Days of Future Past is a very highly regarded X-Men comic from the John Byrne and Chris Claremont run on the title that many people consider to be the best era on the series. It’s also consistently cited as one of the very best X-Men stories. This would arguably carry a heavy weight of expectation if it were not for the fact that X2 and X-Men: The Last Stand are also (loosely-) based on well regarded tales: God Loves, Man Kills and The Dark Phoenix Saga, respectively.
Days of Future Past is arguably closer to its inspiration, although it does depart in many significant ways and also ties into the films that have preceded it. It feels like an exercise in excising the mess that was X3, completely ignoring Wolverine Origins (and I assume it also can be seen as writing the last Wolverine film out of the movie continuity) as well as jettisoning large parts of X-Men Origins. It is the latter aim that seems most miserable, there were great ideas given short shrift and lots of characters discarded for a throwaway moment.
The film series now encompasses 7 films and 5 different directors. Several of the roles have been recast, even between successive films (I think Ellen Page is the third Kitty Pryde and the first to actually return). There’s a lot of inconsistencies in tone and timelines to iron out to make the story into a cohesive whole. And the film manages to draw threads from the series and knit them together or cut them off in a way that makes sense.
It’s a nearly film. It’s nearly great. It nearly does big action well. You nearly care about the characters. The ending nearly gets away with it. There is a brilliant action sequence part way through the film, but it sadly makes the ending feel more muted and less climatic. The best moments are featuring a character who then doesn’t appear again. The sense of inevitability that time cannot be rewritten aren’t allowed to pervade enough to create a sense of dread. There is a depressing feeling that matches the period but stops the film being entirely one thing or another.
James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender have a chemistry together and McAvoy has a role he clearly enjoyed sinking his teeth into. Jackman has Wolverine practised now and the rest of the cast perform admirably (although a lot of the future X-Men are massively under utilised and it’s amazing Anna Paquin is even credited, let alone so highly). The script isn’t bad, but there is too much crammed in and you feel characters are under utilised to the point where you assume it could easily have been an extra 30 minutes long.
Jennifer Lawrence very nearly steals the film though. Her wig looks awful but she is brilliant. She’s the American Keira Knightley: she makes either period films (X-Men First Class, American Hustle) or films set in the future (Hunger Games) or more outre contemporary work (the Silver Linings Playbook). Seriously, though, she does the action scenes well and shows real range as she oscillates between being conflicted and determined.
The special effects are largely good, although the entire future sequence is obviously studio bound and could have used a little more grit and detail. It compares unfavourably to the 20 and 30 year old vistas of the Terminator series, which is saddening considering the relative budgets and the technological progress in the meantime.
As much as I want to love the film I merely like it. I feel it exceeded my expectations but hinted at the potential it only manages to fleetingly achieve, if it ever comes close.