Note: I’ve kept the spoilers to a minimum as usual but I do discuss the very barebones premise of the movie, which is something you’ll know if you haven’t avoided the marketing like the plague. If you want to know absolutely nothing about the plot then you can simply look at the score I’ve given it above to get a pretty clear indication of what I think. Otherwise read on for a quick discussion of the film.
The X-Men franchise has had a rocky ride. Starting out strong the series had a very rough third movie and a painfully weak spin-off in Wolverine Origins, both essentially killed the franchise’s momentum. Then First Class and The Wolverine were released in recent years and turned out to be surprisingly fun standalone films. It looked like things were really getting back on track but we were moving further and further away from the original stories.
The latest entry, Days of Future Past, takes cues from the new refreshed franchise and the original movies that started it all. Prior to seeing it I really felt like it could go in any direction. Happily I can actually say Days of Future Past is the best X-Men movie to date.
It’s been made no secret that the film takes place across two timelines. The futuristic dystopia where mutants are either dead, imprisoned in camps or on the run, and the 1970s picking up several years after the end of 2011’s First Class. What could have been a messy setup actually works really well thanks to some clever storytelling that binds the two together.
Although the opening of the film is overwhelmingly bleak, there’s plenty of light moments peppered throughout. One sequence in particular is borderline hilarious and surprisingly doesn’t clash with the overall serious theme of the film. Depending on what sequence you’re on the film ramps up the tension or dials it back as appropriate. There’s a lot of action to be had here but the film is just as engaging when it’s two people just stood talking to each other. The plot never feels stagnent, it weaves in new directions as it goes and although the goal is clear early on it gets increasingly vague how the protagonists are actually going to achieve it.
The involving plot always takes centre stage in the film. Even the very tense action sequences work to move the narrative to the next scene and nothing ever feels like it’s just killing time or trying to wow you with effects. It’s perhaps the most thoughtful X-Men movie so far. This wouldn’t matter if the story was no good but it’s actually brilliantly entertaining. I genuinely had no idea just how things were going to play out but I looked forward to finding out at every turn.
Anyone who paid attention to the marketing of the movie may have been a little concerned by the wealth of characters announced to be included. Fear not, the film’s cast actually feels quite compact for a franchise that’s grown so populated, many extra characters from First Class have been left out or given reduced roles to not detract from the main players. Other characters get minor supporting roles and do well to pad out the plot without stealing too much time away. The bulk of the movie follows a core team of characters who all share screen time quite fairly. While previous movies were very obviously being led by Wolverine, this time things are much more balanced. Yes, Wolverine is here again but this time he’s much more of a team player. This isn’t a story about Wolverine backed up by the X-Men again, this time it’s about mutants at large and how the X-Men play into their role in the world, Wolverine just happens to be along for the ride. Which isn’t to say there’s anything wrong with Wolverine per se, Hugh Jackman has always put in a very strong performance and he does so here once again. But it is noticeably refreshing to have another movie like First Class that genuinely is about the X-Men as a team.
Now I suppose I should mention that, for those who care, you may notice a few plot holes when it comes to lining this film up beside the others. This isn’t necessarily new as Wolverine: Origins and First Class basically conflict with each other in a few places, as well as the original trilogy. But to be bluntly honest: I didn’t care. Days of Future Past is so incredibly fun to watch that I believe they absolutely made the right choice to skip over those details, otherwise they’d have been denied the right to use some pretty fun tools. If you’re someone who adores continuity and wants everything to snap together with the cohesion of the Marvel Studios cinematic universe, then maybe this will bother you but my advice is to just roll with it. It’s not worth fussing over.
Despite the minor inconsistencies, those who are most attached to the previous X-Men films will likely get the most out of Days of Future Past. As someone who runs a blog that focuses on comic books I’ll admit I’m definitely in that camp. I cannot say with certainty if the film can be enjoyed with absolutely zero prior knowledge but I’d wager it would definitely suffer. If nothing else it’s worth seeing First Class beforehand to familiarise yourself with the landscape, everything else should be obvious enough to grasp as it unfolds. That said, there are a ton of little nods in there for the more hardcore fans and in the grand scheme of things this does basically feel like X-Men Part 5 more than anything else.
Although it may rely on previous instalments for its groundwork, Days of Future Past masterfully blends the old and new to create a sequel that feels like a burst of something new. It unifies the two different settings that the franchise has come to inhabit and bridges them together in a way that feels natural but refreshingly different from what’s come before. It takes the complicated chronology, tosses out what doesn’t work or isn’t needed, and uses what’s left to create an exciting, entertaining and surprisingly clever movie that’s well worth checking out.