X-Men: Days of Future Past 3D Review
X-Men: Days of Future Past begins with a glimpse of a war-ravaged future. By the mid 2020's the planet has been devastated by conflict between humans and mutants, with the last few X-Men on the run from the Sentinels, giant robots which can repel mutant abilities with special powers of their own. Only the strongest mutants – including Professor X, Magneto, Wolverine and Storm – have evaded capture but even their time is running out against this relentless foe, and they decide upon a desperate final gambit. Using Shadowcat’s powers, they will send Wolverine’s consciousness back in time to 1973 to try and avert the incident which set the future on this path: Mystique’s assassination of Bolivar Trask, a weapons designer who’s been experimenting on mutants.
What Mystique cannot know is that she herself will be captured and experimented on, and her uniquely adaptive DNA will end up giving the future Sentinels their lethal capabilities which will turn the tide in the mutant war. In order to convince her of their species' ultimate fate, Wolverine will need the help of the younger iterations of both Charles Xavier a.k.a. Professor X and Eric Lensherr a.k.a. Magneto, two men who were very important to young Mystique but who couldn't be further apart in terms of their philosophies. By 1973 Xavier was left a broken shell of a man after the events of X-Men: First Class (becoming paralysed and losing Mystique) and Magneto himself has been imprisoned for supposedly killing JFK, so reconciling the two will not be easy. But when Magneto becomes a free man again he decides to take the future into his own hands, and risks creating an even darker destiny for the X-Men...
Bryan Singer's reintegration into the franchise that he started 14 years ago (which he left in the lurch to make Superman Returns in 2006) came full circle when Matthew Vaughn, director and co-writer of 2011's First Class, was unable to commit to the sequel. Singer had produced First Class so he was well aware of where Vaughn and co-writer Jane Goldman wanted to take the follow-up, setting it in the 1970's, and when Vaughn left to do Kingsman Singer was a natural choice to step into the breach. But instead of simply taking Goldman and Vaughn's premise and running with it, Singer and his writing/producing colleague Simon Kinberg decided to rebreak the story and they hit upon a more radical idea: to combine the original and prequel casts in one movie using the time-bending comicbook classic Days of Future Past as a starting point. And more than that, the story gave them an opportunity to reset all that had gone before it; while this would erase the events of Singer’s own well-received X-Men films, it would also see the demise of other instalments like X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which are regarded somewhat less highly by the fanbase.
Days of Future Past is a welcome return to form for both Singer and the X-Men franchise. The movie keeps up a decent pace without getting overawed by the time travel aspect, as the exposition is handled in five clunky minutes at the beginning of the movie and after that it’s surprisingly straightforward. Singer has never been known as an action director but, as with Nightcrawler’s White House attack in X2, he’s able to come up with quirky and exciting set-pieces that live long in the memory rather than throwing hordes of generic CG creations at the characters (which is probably the biggest weakness of Marvel’s movie output thus far), and Days is no exception thanks to the astonishing Quicksilver slow motion scene. And while there are also instances of hordes of CG characters attacking our heroes, the future Sentinels have a bit more variety due to their use of mutant powers, and the kicker is that the good guys aren't strong enough to defeat these baddies. In that vein the movie does set out a dark and disturbing premise, with X-Men being killed, bodies being dumped in mass graves and people being herded into camps (a parallel with the concentration camp prologue of Singer’s original X-Men film), but it still finds natural outlets for humour thanks to the scene-stealing Quicksilver plus the ever-present Wolverine and his snarky quips.
The movie isn’t without fault as it borrows a bit too much from the Terminator time travel playbook, (e.g. dark future prologue, the time traveller 'arriving' naked complete with gratuitous butt shot, “show him”) and they try to have their cake and eat it regarding the ending. [SPOILER ALERT, HERE YE BE WARNED] While it’s great to have all these dearly departed characters like Jean and Scott back with us in a cheery sun-dappled future, young Xavier’s voiceover tells us that the future and the past are now a realm of “endless possibilities” or, in other words: the future is not set, so even this happiest of endings might not occur which is a bit of a copout given how overwhelmingly positive the fan reaction has been. Still, it's either that or all upcoming prequel movies will be undermined by this ending precisely because of how everyone's healthy and happy in alt-2023, so the filmmakers are caught between a rock and a hard place.[HERE ENDETH THE SPOILERS]
And although the cast does an excellent job – it’s wonderful to see Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart again, Hugh Jackman is always good value and Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy are hewing ever closer to their older counterparts – there’s one member of the ensemble who doesn’t quite fit: Jennifer Lawrence. Don’t get me wrong, I thought she was great in First Class as the shapeshifting Raven, being this understandably insecure young woman who eventually betrays Xavier and buys into Magneto’s belligerent manifesto to become Mystique. But in this film Lawrence seems strangely detached from the character and she’s just not convincing as this would-be assassin, with none of the seething malice and hate that drove Rebecca Romijn’s earlier incarnation of the character.
Overall, Days of Future Past doesn’t triumph over X2 for the title of the best X-Men movie (nor does it beat the fresh & funky First Class in this reviewer’s opinion), but in spite of a few niggling issues it’s still a superior instalment in the X-Men series and it’s the shot in the arm that the franchise needed, both critically and commercially. The dead wood has been cleared and the stage is set for X-Men: Apocalypse which is due in 2016 and will feature not only the greatest threat yet to the X-Men, but to the entire world.
This American 2-disc release contains both 2D and 3D Blu-rays along with a booklet of fan art and an Ultraviolet copy, plus a slipcase if you like that sort of thing. Each disc starts with a forced trailer for Ridley Scott’s Exodus (presented in 3D on the respective disc) which can’t be skipped but it can be fast forwarded. The UK 3D version should be very similar in terms of specs but it’s not released until November 10th, however you can pre-order it here: Shopping @ The Digital Fix
Days of Future Past was shot digitally in native 3D on dual Arri Alexa rigs and finished on a 2K DI, presented here in a 1080p AVC encode. The 2.40 widescreen image has a slightly warmer, lower-contrast appearance in the 1970's scenes, and many of the shots in the finale outside the White House have a sickly sallow tinge on skin tones because of the giant green-screen backdrop used to shoot the scene. But when we go back to the future the image springs back into life, with the stained glass fittings in the Chinese monastery projecting a kaleidoscopic range of rich colour onto the screen and the lighting is much moodier and more contrasty, with deep blacks throughout. Detail levels are fantastic, as you can pick out every single seat in the baseball stadium that Magneto drops on the White House lawn. There’s a light layer of noise in some shots but it appears to be a source issue rather than an encoding problem so it's a minor concern. There are no obvious compression artefacts like blocking or banding, and the digitally-acquired image naturally has no blemishes or scratches and no overt sharpening has been applied after the fact.
The 3D presentation bears all the hallmarks of modern native stereo lensing: there's finely detailed layering with crisp, clean delineation between the separate elements but there’s a chronic lack of strong depth back into the screen. For whatever reasons filmmakers just don’t want to push the positive parallax (i.e. objects behind the screen) too far and I always regard it as a bit of a waste if that aspect isn’t explored to a reasonable degree. Other people feel the same about popout effects, but you won’t find much of that here either so this is basically a middle-of-the-road 3D feature, good but not great. Regardless of the stereography the 3D version shares many of the same visual traits as the 2D: slightly warmer palette in the ‘70s scenes, crisp detail, good blacks (although not quite as deep as the 2D version), and no problematic artefacts.
The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track is quite simply superb. Clear dialogue, immersive sound steerage and some solid bass combine to create a very enjoyable mix. It’s got an excellent dynamic range and has a wonderfully seamless wraparound feel which is just as deft in the dialogue scenes as it is during the action beats; Quicksilver's introduction scene has him playing pingpong with himself and his voice zips back and forth around the room as he does so. John Ottman's music score is woven throughout the sound stage, and while his cues for the larger action scenes aren't as memorable as Henry Jackman's bold themes for First Class, the rest of the score has a haunting, regretful quality and he also gets to reprise his own main theme from X2.
There’s about an hour of extras, all contained on the 2D disc, comprising of some deleted scenes, a few featurettes, a stills gallery and some trailers. The Deleted Scenes run for 5 minutes and are made up of moments that won't be missed, not least by Bryan Singer himself who calls the original ending "crappy" in his optional audio commentary. None of these scenes have any material pertaining to the so-called Rogue Cut of the film (the extended version due next year which restores the excised Rogue subplot when she takes over for Kitty who gets injured by Wolverine) apart from a brief shot of Anna Paquin's hands. Separate of this there's another deleted scene in the 6-minute Kitchen Sequence segment, where Mystique goes back to the Mansion and speaks to Charles. The reason why it's separate is Singer also wanted to show some outtakes of Jennifer Lawrence cracking up due to the falsetto voice that Singer had to adopt on-set due to damage on his vocal chords. The 5-minute Gag Reel does what it says on the tin, although it's actually pretty funny compared to some that I've seen.
Next up is the Double Take: Xavier & Magneto featurette, which runs for 11 minutes and looks at each character through both sets of actors, young and old. X-Men: Reunited is 10 minutes of basic insight into the genesis of the movie. Classification: M (11 minutes) examines some of the new mutants in the movie and the people who play them, and Sentinels: For a Secure Future (9 minutes) takes a similar tack with the Sentinels, giving us some information from the VFX team about how they created them and how their powers work. The Gallery: Trask Industries includes stills of Mutant Experiments, Blueprints, and Sentinel Construction. Last up is some promotional material, including three theatrical trailers for the film (I'm pleased that they included the first trailer with the Thin Red Line music) and a very short Sneak Peek of Exodus, in addition to the trailer which starts the disc.
X-Men: Days of Future Past is an enjoyable fusion of the X-Men of old and the younger First Class crew, and going forward it'll allow a whole new saga of mutant mythology to be told. This 2D/3D Blu-ray features X-cellent (sorry) sound and picture quality along with a modest set of supplements which are rarely any better than bland EPK soundbites. I've got a feeling that the real goodies - proper 'making of' documentary, audio commentary etc - will be on the extended cut that's due next year. Die hard X-Men fans will want to pick this up regardless, but some may want to wait it out to avoid double-dipping.
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