Being ambitious is a virtue most strive towards, yet there are few films, blockbusters included, willing to do just that. Their refusal to be so usually stems not from laziness, but caution, fearing that any bold ideas might confuse the viewer. Neither problem is present in this superhero movie, which proves thoroughly entertaining as a result.
In the near future, autonomous robots known as Sentinels are waging war against Mutants – a group of superpowered humans who possess the mutation gene. The conflict has seen mutants imprisoned in their thousands, and those who don’t comply with the Sentinels are often slaughtered. Those who have managed to avoid being captured are forced into hiding, nervously waiting for their inevitable, premature demise.
One mutant who has managed to elude the Sentinels is Kitty Pride (Ellen Page), a former student of Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart). As part of a motley group of resistance fighters, Kitty has been using her abilities to send people back in time and warn their allies of an impending attack, thus evading capture, or death, by the Sentinels; Xavier believes that a similar plan is key to ending the war altogether.
According to Xavier, the event that led to the creation of the Sentinels is the assassination of scientist Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) at the hands of Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) in 1973. Kitty warns against the idea, fearful that sending somebody that far into the past would fatally damage their mind, leading Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) to volunteer himself for the mission, as his self-healing abilities mean he is the only person capable of surviving such a journey.
Days of Future Past boasts a star-studded cast which combines the characters from Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class and the “original” X-Men trilogy; resultingly, viewers are treated to seeing both the earlier and later incarnations of certain characters, such as Charles Xavier, who is played by James McAvoy in the Seventies timeline. Another example is Erik “Magneto” Lehnsherr, with both Michael Fassbinder and Ian McKellen reprising the role of his young and old self, respectively.
It’s no overstatement to say that the cast of Days of Future Past is excellent, with every single actor giving an incredible performance, but the biggest standouts are two newcomers to the X-Men franchise. The first is Evan Peters, portraying Peter Maximoff, the speedy mutant otherwise known as Quicksilver. Hyperactive and cocksure, Maximoff’s personality is more colourful than anybody else’s, while his slow-motion action sequence is easily the highlight of the blockbuster.
The second actor making his X-Men debut is Peter “Tyrion” Dinklage, playing the film’s principal antagonist with considerable ease. Being of short stature, Dinklage is usually typecast into roles where his height is imperative to his character, which is not the case here – aside from one throwaway line, there is never any reference made to his diminutive figure. The producers have cast him on his own merits, and so they should, because his skills match those of everybody else in this film.
More impressive still is the screenplay. Despite having a multitude of characters, two timelines and the use of time-travel as a plot device, there is never any point where the viewer is confounded by events, which are surprisingly easy to follow. The script may not be entirely original – there’s no hiding the allusions to Terminator 2, or TV’s Life on Mars – but it contains plenty of surprises to keep audiences enthralled throughout.
Although Days of Future Past can, and does, appeal to those unfamiliar with the X-Men saga, it’s devotees of the series who will get the most enjoyment out of the film. There are plenty of ingenious scenes (Quicksilver’s included) in which the mutants make full use of their powers, cameos from some familiar faces, and a deeply gratifying conclusion that retcons the errors made in films past. Indeed, it’s difficult to think of another movie that ticks so many boxes for the fans.
Five years after its initial release, Days of Future Past remains a high-point for the X-Men franchise. A peerless cast, bold premise, engaging story and creative visuals have all combined to create a hugely rewarding experience, and that’s without considering the fan service it provides. Truly, it’s a superhero movie for the ages.
This film was previously reviewed for YO Bendigo on June 2nd, 2014.