To commemorate, the culmination of their long-running and successful X-Men movies, 20th Century Fox declared May 13th as “X-Men Day”, a day to celebrate all things Mutant and X-Men and celebrate Marvel’s iconic collection of superpowered beings who fight to protect a world that hates and fears them. After exhausting all of their storylines with their original cast, save for Hugh Jackman, 20th Century Fox began producing a series of loose prequels centred on younger X-characters and, to commemorate X-Men Day this year, I’m spending the next few weeks looking back at the first three entries in this “Beginnings Trilogy” to see if they still hold up today.
Released: July 2015
Originally Released: May 2014
Director: Bryan Singer
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Budget: $200 to 220 million
Stars: Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Peter Dinklage, Nicholas Hoult, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, and Anna Paquin
By 2023, Mutants and their allies have been hunted to near extinction by the mechanical Sentinels. Desperate to avert this dystopian future, Professor Charles Xavier (Stewart) has joined forces with his long-time adversary, Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (McKellen) and opt to use Kitty Pryde/Shadowcat’s (Ellen Page) time-bending abilities to send the consciousness of Logan/Wolverine (Jackman) back to 1973 to team up with their younger selves (McAvoy and Fassbender, respectively) and keep Raven Darkhölme/Mystique (Lawrence) from causing the eradication of Mutantkind.
Having been an integral part of Marvel Comics since their 1963 debut, the X-Men went on to have success in numerous videogames, cartoons, and a financially successful franchise under the banner of 20th Century Fox. After three blockbuster movies and two successful spin-offs focusing on breakout star Hugh Jackman, Fox opted to bring in a younger cast and shine a spotlight on the early days of the X-Men. With X-Men: First Class (Vaughn, 2011) planned as the start of a new trilogy, development began on a sequel that same year; however, rather than develop Vaughn’s ideas for a more grounded and fitting sequel, series producer Lauren Donner and returning director Bryan Singer set writer Simon Kinberg to work penning an adaptation of the classic “Days of Future Past” (Claremont, et al, 1981) storyline that would see the older original X-Men actors sharing the spotlight with their younger selves thanks to its time travel plot. X-Men: Days of Future Past is, for me, one of the better X-Men sequels and I actually rank it quite high despite my dislike for the dodgy timeline these prequels created, a belief shared by many as the film was met with a generally positive critical response that was matched by its box office gross as the film made over $740 million worldwide, the highest of out any X-Men movie to date (apart from the Deadpool (Various, 2016 to present) spin-offs). A year or so after the film’s release, Fox released The Rogue Cut, an extended version of the film that includes an entire excised subplot concerning Marie D’Ancanto/Rogue (Paquin); as I consider this the definitive version of the film, this will be the cut I am reviewing here.
In best Terminator (Cameron, 1984) fashion, Days of Future Past opens to show a dystopian future, a war-torn wasteland where Mutants, Mutant sympathiser, and those who may one day produce Mutants, are relentlessly hunted and killed by massive, fearsome Sentinels. Those that survive are either constantly hounded, unable to defeat this terrifying foe, or experimented on by the very worst of humanity. It’s a bleak and depressing future, one that is decidedly at odds with both Xavier’s dream for human/Mutant cohabitation and Magneto’s dream of Mutant superiority. It is into this hellscape that we are reintroduced to a whole new team of X-Men, many of whom are comprised of old and new faces alike. The purpose of many of these characters is simply to die in horrific ways as the Sentinels carve through stone and metal, incinerating them, ripping them to pieces, skewing them, and constantly adapting to their abilities.
Luckily, though, Kitty has…somehow, it’s never actually explained exactly how in the film…developed her powers of intangibility to the point where she can project a person’s consciousness into their younger self. This power, alongside the heightened senses of James Proudstar/Warpath (Booboo Stewart) and the portal-hopping powers of Blink (Fan Bingbing), has allowed the X-Men to stay just barely one step ahead of the Sentinels. However, when they finally reunite with Xavier, Magneto, Logan, and Ororo Munroe/Storm (Halle Berry), they learn of the true origins of the Sentinels; they were created back in the seventies by a scientist named Boliver Trask (Dinklage) and put into mass production after Mystique executed him on public television. Believing that keeping Mystique from killing Trask would erase their future from history, Logan volunteers to make the trip back into his younger body (as only he can survive such an extended trip) and bring the younger Xavier and Magneto together to steer Mystique away from her dark fate. The concept of Days of Future Past is past meets future; however, fans of the newer, First Class cast should be happy to find that the returning cast members from the original X-Men films don’t overshadow their younger counterparts. The older actors bookend the film, and are peppered throughout, but the majority of the film’s runtime is devoted to the new, younger cast and Logan’s interactions with them to prevent a nightmarish future. As a result, most of the older cast exist solely to deliver exposition or to shock us with their gruesome death scenes; once again, Peter Rasputin/Colossus (Daniel Cudmore) is dealt a shitty hand compared to returning characters like Storm and Bobby Drake/Iceman (Shawn Ashmore), who at least have a few lines and play a semi-important role in defending the X-Men from the Sentinels. The new characters follow the same blueprint we’ve seen from nearly every X-Men movie in that they look cool and have cool powers but we no nothing about them and they exist simply to be slaughtered by the Sentinels.
The focus is thus placed on Xavier, who drives the desperate dive into the past, Magneto, who has completely set aside his grudge against Xavier and is now despondent at all the years they wasted pointlessly fighting each other, and Kitty, whose powers anchor Logan in the past. They really sell the desperation and futility of their situation and seeing them all right at the end of their tether is an affecting moment that really helps to motivate Logan in ways we haven’t seen before. Awakening in the past with his bone claws, Logan inexplicably finds himself in America rather than causing waves over in Vietnam; travelling to Xavier’s mansion, he finds the young professor walking but at his wits end. Having fallen into a deep depression after the events of First Class and the outbreak of the aforementioned war, Xavier has become addicted to Henry “Hank” McCoy/Beast’s (Hoult) magic serum, which suppresses his powers and allows him to walk and sleep but has transformed him into a broken shell of his former, and future, self. This positions Wolverine in what is, for him, an uncomfortable position; with the clock ticking against him and frantic to prevent the future he has seen, Logan is forced to guide Xavier back towards his true self. Generally, this take the form of Logan’s trademark tough love but, when he begins to see just how far Xavier has fallen, he allows the younger professor to connect to his mind and converse with his future self in a fantastically poignant scene. Jackman gels really well with the First Class cast, portraying Logan as a blunt, war-weary soldier who has also matured and grown into a role of responsibility and duty. The knowledge that he is the only one who will remember the bad future is haunting as he is fully aware that he will remember seeing all the death and destruction even if their mission succeeds, basically sacrificing his own inner peace for the sake of the world.
McAvoy continues to show new sides to Xavier; he ended First Class taking his first steps towards becoming the mentor and father-figure he is destined to be but begins this film as little ore than a disillusioned junkie. Logan’s mission forces him to overcome those demons and also to do something even more difficult: reach out to his childhood friend and true to pursued her to veer from her path and join forces with his former friend, Erik Lehnsherr. At this point, Xavier feels nothing but hatred and resentment for Erik for not only inadvertently crippling him and turning him into the man he has become but also for taking Raven away from him. This is, of course, completely irrational as Xavier told Mystique to go with Erik at the end of First Class but this is actually the point; Xavier’s emotions, anger, and despair have clouded his mind and motivations, blinding him to his own failings. Erik, however, is more than happy to remind Xavier of these failings; once again, Fassbender is a magnetic (no pun intended) presence, dominating every scene he’s in thanks to his cold, calculating countenance and his ominous charisma. In an emotional outburst, Erik chastises Xavier for hiding and cowering in his mansion when their brothers, sisters, and teammates were captured, tortured, and slaughtered by Trask’s experiments, which really sells the idea that Erik is all about protecting and defending all Mutantkind, even those who would oppose him. As I mentioned before, however, Magneto’s story arc is almost exactly as it was in First Class; he begins the film as an ally, turns on his friends, and ends the film as a fully-garbed Magneto ready to enact his will on the world…only for the very next film to find him a doting family man who has retired from his war. It’s a shame, really, and I feel like the script could have been tweaked so that Erik is the one who is destined to kill Trask that solidifies his position as an all-out villain; it’s not that I don’t like Erik’s moral ambiguity and the conflict Fassbender brings to the role, it’s just frustrating to see him end up looking so much like Magneto with such promise for the next movie only to have to go through it all over again.
After First Class, Jennifer Lawrence shot to superstardom and thus plays a pivotal role in this film; having been working alone to free Mutant prisoners and campaign for Mutant superiority, Mystique uncovers Trask’s experiments and plans for the Sentinels and believes the only logical course of action is to execute the man responsible for so many Mutant deaths (including those of her friends from First Class). Now much closer to her bad-ass, emotionally closed off future self, Mystique rejects both Xavier an Erik when they attempt to stop her and the crux of the movie really becomes a battle for her soul as much as the future as all parties try to keep her from taking her first life and dooming them all. I’m still not a fan of Lawrence, and quite how her power to assume the form of others leads to Sentinels that can adapt to any form of attack is beyond me (Armando Muñoz/Darwin’s (Edi Gathegi) powers would have been more fitting), but her story arc here is quite engaging and she sells the character’s conflicted nature really well. Fulfilling the resident, Mutant-hating human antagonist role is Bolivar Trask, a scientist who views Mutants as a threat to all humanity that can unite the warring nations in a way never seen before. Dinklage is great in this role, portraying Trask as a man of conviction who both admires and fears the potential of Mutants and their threat to humanity. Like every good villain, he is completely convinced that he is in the right and is motivated by a sense of duty and patriotism but there is a sadistic side to him as he has been relentlessly experimenting on and killing Mutants. He is juxtaposed by, who else, but Major William Stryker (Josh Helman); rather than being a military scientist who wants to round up and experiment on Mutants (or being played by Danny Huston as he should have been considering where the character was at this point), Stryker is more like Trask’s muscle. In many ways, it feels like Trask has usurped Stryker’s usual role, which makes Stryker’s inclusion pretty pointless save for causing Wolverine to freak out. Of course, the film’s big selling point is the inclusion of the Sentinels; these massive Mutant hunting machines were hinted at (as was this entire storyline) in X-Men: The Last Stand (Ratner, 2006) but it still blows my mind that we got to a point where an X-Men movie would not only use time travel and the “Days of Future Past” storyline but the Sentinels as well. They appear in two forms here, the sleek, super-adaptive, semi-mimetic poly-alloy, relentless killers of the future and the large, bulky, more comic-accurate machines of the past. Personally, I prefer the latter and feel like an army of those would have been just as pressing a threat and would have negated to need to focus so hard on Mystique’s unique X-Gene, but the threat of the Sentinels is a very palpable one as we see how unstoppable they become in the future. Of course, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense that the government would either not put them into mass production for some fifty years or that they would not reactivate the program when Magneto emerged as a real threat but the comic book nerd in me finds their presence very exciting nonetheless.
Well, while McAvoy, Fassbender, Lawrence, and Hoult all get a good innings and time to shine, other characters from First Class aren’t so lucky; with the exception of Alex Summers/Havok (Lucas Till), who returns in a brief cameo, all of the Mutants from the previous film have died between movies, victims of Trask’s experiments. This is quite a kick in the teeth as we could have seen these characters actually develop and progress but, instead, they are unceremoniously killed off to fuel Mystique’s lust for vengeance and Magneto’s desire for Mutant supremacy. On the other hand, though, it does mean that the film does a far better job of juggling its cast of characters, putting the focus on Xavier, Erik, and Mystique with Logan along for the ride to remind us of the stakes.
Of course, it wouldn’t be an X-Men movie without the gratuitous introduction of a brand new Mutant and, in this case, we get one of the best and yet more disappointing inclusions yet: Peter Maximoff/Quicksilver (Evan Peters). A superfast kleptomaniac, Quicksilver is an energetic ball of fun in a film that is generally quite serious due to its stakes. His powers also allow for a fantastic scene in which he travels so fast that the rest of the room appears to be stationary, a sequence that, perhaps, rivals the opening of X-Men 2 (Singer, 2003). Unfortunately, though, so great are Quicksilver’s powers in this film that the movie would be over too quickly if he were to play a larger role so, after helping break Erik out of his special prison, the film promptly ditches Quicksilver with the weakest of explanations. Like, I get it but he’s such a cool, fun, and interesting character that I would have much preferred the writers find a way to incorporate him rather than just taking the easy, lazy route out.
Still, at least Quicksilver made it into the film; Rogue was reduced to a mere cameo in the theatrical cut but, here in The Rogue Cut, plays a pivotal role when Logan’s violent thrashing critically wounds Kitty, forcing Iceman and Magneto to go off on a side mission to rescue Rogue and have her take Kitty’s place. It’s nice to see the footage cut back into the film and helps to remind us of the stakes in the bad future but I can kind of see why it was cut as it is kind of unnecessary. They could have simply replaced one of the new future X-Men, like Sunspot (Adan Canto) with Rogue and had the best of both worlds but at least it leads to a tender reunion between Rogue and Logan.
Probably the biggest missed opportunity of Days of Future Past, however, is that the filmmakers don’t use the time travel plot more to their advantage to explain the discrepancies in the time line. They try to but only in relation to the future events rather than those of established canon, and Logan’s journey to the past clearly creates at least two new timelines (one for the younger cast and one for the older cast that, despite appearing idyllic, eventually turns just as bleak and dour as the Sentinel-ruled future), but they could easily have used this as an excuse to correct the existing continuity as well. Instead, we find Logan not in the middle of fighting alongside Team X or Xavier and Erik not working together at the school; in fact, the film’s ending goes out of its way to basically erase X-Men: The Last Stand and The Wolverine (Mangold, 2013) from continuity, which is actually quite lazy as The Wolverine proved there was still a lot of mileage to be made in dealing with The Last Stand’s ending, and although it refers to X-Men Origins: Wolverine (Hood, 2009), it pretty much pretends like that film didn’t happen and right when it ends with the ominous implication that seventies-Logan ends up in Stryker’s custody it’s revealed it’s actually Mystique posing as Stryker…despite the fact that Wolverine does end up Stryker’s prisoner in the next film.
X-Men: Days of Future Past successfully brings the two X-Men casts together in one era-spanning action/adventure; the stakes have never been higher and the calibre of acting never more affecting as two generations of X-Men seek to prevent a nightmarish future. It doesn’t do much to correct the existing canon; in fact, it actually screws up way more than it fixes with the new timeline it creates and repeats quite a few of the things I disliked about X-Men: First Class as well as making a few new ones (such as killing characters off-screen and dramatically expanding on Mystique’s importance). Yet, like X-Men Origins: Wolverine, there’s just something about this film that I really enjoy. It’s bombastic and action-packed at times but there’s more a sense of ominous foreboding, that the future is an inevitable tide the characters cannot fight against, that lends a lot of weight and urgency to the plot. Jackman’s interactions with the younger X-cast are fantastic, placing his character in an uncomfortable position where he finds himself having to inspire his future mentor and fighting against an enemy that he can’t just slice to ribbons with his claws. Is it a perfect movie? No, of course not; it’s an X-Men film and those rarely manage to be perfect because of one reason or another. Do I think it was too early to do this storyline and mash these casts together? Absolutely. And yet, this is easily in my top five (maybe even top three) X-Men movies purely for the thrill of seeing the past and the future collide, the presence of the Sentinels, and the fact that it ties up one storyline while setting up an entirely new timeline of events.
What did you think of the Rogue Cut of Days of Future Past? Do you think it is superior to the theatrical cut or do you, perhaps, not care for its additional plot points? What did you think of integrating the old and new X-Men casts together? Were you also a bit confused about Kitty’s sudden ability to time travel? What are your thoughts on the “Days of Future Past” storyline from the comics? Which X-Men storyline would you like to see adapted to film one day? Whatever your thoughts, feel free to leave a comment below, and pop back next week for one last X-Men review.