BY MIA STEINBERG
X-Men (2000) and X2: X-Men United (2003) were fundamental cornerstones in the modern superhero film trend. They showed that comic book movies could be well-written, ask interesting questions and pull in high-power celebrities who were clearly passionate about their roles. They were the proof of concept, paving the way for the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy and the high-budget Avengers meta-franchises. The strength of the X-Men films (well, the good ones, anyway) has always been in how they use the mutants as metaphors for society’s outcasts, asking those difficult questions in a more subtle manner than the Nolan films while leaving the interpretations and answers up to the audience. From Iceman’s “coming out” scene in X2 to Michael Fassbender’s absolutely brilliant portrayal of Magneto as the embodiment of post-Holocaust Jewish despair, the franchise has balanced itself very well, despite a few missteps along the way. Bringing the old guard and the new guard together into a single film was a risky move, but I’m happy to report that X-Men: Days of Future Past pulls it off with only a few hitches.
In the year 2032, the mutants (and most of the human race) have been nearly wiped out by the Sentinels, a line of unstoppable super-strong robots immune to every power imaginable. In an abandoned monastery in China, Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen) have set aside their differences and hatched a daring plan: using Kitty Pryde’s (Ellen Page) ability to project consciousnesses through time, they will send Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back into the 1970s to prevent the killing blows which ultimately kicked off the Sentinel project and doomed the human race. If Logan can pull it off, then the entire future will be changed—but he must convince Xavier and Magneto’s younger selves (James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender) to work together again and track down Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), whose blood is the key to the Sentinels’ adaptive powers.
While billed as a combination of the two film universes, DoFP is definitely more of a sequel to First Class; the characters are still reacting to the events of that film, which destroyed the friendship between Xavier and Magneto and created a deadly ideological rift within the mutant community. This is a point in the film’s favour, because it means we get to spend a lot of time with the phenomenal cast of First Class. McAvoy does a very good job of showing what happens when the normally-unflappable Xavier hits rock bottom, leading to a fantastic scene between the two Charles that echoes what many of us wish we could say to our past selves. Young Magneto is unfortunately mostly tasked with being the villain (kinda), but Fassbender nonetheless manages to convey the character’s emotional pain and anger with little more than body language. New additions to the cast include Peter Dinklage as the weapons designer who creates the Sentinels, and Evan Peters bringing some lighthearted fun in the role of the fast-moving Quicksilver. To say much more would give away too many spoilers, and while there aren’t any shocking twists in the story, it’s still a pleasure to watch it for yourself. My only true quibble is with the final, pre-credits shot; with a lead-in line that promises a billion possible payoffs, the one we get is a few frames short of being truly effective. But it’s a tiny letdown in a film that’s otherwise really just damn good all around.
DoFP, like its predecessors, has a fairly standard plot boosted by genuinely compelling performances and a light sprinkle of thematic allusions. It touches on many things: trauma, desperation, hopelessness, Heaven and Hell, and (intriguingly) the notion of the tabula rasa, or blank slate. None of this is presented as any sort of thesis statement, but that’s good; it allows the audience to imbue the film with as much meaning as they personally want and nothing more. Days of Future Past isn’t a serious game-changer like The Dark Knight, or even a meta-climactic ensemble film like The Avengers, but as an X-Men film, it’s a smart and emotionally resonant feature that shows there’s still lots of room for the franchise in the hero-drenched world it helped to create.
Mia Steinberg is a writer, radio host, tech nerd and professional neon redhead living in Victoria, BC. She can be found on twitter @MiaSteinberg, as well as on her radio show blog particlesandwavesshow.com.