X-Men: Days of Future Past opens with a dystopian future where mutants are hunted down by unstoppable robots. Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) and a small band of survivors manage to evade capture by making small jumps back in time and warning their former selves of impending attacks. They pin their hopes on one last desperate plan to send Logan (Hugh Jackman) all the way back to 1973 to stop Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from assassinating inventor Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) and setting off the chain of events that brought about this ruin. To this end, he must find the young Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr (James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender) and get them to join forces.
The film is particularly tied to the former entries of the franchise. Much of the dramatic underpinnings of the film are dependent on prior knowledge of what these characters have already gone through. There’s a lot of narrative shorthand going on, the movie rushing through what probably should have been fuller character arcs. This really shouldn’t be anyone’s first X-Men movie. Longtime fans of the series, however, will probably get a lot out of this entry. It often feels like a victory lap for director Bryan Singer, who was the first director to bring these characters to the screen. He exercises full command over this world, bending it to his will and reshaping it into a form most pleasing to him.
That form, as it turns out, is a little convoluted and scattershot, but deeply appealing in some ways. A lot of this involves the characters sitting around with no real course of action. The film is loose enough that it doesn’t really generate an active threat for most of the movie. The characters are basically waiting for things to happen. But when stuff does happen, the film brings the mutant action to life in spectacular fashion. There are a couple of sequences that involves the character Quicksilver that will likely stand as some of best blockbuster set pieces of the year. And the film delivers the gravity when it counts.
It takes a while, but when the film reaches its climax, it fires on all cylinders. It puts together a sequence that feels appropriately huge, and ties back to the central philosophical conflict that lies at the heart of this story. It just takes a while to get there, and the path takes the audience through a dense forest of contrivance and convolution. Thankfully, though the film is a bit too reliant on overt fanservice, it provides plenty of fun little details that keep things humming along. What the film lacks in narrative cohesiveness, it makes up for with its general sense of playfulness.
And where the script might be found lacking, the actors step up to make up the gap. This is one of most astounding casts ever assembled. Hugh Jackman pretty much is Wolverine at this point. He’s awfully comfortable in the role, and he provides a solid center for all the nuttiness. Though Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan are actually fairly sidelined in this film, they make the most out of every moment. James McAvoy manages to sell a character arc that isn’t fully there. Michael Fassbender makes the darker side of the mutant struggle almost too compelling. And Jennifer Lawrence lends alluring depth to some of the choices her character makes.
The most interesting thing about X-Men: Days of Future Past is it seems to have been at least partly intended to serve as a remedy for the much maligned X-Men: The Last Stand. It brings the franchise to a point where more stories can be told that completely ignore whatever happened in that entry. This is a bit of a cheat, but it’s an appealingly audacious one. The film as a whole can be described in that way. It cheats a lot, truncating story arcs and relying heavily on what’s gone on before. But in the end, it delivers what most X-Men fans were probably looking for. And it’s pretty fun, too.