X-Men: Days of Future Past

Directed By: Bryan Singer

Starring: Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry, Anna Paquin, Ellen Page, Nicholas Hoult, Peter Dinklage, Ian McKellen, and Patrick Stewart

"So many battles waged over the years... and yet, none like this.  Are we destined to destroy each other, or can we change each other and unite?  Is the future truly set?"
-Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart)

This year has offered a glut of ambitious comic book films.  Some have succeeded, while others have missed the mark.  Anthony and Joe Russo modernized the 95 year-old first Avenger Steve Rogers in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.  On the other hand, Marc Webb failed to weave an engaging tale by building a network of sinister villains in The Amazing Spider-Man 2.  Later in the year, we'll see whether James Gunn can endear audiences with an alien raccoon who has a tree for a bodyguard in Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel's final stop on the road to The Avengers: Age of Ultron.  This weekend, however, the most ambitious superhero film of them all arrives in theaters with Bryan Singer's X-Men: Days of Future Past.  Any movie with dozens of main characters spanning multiple timelines is not your average film.  Despite all the spectacle that makes this flick one of the big event movies of the summer, it's actually quite an intimate affair.  This is in actuality what makes it great.

In the year 2023, mutants are facing certain doom.  On the edge of extinction, the remaining mutants try to evolve fast enough to change their fate.  Mutants and humans alike are being murdered in droves by weapons known as Sentinels that specifically target the mutant X gene.  Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page), Iceman (Shawn Ashmore), Colossus (Daniel Cudmore), and Bishop (Omar Sy) have been holed up in locations around the globe.  They survive by constantly staying on the move.  Every time the Sentinels discover their hideout, Kitty sends Bishop's consciousness back in time several days to warn the group, and they move before the sentinels ever find them.  When they're visited by the remaining X-Men — Professor Xavier (Stewart), Magneto (Ian McKellen), Storm (Halle Berry), and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) — opportunity knocks to correct the past and prevent this disastrous future from ever coming to pass.

Back in 1973, a lost Mystique / Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) killed a scientist named Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) who was developing the Sentinels.  Though his weapons program did not gain momentum under the Nixon administration initially, his murder by Mystique galvanized humanity into developing the Sentinel program.  In fact, his murder pushes us toward the horrific future of today.  Because neither the Professor nor Magneto can physically survive the trip back in time, they send the next best thing to lead and guide their younger selves toward a better future when the two friends couldn't be farther apart — Wolverine.

Upon arriving back in a world of bell-bottom jeans, platform shoes, and limited television channels (only three networks and PBS), Logan finds a daunting task in convincing Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) to hope again.  Though he walks at the expense of having lost his power thanks to a handy drug from Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Xavier has been a shell of his former self since the events in Cuba and is undoubtedly a lost soul.  Still the same revolutionary fighting for the mutant cause, Magneto (Michael Fassbender), on the other hand, has a complicated situation as usual.  This time, he’s locked up in jail beneath the Pentagon.  Bringing these two together will prove a challenge for Wolverine, and all the decisions he makes, good or bad, will ripple through the river of time and change the course of the collective future of the mutant race.

X-Men: Days of Future Past is a throwback yet futuristic comic book film that has the best elements of the original X-Men trilogy as well as X-Men: First Class.  Weaving a tale that spans half a century with the stakes never higher, director Bryan Singer gives what can only be perceived as a nostalgic sendoff for the old guard and a passing of the torch to the new.  With this time travel storyline, he gives the original trilogy, the Wolverine films, and the prequel First Class a striking continuity like never before.  With the return of the old theme music, chess matches back in the mix, and Easter eggs galore, Singer's imprint on the movie is abundantly clear from start to finish.  Capitalizing on the comedic talents of his cast and the era in which the film is set, he turns what could have been a bleak film all about the extinction of the mutant race into quite a fun romp.  Most importantly, his mega ensemble of old favorites and new breakouts is firing on all cylinders.  All in all, Singer's Days of Future Past is a fully mature X-Men film that embraces its storied cinematic past and looks energetically toward the future.

Though all the spectacle is present in Days of Future Past, the strength of this X-Men movie is not in its grandeur but in its intimacy.  In the apocalyptic future brought on by Bolivar Trask's murder, his imposing sentinels are destroying everything and everyone in their path.  In epic opening and climactic battles with the mutants of old, everyone gets to show their stuff, and we all get to remember why we loved the X-Men films so much in the first place.  There's a diversity unlike any other comic book franchise where every player on screen, whether in a lead or supporting role, gets his or her moment to shine.  In the chaotic past, we get to see darker incarnations of several of our favorite mutants bringing hell down on humanity fighting for the mutant cause.  Though equally grand in nature with all the bells and whistles of a blockbuster with a $225 million price tag, the storyline in the past is a surprisingly small tale that focuses on just a few mutants.

The whole cast does an excellent job, and it's wonderful to see so many familiar faces together again.  However, Days of Future Past really focuses on three characters and their growth — Professor Charles Xavier, Magneto / Erik Lehnsherr, and Mystique / Raven.   As the Professor, Patrick Stewart brings the paternal figure we know and love back to the forefront.  His younger counterpart James McAvoy arguably has the meatier role.  A lost addict who has stumbled far from his path since the events in Cuba, McAvoy gives us a hopeless professor unlike we've ever seen him, and it's one compelling performance.  As Magneto, Ian McKellen rises to the occasion delivering a somber interpretation of the character befitting the film's dark setting.  However, Michael Fassbender rocks as his younger counterpart.  Fassbender reportedly watched performances of McKellen from the 70s to prepare for the role and to align his performance with that of the elder thespian.  Marked by a youthful menace and an unwavering commitment to the mutant cause, Fassbender's outstanding performance carves him out a place in the superhero history books.  He easily stands as the best villain of 2014 so far.

Unlike the other main characters, Mystique doesn't have a counterpart in both timelines.  While I'd love to see the awkward interactions between Rebecca Romjin's Mystique and McKellen's Magneto after the events of X-Men: The Last Stand, it simply wasn't meant to be.  There's no need to fret though because we have Jennifer Lawrence in one deliciously evil performance. Making a heel turn, she's absolutely wonderful.  Savoring all the brutality she deals out to her foes in a sick fashion, Lawrence is a cold-hearted, nasty badass in a way we've yet to see from her on the big screen.  I want to see more of this from her.  Despite my praise for these central performers, I still have to address the elephant in the room.  For his part bridging the gap between the past and future as Wolverine, Hugh Jackman gives a confident performance as someone comfortable in his own skin who’s already been to hell and back on more than one occasion.  Though he’s integral to the storyline, he's not really at the center because of this.  Every major character is growing but him.

Despite how dark Days of Future Past is, Singer still manages to find humor, and it's primarily thanks to the excellent chemistry his cast shares.  With lava lamps, Richard Nixon, and Sanford and Son, the 70s setting certainly helps as well.  Channeling plenty of nostalgia and blending themes on evolution, fate, and mutant rights, Singer knocks it out of the park in his return to the franchise.  This is an X-Men film for the record books.  X-Men: Days of Future Past gets a sober rating.  SPOILER ALERT: Stick around until after the credits roll for your first glimpse of Apocalypse, the original mutant.