A seminal event in the past sets an apocalyptic future into motion. That event was the release of X-Men: The Last Stand. Kidding.
The X-Men film franchise had a strong start, but floundered when Bryan Singer left the helm. Poor story lines and overcrowded mutant casts exasperated a lack of continuity. James Mangold righted the ship a bit with his directorial turn for The Wolverine, focusing on the key Japan storyline from the character’s past. Explosions and mayhem were at a minimum, and story and character were better grounded as a result. Singer tries to keep that momentum rolling with X-Men: Days of Future Past. He succeeds in making a satisfying, though over-hyped film.
As the film opens, mutant heroes in the future decide they can alter their horrible fate by going back in time to prevent the pivotal choice made by Mystique, played once again by Jennifer Lawrence. That decision set this future in motion. Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine is the only one who can survive the journey, a plot device made all the more believable by his ridiculously buff physique. In his seventh turn as the Ol’ Canucklehead, he’ll need all that muscle for wrestling the convoluted time paradoxes levied by the film.
Once in the past, and after flashing a Terminator homage butt shot, Wolverine must recruit both Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender). This is complicated by two facts. One, Xavier has been shooting anti-mutagens like a junkie, healing his legs at the expense of his powers. Two, Magneto has been in prison for years, on suspicion of abetting a very historically famous assassination.
In freeing Magneto from prison, Wolverine, Xavier, and Beast (Nicholas Hoult) are aided by the speedy mutant Quicksilver (Evan Peters). The entire prison-break sequence is a highlight of the movie, and Peters surprisingly steals the show with little screen time. From there, McAvoy’s Xavier and Fassbender’s Magneto renew their philosophical differences, arguing how best to prevent the cataclysmic future. Along the way, Xavier must recover not only his mutant powers, but his confidence and conviction in his mission. Comic afficionados wary of Wolverine being overly-prominent can relax. This film feels more focused on Xavier’s struggles. His character is the one who has to change.
Fans expecting a slam-fest of action scenes and mutant vs. mutant fighting are out of luck. This is a character piece at heart. Verbal sparring takes the place of fist jabs and tumbling. There’s action, to be sure. The future mutants fight the shape-shifting Sentinels twice, and mutant powers (and body counts) are front and center. Jackman’s physique is on full display in a brief fight with some thugs, showcasing the bone claws from the end of The Wolverine, and the aforementioned chiseled derriere. Early in the film, Mystique rescues some mutants in Vietnam from being sent home for lab testing. While Michael Fassbender’s Magneto does a nifty trick with a sports stadium in the film’s climactic ‘battle,’ his character is more determined to make speeches and dramatic examples, than mass destruction.
What separates this movie from its predecessors is the acting. It is by far the most well-acted of the series. McAvoy and Fassbender convey more with their intense stares than many actors in the series have tried with their whole bodies. Fassbender is commanding in an airplane scene with a testy discussion that recounts fallen mutants. It is that acting which saves this very talky, philosophical summer ‘action’ flick from falling victim to snooze-fest.
Future Past begins in an post-apocalyptic era, and ends (fittingly enough) with a post-credits scene set in an early-Apocalyptic era, which keen fans will know hints at the film series’ next release, and villain.
X-Men: Days of Future Past
Directed by Bryan Singer. Released by 20th Century Fox. 131 minutes.
Starring Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence.
3 out of 4 stars: Very fine to VF+!