Okay, let me get it out of the way now; “X-Men: Days of Future Past” is not only the best “X-Men” movie since “X2,” but it is also the most entertaining and emotionally powerful film of the franchise to date. For a while it seemed like the series peaked as the succeeding sequels and prequels were critically maligned to where you wondered if this particular superhero franchise had finally overstayed its welcome. But with Bryan Singer, having been led away by Superman and a giant slayer among others things, back behind the camera again, everything feels fresh and invigorating again, and it’s hard to think of another “X-Men” movie that can top this one.
“X-Men: Days of Future Past” starts off in a very bleak future where sentient robots known as Sentinels have exterminated most of the mutants on earth as well as those humans who have helped them. Not much is left which leads me to believe that in the process of protecting humanity, humans ended up destroying themselves by creating the Sentinels. Time is running out for the remaining X-Men which include Charles Xavier/Professor X (Patrick Stewart), Erik Lehnsherr / Magneto (Ian McKellen), Ororo Munroe / Storm (Halle Berry), Kitty Pryde / Shadowcat (Ellen Page), Bobby Drake / Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) and of course Logan / Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), and they hide away in a Chinese monastery and prepare to use the only method they can to save all of humanity: time travel.
Charles explains to Logan that they need to prevent the assassination of Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), the military scientist who created the Sentinels, by Raven Darkhölme / Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence). While it is completely understandable for any mutant to hate Bolivar with a passion, his assassination ends up making him a martyr and Raven gets captured and experimented on to where the analysis of her mutant powers helps to make the Sentinels all the more effective. So Logan, with the help of Shadowcat, ends up traveling to the year 1973 to stop Raven from killing Bolivar as he is the only one of the group who can withstand the rigors of time travel. But just when you think this is going to turn into the usual time travel flick, it becomes anything but that.
What I love about the “X-Men” movies is how they focus on character as much as they do on visual effects. The mutants are treated as the outcasts of society, and we feel their pain at being excluded for who they are. Singer understands this pain, and that makes his return to this franchise all the more welcome. Also, there’s something bigger at stake than changing the course of events in time, and that’s preserving hope. While Morgan Freeman said hope is a dangerous thing and that it can drive a man insane in “The Shawshank Redemption,” the mutants (the good ones anyway) thrive on it because they know they can’t live any other way. Even in the darkest of times, they strive to make the world a better place for all of humanity. You feel the weight of the choices they are about to make, and it produced moments which truly left me on the edge of my seat.
After playing Wolverine for so many years, I figured Hugh Jackman would be sick of the character as he remained a moody son of a bitch in all the other “X-Men” movies. But the great thing about Wolverine this time around is how he and Charles Xavier essentially trade places. In the previous films, Charles was always trying to get Wolverine to look past his anger and bitterness to embrace a better path in life, and now Wolverine has to do the same for Charles. When we catch up with the younger Professor X (this time played by James McAvoy) in 1973, he is a broken man who has regained the ability to walk (don’t worry, there is an explanation for that) and has become more comfortable being a functioning alcoholic instead of a teacher. His school is now empty since the Vietnam War took away many of his students, and he spends his days hanging out with Hank McCoy/Beast (Nicholas Hout) who tends to his needs.
In some ways, Jackman looks really invigorated this time around as Wolverine proves to be the source of hope that the other characters desperately need. He still remains the Wolverine we all know and love, and it’s a lot of fun watching him interact with the cast members of “X-Men: First Class.” Both McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, who plays the younger Magneto, once again make these iconic roles their own and without the shadows of Stewart and McKellen hovering over them. It’s also great to see Hout and Jennifer Lawrence back as well as both actors make Beast and Mystique more than just a couple of supporting characters.
Speaking of Lawrence, she remains one of the best actresses working in movies today and you cannot take your eyes off of her whenever she appears onscreen here. It’s no wonder 20th Century Fox is ever so eager to give Mystique her own spin-off movie.
It’s also great to see a lot of veteran “X-Men” actors here as I was afraid we would never see them together again in the same movie. Stewart, McKellen, Berry, Page and Ashmore make their welcome returns count for every second of their screen time. And yes, Anna Paquin does make an appearance as Marie/Rogue. She’s only in the movie for a little bit, but at least she didn’t get cut out of it completely.
The screenwriter of “X-Men: Days of Future Past” is Simon Kinberg, and it is based on the famous comic book by Chris Claremont and John Byrne. For a time I thought this was going to be your typical time travel movie where everything hinges on a pivotal moment in human history, but Kinberg has a few surprises in store for us as the story doesn’t stop at the moment we expect it to. The characters are acutely aware of the ripple effects they can cause in the history of things, and there’s no time wasted on showing how out of place they are in the 70’s as they always seem to be out of place in everyone else’s eyes regardless of the decade.
There are also a bunch of new mutants joining the party this time around, and the one that stands out the most is Pietro Maximoff /Quicksilver who is played by Evan Peters. Peters is a gas to watch as his character moves at supersonic speeds around everyone, and he injects a good dose of humor into the proceedings. Singer also features Quicksilver in one of the movie’s most ingenious sequences that is scored to the most unlikely of songs. Seriously, I don’t want to spoil it for you, but it has to be seen to be believed.
Another standout performance in “X-Men: Days of Future Past” is Peter Dinklage’s as Bolivar Trask. Like any good actor, Dinklage keeps Bolivar from becoming another one-dimensional villain as he infuses the character with an arrogance and blind ambition that makes him all the more dangerous. Bolivar believes deeply in what he is doing as he feels it is right, and you come out of the movie pitying him. This is a character who has struggled all his life to get the respect he feels he deserves, and he never gives much thought to the consequences of his actions.
I also got to give some applause to Richard Camacho who plays President Richard Nixon. After watching Frank Langella portray this US President in “Frost/Nixon,” I wasn’t sure I ever wanted to see another actor play Nixon again as anyone else would have just played him as a caricature. So I was surprised to see how good Camacho was because he didn’t give us the usual Nixon (not completely anyway) when he could have.
But in many ways, the biggest star of this “X-Men” movie is Singer himself. Regardless of his current legal predicament (I’m not even going into that here), he makes a comeback of sorts with this entry as his last few efforts have seen him lose his touch as a filmmaker. No, I haven’t seen “Jack the Giant Slayer,” but I have yet to hear my friends say anything good about it. But just as he did with the first “X-Men” movies, he does a terrific job of balancing out the visual effects with character development, and what results is the most emotionally satisfying comic book blockbuster I’ve seen so far this year. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” which was really good, set the bar high, but Singer ends up surpassing it by a wide margin with this one.
After watching “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” you will agree that “X-Men: Apocalypse” can’t come soon enough. Seriously, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” only dreamed of being this good.