I've been a pretty big fan of the X-Men movie franchise, though my dedication to it has kind of turned into a "here's hoping for something better" type of thing instead of vested interest in what they actually put out nowadays. Ever since X-Men 3: The Last Stand, one of the worst superhero movies ever made and certainly the worst of the original X-Men trilogy in my opinion, I've been constantly hoping for a return to what made X2 great and the original X-Men work reasonably well as an introductory film, especially at a time when this superhero film phenomenon was relatively new. The X-Men: Origins: Wolverine had way too many problems to even constitute it as a film, and so the original cast kinda bowed out with their heads hung low. X-Men First Class on the other hand was really cool. It had a fresh batch of young actors who all really did a fine job staying true to their characters while still imbuing them with new life. This was a solid film that didn't really jump-start the franchise back to form in any way, but in and of itself it remained a solid superhero film.
Last year's Wolverine film was kind of an apology film for the atrocity that was the Origins movie, and the after-credits scene in that one really got me excited for what was going to happen next. The film itself left me just kinda cold; I didn't have much reaction to it other than I thought it was a good attempt at fixing the Origins debacle or at least making us forget about that.
In truth, I'd have to say I had about the same reaction to Days of Future Past. I've read reviews claiming this to be the best X-Men movie ever, reviews praising the direction, the tone, the writing, the ensemble cast, and I'm over here thinking to myself: really? This is the best of the X-Men films? This is what passes for masterpiece superhero filmmaking now? The movie isn't bad, but it certainly didn't strike me as anything special in its own right, and certainly isn't the best of the X-Men films in my opinion. I love X2, and I think that's the best of the bunch, though I realize that it hasn't aged well. Days of Future Past just didn't grab me the way X2 or even First Class did, and it doesn't really feel like a Bryan Singer movie. It feels more like an apology letter to the fans for making us sit through Last Stand and Origins rather than a great film on its own, and while I do appreciate the recognition that they made crap served up in shiny packaging and are now apologizing for it, the meal they're serving this time is more of a slightly underdone steak served in pretty mundane packaging: serviceable, and compared to what its predecessors were, it's great, but I don't find it remarkable on its own.
There were three things in this film that I did like a whole lot: Quicksilver, the setting of 1973, and the dichotomy between young and old Charles Xavier. Quicksilver is just made up of awesome! He's charming and endearing without being obnoxious, and the scenes that he was in just worked so well. They really played around with his super speed and they did it logically too! I loved how we got to see things from his perspective, with everything essentially frozen because of how quickly he's moving, and then him just manipulating the enemy guards and moving around different stuff to get out of his and his friends' ways. His character was really cool, and I think he should have stuck around for more of the film.
The second thing I liked about this was that this is kind of a period piece in that it's set in the '70s. Now, I didn't feel that First Class transported us back to the '60s at all; I actually felt like it was more of a current time film that just happened to be set during the Cold War. Future Past is very good at making you feel like you're in the '70s when the movie is in the '70s, and in the future when the film is in the future. I liked all the retro looking stuff, especially the '70s version of the Sentinels, and the movie just captured the feeling of the era very well. It didn't bash you over the head with reminders that this was supposed to be the '70s; it just went about telling its story while being set in the '70s and that made it seem far more genuine.
Finally, I must say that I love James McAvoy as a young Charles. I liked him in First Class, and I like his acting a lot here as well. His character is very good in this film, because he's stuck in this dilemma of either being selfish and being able to walk, or being a beacon of hope and guidance to others of his kind but losing the use of his legs in the process. That was a nice setup, and the scene between his older and younger selves talking was very nice in helping us see the evolution of the character. I do wish that more of the story had been focussed on the struggle between he and young Magneto, something that I thought they really did well in First Class, but I found all but absent in this one.
The plot of the film is pretty straightforward, but within the simple movements of the film, there's something in there that feels like it wants the movie to be far bigger than it actually is. The future stuff was all fine, though it felt a little tacked on in spots, like the writers needed to keep on reminding us that there's this other storyline going on in the future when in actuality there wasn't. The future stuff is there as an excuse for action and plot convenience for the past stuff, though I will say again that they got the atmosphere of the whole thing perfect in this one! I felt like the future scenes were really in the future, but I think they could have used more substance.
Days of Future Past is a tricky film to judge, because it has plenty of good to offer the franchise on which it's based, and the tone and atmosphere of the picture really brought me into the experience, but as a follow-up to Singer's past X-movies, and especially as a follow-up to First Class, it left me feeling like they could have done more with it. I think the Magneto/Xavier relationship, both in the future and in the past, could have been strengthened a lot, and the scope could have been brought in just a little bit to help keep things tighter. But for all its faults, there's a good screenplay here that just needs a little bit of focus and some tightening of its bolts, and as one of the softest reboots in cinematic history (in that it didn't undo everything past just by starting over but instead paid respects to all the other movies... even X-Men 3... dammit), it succeeds very well. I see this movie as more of a successful restart and refocussing of the franchise than as a good film on its own, but what it does well on its own does make for a fun time on some basic level.