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Oh, My Stars & Garters – Early Reviews Indicate X-Men: Days of Future Past May Be Kind of Awesome

With a rumored $200+ million budget, ranking second to only Avatar as the most expensive in 20th Century Fox’s 79 year history, X-Men: days of Future Past is a big gamble to revive a franchise in stark domestic box office decline.  However, while the financial downturn has been in full swing ever since the regrettable X-Men Origins: Wolverine the franchise has been in a creative rebound ever since Matthew Vaughn’s imperfectly compelling X-Men: First Class, which scored monumental casting victories in landing on-the-rise Jennifer Lawrence, James McAvoy, and Michael Fassbender.  While last year’s The Wolverine may have been too low-stakes and comic book crazy in its final third for some, it served as exactly the kind of smaller, character study with personal but not world-threatening stakes comic book movies need to do more of.  

Could Days of Future Past, based upon Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s beloved 1981 story from the comics, destroy all that momentum by trying to do too much, ala The Amazing Spider-Man 2?  Will it mange to reverse the franchise’s box office fortunes?  And will it manage to at least be a good movie?  Fox is pretty confident on both counts, already committing to a direct sequel in X-Men: Apocalypse (5/27/16), to be directed by Bryan Singer, another solo Wolverine title in March 2017, and a mystery project for 7/13/18, which we now believe may be a Gambit movie.  

Based upon early reviews, Fox’s confidence is well-earned, with industry trades like Variety and The Hollywood Reporter guaranteeing Days of Future Past is of sufficient quality to return a big worldwide haul.  In fact, from some of the early reviews aggregated at RottenTomatoes you can already see a basic agreement on most points (direct links to the each individual review will be collected at the bottom of this article): 

There will be very light plot spoilers from this point forward

Quicksilver is to this movie what Alan Cumming’s Nightcrawler was to X2:

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Perhaps the film’s standout sequence features the much-discussed new addition of Peter Maximoff, aka Quicksilver (American Horror Story regular Evan Peters). The rights dispute that kept the character out of previous films has been resolved, allowing him to appear in both the X-Men andAvengers franchises, albeit without cross-referencing. His super-speed skills are conveyed by shooting at 3,000 frames per second, notably when Peter runs around the walls during a fabulously staged Pentagon break-in, whimsically accompanied by Jim Croce singing “Time in a Bottle.” With his silver shag, Pink Floyd T-shirt and mischievous sense of humor, Peter is a terrific character who breathes playfulness into the movie, and many will be sorry he doesn’t stick around longer. [THR]

[…] Logan’s old pal Peter (Evan Peters), a leather-jacketed, silver-haired mutant known as Quicksilver for his incredible agility, and one of the few Marvel crossover characters who can claim membership with the X-Men and the Avengers. While Aaron Taylor-Johnson is playing the character in Disney’s concurrent Marvel franchise (he’ll be seen at length in 2015’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron”), the bar has been set remarkably high here: Peters’ Quicksilver steals every scene he’s in, especially one brilliant, deliriously fun action sequence that reveals how everything seems to advance in slow-motion from his perspective. [Variety]

Evan Peters’s Quicksilver provides the stand-out moment with a jaw-dropping light-speed assault in the Pentagon [DigitalSpy]

Easily, the new character that stands out and will win audiences over is Evan Peters as … he brings the right amount of humor to his scenes, particularly one that is easily one of the movie’s best moments. [ComingSoon]

James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender are exactly as astounding if not more so than they were in First Class:

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As they did in “First Class,” McAvoy and Fassbender make an electrifying duo here, doing full justice to the emotionally complicated swirl of love, anger, kinship and betrayal that binds Charles and Erik, and rendering the kinder, gentler interplay between Stewart and McKellen all the more poignant by comparison. [Variety]

In truth, the movie belongs to the quartet of Jackman, McAvoy, Fassbender and Lawrence. Here the roles are reversed for Xavier and Wolverine with the former – disillusioned with society’s failure to accept mutants – needing guidance and help from his future protégé. It lends McAvoy the opportunity to grasp the film by the scruff of the neck and make Charles’s inner turmoil a key ingredient.  Fassbender’s Magneto is more clear-eyed and focused this time around, unafraid to double-cross if it’ll get him closer to his goal. Strip away the spectacle and pyrotechnics, though, and this film is ultimately about Charles and Erik’s battle for Mystique’s heart and soul. [DigitalSpy]

James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender dominate Days of Future Past with immense portrayals of extremely complicated individuals. The men continue to probe the psychological tortures that come with playing younger versions of Professor Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr, aka Magneto. McAvoy’s Charles, in particular, stands at a crossroads between wanting to help his fellow mutants but feeling unable to betray the ones he once considered allies. The fact that the future of the X-Men series appears to be in the hands of these towering performers gives me tremendous hope, because they play through the inherently campy tones of the X-Men universe to find real pain and hurt in the missions of these mutant heroes. [CinemaBlend] 

Bryan Singer has brought the surest hand behind the camera of an X-Men movie since he left the franchise, but his film isn’t without its flaws

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Make no mistake that the reason “X-Men: Days of Future Past” works as well as it does can be attributed directly to the return of Singer behind the camera, not only because he knows the material and characters so well, but also because he brings back the same cinematic flair that made his previous X-movies so grand. Singer know what makes the original comics work with a mix of drama and humor and balancing the mutant battles with soul-searching exposition. [ComingSoon]

Singer unspools these intricate developments in a smooth, carefully controlled style that, while hardly skimping on expertly choreographed action and lavish f/x spectacle, puts a gratifying premium on psychological depth and delineation of character. [Variety]

For all the ways in which the material fits Singer like a glove, the filmmaker still hasn’t figured out a way to make Halle Berry’s Storm a compelling presence[Variety]

Bryan Singer, thankfully, is back in the director’s chair for the first time since “X2” (still the gold standard of this franchise), and he keeps things moving along briskly enough that you can just go along with the ride of Superhero Stuff without getting bogged down in the labyrinthine plotting if you don’t want to. [TheWrap]

This is the best “X-Men” movie since Singer went off to other pursuits, and it puts enough of a whammy onto the mutant narrative to allow future sequels to veer off in any number of directions. Too bad that in doing so, it, like “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” often feels more like a set-up for movies to come rather than a satisfying experience in and of itself. [TheWrap]

Cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel, a frequent Singer collaborator, helps delineate the sunny, mustard-colored early 1970s from the dark bleakness of the film’s horrifying future, but those future segments are such a bummer (and then, so quickly shunted to the background) that they throw off the balance.[THR]

Singer never manages to make the stakes [in the future[ feel high enough, with the bulk of Ian McKelland and Patrick Stewart’s screen time spent gathered around a prostrate Wolverine while his mind roams the past. [CinemaBlend]

This may be Hugh Jackman’s finest turn as Wolverine yet

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There’s a totally different dynamic to Jackman when Wolverine is able to steal scenes as part of a larger mutant ensemble. That playful magic, which has been missing in the Wolverine solo films, is back in full force for Days. Jackman’s take on Wolverine – his seventh portrayal of the character – is forceful, funny, casual, arrogant and effortlessly cool. It’s a breathless reminder of all of the reasons we love Wolverine as a character, and it’s the best use of Wolvie in a movie… [CinemaBlend]

Not everyone is completely wowed by Jennifer Lawrence’s second turn as Mystique:

Lawrence Mystique Xmen Future Past

Switching from her honorable Hunger Games heroine into badass mode with supreme ease, Lawrence is sensational, whether slinking around in Mystique’s body-hugging blue reptilian skin, displaying the shape-shifter’s balletic fight skills or adopting seductive human form. Her romantic friendship with Charles, stretching back to their childhoods, adds poignancy to Mystique’s struggle, notably in a wonderful airport scene during which Professor X gets inside her head via random people in the terminal. [ THR]

While Lawrence looks fetching enough in Mystique’s blue birthday suit, the actress registers with less impact than one might have hoped; coming off her explosively entertaining turn in the much more elaborate Me Decade re-creation of “American Hustle,” she has relatively little to do here other than glower, snarl and let the f/x artists do their thing (though it’s fun to hear her speaking Vietnamese at one point). [Variety]

Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) is treated as a significant threat to this on-screen universe, but her motivations are muddy, at best.[CinemaBlend]

Lawrence, as expected, is magnificent, the pain and anguish of being a perennial outsider is etched on her face throughout (even through the blue make-up). [DigitalSpy]

No one is saying much about Peter Dinklage’s character because there is apparently not much to be said

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The series also has yet to conjure a credibly complicated human villain, and Dr. Bolivar Trask – despite some sinister flair by Dinklage – doesn’t reverse the trend. [CinemaBlend]

Or maybe it’s the uncharacteristically drab and forgettable performance by Peter Dinklage as Sentinel mastermind Boliver Trask [ComingSoon]

As expected, most of the non-Wolverine-Mystique-Magneto-Xavier mutants get the shaft:

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Fans of the series should know that, apart from Wolverine, it’s the “First Class” incarnations of the X-Men that get the bulk of the screen time. [TheWrap]

“The film’s intense focus on its four leads  leaves little room for the rest of the ensemble, with its surfeit of new and familiar faces. Shawn Ashmore’s Iceman pops up in welcome but somewhat truncated fashion; and it’s a mystery why Anna Paquin retains such prominent billing, given Rogue’s blink-and-you-miss-it appearance. Speaking of Blink, the mutant who goes by that name is one of the more memorable “X-Men” newcomers, due more to her nifty powers of teleportation than to Chinese star Fan Bingbing’s muted performance. Other fresh additions to the mutant ranks who register briefly here include Bishop (Omar Sy), Sunspot (Adan Canto) and Warpath (Booboo Stewart).” [Variety]

Stewart and McKellen are reassuring presences, but their scenes rely too heavily on our past experiences with them. Halle Berry’s Storm is only a fleeting presence, while Anna Paquin’s Rogue doesn’t even have a speaking part. [DigitalSpy]

With so many returning mutants in “Days of Future Past,” one wouldn’t expect there to be much room for introducing new characters though it’s done far more organically than the way new mutants were introduced in “The Last Stand.” You rarely feel as if you’re being hit over the head with a lot of unnecessary characters even with the mix of familiar faces with new mutants during the opening battle sequence. [ComingSoon]

You’d better brush up on the prior X-Men films before seeing Days of Future Past

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Do some light streaming, dig out the DVD box sets, browse the Wikipedia pages or consult the cashier at your neighborhood comic store, but make sure you come into the theater with a fairly confident grasp of what went down in “X-Men,” “X2,” “X-Men: The Last Stand” and “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” — “The Wolverine,” oddly, not so much — since the screenplay by Simon Kinberg (“Sherlock Holmes”) assumes you already know mutant chapter and verse. [TheWrap]

The screenplay ponders whether time is immutable while raising the possibility of infinite outcomes. But spend too long trying to align what happens here with earlier developments and your head will explode.[THR]

Days of Future Past miraculously tidies up the once-disjointed history of the X-Men movies, simultaneously setting the series on an open road to countless future stories [CinemaBlend]

In Conclusion

While it’s more dramatically diffuse than the [First Class] reboot and lacks a definitive villain, the new film is shot through with a stirring reverence for the Marvel Comics characters and their universe. And it ups the stakes by threatening nothing less than the genocide of the mutant population, among them faces old and new. Huge worldwide box office seems guaranteed.  It’s hard to imagine fanboys having too much to grumble about here, as Singer has pulled together an ambitious, suspenseful screen chapter that secures a future for the franchise while facilitating continued reinvention. Audiences should sit tight through the end credits crawl for an enigmatic signoff scene that provides a taste of the next installment, X-Men: Apocalypse.[ THR]

It’s the X-Men movie dedicated fans never thought they’d see. And now that it’s here, it’s the greatest X-Men movie we’ve seen to date, and a new standard-bearer for the massive potential of comic-book franchises far and wide.[CinemaBlend]

As Beast might say, Oh, my stars and garters, Bryan Singer may have actually pulled this thing off.  We’ll get to judge for ourselves when Days of Future Past bows worldwide on 5/23/14 domestic release.

Sources: Variety, THR, The Wrap, CinemaBlend, Digital Spy, ComingSoon, RottenTomatoes 

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8 comments

  1. I’m just glad it doesn’t suck! Sigh, I have such low expectations for Fox’s X-Men films.

    1. Totally understand. I get exposed to spoilers so you don’t have to 🙂 Of the reviews I quoted in the article, the one from CinemaBlend is probably the least spoiler-y, giving away not much more than the trailers have. However, so far the same thing that happened with Amazing Spider-Man 2 is happening with Days of Future Past – all the critics are saying basically the same things, pinpointing the exact same strengths and weaknesses with only minor variations, such as not everyone agreeing about the quality of Jennifer Lawrence’s performance. The difference is they seem to really like Days of Future Past whereas ASM 2 was getting mostly lukewarm to altogether negative press.

      I am suddenly forgetting all my hand-wringing about this movie, and frequent discussions about the financial health of the X-Men franchise and flashing back to the moment last summer when Magneto and Charles Xavier showed up out of nowhere in the final scene of Wolverine. I left that theater optimistic about Days of Future Past, and ever since then that somehow morphed into me simply hoping the film wouldn’t suck. Well, the critics say it doesn’t suck. Yay!

      1. I for one grew up with the story (even had the kids-book adaptation of it), so I really hope it doesn’t suck.

        I was actually hoping Days of Future Past would lead directly out of X-Men: The Last Stand. That film should have ended with Bishop showing up and saying “what just happened?” I was half expecting that as I sat in the theaters watching it. Instead we got that weird Xavier rebirth scene.

        Time to reclaim the franchise.

      2. “Time to reclaim the franchise”

        Agreed. If I recall correctly, X-Men: The Animated Series did its own version of Days of Future Past. So, that’s always been my reference point since that was my first exposure to it. However, this movie is apparently only very loosely adapted (more inspired by) the original story. Either way, it is shaping up to at least be a very fun to go out and see with a big crowd opening weekend (and then involuntarily marathon the earlier -good- X-Men movies afterward).

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