X-Men: Days of Future is a Blast!
The best scene from any X-Men movie occurs in the latest, X-Men: Days of Future Past. In the year 1973, Wolverine, inhabited by the consciousness of Wolverine from 50 years in the future, recruits Peter Maximoff to help jailbreak Magneto from a prison beneath the Pentagon. Peter, or Quicksilver as he will later be known, is a mutant with the ability to… well, move super-fast. As Jim Croce’s Time in a Bottle plays, he playfully runs through a room frozen in time, plucking bullets from the air and redirecting movements to cause utter chaos in real time a split second later.
The scene is a tour de force for director Bryan Singer and actor Evan Peters (American Horror Story) and one of the most fun few minutes I’ve witnessed in any movie in years. While the rest of the movie doesn’t quite have the same intensity, it comes pretty darn close. As high as the stakes may be for the characters, X-Men: Days of Future takes itself less seriously than any of the previous big screen versions. It draws its life more from 2011’s X-Men: First Class than any of the first three X-Men movies from earlier in the 2000s.
The story begins with the cast of those first three movies, though. Professor X (Patrick Stewart), Magneto (Ian McKellen), Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Storm (Halle Berry), Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page), Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) and Colossus (Daniel Cudmore) wage a worldwide war against robot Sentinels that are able to assume the powers of any mutant they face. It’s a futile effort in a bleak version of the future, but they’ve been able to keep one step ahead with the aid of mutants Bishop (Omar Sy), Blink (Bingbing Fan), Sunspot (Adan Canto) and Warpath (Booboo Stewart).
Kitty Pryde has at some point over the years developed the ability to send another mutant’s mind back in time into that mutant’s body so that he or she can warn the others of the Sentinels’ next attack. So far, she can send someone back only a couple days. But if there was a mutant who could withstand a longer journey… a mutant with restorative powers… a mutant who, for all we know, may be immortal. Oh, there is! It’s Wolverine, and he agrees to go back to 1973. The only catch is that he’s got to keep his cool. If he gets too upset, he may be pulled back to the future.
As if his normal temper weren’t enough of a challenge for this task, he encounters a young William Stryker, the man who will eventually experiment on him and painfully graft Adamantium to his skeleton. Yep, 70s Wolverine has only bone when he goes all “snikt” and long, lethal claws emerge from his knuckles. It’s an additional layer to a complex story. This is the smartest screenplay I could imagine for the story, beloved since it first appeared in Uncanny X-Men #141 in 1981. (If you haven’t done it yet, read our feature “X-Men 101” right here on Downright Creepy.)
The liberties writer Simon Kinberg takes with the original story are perfect, modernizing it and weaving it seamlessly into X-Men motion picture continuity. The mutant who has to be stopped in 1973 in order to prevent the eradication of all mutants (and much of the world) 50 years later is Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence). And it isn’t just because she’s going to assassinate the creator of the Sentinels, Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage); it’s because her blood will be used to design the feature of the Sentinels that allows them to adapt to their foes to destroy them.
In the world created in X-Men: First Class, Mystique was introduced as a little sister figure for young Charles Xavier (James McAvoy). X-Men: Days of Future Past builds on the fact that at its end, she left Charles to join Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and the bad guys. Xavier is devastated and has become an addict and a recluse, as far as he could be from the heroic Professor X that we know and love. So Wolverine has the task of helping him find his way and getting him to reconcile with his archenemy, in addition to saving the world.
In the meantime, there are underlying issues with which our characters struggle. If a good person does the wrong thing for the right reason, does it make her a villain? Mystique isn’t really a killer, but she sincerely believes that Trask’s death will save all mutantkind. And can anything really be done to change the future or is it determined by fate? Perhaps Trask doesn’t die, but what if Mystique’s blood is spilled in battle anyway? That could still lead to the development of the unstoppable Sentinels…
It all builds to a simultaneous climax in 1973 and 50 years later. As we sit on the edge of our seats to see if Mystique pulls the trigger in the “present”, the Sentinels are one-by-one killing our heroes in the future. It literally comes down to the split-second that Sentinels are preparing to fire on the Kitty Pryde/Wolverine “time machine”. (What happens if Wolverine dies in the future, anyway? That’s one detail left to our imaginations. Does he really die or does he remain trapped in the past forever?)
It’s all very exciting and, like I said, fun. The series has learned the value of a little humor to relieve the stress. It’s a tone that disarmed me when I first saw X-Men: First Class, but I embraced when I watched it again. We’re now fully engaged in an era of X-Men action with the new, young cast, and it’s terrific. The post-credits scene that we’ve come to expect from our Marvel superhero movies is brief, but gives a glimpse of the threat to come. Yes, the next installment has already been announced and I can’t wait for it to happen!
X-Men: Days of Future Past is out on home video Tuesday, October 14.