X-Men: Days of Future Past (opening today) is the fifth installment in the X-Men franchise (not counting the two Wolverine spin-off films). It comes on the heels of 2011's X-Men: First Class, the strongest entry in the franchise that took place back in the 60s and told the origins of X-Men founder, Professor X and his best friend/arch nemesis, Magneto. This latest chapter mashes together the past with the X-Men of the present - and future, resulting in a wildly entertaining film, but I'm disappointed to report that it represents a slight step backwards for the mutant franchise.
The first big problem with DOFP is how it largely ignores the questions that were still lingering from X-Men: The Last Stand. In that last chronological movie, Magneto (Ian McKellan) had been injected with a mutant cure and as the film cut to the credits, we see that his power may have slowly been returning (he tries hard to move a pawn on a chess board, and as the pawn wobbles the screen cuts to black). Professor X (Patrick Stewart) had been all but disintegrated by the powerful Phoenix, but in the post-credit scene, we see that Charles Xavier had somehow transferred himself into the body of another in a hospital bed.
Wanting to know how Magneto returns to full power? Want an explanation as to how Professor X is still alive, in a wheelchair as Patrick Stewart? Sadly, no such answers are given.
In fact, the story brushes past all of those annoying continuity issues, and we pick up in what seems like the distant apocalyptic future. Massive floating robots called Sentinels have basically destroyed mutant and human alike and a small band of mutants continue to evade them by using a method to complicated to explain here. But basically we see Professor X and Magneto, working together, along with other familiar faces such as Storm (Halle Berry), Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page), Colossus (Daniel Cudmore), Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) and of course, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman).
We learn that these Sentinel robots can adapt to any mutant power, making them the ultimate fighting force able to crush anything that stands in their way. Mankind - and mutantkind - is all but extinct and the last hope is to use Kitty Pryde's mutant power to send one of them back in time to stop the Sentinel program before it ever begins, or in other words, change the course of history. Wolverine - with his incredible healing powers - is the only mutant who could withstand the vigors of time travel (or so we're told), so he is sent back to the 1970s and tasked with contacting the younger versions of Professor X and Magneto to enlist their help.
It seems that the Sentinel program was created right around that time by Dr. Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), but seeking revenge, the shape-shifting mutant, Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), put a bullet in his head. That action led to increased human fear towards mutants and actually spawned the birth of the Sentinel program. So stop Mystique, change history.
Of course, the 1970s represents a 10-year jump into the future from the events of First Class, and man have things changed. Young Professor X (James McAvoy) is now a down and out druggie and - oddly enough - is able to walk, addicted to some sort of mutant cure created by Dr. Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult) aka the blue-furred Beast. Beast also appears "normal" because he is taking the cure as well. It seems that Charles no longer has his telekinetic mind-reading abilities, a side-effect of the drug that allows him to walk. He will take some convincing to join Wolverine's cause. Oh, and Magneto? He is locked away underground beneath the Pentagon, suspected in the assassination of JFK.
In the future, time is running out, so Wolverine must act quickly in the past.
As all fans of sci-fi know, time travel only complicates matters of believability and it is rarely done well. This is no exception. The time travel elements in DOFP just muddy up an already convoluted plot. More time is spent in the past than in the present, but it is cool on some level to see the two casts together in the same film.
But this, to me, is the weakest chapter of the five X-Men films. There are too many contrivances, like Xavier being given a drug that allows him to walk, that just cheapens and weakens the climactic events of the previous film. Also, it asks you not only to suspend your believability, but to not think too deeply at all. What occurred in the original timeline to turn this loser version of Charles Xavier into the Professor X we've come to know? It seems like Wolverine is the catalyst, but he wasn't there the first time around, right? How did Magneto escape the prison in the original timeline? And how, after even a minute, does the future that we are introduced to in this film exist at all once Wolverine is sent back? Surely any of his interactions would disrupt the flow of time. DOFP gives a weak, passing explanation of this, but it conveniently picks and chooses which events from the past will have a lasting impact on the present.
Gone also is the joy of seeing a slew of new mutant characters like in pretty much all of the past films. We mostly spend our time with mutants that we've already come to know. The exception to this is the character of Quicksilver (Evan Peters) and man, his scenes steal the show and are easily the film's funniest, and its most effective. Is he Magneto's son? (Comic book fans know the answer to this). He isn't in the film enough. And for clarification's sake, this is the same character as we see in the post-credit scene in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but played by a different actor and for all intents and purposes, not in the same continuity. Licensing and trademarks between Marvel and Fox prevent them from crossing-over, so his appearance here does not, sadly, represent some sort of connection between the X-Men and Avengers film franchises.
X-Men: Days of Future Past, warts and all, will surely please fans, despite disappointing them with a storyline that doesn't quite hold up, as well as managing to brush over burning questions raised in previous installments. Be sure to stick around for a scene at the very end of the credits, for a glimpse and tease of the next X-Men installment. We know that the next film will also be directed by Bryan Singer and will feature the young X-Men cast. What does that mean for Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan's iconic roles? Not much, since it has now been established that quite literally anything is possible in the new X-Men time continuum.
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Run Time: 2 hours, 11 minutes, Rated PG-13
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry, Nicholas Hoult, Ellen Page, Peter Dinklage, Josh Helman, Evan Peters
Directed by Bryan Singer (X-Men, X-Men 2, The Usual Suspects, Superman Returns, Valkyrie, Jack the Giant Slayer)
Opens locally on Friday, May 23, 2014 (check for show times).
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How to read Tom Santilli's "Star Ratings:"
- 5 Stars: Exceptional, must-see movie
- 4 Stars: Very good movie, not without flaws
- 3 Stars: The movie was just OK, leaves a lot to be desired
- 2 Stars: Pretty bad, a let-down, disappointing, but with some redeeming qualities
- 1 Star: Awful, sloppy, a total waste of time