Days of Future Past had a lot of hype going for it, but nearly everything else going against it. The film, which came out on DVD and Blu-ray yesterday, is officially the seventh in the line of X-Men movies. It also marked the return of most of the cast for the first time in nearly a decade, including the reappearance of director Bryan Singer to the helm.
All the makings of a well-intentioned supergroup disaster were in the mix. The new film intended to merge the storyline of reboot installment The First Class while capturing the magic of Singer’s first two universally-praised entries into the franchise. On top of that, it was going to use one of the most well-regarded storylines from the X-Men comic series. A million unfathomably-obese Blob’s-worth of pressure was upon the entire production to not suck.
And did it succeed? Hell yes! Some critics and fanboys had lots of nitpicks, but by and large the film was popular with both audiences and critics. And China. China loved them some Days of Future Past. The fact that the Chinese adore Hugh Jackman and that Singer cast Chinese movie icon Fan Bingbing probably helped.
Regardless, Days of Future Past hardly stumbled, let alone fell on its face. Fully appreciating the fact that the movie was successful takes pointing out where other productions would have failed. For instance…
*Mostly minor, but some major spoilers to follow*
Time travel is super messy. Entire websites are dedicated to how other, much-beloved movies have screwed the concept up. Successfully navigating down this narrative pathway involves either brushing aside the confusing logic, as Looper did with its self-aware dialogue, or going balls-deep into the idea à la Primer.
DoFP avoided both of these tactics. Neither over-analyzing nor acknowledging suspension of disbelief, the film comes up with a scheme to make its timeline make perfect sense.
Wolverine isn’t literally sent to the past, his consciousness is. The headstrong, womanizing Wolvy of the ’70s gets to have all the knowledge and sentience of future ash heap Wolverine. He can use this awareness to change the course of history – if he tries hard enough and doesn’t eff it up.
This strategy eliminates another problem with a time travel scheme: the present/future quickly becomes irrelevant. In similar stories like The Terminator, once the characters escape the dreary future, much of the stakes are lost. We forget just how shitty the place they came from was, and we become fixated on the time the characters are sent to instead.
By contrast, DoFP found a way to compress the time Wolverine spends in the past into mere moments for the present. While he spends his time bustling about the pastel-and-aviator-wearing period, the remaining X-Men crew sits in a crowded bunker-type setting waiting for their asses to get handed to them by robots.
Adapting a Well-Known Storyline
“Days of Future Past” isn’t a storyline that gets talked about nearly as much as, say the “Dark Phoenix” saga. But it was a landmark in The Uncanny X-Men‘s publication history. The story was picked up again for the ’90s animated X-Men show on Fox, bringing it to a whole new generation.
The plot also has the trappings of the aforementioned The Terminator, even though that movie was still in production when the comic story originally came out. All of this baggage can weigh a feature-length film adaptatian’s script down.
Beating the odds, writers Jane Goldman and Simon Kinberg managed to pen a script that could satisfy long-time X-Men fans and box offices at the same time. Tons of characters got a fair taste of screen time, while big name fan favorites were handled with careful but smart executions.
Both of the writers were able to create a story that kept the tension firmly in place. DoFP guides the audience along for a while, but then introduces complications without quick resolutions. We are left guessing what will happen next when plans get interrupted and goals fail to be met.
The film even elicited moments of genuine emotion. We get to watch several X-Men fight valiantly but fruitlessly against the Sentinels and die… twice. We also bear witness to several great, nail-biting set pieces that really amp up the excitement, albeit with a dose of sketchiness. Mystique and Magneto’s confrontation in Paris was a high-point for excitement in the series, hands down.
One of the most clever devices the plot comes up with are ways to keep veritably omnipotent powers from ruining the stakes. Xavier must learn to reuse his mental abilities, Wolverine become incapacitated during key points that he would otherwise clean house, and Quicksilver only gets one amazing scene before he is sent home for the rest of the movie. If all these elements weren’t mitigated, the action scenes would become boring or ridiculous.
Juggling a Huge Amount of Characters
We get two versions of Professor Xavier and Magneto, in addition to young Mystique and several handfuls of mutants from both eras. Every single one has a unique power and personality to be showcased, and it all has to be relevant to the plot.
Despite these difficult criteria, the film was able to pull off a great parade of characters. Every mutant has an opportunity to show off their powers in clever ways. Some mutants even combine powers during the sentinel battles to prove that Singer and crew truly appreciate the universe they are contributing to.
Most important of all, the plot was governed by characters and their motivations. No one is a true villain. We empathize with both Magneto and Mystique despite their bloodthirsty nature. Even Peter Dinklage’s Bolivar Trask has a completely respectable motivation rather than just twirling his well-groomed handlebar porn ‘stache.
The mental philosophies of the characters govern their actions as opposed to mere contrived plot convenience. Bad guys must be convinced that they are going down the wrong path. Good guys must be literally dragged to their calling in order to save the day instead of lurking in safety.
Wolverine’s interplay with young Charles Xavier demonstrates this accomplishment wonderfully. Wolverine is far from the most inspirational member of the X-Men, yet he has the duty to persuade Charles, the traditional mentor. The Professor X that we take for granted must undergo a compelling character arc; he has to learn settle into his position of infallible wisdom and self-sacrifice while avoiding hubris.
The fact that every actor superbly delivers their lines helps, as does Singer’s deft handling of each scene. For proof, think about how well all of the background actors did when they had to be in character as “Mystique in disguise.”
Merging Two Timelines
One of the biggest reasons I was skeptical about this film was because they were going to smush together the traditional X-Men crew with The First Class‘s timeline. While I enjoyed First Class, I felt that the tone was a bit too inconsistent with what the first two movies had established.
More specifically, I appreciated Matthew Vaughn’s depiction of how young Xavier and young Magneto’s friendship was formed then dissolved. Even so, I still had little faith that what Vaughn had done with those characters would gel with the personas embodied by the veteran Shakespearean powerhouses that are Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan.
Yet again, I was proved wrong. Thank god, too. Singer’s version of the ’70s was fun and managed to avoid feeling carefree and cliched. He refrains looking down with hindsight on those from the ’70s as ignorant, eschewing cheap audience ego-inflators like Billy Zane in Titanic scoffing at Picasso paintings.
Merging the two movie universes is no small accomplishment considering that the future of the franchise was riding on the younger versions of the characters being accepted as canon. P. Stew and McKellan are getting quite old, and the series needs a way to hand off the torch without a lingering bad taste in our mouth. Speaking of which…
Redeeming for Past Transgressions
Seeing Xavier battle his past demons was appropriate. The X-Men franchise had to the same thing. Put kindly, X-Men: The Last Stand was the stupidest, most disappointing piece of shit to ever piss on all the good will people can build towards action/comic book movie franchises.
Half the cast of that film clearly got sick of all the bullshit and nominated their fictional selves for death. It was almost like they individually said, “You know what, if you’re not going to take this crap seriously then just kill me off so I can be done with it.”
This theory seems feasible considering that (*major spoilers*) at the end of the new movie all of the dead or no-longer-contractually-obligated characters from the first two movies returned for cameos. Days of Future Past simultaneously wiped the slate clean of Brett Ratner’s intestinal evacuation while giving its blessing to the First Class timeline. And they can have my blessing, too. X-Men: Apocalypse will probably be the titties.
Jarrod Lipshy is a UGA English alumnus and freelance content writer. He collects old video games and wishes he could “age” like Hugh Jackman.