The modern comic book film has evolved. Beginning with glorified, live-action, cartoonish renditions like the Superman film franchise of the 80s, the evolution into exploring human psychology and motivation came with Batman: The Dark Knight (2008).
With X-Men: Days of Future Past we find one of the most human films of its kind. Filled with super powered humans fighting to save the world from the forces of evil - as is the standard in past mutant films - this version is full of palpable darkness and despair that hasn’t been seen since the aforementioned Dark Knight.
Ironically, this black vibe was void during a New York City press event for Days of Future Past at Central Park’s Ritz Carlton Hotel. Unlike the intense hate and desperation emitted from scenes of the film, the cast in real life seemed to make a concerted effort to keep things upbeat and jovial. On hand for the event were Hugh Jackman (Wolverine), James McAvoy (young Charles Xavier), Michael Fassbender (young Magneto), Ellen Page (Kitty Pride), Peter Dinklage (Dr. Bolivar Trask), producer Hutch Parker, and producer/writers Jan Goldman and Simon Kinberg.
As some in the room buzzed about the emotionally heavy properties of Days of Future Past, the press event never took a serious turn. Instead it was injected with what seemed like forced jokes and laughter from most of the cast.
“I felt like I needed to go back and shoot all the other movies again now that I know exactly where I came from. I felt like I could get so much more James McAvoy into that character,” Patrick Stewart joked, about his younger version of Professor X played by McAvoy.
“Everybody needs a little more James McAvoy in them,” quipped James, drawing giggles from the crowd.
“It felt like two films in a way because the beginning is the future,” said Jackman, who wore a band aid below his right eye after recent surgery for skin cancer. “The whole thing was like an incredible reunion. The whole time, as intense as the movie was, I think it qualifies as unbelievable having worked on the set throughout the whole thing was a joy. This film’s cast has always had a great bond from the beginning having worked with these guys was a lot of fun, but there was always that intensity.”
Perhaps it’s this intensity that made the cast unwilling to want to return to the dark and dreary moments of Days of Future Past, making the film more riveting, heavy, and real than the light-hearted energy of its press event. Based in part on comic book issues #141-#142, the X-Men and all of mankind (human and mutant), are trapped in a future where the robotic Sentinel killing machines rule with a cold, calculating iron fist. Mutants have been hunted to the brink of extinction. Humans who helped have suffered a similar fate. And most of the super powered beings that remain alive have been committed to a concentration camp. There is no hope. Only sorrow and death.
As is the case with most movie adaptions, Days of Future Past departs from the original comic book storyline and overall plot. Fans will recall that Super Sentinel, Nimrod, came from the future able to change form, learned from each battle, and incorporated those lessons into his battle plans and powers. In the movie, Sentinels of the future appear to have been based in part on Nimrod. Except unlike the comic books, where only one Nimrod existed, in the film there are hundreds of thousands of Sentinels in the dystopian future.
Changing storylines is frowned upon by some comic book fans. But in this movie, the tale is successfully twisted into a moving, terrifying portrayal that is just as good as the comic books were back in 1981. On screen, the futuristic Sentinels are incredibly complex and amazing eye-candy making sci-fi nerds happily eat every moment and morsel.
A storyline as ambitious as that of X-Men: Days of Future Past brings a heavy reliance on skilled professionals, a cast of multiple Oscar winners (Jennifer Lawrence, Ellen Page, Halle Berry) and nominees (Fassbender), who all operate at the top of their game. Writer Simon Kinsberg (XXX: State of the Union, Jumper, This Means War) expressed that managing shooting schedules was among the film’s greatest logistical headaches.
“The scheduling was as tough as any other schedule I have ever seen. Not only was it a big cast but everybody had restricted dates. Everybody was on to other films,” he said. “The jigsaw puzzle of that included, that first month, having to shoot everybody out, then bringing in the new cast and various restrictions there. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie with this many lead roles, and that was the biggest challenge. Keeping characters straight in their own story and making sure everybody had their own emotional arc over the span of the movie.”
“I think you’ve got to stretch the characters in order to get them into something new,” McAvoy explained. “Part of the point of going back (to the past) is to show how different people are so that the audience can be there for the key turning points of their lives. When these characters are going through the crucible something is formed, something is galvanized. So, you’ve got to hang on for the worst moments. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
Despite McAvoy’s sentence ending with a time honored euphemism used to describe perseverance and resilience, the film’s portrayal features several X-Men dying gruesome, graphic deaths.
In one scene (spoiler alert!), the X-Men make a stand at a mountain compound in China. As a swarm of Sentinels fly to fight them, with hundreds of technological behemoths dropping from ships, there’s no place to run or hide. Trapped by the takeover, the X-Men are swatted and smashed like flies, some are impaled, others decapitated, and a few are literally torn apart, decimated and blown away like fodder.
To organize this madness, there was a method to scribe Simon Kinberg’s scriptwriting genius. “One thing about writing a film with this many characters is you have to choose a protagonist, the person whose story is the core of the film. And that was young Charles for me writing it. And it was really the story of a guy who starts the film without hope and ending the film with hope,” he said. “Once you know that that’s the arc and you’re going to end the film in a hopeful place, despite all of the darkness and the trauma they go through, you know it is going to work out to a safe and happy place at the end.”
X-Men: Days of Future Past is an intricate story that was expertly crafted and masterfully translated to the silver screen by director Bryan Singer and the rest of the A list squad. For fans of science fiction, as well as comic book lovers, the film is a work of art with a script full of colorful special effects and humanity exuded by characters that make it one of the rare movie to watch multiple times.
The Shadow League gives X-Men: Days of Future Past an A+.