Either in comic book or visual media form, The X-Men have always managed to use the delicate and sometimes volatile relationship between the humans and the mutants to comment on the socio-political issues in the real world. In between the impressive action set pieces full of mutants with different awesome superpowers battling tête-à-tête, the series never fails to sprinkle allusions to more serious subject matters like civil rights, racism and even genocide.
X-Men: Days of Future Past ups the ante both visually and thematically as it presents the darkest and most socio-politically complex entry in the film franchise. It finally shows us the sheer destruction of the mutant genocide Magneto (Ian McKellan) has been warning about for decades as it also explores the xenophobic cold war paranoia of the 1970s.
It doesn’t present as rough, violent and cynical of a worldview as Watchmen did (How can it, with an obligatory PG-13 rating?), but any mega-budget Hollywood popcorn blockbuster meant only to entertain the masses at least attempting to take some potentially envelope-pushing risks with its themes gets my respect.
The year is 2023. A post-apocalyptic wasteland where Sentinels, nearly indestructible robots that can imitate the power of any mutant they’re battling, already destroyed a vast majority of mutant and mutant-friendly humans. Magneto and Professor X (Patrick Stewart) have to once again set aside their differences in order to defeat their common enemy.
They come up with a plan to send Wolverine’s (Hugh Jackman) consciousness fifty years into the past so he can stop an event that will kick-start the genocide and destroy the Sentinels before they’re conceptualized. Think of it as a version of The Terminator where the protagonists and the antagonists are reversed.
Wolverine will need the help of young Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and Professor X (James McAvoy) in order to stop the shape-shifting blue hottie Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), whose one action will cause a ripple effect culminating in the destruction of the mutants.
At this point it becomes obvious that the reason this film even exists is to combine the casts of the original X-Men trilogy and X-Men: First Class. However, at least the screenplay, which flirts with hard sci-fi time travel elements and the post-apocalyptic sub-genre, manages to create a story interesting enough to make us forget about the financial cynicism at play.
The mutant medical experiments performed by Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage with a killer 70s ‘stache), the eventual inventor of The Sentinels, are visually reminiscent of Josef Mengele’s experiments of Jews being held in concentration camps during WWII. The story also presents a level-headed examination of the addiction to hard drugs like heroin via the sub-plot involving Professor X and a serum that allows him to walk while losing his telekinetic powers.
Yet don’t get the impression that the whole enterprise is a downer from beginning to end. Bryan Singer, who directed the first two X-Men films, manages a triumphant return to form with Days of Future Past, especially after the lackluster Superman Returns and Jack The Giant Slayer. Singer packs the 131-minute running time with just enough impressive action set pieces to create a briskly paced blockbuster entertainment as well as a thematically engaging experience.
Instead of throwing random CGI to the screen, Singer succinctly utilizes each mutant’s special ability to visually accentuate each fight or chase scene. For example, the excellent opening battle between the mutants and Sentinels shows a mutant who can travel through portals. Singer uses her power to create neat visuals, such as being able to show different angles of the action within the same frame.
The movie’s most welcome surprise, and perhaps its best scene, depicts Quicksilver (Evan Peters), a cocky young mutant with the power of super speed, getting the other mutants out of a jam with the fuzz in a sequence that’s reminiscent of the bullet-time effect from The Matrix. The song selection during this scene alone is perfect, as it injects much-needed levity to such a grim tale.
X-Men: Days of Future Past should please almost everyone, among them hardcore X-Men devotees, complex hard sci-fi aficionados, admirers of Christopher Nolan’s darker approach to the genre and even fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Presenting a finale right out of the first Back to the Future, it even finds a way to erase two of the most embarrassing entries in the franchise, X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, from the canon of X-Men feature films. Now that’s called going the extra mile.
PS: If you’re a big fan of the comics, stay in the theatre until the end of ALL credits for an exciting surprise. However, if your knowledge of X-Men starts and stops with the movies, you probably won’t have any idea what the hell you just saw, just like I didn’t.