Movie Review: X-Men Days of Future Past
Perhaps the only major downside to “X-Men: Days of Future Past” is that it may have caused the summer movie season to peak just as it was getting started. A rarity in blockbusters today, this film is as much about exploring the psychology of its central characters as it is about jaw-dropping spectacle. The result is the most fun that I’ve had with a superhero movie since 2012’s “Avengers.”
Directed by series veteran Bryan Singer, “Days of Future Past” is based on the Marvel comic book storyline of the same name. In a last-ditch attempt to prevent a future in which humans and mutants alike are hunted by unstoppable robots called Sentinels, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is sent back in time to rewrite history.
The film appropriately cuts right to the chase, as the opening shot is of a dystopian New York City reminiscent of “Terminator.” Coupled with Patrick Stewart’s solemn narration, this scene sets the tone without showing 15 minutes of unnecessary back-story. And though it clocks in at just over two hours, “Days” manages to feel relatively compact.
That’s a good thing, too, considering the number of personalities that are in this movie. Unlike, say, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” which suffered from too many sub-plots and a lack of focus, “X-Men” centers almost the entire ensemble on one plotline. Sure, individual characters have their own demons to overcome, but each of those arcs is given the proper amount of screen time. Better yet, it all ties back to the central plot of preventing this horrific future.
Speaking of the characters, the cast shines across the board. Hugh Jackman, coming on 14 years of playing the character, feels right at home as Wolverine. Both James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender humanize the younger versions of Patrick Stewart’s sagely Professor X and Ian McKellen’s then-supervillain Magneto, respectively. Even for audience members who haven’t seen any of the previous films, there is a definite sense of history between these two.
The standout, though, is Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique, who is simultaneously more strong-willed and indecisive than before. Yeah, without spoiling anything, there’s a lot going on with her.
There’s a prevailing theme of hope throughout this movie, which, given the subject matter, is no surprise. The surviving X-Men in the present time are crossing their fingers for Wolverine, as his trip back in time is their last shot at keeping Earth from becoming a desolate wasteland. Even their younger counterparts find themselves at the lowest point in their lives, with one of the main struggles being Wolverine trying to deflate much of that cynicism.
Having said that, this is still a tent-pole summer movie with more than its fair share of large-scale set-pieces. Many of them feel grand, yet restrained, and I mean that in the best possible way. So many of these blockbusters suffer from sensory overload – overbearing music and frantic camera movements that attempt to mask how poor the action really is come to mind immediately. “Days of Future Past” pulls back and allows the audience to see what’s happening.
Parents, however, should keep in mind that this is a movie that earns its PG-13 rating. Although most of the violence is of the typical, grand-scale destruction variety, there are a few instances of characters being visibly shot or stabbed. Partial nudity is also something to be aware of, and though the movie isn’t particularly vulgar, one character does drop the F-bomb.
None of the action comes across as gratuitous, thankfully, as this series has often been about its heroes creating change without resorting to extreme violence. You know, unless the enemies are giant robots.
OK, I’m going to sound like a total salesman here, but “X-Men: Days of Future Past” is a prime example of what a summer blockbuster should be. Like last month’s “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” this remains a character-driven story among all of the visual effects. And though the rating system for these types of movies can sometimes feel arbitrary, this is definitely a film that warrants the PG-13 label.