. As the film progresses, it becomes clear that this is a fix-it epilogue for the original trilogy, instead of an actual sequel to both films. While the ending got some nostalgia tears from me, it’s extraordinarily telling that none of the new mutants introduced at the beginning of the film make an appearance in said ending. Your enjoyment of the film is going to be based on how much affection you hold for the original X-Men trilogy; if you prefer X-Men: First Class, you’ll need to wait until Age of Apocalypse for a true sequel.

That said, the first half of Days of Future Past has a lot of great moments. The contested mutant Quicksilver (appearing both in this film and Avengers: Age of Ultron) makes a brief but unforgettable appearance, adding his unique energy to the tension-filled quartet of Logan, Hank, Erik, and Charles, and performing the film’s most gorgeous action set piece to “Time in a Bottle.” I had hopes that he would be a glorious little teenage dirtbag. They were absolutely fulfilled, from his kleptomania to his spray-painted hair to his one kind gesture. He doesn’t stay in the film—he’s too overpowered for the film to remain as is and, I like to think, uninterested in the rest of the mission—but his impact reverberates. Evan Peters’ acting is great, landing in the overlap between teenager and speedster.

And Mystique finally gets to be on her own. Just as Erik hunted Nazis in X-Men: First Class, Mystique rescues mutants. The idea of Mystique representing a middle ground between Erik and Charles’ ideologies is brought up, but never developed; frustratingly, Charles and Erik often talk about her as someone to win over to their side. (This makes complete sense, since they will never convince each other that the other is right, but it also means that Mystique is literally a battleground for their personal issues. She deserves better.) But Jennifer Lawrence remains a fabulous and grounded Mystique, playing her as someone trying to negotiate her relationship with humanity. While Days of Future Past doesn’t go into personal politics, Lawrence’s grim “What, you don’t think I’m pretty like this?” as she reveals her true form to a mark speaks volumes. As does the evolution of Mystique’s acrobatic, slightly inhuman fighting style seen in the original trilogy. While the ultimate choice that fixes the timeline is Mystique’s, I do wish that she’d come up with a different solution on her own. But there’s enough wonderful material here to make the argument for a standalone Mystique film. (Hey, maybe she’ll even meet her girlfriend!)

As for Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart—well, how can one improve on perfection?

Bottom line: X-Men: Days of Future Past tries to balance both sides of the X-Men film franchise, but, halfway through the film, gives up and delivers a fix-it epilogue for the original trilogy. Still, Mystique remains wonderful and Quicksilver’s appearance is an absolute joy. If you’d like.

I saw this film in theaters.

7 thoughts on “Page to Screen: X-Men — Days of Future Past (2014)

  1. Well, good to know what to expect! I would LOVE a Mystique film, though I doubt it’s going to happen — how fun would it be to watch Jennifer Lawrence kicking ass and taking names for two hours? (Very very fun for me.) For this film, I’m just sad that they didn’t let Kitty Pryde keep the story. It’s not that I don’t love Hugh Jackman, because I do, but it sucks to take a female-led story and give it to another dude.:/

    • You never know—it might. Marvel Studios has been making noise about a Captain Marvel or Black Widow solo film, so the timing is right. Fox, who will never, ever let the X-Men rights walk away from them, might want to upstage both Marvel Studios and Sony, who is hilariously attempting to build a comparable universe out of Spiderman. Mystique has been a mainstay of superheroes on film for over a decade and JLaw’s star has risen, so you never know.

      (And DC will never get their act together, so nobody cares what they do.)

      I understand why they didn’t—Kitty isn’t that big a part of the films—but I think it speaks to the original trilogy relying on Wolverine so heavily to the point that other members of the ensemble weren’t fleshed out that much. Which is a problem in and of itself.

  2. I had no idea until after I saw the film that it was supposed to be Kitty going back in time. Like Jenny, although I love Jackman as Wolverine, it is such a shame that it wasn’t Ellen Page doing her thing (because she’s awesome, and so is Kitty). I did like Quicksilver very much, and although I did not like how Erik’s motivations kept changing in 1970s segments, I did like that he actually got stuff done.

    • I think I’m really worn out on Wolverine as a protagonist, although Jackman plays him very well, so I would have loved to see Page do her thing. I know it’s because she was part of the ensemble cast of the third film, but I think that speaks to the original trilogy relying on Wolverine so hard that few other characters got a chance to shine.

      Erik got possessed by the plot, poor ducky.

  3. I feel the same as you guys, I think we had enough Wolverine to last a centuary. X-men:The Last Stand was mostly about him. And then, there was two movies about him. I wish another character would have into the past instead of him. I expected so much from Magneto in this sequel, he’s my favorite character (and I’m in love with Michael Fassbender). I’m kind of disappointed that his character isn’t as developped as in First Class. But that’s alright, I still loved Days of the Future Past.

  4. Pingback: Page to Screen: X-Men — Apocalypse (2016) | The Literary Omnivore

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