Review by C.J. Bunce
BOULEVARD DRIVE-IN — It’s hard to believe it has only been six years since Jon Favreau surprised the world, taking a typically underwhelming character like Tony Stark, casting Robert Downey, Jr. as Iron Man, and making the best modern superhero movie. Although fanboy director Favreau made the Christmas classic Elf before Iron Man, who knew he was going to change how we evaluate the modern superhero film? So it shouldn’t be surprising that a proven genre director like Bryan Singer, with titles under his belt like The Usual Suspects, X-Men, X-Men 2, X-men Origins: Wolverine, Superman Returns, and Valkyrie, has set the new standard in the summer blockbuster sci-fi, fantasy, and superhero sphere with his latest X-title, X-Men: Days of Future Past. You don’t even need to be an X-Men or Marvel fan to realize what a triumph Singer has achieved.
The movie is gigantic from the opening set-up. The giant mechanical Sentinels of the comic books take over Earth in the distant future, weeding out once and for all the small bands of survivors, creating a very Terminator-influenced opening. Now see if you can spot a theme here. A band of what you might call Tier 3 X-Men, led by Kitty Pryde (played by Oscar nominee Ellen Page), find a way to send something back into the past to save themselves from Sentinel strikes. Golden Globe and Emmy nominee Patrick Stewart’s Professor X, Oscar nominee Ian McKellen’s Magneto and Oscar nominee Hugh Jackman’s Logan aka Wolverine take Pryde’s method to come up with a time travel plan that results in dual casts trying to save their world, one in 1973, the other in the future. Storm, played by returning Oscar winner Halle Berry, tries to fend off the Sentinels to allow the time travel trick to work.
Back in 1973, BAFTA and Golden Globe nominee James McAvoy plays young Professor X/Xavier, and Oscar nominee Michael Fassbender plays Xavier’s one-time friend, the younger Magneto. The lynchpin of the story follows an angry young Mystique, played by Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence, who back in 1973 is out to kill Sentinel designer Dr. Bolivar Trask, played by Golden Globe winner Peter Dinklage. That’s a pretty full slate of Oscar and Golden Globe nominees and winners.
Yet, imagine a relatively unknown actor upstaging them all? Give director Singer and writer Simon Kinberg some of the credit, but another Tier 3 X-Men character called Peter aka Quicksilver, played by Evan Peters, manages to give us what could be the best comic book and superhero sequences ever committed to film. What begins with some superhero gameplay with this off-the-wall homebody playing Pong and living the 1970s life, moves toward a methodical breakout of Magneto from the Pentagon. The result is the best single scene you’ll find in any movie this year, accompanied by the best use of a song in a major motion picture since Paul Newman and Katherine Ross rode around on an old bicycle in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. And the CW Network should pay particular attention if they want their Flash to not appear dated in its opening episodes this Fall. This Quicksilver guy could run circles around any incarnation of the Flash we’ve seen before.
Of the main cast, the standout is McAvoy as Xavier, played here as a down in the dumps loner, hiding behind closed doors with the Beast (Nicholas Hoult) at his defunct university until Wolverine arrives.
As for its use of time travel as a story device, you would have thought the movie was written by Steven Moffat or Russell T. Davies. All the bits and pieces fit together. It’s that good.
Plenty of clips and scenes from prior X-Men films (X-Men: Days of Future Past is the seventh) ground this story when another director’s sequel might come off as contrived and gimmick-laden (no midichlorians will be found here). One more Oscar winner, Anna Paquin, even gets her bit to reprise Rogue, the mutant who gave up her powers in the past films. Intersperse espionage and political intrigue including revelations about Presidents Kennedy and Nixon, your typical explosions and future tech, great music by dual-duty composer and editor John Ottman, and the best special effects around and you’ll see why the rest of the Marvel Studios and DC Entertainment will need to play catch-up. This is a long time coming for Twentieth Century Fox, who has yet to meet the quality and critical success of the Disney-era Marvel productions. After X-Men: Days of Future Past, Fox leads the way.
In its first weekend X-Men: Days of Future Past is the #5 best box office opener for a Memorial Day weekend. See it now in theaters everywhere.