There are plenty of great performances in X-Men: Days of Future Past, but it doesn’t do much to conceal the fact that the film itself doesn’t have much to say. It instead focuses on telling a story and doing it well, and in that regard, it succeeds. But the story it tells with its fun cameos and elaborate setpieces fail to go beyond the realm of spectacle and occasional nonsense.
Days of Future Past is based on a storyline of the comics that has Kitty Pryde going back in time to prevent a dystopian future where mutants are hunted and fighting a losing battle for survival. But replace phasing herself into the past with Kitty throwing the malleable mind of Wolverine into the 1960s and you have this Bryan Singer adaptation-turned-prequel/sequel.
In this setup, it is perhaps the most comicbookish movie ever made. It is rife with inscrutable logic, which isn’t necessarily a knock against the illustrative medium but instead a note of the story’s transition from page to screen. It fails to explain the gap of how the major death at the end of X-Men: The Last Stand is casually patched or how Kitty’s phasing powers can transport a mind (and only the mind, not the body, which can then exact repercussions on the universal timeline) days or years into the past. Things just are, which is fine for any singular story, but a failure when it comes to franchises.
Through this, we then eventually land on the only tangible conclusion—even far before the actual end of the film—that whatever happens, nothing quite seems substantial enough for fans of this cinematic, ostensibly cohesive universe. Success in the time-traveling escapades will result in the negation of all we’ve held dear through out the seven X-Men films (or not so dear in some cases), while failure will result in an outcome far too depressing for mainstream audiences.
This yields a tepid response as events unfold. Initial momentum is held high as we finally see familiar faces with new ones, teaming up against seemingly insurmountable foes in a future we can’t ever fully understand. But once we’re back in the 60s, we trod along a predictable path, most because our goal is laid out at our feet before we even embark on the journey.
There are moments, though, where intrigue rises to the top and new questions are asked while old ones like the outcast metaphor is wholly discarded. A few aren’t terribly original (is the future set in stone, etc.), but seeing James McAvoy’s past Charles Xavier talk with Patrick Stewart’s future Professor X brings to light a more subtle side of the destiny through the question of personal discovery. Granted, the device through which they speak is ultra nonsense, but good god is it riveting.
Truth be told, much of what makes Days of Future Past worth watching is its performances. Through a mashup of the old franchise and the new, we are treated to a smorgasbord of phenomenal actors. I could sit and watch McAvoy and Michael Fassbender’s Magneto go at it all day, each one maintaining at least some semblance of the youthful vigor and sleek energy present in Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class. And who doesn’t love the masterful and pitch perfect embodiments of Stewart and Ian McKellen as Xavier and Magneto?
Of course having Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique is a continued treat. Her menace is always surprising in retrospect, considering how bubbly she is in press junkets and as she charmingly stumbles across red carpets, but in the moment, it is unforgettable. And while Peter Dinklage does well with what he is given as the instigating antagonist Bolivar Trask, the character itself is decidedly less compelling.
The big surprise, however, is Evan Peters as Quicksilver, one of the original speedsters. Not only does Peters pull off the casual annoyance of a man moving incomprehensibly faster than anything in the world has ever moved rather well, but the situations the character is placed in are both funny, endearing, and visually exciting. His Pentagon excursion is perfectly loaded with humor and action.
That balance is further extended to the general construction of the film. While the overarching narrative and implications are somewhat roughly hewn, Singer and screenwriter Simon Kinberg deftly hold together the vessel as it pounds through potentially indecipherable and dangerous lattice of temporal mines. The foundation of how things work may not be there, but the pathos and ethos are impressively clear.
The same can be mostly said of the action sequences, especially in the opening moments where several new characters and powers are introduced amidst the tease of the import of Bishop and Kitty’s retreat. Especially considering that one of them includes Portal-like teleporting, the intuitive layout of the visual action is well appreciated. The consistency falters a bit in the latter moments of future conflict where 3D, computer-generated bombast unfortunately sits higher than physical grip.
Days of Future Past ends up feeling a lot more inconsequential than it probably should. Its actors exude confidence and gravitas at a whim, but they are doing nothing more than telling a story of the sake of the story, not for the sake of saying anything particularly interesting. There’s nothing wrong with that, especially given how cool the story is that it’s telling, but it is disappointing considering where Singer had left off with the X-Men in 2003. X-Men: Days of Future Past is definitely worth watching, but perhaps not remembering.
+ Fantastic performances all around
+ Quicksilver is pretty damn cool
+ Wrangles time traveling impetus (and potential confusion) expertly and adeptly
– Fails to mine the material for intrigue or substance
– Consequences yield uninteresting outcomes
Final Score: 7 out of 10