Terror, Drones, Hope… And the X-Men
New mutant movie is uncannily good
X-Men: Days of Future Past is good. Very good. It’s the best X-Men movie to date.
I never thought they’d pull this off. In the comics, The Days of Future Past is a defining X-Men story arc. It’s one of the best superhero comic stories ever. But as a movie? The plot is too high-concept, too weird and requires too much back-story.
And yet, director Bryan Singer and writer Simon Kinberg pulled it off.
The film opens in the near future. Mutants—the super-powered heroes of our story—are an oppressed class. They live in internment camps, their powers inhibited by collars. Sentinel robots patrol the skies, gathering up all mutants and any people who sympathize with them.
The X-Men have traced the source of this horrible future to one moment in time 50 year before. Change that moment and change the world. No killer drones. No internment camps. No mutant extinction.
The team sends Wolverine back to fix the future. His goal is to bring together a young Professor X and Magneto and help them stop this ruined timeline from ever occurring.
Bryan Singer, the man responsible for the first two X-Men movies, directs again. I loved Matthew Vaughn’s First Class, but Singer’s return to the series is most welcome. He juggles the film’s many subplots, personalities and themes without ever overwhelming the audience. He’s graceful.
The cast brims with talent. Patrick Stewart, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Peter Dinklage, Jennifer Lawrence, Ian McKellen and Hugh Jackman are pillars of an outstanding ensemble.
Dinklage, playing the powerful weapons contractor Bolivar Trask, is scary because he just might be right. Lawrence as Mystique sells her inner struggle while kick-flipping assholes and seducing generals.
Fassbender’s young Magneto terrifies. Every flick of his wrist and grimace tell us that Erik Lensherr will never again be at the mercy of “men just following orders.”
The comic book mutants have always been a stand-in for oppressed minorities. Most superheroes have their origins in lab accidents. Mutants, on the other hand, are born this way.
Mutants with powers like Magneto’s and Wolverines are rare. Most are low-powered. They might understand any written language or emit harmless lights. But sentinels don’t discriminate. They just kill or cage.
Dinklage’s Trask performs a magnificent monologue at the midpoint of the film. He believes the struggle against the mutants—whom he genuinely fears—can unite humanity. The end-state of Trask’s philosophy is concentration camps. We’ve seen glimpses of that kind of future before. Even in America.
Days of Future Past is also about people’s longing to change history. How different might the world be if the right people had lived … and the right ones had died? What if Hitler’s would-be assassins had succeeded? What if the Twin Towers had never fallen?
The X-Men help us to indulge that fantasy. But rewriting history is not that simple. Altering one day or several doesn’t necessarily reverse the tide of years and decades. To really change history, you have to change people.
That’s the ultimate message of this excellent movie.