Moviegoers have had ample opportunity––six previous films worth in fact––to see Charles Xavier and his X-Men on screen since Bryan Singer’s X-Men launched the franchise back in 2000. The latest installment in the storied franchise, X-Men: Days of Future Past is the most ambitious and successful entry to date. Bryan Singer returned to the helm to bring this time-traveling tale to life amongst a fever-pitch of anticipation following Matthew Vaughn’s 2011 reboot, X-Men: First Class.
Days of Future Past (in theaters everywhere May 23) is a wholly unique entry in the X-Men universe as it unites the cast of the original trilogy with the First Class cast, and serves as a sequel to both First Class and X-Men: The Last Stand. The film opens in 2023, a grim dystopian future that finds a handful of remaining X-Men evading eradication at the hands of the Sentinels (wicked mean robots that can adapt to kill basically anything).
Among those fighting the good fight are Kitty Pryde, Iceman, Blink, Warpath, Sunspot and Bishop, who, after meeting up with Magneto, Professor X, Storm and Wolverine, inspire a plan to change reality as they know it, and avert the war that has wrought so much destruction. The key to this so-crazy-it-just-might-work ploy? Kitty Pryde. Thanks to Kitty’s ability to transfer anyone’s consciousness to their younger self and Wolverine’s near immortality (a mere mortal would die going back more than a few weeks), it is determined that the only course left is to send Wolvie back to 1973 to persuade young Charles Xavier to stop wallowing, get off the couch, squash his beef with young Magneto, and, alongside the pair of best frenemies, track down Mystique and persuade her not to kill Bolivar Trask. Trask, who is brought to life by the always awesome Peter Dinklage, is the renowned scientist who launched the Sentinel program; something Professor X thinks will never come to fruition if Mystique’s actions don’t convince the public of a need to fear and eliminate mutants. As First Class did before it, Days of Future Past uses major touch points in history to help situate viewers in the period and to enhance the story.
Like most plots plucked from the pages of comic books, that behind Days of Future Past is nuanced and complex, but while several subtle tips of the hat to insider knowledge will keep fans happy with the level of detail, the film also manages not to be so involved as to alienate casual viewers. Most importantly for viewers from both camps, Days of Future Past is loaded with characters and it doesn’t neglect them––Well, mostly, Rogue and Cyclops next to no screen time, and the above mentioned future crew certainly takes a backseat, but they get a bit of time to shine.
Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine bounces seamlessly between past and future crews, serving as our guide and link to both worlds, without overwhelming the rest of the proceedings. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender continue to hit all the right notes as young Professor X and Magneto, and if her portrayal of Katniss Everdeen hasn’t been enough to secure Jennifer Lawrence as a card-carrying bada**, her turn as an older, wiser and more jaded than we saw in First Class certainly will do the trick. Nicholas Hoult’s Beast gets to have more fun this time around trading banter with Wolverine and marginally more secure in his mutant abilities. But for all the goodness that comes of the established cast, and there is plenty of it, it is franchise newcomer Evan Peters (a.k.a. the always creepy character on American Horror Story) who steals scenes and laughs as a young Pietro Maximoff/Quicksilver. (Peters’ take on Quicksilver holds extra fascination for Marvel devotees as Evan Taylor Johnson will take on the same role in Joss Whedon’s upcoming Avengers: Age of Ultron.) As Quicksilver Peters is a hoot and a half, the scenes that feature him––you’ll wish there were more––are among the best in the film, and will leave you with a smile on your face.
Days of Future Past may not be a perfect film––we’re left wanting more of some elements, and less of others––but it achieves the essential balance of humor, action, plot and humanity that any genre movie needs to be successful, and in that it stands as the strongest entry in the franchise to date.
When you go, stick around for the post credit scene, and if it leaves you baffled, look here to make sense of it.