‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’ may be the most important superhero movie of all time. I don’t say that lightly. Those whose blood pressure is starting to rise should take note: I didn’t say it was the “most fun” or “action packed” movie of all time — I said it may be the most important film ever.
Right out of the gates director Bryan Singer lets the audience know he’s created a movie about big ideas. When the first thing a director asks is “Does free will exist?” he’s given himself a tall order to fulfill:
Charles Xavier: The future…a dark desolate world. A world at war. Suffering and loss on both sides. Mutants and the humans who dared to help them fighting an enemy we can not defeat. Are we destined down this path, destined to destroy ourselves like so many species before us? Or can we evolve fast enough to change ourselves, change our fate? Is the future truly set?
Everything from the visuals and the narration to the music by John Ottman says: “This movie has gravity. Leave now if you just want a mindless popcorn flick.”
How many of us yearn to be able to go back in time and visit our younger selves — to talk some sense into them? What price would you pay for a single attempt to impart wisdom and knowledge on your reckless youthful counterpart — who wouldn’t listen to anyone — because maybe, just maybe, he’d listen to you? What if you could go back in time and convey something to your younger consciousness that would save all sorts of pain and suffering that you — although you wouldn’t ever admit it publicly — caused friends and loved ones? What if you’ve created a “dark desolate world” for yourself, but you knew there was a moment in time that could set things on a very different path? Would you risk ripping your consciousness into a million pieces for a chance to travel through space and time to set things right?
These are all very deep questions, and the actors tasked with making it all real to the audience do a magnificent job. James McAvoy, Hugh Jackman, Peter Dinklage, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Evan Peters and basically the entire cast all do a commendable job. Everyone who was required to provide emotional weight to movie comes through in the clutch, and the end result is a movie worth watching many times.
In addition to the covering free will, ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’ covers redemption. The turning point in the film (major spoilers ahead — you have been warned) comes when young Charles finally comes face-to-face with his older self.
Young Charles: So this what becomes of us. Eric was right. Humanity does this to us.
Old Charles: Not if we show them a better past.
Young Charles: You still believe?
Old Charles: Just because someone stumbles and loses their way, it doesn’t mean they’re lost forever. Sometimes we need a little help.
Young Charles: I’m not the man I was. I open my mind and it almost overwhelms me.
Old Charles: You’re afraid, and Cerebro knows it.
Young Charles: In all those voices…so much pain.
Old Charles: It’s not their pain you’re afraid of — it’s yours. And frightening as it can be their pain will make you stronger if you allow yourself to feel it. Embrace it. It will make you more powerful than you ever imagined. It’s the greatest gift we have that can bear pain without breaking, and it’s born from the most human power: Hope. Please Charles, we need you to hope again.
Can you forgive yourself for all the mistakes you’ve made? Can you forgive your friends and loved ones for the pain they’ve inflicted upon you? Can you forgive humanity for all the injustices it’s inflicted upon itself? Can you find strength in pain and then use that strength to make the world a better place? These are all questions asked by Singer, and the end result is a movie that aims — and largely succeeds — at affecting those who are willing to let it do so on the deepest of philosophical levels.
In short, the evolution of Charles Xavier over the course of the film from a broken man and into the hero who would lead the X-Men to a better tomorrow is nearly flawless. Along the way you might even forget that you’re watching “just” a superhero movie and find yourself welling up inside. For much of the movie you don’t know how it’s going to turn out. Yes, fans “know” how it’s going to end (another movie is on the way, of course) but the writing, acting and directing are so good that it’s easy to get lost in it all and say, “Wow, they might not pull this out.”
Luckily, Professor Xavier regains his hope at a pivotal point in the film.
Hank McCoy: There’s a theory in quantum physics that time is immutable. It’s like a river — you can throw a pebble in and create a ripple, but the current always corrects itself. No matter what you do the river just keeps flowing in the same direction.
Wolverine: What are you trying to say?
Beast: What I’m saying is, what if the war is inevitable? What if she’s meant to kill Trask? What if this is simply who she is?
Charles Xavier: Just because someone stumbles and loses their way it doesn’t mean they’re lost forever. No, I don’t believe that theory Hank, and I can not believe that is who she is. Ready the plane. We’re going to Washington.
If you get a chance to see ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’ in theaters, I would highly suggest making the trip. It’s rare for a movie to work on so many levels, and the fact that it’s an X-Men film makes this longtime Marvel fan very happy.
Editor’s Note for regular readers: I know I mentioned not being able to pay to see this movie, given the storm clouds hanging over the director’s head. I went to the movie theater with every intention of paying for Godzilla and then walking into X-Men: Days of Future Past, but the theater turned out to be about the size of my bedroom. There was no way I could pull it off without creating an awkward scene, so I allowed a friend to pay for me. I still don’t feel right about it, so if Mr. Singer’s legal issues do not turn out in his favor I will make a donation that would in all likelihood meet his accuser’s approval.