X-Men: Days of Future Past
Three and a half stars (out of four)
PG-13 (some sci fi violence and action, suggestive material, nudity and language)
“X-Men: Days of Future Past” could be the best chapter yet in a comic book franchise that has been going strong for the last 14 years. That’s because this seventh entry offers the best of all possible worlds, allowing the seasoned mutants of the first trilogy to appear alongside the excellent young cast of recent reboot “X-Men: First Class.”
“Days of Future Past” preserves the fun historical revisionism of “First Class” while simultaneously heading into darker, more emotionally wrenching territory, literally jumping between a world we recognize – the turbulent 1970s – and a world we don’t – a bleak and violent dystopian future.
Director Bryan Singer smoothly juggles an unwieldy ensemble of mutants old, new and even newer and succeeds in keeping the film’s focus on the characters. The movie’s brain-cell-melting concept is clever and the visual effects are superior, but “Days of Future Past” isn’t about that. It’s about people coming together despite epic personality clashes, the very thing that made the X-Men so relatable when they made their comic book debut in 1963.
It’s almost as if Singer and writer Simon Kinberg are atoning for letting the fans down with the much reviled third X-Men movie, which Singer produced and Kinberg penned. “Days of Future Past” niftily erases “The Last Stand,” while cunningly opening the door to an alternate reality with lots of tantalizing possibilities for the franchise.
They achieve this improbable feat with the help of “First Class” co-writer Jane Goldman and director Matthew Vaughn, who contributed to the mind-bogglingly complicated story. It begins with a glimpse of an inky future in which mutants, who boast unique super powers thanks to their evolved genes, are hunted by high-tech killing machines known as Sentinels. Haunting images of bodies and mass graves set the tone for a film that is often grim and, parents should note, not always kid friendly.
Despite the dismal outlook for their future, the X-Men continue the fight for the survival of their species. In a spectacular opening sequences, a young band of mutants engages the eerily faceless Sentinels in combat. It’s clear they’re outmatched by their relentless mechanical foes, but they manage to stay a step ahead of them thanks to Blink (Fan Bingbing), who can open up portals to transport her comrades from one space to another.
The X-Men’s other secret weapon is Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) who apparently has a gift for … take a deep breath and try to stay with me now … transferring an individual’s consciousness back in time to their younger body. She and the surviving X-Men, including Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and his old nemesis Magneto (Ian McKellen), who have temporarily buried the hatchet, concoct a plan to send Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back to the past. His objective? Stop shape-shifting, blue-skinned Raven, aka Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), from committing the fateful act that will trigger the mutants’ impending extinction.
Because of his quick healing powers, Wolverine is the only one whose mind can withstand the traumas of such rigorous mental time travel. It’s not long before he wakes up in his youthful, pre-adamantium-enhanced body in an era still reeling from the Vietnam War and the Kennedy assassination.
To get to Mystique, Wolverine must appeal to Professor X and Magneto at the very point in time their friendship evaporated, back when they were still going by Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Eric Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender).
This is no easy task because Charles, awash in self pity after the climactic events of “First Class,” has shuttered his school for gifted youngsters and hunkered down in his mansion, blocking out the mutant voices in his telekinetic head. Eric is imprisoned in the Pentagon, due to his participation in a particularly notorious crime. A solitary Mystique continues Eric’s militant pro-mutant sabotage, zeroing in on maverick weapons developer Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage).
“Days of Future Past” presents us with an X-Men universe gone topsy-turvy, occupied by a Wolverine who still flashes claws of bone, a Professor X who can walk but whose powers are diminished, the only thing he shares now with the metal-manipulating Magneto.
McAvoy and Fassbender basically pick up where they left off in the finale of “First Class.” Their highly charged chemistry remains the rebooted franchise’s greatest strength. McAvoy is particularly intense as a Xavier whose optimistic humanism has been replaced with despair — there are allusions to drug addiction in his suffering – and Fassbender is all cool, controlled rage, magnetic in his malevolence.
There are so many other mutants to love in “Days of Future Past,” too. Chief among them is newcomer Quicksilver (Evan Peters), a kleptomaniac teenager who delights in his speedy gifts and presides over the best sequence in the film, using his supernatural swiftness to bust Magneto out of his plastic prison. This may be the film’s most entertaining moment, but it’s just one of many in which Singer and Kinberg bring the mutants’ gifts to vivid life in uncannily crafty ways.
Also new to the club are the energy-absorbing, dreadlock-sporting Bishop (played by Omar Sy, charismatic star of French film “The Intouchables”) and strong and fast Warpath (“Twilight’s” Booboo Stewart).
Reprising their roles from “First Class,” Lawrence transforms the increasingly empowered Mystique into a much richer character and Hoult provides much of the film’s humor and heart as Xavier’s right-hand man, the furry, blue Beast.
Patrick Stewart and McKellen bring a veteran gravitas to the film and while we all have to suspend disbelief a bit to imagine that Jackman still looks like the young Wolverine, he’s so comfortable and confident in the role, we’re willing to go along with the charade.
If you haven’t seen the previous films in the X-Men franchise, the plot of “Days of Future Past” could be near impossible to follow. Actually, this could be the case even if you have seen them. By time the credits roll – and you’ll want to stick around until the very end for an apocalyptic teaser – you may have a Cerebro-sized headache.
It’s a small price to pay, though, for the satisfaction of viewing the most compelling team of comic book characters ever to grace the big screen. An unforgettable bunch of freaks and weirdos, they speak to the disenfranchised, the misfit, the loner in all of us.
The Avengers may get more attention these days, but they’re not nearly as cool.