X-Men: First Class, Matthew Vaughn’s charmingly retro reboot of the superhero franchise, did a lot to put the series back on track after the double helping of awful that was X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Now director Bryan Singer returns after a ten year absence from the franchise with X-Men: Days of Future Past. While not as stylistically interesting as First Class (which came close to being an art film), the movie solidly melds both original and rebooted casts in a time travel story that is both entertaining epic and a big middle finger to the studio hacks who sent the series so creatively off course.
Based on one of the most beloved stories in Marvel canon, Days of Future Past opens in a post apocalyptic future where giant robots called Sentinels have killed or enslaved most of mutantkind and any humans that try to protect them. Only a handful survive against the machines, which can adapt to counteract any mutant ability, making them invulnerable. Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen) formulate a plan to change the past and prevent the Sentinels from ever being created. Using the powers of Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page), they endeavor to send Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) to the 1970’s and into his younger body. By enlisting the help of the the younger versions of Professor X (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender), Wolverine must stop Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from assassinating Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), the inventor of the Sentinels, whose death prompts the U.S. government to go forward with the Sentinel program and precipitate the future war.
Singer heightens the tension by having both timelines progress in the film, so while Wolverine attempts to change history in the 70’s, the Sentinels converge on Professor X and the remaining mutants. It’s a pleasure to see series veterans like Stewart and McKellen, as well as Halle Berry as Storm and Shawn Ashmore as Iceman. Far more interesting is the action in the 70’s where Magneto is a high security prisoner of the government and Charles Xavier lives in seclusion in his dilapidated mansion, addicted to the drugs that make him able to walk again but nullify his psychic power. To rescue Magneto Wolverine enlists the help of Quicksilver (Evan Peters), a mutant with the ability to move at incredible speeds. Peters’ Quicksilver is a wisecracking kleptomaniac, and a scene where he immobilizes a room full of armed guards in slow motion while listening to the song “Time in a Bottle” on his headphones is a high point of the film.
The filmmakers have a lot of fun with the 70’s setting and style, having Wolverine wake up from his time travel in a water bed with a lava lamp on the bed stand. As period accurate as it is, the film never has the 70’s feel the way First Class really captured the 60’s, an indication of Singer’s limitations as a director. The movie is still very entertaining and well-paced, with characteristically strong performances from all the leads, particularly McAvoy, Fassbender, and Lawrence. Fassbender is underused here however, without the same fire he brought to the role in First Class.
Without getting into spoiler territory, I will say that the film rather brilliantly maneuvers the pitfalls and paradoxes of time travel stories. It also arrives at a denouement that rewrites the recent history of the franchise, excising the questionable plot decisions made in the series’ weaker entries. A post-credits sequence also sets up what is sure to be an epically entertaining followup if done properly. With Days of Future Past, Singer proved he’s more than equal to the task.