Review by Jim Reed
When done well, there’s not a whole lot better than a good time travel movie. And when done well, there’s not a whole lot more entertaining than a good superhero movie. This, of course, is what X-Men: Days of Future Past aims to be: a dystopian future saved by the heroics of changed characters in the 1970s.
The film opens to a bleak future, where hulking, transforming robots, named ‘Sentinels’, are unleashed to find and destroy anyone with the Mutant X gene. It is a time of unrepentant, merciless discrimination. Quickly we are told of a plan to send the Wolverine’s (Hugh Jackman) subconscious mind back to the early ‘70s, where must bring together Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik/Magneto (Michael Fassbender) at a time when they couldn’t be further apart, in order to stop Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from killing Dr. Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage of Game of Thrones fame, in a tragically underdeveloped role for his immense skillset), an assassination that is seen as the major turning point in the human fight against mutants.
What I originally saw as one of the film’s great strengths, I am now seeing as a bit of a weakness: the pace. The film moves along at such a brisk pace that you don’t really have time to think about any of the details. For instance, didn’t Professor X die in the last movie? I could be wrong, I’m not into fact checking, but if so this movie never really explains how he is still alive! Moreover, the film’s entire situation is explained in the first ten minutes, including how the Wolverine is supposed to stop the assassination, so all intrigue of watching this character figure out how to achieve his desired end goal is gone. The question is whether or not he can perform the specific task, which means there is not a whole lot of tension or discovery in the first part of the story. But a lot happened, so it remained interesting.
The second half of the film ups the tension considerably. Much of the second half is told in juxtaposition, as the Sentinels close in on the mutants in the future timeline, while the Wolverine’s plans fall apart in the past timeline. It was a bit like a poor man’s Inception (Christopher Nolan, 2010), the ultimate in juxtaposition filmmaking in recent years. However, unlike Inception, with this film there wasn’t really much doubt as to whether things would turn out for the characters. You could pretty well guess the outcome here, and it wasn’t terribly difficult to guess, either. Why?
Here’s the deal, this one movie basically reboots both X-Men franchises. They can continue on with the younger group, and now they have a fresh slate with the older crowd. And if you know anything about how movie studios like to operate, it’s easy to see that they often want to make more money by essentially doing the same things they’ve been doing. That’s why there’s another Jurassic Park movie coming out, and a new Star Wars trilogy, and why they’re rebooting Batman after only a few years, etc., etc., etc.
The pacing of the film was fast and deliberate because it needed to be; the story needed to resolve neatly. This, of course, means that they do not have time for moral, or social justice issues that would make a film like this extremely interesting. Sure, they allude to human rights issues, but they don’t have time to give it a full treatment. I haven’t read any of the X-Men comics—in fact I’ve never read any comics—but these movies always seemed interesting to me as a sort of cross between comic book superhero film, and social equality activism, like a mix between The Avengers (Joss Whedon, 2012) and Milk (Gus Van Sant, 2008). This film is certainly that, but it doesn’t carry the moral or social endurance throughout the film. Thus, the significant moral point of the film, “showing a better way than hate and violence,” is undercut by lack of attention, and lack of corresponding action (except one pivotal point, which couldn’t possibly undue everything that had come before, and believe me, there’s some ridiculous stuff that happens).
So, with all of that said, I certainly recommend the film for anyone looking to be engrossed in a fast-paced actioner for a little over 2 hours. It is definitely an entertaining watch. However, it does not carry the moral force I think it would like to, and undercuts much of its tension in the opening minutes of the film. In all it’s one of my favorite films in the X-Men series, but perhaps fails to achieve the greater heights it has the potential to reach.
Directed by Bryan Singer.