X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST
The X-Men films hit their peak with the first two entries, Bryan Singers X-Men and X2 but tanked after Brett Ratner inherited the reins with the misguided The Last Stand. (Days of the Future Past supposedly follows directly on from The Last Stand but Singer snubs it so badly he doesnt even concern himself with continuity to the end of that film that had Patrick Stewarts Professor Xavier killed off, a point that has been entirely forgotten here). The problem the X-Men films have is a habit of propelling their actors into A-list names thus pricing them out of appearing as part of an ensemble the films so far have featured the likes of Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Jennifer Lawrence, Anna Paquin, Ellen Page and Taylor Kitsch, who were either unknown at the time or their stars rapidly ascended after the films came out. Thus all of the films subsequent to The Last Stand have tried to figure a way around the dilemma with X-Men Origins: Wolverine and The Wolverine trying to spin films off around the series most popular figure of Hugh Jackmans Wolverine, while X: First Class took the series back to its origins thus allowing it to be recast with younger faces. Days of Future Past features the return of Bryan Singer to the directors chair and not only most of the classic cast members but also the ensemble from the reboot series, with a time travel plot that cleverly allows the merging the older and younger faces. Taking their lead from other Marvel Films, there is a post-credits sequence showing Apocalypse in Ancient Egypt, which is set up for the subsequent X-Men: Apocalypse.
Days of Future Past seems a smart choice for Bryan Singer. In 2000, Singer was a bright rising ingenue who had had the word of mouth hit of The Usual Suspects (1995), dipped slightly with the Stephen King adaptation Apt Pupil (1998) and was still largely an unknown when he took on X-Men as his third film. The success of the two X-Men films propelled Singer to a career peak subject to the sort of stratosphere of fanboy adoration that Christopher Nolan now inhabits. Singer then jumped from Marvel to make DCs Superman Returns (2006) and fell from his throne altogether. While I am in a minority in arguing that it is his best film, Superman Returns has a lot of hate for it and is regarded as a failure by most (even though it was the sixth top grossing film of its year). Singers star failed to recover with the Tom Cruise Nazi film Valkyrie (2008) and the surprisingly lacklustre fantasy film Jack the Giant Slayer (2013). Thus it seems sound commercial sense for Singer to return to the place where he found his greatest acclaim.
From advance word, some called X-Men: Days of Future Past one of the best X-Men films to date and most a resounding success. I remain slightly the less of that classification. Singer and Simon Kinberg have adapted Days of Future Past (1981), a two-part story that appeared in The Uncanny X-Men and is regarded as a one of the best Marvel stories ever. That said, Singer and Kinberg rework the story considerably in the original, it is Kitty Pryde who travels back in time whereas here she (not a major character in the films so far) is replaced by the more popular Wolverine. (It can be observed that the X-Men film series had long ago ceased worrying too much about comic-book continuity and are more centred around the various actors cast in the parts, only returning to the source now and again to find new mutant characters to introduce). Days of Future Past had previously been adapted (more faithfully) as a two part episode of the animated X-Men (1992-7).
Days of Future Past returns far more to being a story and character driven X-Men film than most of the other sequels. The story that the film has is disappointingly no great head-scratcher. I would have thought the time travel premise might have been filled with great possibilities dealing with temporal conundrums and alternate timelines but it never amounts to anything that would have even been considered worthy of a Terminator sequel. To Singers credit, he keeps the film tightly focused as a character drama between Professor Xavier, his friendship/enmity with Magneto and the crucial question of whether Mystique is going over to the dark side. Wolverine is the central character of the film and there is some amusement to the scenes of him trying to inspire Xavier to be the Xavier we always know (although the big problem I had here was with James McAvoys playing of Xavier as a cynical, burned-out drug addict. McAvoy seems to be having fun in the part but it becomes a major stretch to imagine him turning into the dignified Patrick Stewart we see in the wraparound scenes).
The X-Men series has such a wide range of characters, it seems hard for any of the well-established ones to ever get more than a look in. Despite the touted merging of old and young X-Men faces, most of the classic names are only kept to wraparound scenes at the beginning and end. Though they are back, star names like Ellen Page and Halle Berry are not given much to do, while the return of Famke Janssen and James Marsden are single scene cameos, Kelsey Grammers Beast a walk-by greeting (and Anna Paquins cameo ended on the cutting room floor). Much of the latter half of the film is owned by Michael Fassbender who slides into Magneto villainy with perfectly chill superiority and Jennifer Lawrence who gives us a lithe and vulnerable Mystique. The great new scene-stealer of the show is Evan Peters of American Horror Story (2011 ) fame as Quicksilver, which he nails with languid cockiness. (Creating some continuity confusion, a different version of Quicksilver turned up the following year in Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson and with different origin story the problem with X-Men copyright being held at a different studio to Marvel Studios).
The heights of Bryan Singers other two X-Men films were his handling of the superheroic action scenes. He returns to those here, showing just what the ensuing films have lacked in the way he stages scenes. We get a fast and furious battle between the Sentinels and mutants as the film opens, while Mystique employs a deadly array of martial arts moves. The film is often slow compared to what some of the Marvel contemporaries have turned the action scenes into and it is not until some way in when Singer produces the cheer out loud sequence where we see a roomful of Secret Service men shooting bullets stilled in place as Evan Peters races around the room altering trajectories and moving objects to knock out the attackers. There are also some fabulous sequences with the mutants fighting in the streets of Paris and the climactic scenes with Magneto levitating an entire stadium and taking control of the Sentinels to attack the White House. It doesnt quite rock the house the way it did seeing X-Men back in 2000 but it is nice seeing Bryan Singer return to form.
Bryan Singer first caught attention with The Usual Suspects (1995) and then went onto the Stephen King adapted Apt Pupil (1998) about the relationship between a teenager and a Nazi war criminal. Following the first two X-Men films, Singer hopped ship from Marvel to DC Comics to direct Superman Returns (2006) and then went onto the non-genre Valkyrie (2008) and the fantasy film Jack the Giant Slayer (2013). Bryan Singer has also executive produced the tv mini-series The Triangle (2005) about the Bermuda Triangle, and produced the horror anthology Trick R Treat (2008), X: First Class, the horror films My Eleventh (2014) and The Taking (2014), and the tv series Legion (2017 ).