Bryan Singer’s original X-Men in 2000 was the first to prove that the Marvel Universe of super heroes could make it on the big screen, and its sequel three years later was even better than the original. But then Singer decided to try reinvigorating a DC Comics icon with Superman Returns. While it had some good points, it was in the end unsatisfying, and Superman left again until last year’s Man of Steel. Worse, though, was that the third entry in the series was given to the plebian talents of Brett Ratner. X-Men: The Last Stand was so bad fans wished it was just a bad nightmare and when they woke up they’d find it hadn’t really happened. The series was saved by Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class which jumped back to the 1960s and the early days of the X-men. It helped that you had three excellent actors step into roles from the first movies. Now Singer has returned to the series and built on the success of First Class with X-Men: Days of Future Past.
The movie begins in a dark, war-torn future. Hunter-killer robots called Sentinels started off eradicating mutants, but now are also killing humans who have the potential of producing mutant children. The Sentinels are mechanical mutants themselves, with the ability to absorb the powers of their targets and use them against the mutants. Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) has kept a cell of mutants one step ahead of the Sentinels by using her time-bending powers. At a monastery in China, Kitty’s group is found by Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) along with Magneto (Ian McKellan), Storm (Halle Barry) and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman). Prof. X has identified a tipping point in history in 1973 that set the world on the path it’s followed. Their only chance is to prevent the Sentinels from ever being activated. Kitty has the power to send a person’s consciousness back to their bodies at an earlier time, but she’s found she can only do it over a short duration or else the mind is ripped apart. The only mutant who has a chance of surviving such a long jump back is Wolverine. He has to find Xavier and Magneto’s younger selves and convince them to change history.
Wolverine wakes up in 1973 and heads for Xavier’s School, but Prof. X has warned him that his younger self was much different then. Wolverine finds the younger Xavier (James McAlvoy) a drunken recluse in the closed school, with only Beast (Nicholas Hoult) to help him. Beast has created an elixir that’s given Xavier the use of his legs again, but at the cost of all his other powers. Convincing Xavier to help is hard, but enlisting Magneto’s participation is almost impossible, since he’s in an underground prison beneath one of the most secure buildings in the world. It will require some special help.
While the plot for Days of Future Past is byzantine in its complexity, somehow it plays out beautifully on the screen. While Stewart’s Xavier has always seemed preternaturally calm and controlled, the contrast with the younger, dissolute version played by McAlvoy enhances the character, showing what he’s overcome. Michael Fassbender shows the continued migration of Eric Lehnsherr into Magneto, while in the future we see McKellan’s Magneto has come full circle to stand beside Xavier again. It gives resonance not just to this movie but to the first and second movies as well as First Class.
There’s now a potential spinoff of the Raven/Mystique character because a newly created costume eliminates the hours of full body make-up required in the earlier movies. That’s good news, since Jennifer Lawrence’s embodiment of the character is fascinating, with her personal doubts in conflict with her incredible power. Wolverine has already had two spinoffs, and Jackman has said this will likely be his last time undertaking the physically strenuous role. This is an excellent finale for his performance.
A delight, though, is watching Evan Peters run away with the film in his first exposure on the series. He plays the hyper-fast Quicksilver with droll wit and great fun, and while a longer exposure to his character might have left us with motion sickness, Singer and the scriptwriters (story by Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn and Simon Kinberg, screenplay by Kinberg) give us just enough this time out. Hopefully he will be back in future films.
One problem with the series is continuity. In X-2 William Stryker was played (beautifully) by Brian Cox, but he also showed up in First Class as a middle-aged man in spite of it being 40 years earlier. They’ve kind of solved this in Future Past by having him played by 28-year-old Josh Helman. The movie also credits him as Maj. “Bill” Stryker. First Class had already caused problems, since in the first movie Prof. X says he met Eric Lehnsherr when they were 17. McAlvoy and Fassbender are great actors, but neither acts 17 in First Class. Last Stand had industrialist Bolivar Trask as an African-American; Future Past has him played (also beautifully) by Peter Dinklage.
The best course of action is to simply accept the glitches and let X-Men: Days of Future Past be what it is – one of the best entries in the Marvel Movie Universe.