The X-Men films have always lived in that middle gray area of what could be seen as excellent comic book movie storytelling (2002’s X2: X-Men United), and a potential studio-driven cash grab with no respect for the source material (2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand). What separated these two films was the director, Bryan Singer, who understood the characters — not just the comic book iterations — but the struggles of young people trying to fit into a world that hated and feared them. Singer’s struggles growing up helped give his X-Men films a touch that few other filmmakers could pull off.
After being away for two of the main story X-Men films — the aforementioned turd-fest, The Last Stand, and the wonderfully sublime X-Men: First Class — Singer returns to the world he originally ushered onto the movie screen and in so doing, he has done something that many thought impossible: he has fixed the past mistakes and set the franchise up on a course for the future. And he did so by adapting a timeless story taken directly from the classic comic series involving time travel.
X-Men: Days of Future Past starts a few years into the future with mutantkind and the humans who help mutants, being hunted down and killed, or interred in concentration camps and herded like cattle. The last remaining X-Men, led by Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellan), include Storm (Halle Berry), Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Colossus (Daniel Cudmore), Warpath (Booboo Stewart), Blink (Bingbing Fan), Iceman (Shawn Ashmore), Sunspot (Adan Canto), Kitty Pride (Ellen Paige) and Bishop (Omar Sy), and they are fighting a new form of mutant hunter called a Sentinel, that can adapt itself to eradicate any mutant.
After surviving an attack and barely escaping using Kitty Pride’s ability to cause present day Bishop’s psyche to jump in the past to warn the old Bishop of the attack so he can lead the team away from the danger before it kills them all (work with me here), the team realizes that they can’t run forever and someone needs to go back — way back — to the creation of the Sentinels and stop them from ever being built. Logan’s healing factor makes him the best candidate to go back fifty years, and Xavier tasks him with finding and convincing the younger Xavier (James McAvoy) to side with the young Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (Michael Fassbender) to stop Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from killing weapons developer, Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), an act that brings about the creation of the Sentinels.
Still with me? This is all laid out in the first fifteen minutes of the film and barely scratches the surface of the screen story. The true story gets going as Logan wakes up in 1973 and begins his quest to re-form the X-Men and to save the future.
What makes this work on almost every level is the amount of consequence that is shoveled onto every action. We know the end game, the bleak future where our heroes are systematically hunted and slaughtered, and we shoot back to the past — 12 years after the end of Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class — and see how the world has accepted, or not accepted in almost all cases, a society full of people with powers and gifts.
This is Bryan Singer and writer Simon Kinberg (based on a screen story by Kinberg, Jane Goldman, and Mathew Vaughn) going back to literally reset the entire X-Universe and right the wrongs made in the previous films — by all parties. The scope of the action on screen is so far reaching that by the end of the Days of Future Past, everything has changed. Time travel is a terrible storytelling mechanic usually reserved for when a writer or writers have written themselves in a corner, but here it not only works, it’s a franchise savior.
X-Men: Days of Future Past is full of jaw-dropping moments and incredible performances. Leading the way once again is Michael Fassbender’s Magneto. I have never seen this much screen presence in a comic book movie, and Fassbender easily challenges Tom Hiddleston’s Loki for best marvel comic book villain. Even when he has good intentions, just like Loki, Magneto is still on the wrong side.
Hugh Jackman continues to own the role of Logan/Wolverine, and Nicholas Hoult returns from First Class as Hank McCoy/Beast. Lawrence gives gravitas to Raven/Mystique, as she truly believes in what she is trying to do, while McAvoy’s Xavier and Fassbender’s Lehnsherr debate the consequences.
Unfortunately, Dinklage’s Trask is given little to work with and his motivations are never spelled out. It seems like a waste to have such an amazing actor just fill a space. In the comics, Trask is a constant foil for the mutants, and hopefully we will see him again.
The biggest surprise comes from the unlikeliest character: Quicksilver. When Evan Peters was first revealed as Peter Maximoff, he looked downright ridiculous with his terrible wig and his goggles and his Pink Floyd t-shirt, and everything we saw looked to be a harbinger of bad things to come. Shut my mouth, Bryan Singer, as Quicksilver is by far the best, most fun part of this film. His scenes are funny without being too slapstick and the use of his power — super speed — actually works within the context of the script and doesn’t feel tacked on. Writer Kinberg even goes so far to drop hints of his true comic book origin, which is something that next summer’s Avengers: Age of Ultron cannot do because of silly legal hold ups.
The production is laced with cameos and easter eggs, and of course, since this is a Bryan Singer X-Men film, there are hundreds of hidden “X’s” all throughout the film. There is also an end credits stinger that sets up the already announced next film and to me is the best end-credits scene since Thanos turned and gave us all a smile at the end of The Avengers.
There is also an underlying theme of “new meets old” as the two franchises, Original and First Class, get to intermingle. It doesn’t feel forced, like, say, 1994’s Star Trek: Generations, which stumbled upon itself in trying to merge both The Original Series and The Next Generation casts into one coherent story. In fact, in one 1973 scene here in Days of Future Past, an old episode of Star Trek: The Original Series is on a TV and in the future, Patrick Stewart is giving commands to his team. Huh. Maybe Singer did that intentionally.
After the main X-Men films were driven off rails and into the side of a mountain by Brett Ratner with X-Men: The Last Stand, Matthew Vaughn was able to go back and start anew with the billion-dollar franchise with First Class. Now, Bryan Singer has upped the ante once more by using time travel to right the wrongs and to set the franchise on a path going forward. There are thousands of mutants that can be used to tell stories, and with X-Men: Apocalypse already announced — with Singer again at the helm — the future has never looked brighter for the X-Men.
X-Men: Days of Future Past is rated PG-13 and is in theaters nationwide on May 23.