'Future Past' at last: The X-Men film I've been waiting for

CNET’s Roger Cheng explains why he’s emotionally attached to the X-Men franchise and whether "DOFP" holds up as a worthy sequel. Caution: mild spoilers ahead.

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Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Professor X (James McAvoy), and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) in "X-Men: Days of Future Past." 20th Century Fox

"X-Men: First Class" literally changed my life.

This is not the idle claim of a comic book fanboy, nor do I claim to be an extreme-genre-film aficionado. The film truly played a key role in my courtship with my wife, and our eventual marriage.

It's a tale I shared in a speech at our wedding, and one I'll share with CNET's readers. It was back in the spring of 2011, our third date, and we had agreed to meet at a little seafood restaurant in the East Village. After dinner, I had planned an exciting night out at a trendy lounge nearby -- in fact, reservations had already been made.

So it came as a bit of a shock when my date actually insisted on watching the new "X-Men" movie, which happened to be "First Class," and proceeded to talk about her love of comic book films, among other geeky topics.

At this point, I realized I had hit the jackpot. We tied the knot last August, a little over two years after that fateful date (our first movie after getting hitched: "The Wolverine" -- the day after our wedding).

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My wife and I at the premiere of the new X-Men film. Roger Cheng/CNET

To say I have an emotional attachment to the "X-Men" films would be an understatement. As you can imagine, our anticipation for "X-Men: Days of Future Past" was sky high. So I was psyched to be able to bring my wife with me to the global premiere of the film in New York on Saturday.

My reaction in a word: wow.

"DOFP" is the X-Men film I've been waiting for for the last 11 years, ever since director Bryan Singer teased an epic follow-up to "X2," the sequel to his standard-setting original "X-Men" film. Instead, we got "X-Men: The Last Stand," the Brett Ratner-directed follow-up that was so woefully disappointing it nearly derailed my love of comic book films.

While I get sentimental about "First Class," I don't hold it up on any pedestal. It's a solid film that set the franchise back on the right path, which "The Wolverine" admirably built upon.

(From this point on, I'll be discussing specific scenes from the film, so stop reading here if you want to avoid spoilers.)

"DOFP," which involves Wolverine going back in time and recruiting Professor X and Magneto to prevent a Sentinel-dominated apocalyptic world, is a much grander and more clever film that simultaneously ties together many of the older films while wiping the slate clean. Yes, that means some of the more controversial elements from "Last Stand" are erased, which I appreciated greatly.

There's enough action and visual treats for the casual audience member, with standouts including the opening and climatic scenes set in the future, where a mix of older and newer mutants face off against a squadron of next-generation Sentinels. Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) completely ices out and ice-slides for the first time in a movie, and new mutant Blink (Bingbing Fan) makes creative use of her dizzying ability to cast portal after portal, sometimes transporting herself, her teammates, and the Sentinels themselves.

Another star who made the most of his limited time was Evan Peters as Quicksilver. He stole the show in one particularly amusing and time-bending scene set in a kitchen where everything slows to a crawl as the super-quick mutant accelerates, allowing him to disarm and knock out several guards and deflect bullets as everyone stood still. When time speeds back up, the guards are on the floor and the main characters stand there shocked. It's one of the more crowd-pleasing moments.

Despite the hype of having such a large cast from both the first trilogy of X-Men films and "First Class," much of the focus is rightfully directed on just a few characters. Hugh Jackman's Wolverine is, unsurprisingly, the catalyst for many of the events of the film, while the tortured bromance between James McAvoy's Professor X and Michael Fassbender's Magneto gets a bulk of the screen time.

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Professor X and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) play another game of chess. 20th Century Fox

The other major player is Jennifer Lawrence's Mystique, who fans of the original comic storyline will know plays the key role of potential assassin, targeting Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), the inventor of the Sentinels. Mystique also serves as a catalyst to the creation of the more advanced future Sentinels, a plot point that drives much of the tension in the first half of the film.

As a result, most of the other stars in the film -- including Ian McKellen (older Magneto) and Halle Berry (Storm), both heavily hyped for their return -- get glorified cameos involved with just a few action set pieces. Fortunately, those set pieces are pretty darn impressive, and I loved that the film had the proper budget to allow each mutant to fully unleash their full powers against the powerful future Sentinels. Ellen Page's Kitty Pryde, however, basically crouches in one position for the entire film.

Of the original cast, only Patrick Stewart's older Professor X has a few meaty scenes, one of which involves one of the better pep talks I've heard in a while.

Lest I continue to gush about the film, I do have some minor criticisms. Not all elements make sense, a common problem when you start playing with time travel. In fact, the more you think about it, the more you wonder if the time travel bits work logically. Also, I calculate that the apocalyptic future was set roughly 15 years in the future, yet none of the original cast really aged that much, aside from Ashmore, who gets a scruffy beard.

I would have also liked to see a bit more action between the mutants in the 1970s and the old-school Sentinels, especially given how much they were built up. And Wolverine, as integral as he is to setting things in motion, is (literally) a throwaway character in the final conflict.

Those are minor quibbles. What I found refreshing was that the end of the movie didn't hinge on good guy X punching out bad guy Y. There was an emotional core to the story that paid off well with the conclusion.

As tradition, there's a stinger at the end of the credits that hinted at an even bigger sequel. At least this time, I likely won't have to wait another decade for a proper sequel, with "X-Men: Apocalypse" already scheduled for 2016.

And coincidentally, it is slated to come out right around the five-year anniversary of our first date. You can probably figure out how we'll celebrate.

"X-Men: Days of Future Past" arrives in theaters on May 23.

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Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) and Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) don't have that much to do in the film. But Ashmore does sport a rugged beard. 20th Century Fox

About the author

Roger Cheng is the executive editor in charge of breaking news for CNET News. Prior to this, he was on the telecommunications beat and wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal for nearly a decade. He's a devoted Trojan alum and Los Angeles Lakers fan.

 

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