X-Men: Days of Future Past (The Rogue Cut) Review
X-Men: Days of Future Past was released to wide critical acclaim and a bumper box office haul in the middle of 2014, but something niggled the fanbase: where was Anna Paquin's Rogue? She featured quite prominently in the pre-publicity and can be glimpsed in the first trailer, yet in the final film she was relegated to the future coda. Director/producer Bryan Singer and writer/producer Simon Kinberg clearly explained why at the time, as they felt that the Rogue scenes were somewhat unnecessary and slowed down the pace of the film. Nevertheless, the hardcore X-aficionados were still bummed that Rogue's part had been excised and the clamour for those sequences grew, so much so that the extended version was announced even before the theatrical version was released on home video! Jump forward to July 2015 and the so-called Rogue Cut has made its eagerly-awaited debut on Blu-ray and DVD.
I won't rehash the whole plot - you can read my thoughts on the first Blu-ray release for that - but I can't talk about the changes to the film without addressing specific story points, so the remainder of this part of the review will be subject to a great big SPOILER ALERT. First off, it's worth mentioning that the Rogue Cut name is something of a misnomer because she isn't actually in it for long! The scenes consist of Bobby/Iceman, Magneto and Xavier rescuing Rogue so she can absorb Kitty's/Shadowcat's power and take her place after Wolverine accidentally injures her, and then she fills in for Kitty until the end of the movie, resulting in a few new reaction shots of Rogue and not much else from her. No, what sets this new edition apart is that it adds more meat to practically every other main character and it's become a more balanced and nuanced film, as I liked the theatrical cut but the movie never quite clicked with me until now.
What's strange is that I'm not one for extended cuts in general because they tend to belabour the point, slowing down the overall thrust of the story and taking several minutes to expound what the theatrical did with a quick cut or a voice-over. Yet in this case the extra footage has deepened my understanding of the characters rather than just spelling out why A has to happen to B in time for C to occur. The opening of the movie is a case in point; in the theatrical we get the clunky exposition about how Mystique is the root of the problem, how Kitty's time travel works etc. and then cut to Wolverine barring the door at the monastery, but the Rogue Cut inserts a scene where Bishop insists on putting the plan to a vote because he's anxious that if the past is changed he could be erased from existence, in spite of how bleak their current predicament is. They eventually vote to proceed, natch, but it adds some latent tension to the remaining future scenes, Bishop fighting for a new future he may never see.
Raven/Mystique was a character that I didn't warm to in the theatrical cut because she wasn't quite the deliciously devious madam that I expected her to be, coming off more as this noble freedom fighter for mutantkind. Some would say that that's the point, that these prequels are about establishing these characters (if First Class was Magneto's story then Days of Future Past is Xavier's), but Mystique without true naughtiness is like a Martini without an olive: it doesn't quite work. The new sequence where she goes all the way back to the X-Mansion after Xavier uses Cerebro to find her in Paris may seem like the stupidest thing to do, yet it makes sense. She now knows that she's being tracked so she decides to disable Cerebro, taking full advantage of Hank's feelings for her and using her injury as a means of deflecting his attention, which is more like the manipulative Mystique of old. It also adds more meaning to their exchange of looks in the stadium at the end of the film, which always seemed odd to me because they hadn't actually shared a scene together. They'd been close in First Class, true, but now that the Mansion scene has been reinstated it gives their moment of connection more depth in the context of this film, Mystique looking almost apologetic while Hank's tacit forgiveness is plain to see.
Bobby and Kitty's relationship is also more overt in this new version, brought to the fore because they've both got dangerous tasks to accomplish: Kitty's using her power to transport Wolverine's mind back in time and then Bobby goes on the mission to rescue Rogue, and they get several new scenes in which they reaffirm their love for each other. In the theatrical version Bobby gives up his life to protect Kitty from the Sentinels as they attack the monastery but there's little time for the characters to react to it, it's just another death among many at that point. However, in the new cut he dies on the Rogue mission which gives his demise a greater emotional impact, as Kitty's anguished reaction when she learns of his death is genuinely touching. And by laying down his life here, Bobby's displaying his affection not just for Kitty (needing Rogue to preserve what little strength Kitty has left) but Rogue too, whom he shared a relationship with in the original trilogy of X-Men films, and they're seen together in the happy future coda (as per the theatrical cut) which adds even more resonance to his sacrifice.
Thankfully the new and alternate scenes haven't simply been dumped back in a linear fashion, as the sequence with Bobby, Xavier and Magneto infiltrating the future X-Mansion to rescue Rogue (where she's being experimented on) is deftly intercut with young Magneto breaking into the Pentagon to retrieve his telepathy-blocking helmet. It makes for a wonderful juxtaposition of old Magneto fighting for the cause of good while his younger counterpart cements his bad-guy status, topped off with a newly added close-up of the blood-stained coin he used to kill Sebastian Shaw in First Class, the Nazi Swastika clearly visible. It's a moment that reminds us not only that this man is a killer but that his actions may yet trigger another genocide of his own people, this time for mutants instead of the Jews. The Rogue raid also gives 'classic' Magneto and Xavier more to do than just bookend the film; with an ensemble as large as this it's easy for certain members to get sidelined, but now there's more balance between the past and future story strands.
Other smaller beats are sprinkled throughout the film, like Nixon telling Trask he doesn't care who he screws as long as it's not him (Nixon also gets a terrific F-bomb which had to be cut for the rating). This ties in with Trask's ultimate fate after it's discovered he tried to sell his Sentinels to the Vietnamese, which is dealt with by a quick shot of a newspaper headline in the theatrical cut ("Trask arrested for selling military secrets") but is fully revealed in a mid-credits stinger in this new cut. Even something like the scene outside of the apartment where Wolverine wakes up in 1973 would otherwise be redundant (he tells the boss's daughter to get out of his lovely Buick Riv) but it finishes with a lingering shot of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in the distance, which foretells the destruction to come not only in our world but also in the mutants' dark future, as the movie opens with a shot of a desolate New York City.
To wrap up, it's fair to say that I was bowled over by this new Rogue Cut of X-Men: Days of Future Past. It doesn't feel flabbier or more drawn out like a lot of extended editions I could mention (running a full 17 minutes longer as it does), and although Rogue herself was a largely superfluous addition most of the other characters are genuinely enriched in a variety of ways. I wasn't impressed enough with the theatrical cut for it to displace X2 at the top of my personal X-Men rankings, but this new improved edition nudges it aside to become the best X-Men film so far in my humble opinion.
This American 2-disc release contains the Rogue Cut and the original theatrical cut (both are seamlessly branched on the same disc) and a separate disc of extras, plus a UV copy housed in a slipcase. The movie disc is coded for regions A and B while the extras disc is region free. Because the audio/video quality is virtually identical between this and the previous Blu-ray I'll cut and paste my thoughts from my original review, though there is an addendum to follow. It's also worth noting that this edition is 2D only because the Rogue Cut was not post-produced in 3D, despite the movie having been captured in native stereo (there's more to it than simply slugging the 3D footage into the new cut), so 3D fans will want to hang on to the original disc.
"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 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."
To add to the above, I was pleased to see that the newly-added footage lines up perfectly with the final version in terms of the grading and the quality of the VFX. Sometimes these extended editions can look quite uneven because the old and new just don't match up but in this case Fox have given the Rogue Cut a theatrical-quality level of polish. (According to the audio commentary some of the new VFX were pre-vis shots for the theatrical version which weren't actually shown to Singer first time around, and he liked them so much they've been fully rendered and inserted into the Rogue Cut where appropriate.) As for the audio, my comments above still apply but upon comparing the audio between the two versions of the film I noticed that the bass in the Rogue Cut seems to be just a touch quieter in some of the altered scenes. It's not enough to be immediately obvious when watching the new version on its own as it still sounds fantastic, but the theatrical cut has the slightest edge in terms of the low end so it keeps its 10 score while I give the Rogue Cut a well-earned 9 (which is reflected in the scoring at the end of the review).
The line-up of new extra features (all of which are exclusive to this new Blu-ray, there's no overlap with the previous disc) isn't overly exhaustive but they get the job done. Bryan Singer pulls double duty for the audio commentaries, participating with Simon Kinberg for the theatrical cut and editor/composer John Ottman on the Rogue Cut. They're both full of on-set anecdotes, creative insights and technical info, and Singer shares an obvious rapport with both men although the Ottman track is a bit more stop-start, it sounds as if it's been edited more severely than the Kinberg track. Mutant vs. Machine is a 52-minute 'making of' documentary containing comments from cast and crew. It feels a touch lightweight, the cast contributions in particular seeming like they were taken from an EPK, but this is made up for with the X-Men Unguarded roundtable discussion, a fun 30-minute chat featuring most of the cast (Lawrence is a notable absentee). There's a set of stills galleries containing storyboards, costume art and concept art and last up is a 'Sneak Peek' (trailer, in other words) for the new Fantastic Four movie.
Fox's second bite of the cherry with X-Men: Days of Future Past on Blu-ray should please most fans of the film. The new Rogue Cut adds a surprising amount of emotional depth to the story and promotes it to the top of the class for me. The same superb picture quality as the original release is in evidence while the audio just falls short, and although the new roster of supplements isn't as definitive as it otherwise might be (I'll be keeping the previous disc for the deleted scenes, trailers and gag reel) there's still some insightful stuff here. Highly recommended.
9 out of 10
9 out of 10
9 out of 10
8 out of 10