Published May 23, 2014Marvels' Avengers and its feeder films asked a lot of viewers, requiring audiences to watch five other movies in order to fully "get" the studio's marquee franchise. Yet even by those demanding standards, X-Men: Days of Future Past is a stretch for your average filmgoer. Based on ideas first introduced in a 1981 two-part storyline about a post-apocalyptic future in which mutants are hunted to the brink of extinction, press materials have emphasized that the film joins the X-Men that Bryan Singer first introduced in 2000 with Matthew Vaughan's retro prequel, X-Men: First Class. Or, as Wired magazine recently put it, the film asks viewers to accept that James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender grow up to be Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian McKellan.
Days of Future Past opens in this nightmarish future, where Sentinels, killer robots able to mimic mutant powers, hunt down and kill mutants with surprising ease. Their dominance stems from the fallout of the assassination of their creator, Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), by Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) in the 1970s. The resulting public panic convinced world leaders to hand over protection from the mutant threat to the robots. But the surviving X-Men, including Professor X, Storm (Halle Berry), Iceman (Shawn Ashmore), Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) and a non-villainous Magneto hatch a scheme to send Wolverine's consciousness back in time to his 1973 self, to thwart Mystique's plan and thereby — fingers crossed — eliminate this dark, future timeline entirely.
Once in the past, Wolverine (played by Hugh Jackman for the seventh time) seeks out Professor X (played by McAvoy in this time period) whose relationship with Magneto (Fassbender here) is at its nadir following the events of First Class. Logan has to convince Xavier, distraught over the betrayal of Mystique and physically disabled after his fight with Magneto, that this future is real and that it's going to take the combined efforts of both he and Magneto to stop them from coming to pass.
The plot reads like a film director's own apocalyptic nightmare — a behemoth cast playing different versions of the same characters set in separate timelines. Yet Bryan Singer, returning to the X-Men directors' chair for the first time in a decade, handles the job with aplomb, giving fans flashes of supporting characters without sacrificing a narrative structure that effortlessly weaves together the two worlds. Best of all, he acknowledges the events of Brett Ratner's franchise de-railing X-Men: the Last Stand, and sets the stage for X-Men: Apocalypse and a Wolverine origin film.
Days of Future Past features every major character from the four previous X-films, but the bulk of the movie is set in the world established by First Class, and once again pits Xavier's vision of humans and mutants living in harmony against Magneto's belief that mutant domination of humans is a biological imperative. The interplay between McAvoy and Fassbender provides the film's heart, while Jackman's brooding and violent Wolverine mines some good laughs literally playing a man out of time.
In fact, it's the film's playfulness that is perhaps Singer's most impressive feat. A sense of doom and foreboding pervades scenes set in the post-apocalyptic future in which it's open season on X-Men old and new. His light touch with characters like Quicksilver (Evan Peters) emphasizes the disparity between the relatively carefree past and dead serious future.
Comic fans and fans of the X-Men film franchise are likely to get more out of Days of Future Past than newbs who've stumbled upon (or been dragged to) the film. But as was Singer's trick with the first two X-films, it is easily accessible and highly enjoyable while still providing catnip to all the fan-boys and -girls.