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New Review: X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

Updated on May 25, 2014

Director: Bryan Singer
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, Sir Ian McKellan, Michael Fassbender, Ellen Page, Peter Dinklage, Halle Berry, Nicholas Hoult, Evan Peters

There is a great scene in X-Men: Days of Future Past where Magneto (Michael Fassbender) manipulates weapons that were originally made to wipe out the mutants, and makes a speech about his glorious plans for the future of the mutant race. As he's making his speech, director Bryan Singer intercuts with scenes set in the future, and we realize that he's not changing a thing. Hatred, intolerance, prejudice, and bigotry are feelings which, if we let them control us, will leads us into a dark and hopeless future. It's a relevant theme that the movie expresses with surprising depth and poignancy, thanks to the complex and character rich narrative cooked up by screenwriter Simon Kinberg.

What's more, the movie is really a terrific entertainment, a full-blooded, exhilarating, and wondrous joy ride that's one of the best films of the year. This year, we have already seen two Marvel action movies, one very good (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) and the other mediocre (The Amazing Spider-Man 2). X-Men: Days of Future Past isn't just the best Marvel movie of the year (so far), it's the summer movie to beat. The action scenes are exciting, the special-effects are jaw-dropping, and the movie has what may be the funniest use of Jim Croce's song Time in a Bottle that I've ever seen in a movie. The brilliant way in which the movie uses that classic song is enough to make it worth seeing.

The movie opens up in 2023, introducing us to a bleak and depressing futuristic world. Cities all over the world are in ruins. The streets are littered with dead mutants and the humans who supported them. The few that have survived are either imprisoned or hunted by seemingly indestructible war machines called the Sentinels. Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Erik Lensher, aka Magneto (Sir Ian McKellan) have teamed up and concocted a risky survival plan they hope will change the future for the better. They turn to fellow mutant Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page), who has the ability to send a person's consciousness back in time, to send one of them back to the 70s to prevent the creation of the Sentinels. Since Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is the only one who can physically survive the trip, he agrees to go.

Only these two can make a chess match this much fun to watch! :D
Only these two can make a chess match this much fun to watch! :D

Cut back to 1973. Wolverine's mission isn't simply to stop the blue-skinned Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from murdering devious Sentinel creator Boliver Trask (Peter Dinklage), but to convince the younger Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto to put aside their differences and help him on the mission. It's Trask's murder that leads to the Sentinels taking over the world, and while Charles believes that the best course of action is to try and convince Mystique to not pull the trigger, Magneto feels that killing her would be easier.

It seems odd that Magneto would try and shoot Mystique, since the Sentinels will be powered by her DNA, and shooting someone is going to cause some of their DNA to spill from the bullet wound. It does seem silly of him, but then again, that might be the point: When you're consumed with as much hatred and anger as he is, you're obviously not thinking clearly.

The film's first big set-piece comes when Wolverine, Xavier, and Beast (Nicholas Hoult) break Magneto out of his prison in the Pentagon. It seems Magneto was imprisoned because of the part he played in the Kennedy assassination (once it's revealed what he did, it leads to one of the film's most charming surprises). They enlist the help of a lightning-fast mutant named Quicksilver (a show stealing Evan Peters) to break him out, and while the prison break sequence doesn't have the biggest special-effects in the movie, it certainly features the most entertaining choreography.

The film's biggest special-effects are, of course, saved for the climax. Magneto manages to levitate the RFK stadium and uses it to form a barrier around the White House, trapping the president and several political officials inside. This scene is intercut with an action scene set in the future, where the mutants (including Halle Berry's Storm) join forces to fight off a Sentinel attack. Some of the special-effects used in the futuristic sequence reminded me a little bit of last year's Thor: The Dark World, although the visuals here are, I'd argue, more rich and textured. The special-effects used to show RFK being ripped from its foundation and levitated in the air are truly wonders to behold. I had sort of wished I had a rewind button at that moment; I wanted to see that again!

"OKAY!!! I APOLOGIZE FOR THAT ORIGINS MOVIE!!! I APOLOGIZE!!!!!"
"OKAY!!! I APOLOGIZE FOR THAT ORIGINS MOVIE!!! I APOLOGIZE!!!!!"

Of course, great action and special-effects are not all this movie has to say in its favor. Encouraging understanding and compassion from those different from ourselves has been the constant theme to these X-Men movies (save for those two dreadful Wolverine movies; the less said about them, the better), and Days of Future Past takes it one step further to show what happens when outsiders are treated with fear and contempt. Young Xavier doesn't seem to care anymore, and relies on drugs that, while they help him to walk, also rob him of his powers. Mystique, a good soul who has lost many friends to Trask, is, like Magneto, too consumed with vengeance to see what her actions could mean in the long run.

The actors add considerable depth to these story threads. McAvoy and Fassbender share a number of very well written scenes where they face off against each other (like when they play a game of chess on a plane), and both actors play their roles splendidly. Hugh Jackman brings a bit more restraint here than in his previous portrayals of Wolverine, and is all the more effective for it (he has a really good scene where he encourages the young Xavier to read his mind; I'm not saying any more than that). Stewart and McKellan are as good as you'd expect actors of their caliber to be, while Jennifer Lawrence is positively electrifying as the vengeance-seeking Mystique.

After the movie was over, I talked about it with my sister, who made a very good point about the Magneto character. While the young version seems beyond saving, the older version portrays a man who has changed for the better. By doing so, the movie seems to stress the idea that no one, not even the worst of us, is beyond hope. That's what makes X-Men: Days of Future Past as special as it is. Not only is it enormously entertaining and visually magnificent, it's also thematically thoughtful and encouraging. Who said summer blockbusters couldn't provide its audience with some food for thought?

Rated PG-13 for lots of action and violence, brief nudity, suggestive material, and profanity

Final Grade: **** (out of ****)

What were your thoughts on this movie? :)

Cast your vote for X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

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