Bryan Singer’s latest, hugely ambitious blockbuster, X-Men: Days of Future Past, serves a couple of significant functions outside the obvious expectation of a $100 million domestic opening: As a chapter in the source comic’s future silver screen viability, it clears the deck of questionable dramatic (not to mention fan-enraging) choices made in the inferior efforts following X2: X-Men United. It also functions as compelling evidence that Singer’s DNA may just house a special mutant power of its own.
Amidst a sprawling all-star cast including Sirs Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, Oscar-winning actresses Jennifer Lawrence and Halle Berry—as well as a slew of other Oscar nominees—the latest entry in the super-powered franchise (loosely) adapts one of the original comics’ most memorable, twisty arcs. Beginning in the not-too-far-flung future, the last vestiges of Professor Xavier’s (Stewart) X-Men are barely escaping a series of attacks from the mutant-eradicating Sentinels, originally designed 50 years prior by the extermination-minded Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage, revealing shades of Heinrich Himmler, as well as echoing themes from the first X-Men). After being joined by Wolverine (the inestimable franchise V.I.P, Hugh Jackman), Kitty Pride (Ellen Page) is able to transport his consciousness back to his younger body (the rest of the team’s minds could never survive the trip) in order to convince a young Xavier (James McAvoy) to help him stop Mystique (Lawrence) from assassinating Trask—the very event which ended up most responsible for the Sentinels program being officially launched. Like the aforementioned first two, Days of Future Past sees a return of humans as the primary villains. There is, once again, the imminent threat of persecution—deadlier this time—under a fearful governing body, led by a comically jowly Nixon (Mark Camacho).
Whew! It’s a story with so many moving pieces in terms of sheer volume of both character and plot, it could easily have proved an incomprehensible slog even for Marvel True Believers. Happily, much as with prior Singer-helmed X-Men films, the director seems to instinctively know exactly when to pull back on the exhilarating action set pieces, and push in on his absurdly over-qualified actors as they espouse the film’s central themes of second chances and choosing to tread the more difficult path of righteousness, as opposed to self-righteousness. This is chiefly embodied by the relationship between McAvoy and Lawrence’s characters; their respective damaged pride having torn them apart years earlier following the events ending 2011’s X-Men: First Class.
Despite the often bleak tone—we’re talking about a post-apocalyptic future where genocidal robots have more or less won, after all—there’s still a generous dosage of fun—most memorably the prison break of young Magneto (Michael Fassbender) at the Pentagon. A sequence from the perspective of the impossibly fast mutant, Quicksilver (Peter Evans), is a particular bit of mischievous joy.
With Singer’s return to the role of directing comic book drama and action, it’s even more apparent how perfectly adapted the filmmaker is to a giant spectacle with a real heart, and how valuable his empathy and respect for the characters occupying this fantastical world to the movie as a whole. At 131 minutes, Days of Future Past is filled to near bursting as its enormous cast scrambles through the vagaries of its time travel paradox-rich design. But Singer threads the needle with such apparent effortlessness in stitching it all together, the seams are practically invisible. It may not be as showy as telekinesis or plasma-laser eyes, but it’s an uncanny gift nevertheless.
Director: Bryan Singer
Writers: Simon Kinberg, Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Jennifer Lawrence, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Nicholas Hoult, Ellen Page, Halle Berry, Shawn Ashmore, Peter Dinklage
Release Date: May 23, 2014