“X-Men: Days of Future Past.”
20th Century Fox
1 hour, 44 minutes
For the layperson, it’s enough to say “I like ‘Spider-Man’ comics,” or “I enjoyed reading ‘X-Men,’ but for hardcore fans, that just doesn’t cut it. For these guys you have to be more specific. You have to be able to list off a particular storyline. “So you say you you’re a ‘Daredevil’ fan, huh? Was it the ‘Born Again’ series you liked or are you more of a ‘Redemption’ guy?” Because the serious comic geeks have more power than ever in Hollywood these days, what with their various blogs, tumblrs, podcasts, and whatever other media format they can monopolize from their mother’s basement, the new trend in comic book films is not going to be simply sequels, but adaptations of particular stories from the comic pages. See, for example, this week’s “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” loosely based on one of the most popular episodes in that comic’s long history. I’m not complaining about this new trend, understand. I’d much rather these movies tell a real story than just try to rehash the original – but I think it’s telling that the films are moving in the direction of the esoteric rather than the general. The last “Captain America,” though really good, would have been pretty difficult to get through if you didn’t have a background in the characters, and this latest “X-Men” suffers from a similar problem. With Cap, though, the plot was dependent upon you, the audience, keeping up with specifics. “Days of Future Past,” however, is all about throwing the previous films under the bus and cleaning house. So, if you don’t know exactly what’s going on, don’t worry, they’re about to change it all anyway.
“Days” is technically a sequel to “X-Men: First Class,” which is technically a prequel to all the other “X-Men” movies, including last year’s “The Wolverine.” Where “First Class” was set in the sixties, the current film takes place both in the 1970s and in a nightmarish near future, around 2023. At the opening of “Days,” we see a scrappy group of young mutants holed up in a partially destroyed building, on the lookout for Sentinels, ten-foot-tall mutant-hunting robots that have the ability to alter their makeup to defend against whatever particular mutant power they’re facing. When the Sentinels inevitably arrive, most of this rag-tag X-Men offshoot go to battle, a futile effort against these nearly invincible machines, while two, phase-shifting mutant Kitty Pryde and another, Bishop, run to a fortified hiding place. There Pryde manages to phase-shift Bishop’s mind back in time several hours to his younger body, where he can warn the team to move locations – to someplace where this will, eventually, all happen again. It’s a tenuous existence, at best, and one in need of a better solution. Enter the real X-Men: Storm, Wolverine, Professor X, and now with Magneto in tow. These elder statesmen join forces with the earlier group and decide that a few hours of time-travel just isn’t cutting it. The real solution is to go back fifty years, to the days when the Sentinels were first created. Somehow it has been determined that Mystique, our old favorite nude blue shapeshifter, is responsible for this entire dystopian future as a result of her assassination of one Bolivar Trask, the inventer of the original Sentinels, back in 1973. This murder by a mutant encourages the government to ramp up the Sentinel program leading to the horror of the present. It’s further determined that Wolverine should go back in time to stop the event, saving humanity and mutant-kind alike, and picking up the story a little less than a decade from where “First Class” left off. There’s a whole lot more plot to come, but suffice it to say that “Days,” keeps up the action and drives the story forward relentlessly, finally closing with a satisfying, if a little bewildering climax. Without spoiling anything, I’ll say that “Days of Future Past” pulls off the impossible – it completely reboots the entire “X-Men” series by effectively erasing the events of all the previous films, but does so while keeping both casts, the older and the younger versions of the characters, in place.
I’ll admit that, for the uninitiated, “Days” might be a little difficult to keep up with. Characters come and go at a fairly rapid pace with little or no explanation as to who they are or where they fit in the series. One of the antagonists is a young army officer by the name of William Stryker, for example. The movie never fills you in on why he’s important, though his actions drive the plots of at least two of the other movies, and drive most of the events of Wolverine’s life. On the other hand, since “Days” is wiping the slate clean, is Stryker’s place in the canon important? Probably not. The same can be said for much of the plot, foreknowledge that should allow you to simply sit back and let the mutant action wash over you. Said action is fun, the acting is above average, especially with heavy hitters like James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, and Jennifer Lawrence in the mix, and the story is compelling. The minor characters come and go so quickly it’s hard to take close note of them, but one in particular steals the show. Evan Peters as Quicksilver (Marvel Comic’s answer to The Flash) is hilarious and his scene is very cool. It’s not a perfect movie, by any means. Even I got a little tired of the overstuffed plot at times, but, like the comic book from which it hews, “Days of Future Past” is fun, though serious, without ever really taking itself too seriously. I liked it a lot and hope it offers similar good tidings for the next sequel/prequel, “X-Men: Apocalypse,” to be set in the 1980s and slated for release in 2016. Grade: B+
“X-Men: Days of Future Past” is rated PG-13 for language and comic-book violence and mayhem.
Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.