Bryan Singer returned to the X-Men movies partly out of desperation. After leaving the series to helm Superman Returns, the director spent over a decade away from the franchise that (along with Blade) started the superhero cinematic revolution. But by the time he returned to direct X-Men: Days of Future Past, he was coming off the biggest flop of his career (Jack the Giant Slayer) and needed a hit. The film stacked the deck for success by modeling itself on a number of recent hits as it borrowed from J. J. Abrams’ Star Trek, in that it was a reset of the franchise, and from The Avengers (and Fast & Furious), in that it is a team-up movie that brings together cast members from previous films. It worked – Days of Future Past is the most X-Men movie worldwide and has led to Singer continuing the franchise with a sequel due in 2016.
Days of Future Past starts in the not too distant future with Sentinels –machines that can adapt to any adversary – programmed to kill all mutants, and who have left the world a post-apocalyptic wasteland. There’s a ragtag team of survivors including Kitty Pride (Ellen Page), Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) and a number of familiar mutants who’ve devised a plan to stay ahead of the Sentinels hunting them: Kitty can send someone’s consciousness back in time, so the team can be alerted when the Sentinels will find them before it happens. Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) is able to track Kitty and comes to her with Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (Ian McKellen), Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and Storm (Halle Berry). Together they devise a plan: Wolverine, seeing as how he’s practically ageless, can use Kitty’s gift to go back to the 1970’s and stop Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from killing Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), who not only created the Sentinels, but helped stoke the fears that made the government hate mutants. To stop Mystique, he’s going to have to get the younger versions of Charles (James McAvoy), Hank McCoy/Beast (Nicholas Hoult) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) to work together.
Released in the weak summer of 2014, Days of Future Past was a huge Memorial Day weekend hit, and was able to successfully reset the franchise. But as was made public well before the film’s release, Singer had to cut a lot of footage to get the film to an acceptable theatrical length, and in doing so he cut out almost all of Anna Paquin’s scenes as Rogue. He teased a special edition, and now there’s The Rogue Cut, which runs a full seventeen minutes longer. Though the new version doesn’t radically change the film, it does give the movie more time to breathe, and is generally a better movie.
Perhaps it’s because the whole goal of the film is to hit a restart button that erases what Brett Ratner did to the series, I wasn’t a fan of the theatrical cut of the movie. I’m not a fan of reset films in general, I don’t like paying to watch a film that should start when it ends, nor any film that narratively treads water to set up a next entry. But there is precedent for what Singer is doing here in the comic books, and on second pass, the idea of rejiggering the world to erase certain events feels very much of the comic book world. How many characters in comic books have been killed only to be born again? Of all the films that reset their universes, this is one of the best.
And it’s improved at a longer length. The new cut lets events play out at a better pace, and every addition feels right. Singer doesn’t have the same chops as X-Men: First Class director Matthew Vaughn, he’s not great at playful fun, but when called on to deliver a great set piece he does so with the Quicksilver (Evan Peters) prison break out. That sequence is the highlight of the movie and though it comes in the first hour, it’s a blast. Singer leans heavy on the period setting for jokes and everyone gets to wear seventies costumes that are a little over the top, but he also knows how to deliver scale and the film feels big. In the supplements, they say this is Charles’s movie, but the star here is Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique, and she’s great in the center of this film, even if now (at this point in her career) Lawrence wished she never signed a multi-picture deal. There is so much talent on screen, so many great actors, that it’s no surprise it’s an entertaining watch.
X-Men: Days of Future Past Rogue Cut is presented in a two disc set with both the theatrical (132 min.) and extended cut (149 min.) presented on the first disc. Both versions are presented in widescreen (2.35:1) and in DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio. Fox gave Bryan Singer money to finish the longer version, so there’s no noticeable difference in the new footage, and the film looks and sounds excellent, though some sequences look more digitally shot than others. The theatrical cut comes with a commentary by Singer and co-writer/producer Simon Kinberg, while the extended cut features a commentary by Singer and composer/editor John Ottman. The Ottman commentary is a little more fun, even if they fall into lapses of silence (more so in the early stretch), and there’s a lot of discussion of the new footage and why they trimmed it, and a great bit about how they had to cancel a test screening because someone tweeted about being in the auditorium. The Kinberg track covers the challenges of making the movie, how they decided on time travel, and the hard parts of making a giant movie, which sometimes requires shooting a key sequence six weeks before release. There’s also a second screen app available for those who like that sort of thing.
Disc two kicks off with a nine part documentary “Mutant Vs. Machine” (53 min.) that covers a lot of the same material as the commentary (at least at first) as it follows how the film was born because they wanted to merge the different casts into one narrative. It also brings in the actors to talk about the film, and Days of Future Past creators Chris Claremont and Len Wein, and gets into one of the biggest challenges of the movie: scheduling the actors, many of whom are in great demand. You also get to learn about the costuming process for the future war outfits, to the seventies disco-era clothes, and there’s a section on the production design, and how they tried to mimic what had come before, but also the new designs for the X-jet, and the fun of doing period. One of the best parts is that it talks to cinematographer Newton Thomas Siegel, and the challenges of shooting in 3D, while John Ottman also gets a spotlight for his work on the score and in the cutting room. The doc is also fascinating because it shows how these films often come together in the last possible second, and that comes up in the post production section of the documentary. It also shows how the effects landscape has changed as so many of the backgrounds were done with green screen that could be looked at live as the film was being shot. The documentary closes by talking about why Rogue was cut out of the movie, and teases what’s going to happen in X-Men: Apocalypse.
Next up is “X-Men Unguarded” (30 min.) which brings together Bryan Singer, Simon Kinberg, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, Michael Fassbender, Patrick Stewart, James McAvoy, Halle Berry, Ellen Page, Peter Dinklage, Nicholas Hoult, Shawn Ashmore, Evan Peters and Omar Sy for a playful discussion about the franchise. Singer talks about how mutant functions as a metaphor for homosexuality, and that much of the cast weren’t comic book fans. Everyone gets a moment or two to shine, though the focus stays mostly on who you’d expect, but it’s an enjoyable talk because there’s a massive amount of talent on display and their interactions are great.
The next section is “Gallery” and it offers storyboards for the Paris sequence and for the climax, a gallery for the costume design, concept art for the Desert House, the Monastery, for Moscow, Paris, Saigon, Washington D.C., the Pentagon, the X-Mansion, the X-Jet, Xavier’s Chair, the Sentinels, and Trask. Finally, there’s a sneak peak at Fantastic Four (2 min.). Unfortunately, the supplements included on the first release of Days of Future Past have not been ported over, so completists might want to hold on to the original release.