Written by David Holland
If you’re going to adapt one of the iconic story lines of a comic series, you want to get it just right. In the case of the X-Men franchise, that doesn’t always happen (we have talked about Dark Phoenix once already, and we will get there again. Oh, and Apocalypse is coming too. Be patient.) In the case of “Days of Future Past”, based on the comic run of the same title, X-Men nailed it.
This might be the best X-Men movie made to date. It certainly ranks up there with “Logan” and “X2”. I love the 2023 fight scenes against the Sentinels, in part because they are expertly filmed, but mostly because I think the Sentinels are perfect enemies for the X-Men. Each mutant is unique, an individual person with a different power but also a personality, a history, a story of their own. Sentinels, by contrast, are cold, emotionless, identical, relentless, and constantly adapting the powers of mutants in order to exterminate them. The fight scenes against the Sentinels are really cool, especially because of Blink’s portals allowing for trippy antics.
The inevitability of the Sentinels’ assault means that we see what is at stake – if they fail to protect Logan, Kitty Pryde’s group doesn’t get another do-over, their deaths are all permanent.
There are a bunch of off-screen deaths, which are kind of a bummer, including the powerhouse Emma Frost. It is tough to introduce a whole new “class” of mutants in the first film and then kill half of them between movies, but the ones who are left really shine. I’ve highlighted Stewart, McKellan, McAvoy, Fassbender, and Jackman all before, so I’ll just give one sentence here to say we finally get them all and they are all on point. Past-Xavier is dealing the the trauma of his failures (a theme that will be devastatingly revisited in “Logan”), and probably the most heartfelt moment of the movie comes in a conversation between the consciousnesses of Past and Future Xaviers, which is sort of funny if you realize that the only person who can convince Xavier to snap out of it is… another Xavier.
The pacing is quick enough to keep you interested but not so much as to be overwhelming. Logan is on the clock, but Past-Xavier is believably heartbroken enough that it takes some convincing. And of course, probably the best action scene is Quicksilver’s, in which we see what it is like to move at super speed – essentially the world is standing still. Because of a weird quirk of copyright law, Quicksilver was allowed to exist in both the X-Men franchise and the MCU (provided the MCU did not refer to him as a “mutant”), and the DOPF version is way more fun that the “Age of Ultron” version.
I also like the consciousness-projecting version of time travel, although I don’t let myself get caught up in the mechanics of all the different ways time travel works or does not work in fiction. If you try to apply internal logical consistency to any version of time travel, you will only end up making yourself angry. I think we can thank “Doctor Who” for this lesson.
With so much going on, a few things in the plot don’t get explained. We meet some new mutants, but don’t fully understand how their powers work. The clearest example of this is Bishop, who we learn over the course of the movie absorbs and redirects energy. We met Kitty Pryde previously and watched her phase through objects, but there’s never a clear explanation of how that power translates into sending someone’s consciousness back in time. She just can because the plot requires it of her.
Bolivar Trask also becomes sort of a walking MacGuffin. Trask’s murder by Mystique is said to be the pivotal event that leads to the war with the Sentinels, and the movie ultimately hinges on preventing it three times. Trask is conveniently double-dealing which means at the end of the movie there is plenty of cover to arrest him and shut down the Sentinel program. But Trask just isn’t as compelling a villain as Magneto or even Stryker from “X2”. He’s driven, but we don’t fully understand why, which is a shame because Peter Dinklage is incredibly talented and we don’t get to see his ability to create deep characters on full display. But these points are ultimately nitpicky, and don’t distract from what is ultimately one of the strongest installments in the franchise.
“Days of Future Past” builds on the foundations laid by “First Class” and combines the original trilogy to tell a compelling story that course corrects some of the mistakes of previous films and restores faith in X-Men movies. All they have to do is not ruin it.