Cover of Uncanny X-Men #141:
Days of Future Past.
So, what's the deal with the "Days of Future Past" X-Men story, anyway? Sure, it's a great storyline, but other comics also have similarly great storylines. Yet, I can't think of any other comic story that is treated with as much reverence as this particular one. No other comic book story that I can think of has been directly adapted as often as this one. Not "The Night Gwen Stacy Died", not "The Death of Superman". These comic stories have been reference in numerous media, particularly Gwen Stacy's death, but rarely are they adapted. But I've yet to see an incarnation of X-Men that does not include a version of the "Days of Future Past" storyline. It's been featured in multiple animated series, video games, and novelizations.
Of course, all of the various retellings of this story take their own creative liberties, and the new movie from 20th Century Fox is no exception.
This film is designed to be a sequel to both the First Class and Last Stand movies in the X-Men franchise. I was kind of surprised that the studio took this particular approach, since there were some nagging inconsistencies and continuity issues with the two timelines. But I guess Hollywood never cares as much about continuity as the nerdy fanboys do... Fortunately, these continuity issues don't come up or interfere with this film.
In fact, I thoroughly enjoyed this film. The creative liberties were generally positive, and the combination of the two timelines actually works surprisingly well. I wasn't terribly thrilled with the depressed, brooding depiction of the younger Xavier, but I don't know enough about the character's comic book history to know whether this is anachronistic, and it definitely wasn't to the movie's detriment.
Unnecessary Hollywood silliness
I only have a handful of criticisms of this movie, and a few of them are really just personal annoyances rather than genuine flaws in the film's production.
The "Wolverine show" continues...
The biggest creative liberty from the comic was the choice of main character. In the original comic, Kitty Pryde is the X-Man that is sent back in time to stop an assassination, but in the new movie they send Wolverine back in time instead. Kitty Pryde just acts as a facilitator; and besides, she hadn't even been born in the 1970's anyway, so wouldn't have had a younger body to inhabit. The writers try to justify not sending Professor X back with some cockamamie explanation about how Wolverine's healing powers make him the only character capable of withstanding the mental stress of the extended time travel. After all, it wouldn't be an "X-Men" movie without an excessive dose of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, or the use of his powers as the deus ex machina for solving otherwise insurmountable problems, now would it?
Instead of being the time traveler, Kitty Pryde is a facilitator who sends Wolverine back in time.
I'm getting kind of tired of Hugh Jackman being the focus of these X-Men movies, which is one of the reasons that First Class felt like a breath of fresh air. That's not to say that there is anything wrong with Jackman - he's always been great in the role of Wolverine. It's just that I feel like the rich universe of X-Men is being squandered a bit with the excessive focus on this one character in every movie!
The focus on Wolverine doesn't hurt the movie at all though, and it's important to note that the movie isn't about him. Instead, Wolverine is used as a lens to view the character, setting, and political situation of the 70's. Wolverine isn't developed as a character or have any kind of real arch. Instead, the development is on the secondary characters on on bridging the gap between the characterizations of Magneto and Professor X between First Class and the first X-Men movie. But I still feel that Kitty Pryde could have been used to phase in and out of time periods just as effectively, as in the original comic.
Similarly, this movie also puts a heavy focus on Mystique, who has been a central character in pretty much every main X-Men movie as well. It seems like Rogue would have been more appropriate for this role. But she couldn't be used for the same reason that Kitty Pryde couldn't: her character is too young, since the movie takes place in the 70's instead of the 90's (like in the comics).
Do the writers insist on making these characters so important in these movies because the writers genuinely feel like these two characters are just that interesting? Or do they just want to include as much screentime as possible for the two sexiest characters in the cast? Neither of these characters does anything that we haven't already seen in every movie that they've been in so far, so I think they're severely over-used.
At least Mystique's role in this film seems like an appropriate conclusion to her character arch from First Class. So neither Wolverine nor Mystique drag down the movie in any way, and in fact, they may very well have been the best options considering the script and time span in question.
Key contrivances in an otherwise solid plot
There's also a few annoying contrivances at key plot points that induced eye-rolling from me:
None of these is a deal-breaker, but they did stick in my head.
Necessary Hollywood restraint
The remainder of the film is very solid; although it doesn't really immerse you in the 70's as well as First Class immersed the viewer in the retro charm of the 60's. I do really liked the look of the 70's sentinels, and the designers seemed to put a great deal of thought into the technical feasibility of the machines. The VTOL jets on their abdomens make a lot more sense than the foot thrusters that they usually use in the comics.
The plot moves along pretty steadily and the action sequences are well-constructed and surprisingly restrained. Despite one of the central conceits of the movie being that giant robots hunt down super-powered mutants, this movie is almost completely lacking in any large-scale destruction porn [and this is a good thing]. We see the aftermath of the ruination of human cities, and the White House has a baseball stadium dropped on it (in a very interesting and clever use of Magneto's powers), but Bryan Singer and his writers didn't feel that it was necessary to show us skyscrapers being toppled over by giant robots! This just goes to show that human stories and coherent plots can still carry an action movie better than mindless destruction.
Unveiling of the sentinels. I love the retro look and the abdominal VTOL jets!
It's unfortunate that the movie didn't put more focus on characters that we aren't already intimately familiar with, but at the same time, it is nice that it also didn't force us to keep track of a bunch of new characters that we don't know or care about. This is the opposite of First Class, which tried to introduce whole new teams of both heroes and villains. But since First Class couldn't spend enough time to develop all of them, the majority of the cast felt like unnecessary fluff without much purpose in the plot. Instead, Days of Future Past did the same thing that Singer did with X2: X-Men United: they introduced new characters in ancillary roles (like Colossus), but focused more on a select few new additions who actually had key roles in the narrative. This helped to keep the character roster smaller and more manageable.
Other than Quicksilver (Evan Peters) and Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), none of the new characters gets any significant screen time. While I'm happy to have a reduced roster set, it is unfortunate that Colossus (Daniel Cudmore), Bishop (Omar Sy), and Blink (BingBing Fan) aren't much more than fan service. Instead of teasing us with new characters, couldn't we just have used established characters that we already care about? How about Gambit instead of Bishop, or Nightcrawler instead of Blink?
Bishop may have been included as a way of introducing his character in preparation for a bigger role in the next movie: Apocalypse (which may be another time-travel story). But his appearance in this film is entirely circumstantial, as the character isn't developed at all. So if he does play a bigger role in the next movie, they'll just have to re-introduce him anyway.
Peter Dinklage as Bolivar Trask.
Singer's battle of ideologies
Days of Future Past also retains my favorite element of X2 in that it doesn't have a supervillain antagonist. The battle in these movies is ideological and intellectual! Trask doesn't feel like an arbitrary villain with a personal score to settle. He comes off as someone who feels genuinely threatened (though a bit paranoid) and wants to do whatever it takes to keep himself and his species safe. Even if it means starting a Cold War with all of mutant-kind.
It makes Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci look like even worse writers for the idiotic villains of Amazing Spider-Man 2 (among other films)!
There's also a lot of subtle social and political commentary hidden in this movie. In addition to the racism and genocide themes present in all X-Men movies, this one also deals with drug abuse, the idea of pre-emptive warfare, the threat of the military-industrial complex, and the use of fear as a political tool. None of these are ham-fisted, and they all feel like little layers of complexity that add depth to the story and characters. It's also a surprisingly optimistic movie. Despite starting in a dystopian future, it shows that people can be influenced by their environment and other people for the better, and that those with power (including super powers) should lead by example, rather than force.
On top of that, the time-travel elements are well-handled, and the movie provides a surprisingly satisfactory explanation for why it doesn't create a paradox! Best of all, it rewrites history such that the terrible X-Men 3: the Last Stand apparently didn't happen!
Bryan Singer clearly has a deep appreciation, respect, and understanding for the X-Men source material, and it's great to see that passion brought back onto the big screen. X-Men: Days of Future Past stands right alongside X2: X-Men United (also directed by Singer) as one of the best superhero movies out there.