It’s fair to say that 2014 has been something of a down year in film. While there have been a few gems—Christopher Nolan’s mind-blowing space epic Interstellar and the delightfully well-acted The Theory Of Everything—it’s not easy to look back on the year and pick out a cluster of standout films. But because it is a time of year to look back, I’ll pose this interesting idea: X-Men: Days Of Future Past may have been the best film of 2014. Here are five reasons why.
1. The Cast Has Outgrown Superhero Films
Reviewing The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Pt. 1, and specifically discussing the work of Jennifer Lawrence, film critic Peter Rainer of Christian Science Monitor wrote, “As an actress, Lawrence has grown beyond this sort of thing.” So it goes sometimes with leading actors and actresses in major series and franchises; they begin when they’re young, sometimes achieve a breakthrough, and gain so much maturity in other projects that they ultimately seem almost too good for blockbuster series. This is the case with nearly every member of the X-Men: Days Of Future Past cast.
This is not to suggest that there’s anything cheap about making an X-Men film. However, what once appeared to be an interesting (but not necessarily A-list) cast has evolved and matured over nearly two decades of X-Men films to include members of the Hollywood elite. Michael Fassbender headlines the list, along with Lawrence herself, but the likes of James McAvoy and even Hugh Jackman have come a long way since first appearing in the series. And in being supplemented by Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart, they make for an extraordinarily complete and impressive cast for a hero film.
2. The Series Is Only Getting Better
It may not seem like it, but X-Men is actually the longest running of Marvel’s hero sagas in modern cinema, with the first film (X-Men) having come out in 2000. Since then, the series has enjoyed a remarkable run of consistency in all realms of pop culture. There have been six films—spanning multiple timelines—made since the original. As mentioned, dozens of popular actors and actresses have appeared in these films, with the roles bolstering or helping to establish many of their careers. And even in video game adaptations, X-Men is unrivaled in its exposure.
Since the beginning of the film franchise, this particular branch of Marvel has established particularly firm footing in the online gaming industry. Popular gaming platform Bet Fair hosts more than five variations of games based on Wolverine and the other X-Men while sites like Vizzed allowing users to play several popular old X-Men arcade games. Additionally, there are a slew of modern console gaming adaptations, such as the outstanding X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
Through all of this—14 years of film, interaction with major acting careers, and an ongoing line of gaming options—the best work in the X-Men film franchise has come in the last few years. That lends a certain special quality to X-Men: Days Of Future Past, as it’s tough to make the best of a series 14 years after it started!
3. It Had A Little Bit Of Everything
It almost goes without saying that X-Men: Days Of Future Past was stunning from a visual perspective, as that’s become normal in superhero films. Also, I’ve already touched on the quality of acting. But this film had a little bit of everything else it needed as well; humour, most of all, is a must in modern superhero films. After all, they can’t appear to take themselves too seriously, as the subject matter tends to be somewhat absurd!
The latest X-Men film was masterful in its approach to comic relief, largely through the introduction and clever use of the character Quicksilver. The script was intelligent; the scope was large and impressive without reverting to cosmic absurdity; the characters had emotion; and the film had just the right touch of nostalgia. It truly was a well-rounded approach.
4. The Core Conflict Only Gets More Stirring
The core conflict the X-Men films have focused on has been whether mutants should live peacefully or in opposition to the human forces who would see them destroyed. Generally speaking, Professor X (McAvoy/Stewart) champions the peaceful approach while Magneto (Fassbender/McKellen) favours aggression. Forbes reviewer Scott Mendelson criticized X-Men: Days Of Future Past for dealing with this same core conflict, saying the film “sings an old song” that we’ve seen it before. I couldn’t disagree more in this regard.
To say a superhero film “sings an old song” is to criticise the genre as a whole. Most series mask their repetitive nature through new ways of jeopardizing the world, whereas X-Men has emphasized that nature by making it a character conflict and not an apocalyptic ordeal. It’s the same thing that made The Dark Knight so fascinating. Would any of us mind seeing Batman and the Joker wrestle for Gotham’s soul for another few films? This is more or less what we’ve been treated to in the X-Men series: a constant moral battle. And in this film, it reached new heights of action and depths of meaning all at once.
5. It Was A Bigger Project Than The Avengers
One of the most fascinating aspects of The Avengers was how successfully it combined the huge personalities and sagas behind each of its core characters. Well, this is what X-Men essentially tries to do in every film. In X-Men: Days Of Future Past, the franchise went a step further and even combined different timelines in the same characters’ lives. If director Joss Whedon pulled off an incredible feat in arranging The Avengers, Matthew Vaughn and Brian Singer managed a near miracle in making a project as ambitious as this X-Men film not only cohesive, but smooth.
Written By: Lisa Queen