It’s rare for a franchise to completely reinvent itself after a string of flops and duds, but with director Bryan Singer back at the helm and a cast that has been injected with some much-needed youth, X-Men: Days of Future Past manages to outdo even the series’ best installments, while cementing itself as the one blockbuster worth your time this summer (so far).
The movie opens in a bleak dystopia in the year 2023 where the X-Men have been decimated after an army of super-advanced Sentinels went rogue and began murdering both humans and mutants indiscriminately. The only hope for Earth lies with a battle-worn group of mutants, including Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart), Magneto (Ian McKellen), Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page), Storm (Halle Berry), Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), and some other monosyllabic canon fodder from the series’ glory days.
Their plan is for Kitty to send Wolverine’s consciousness back to 1973 in order to keep Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from killing Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage). This would stop the Sentinel program from moving forward, effectively changing history and guiding it toward a brighter future. The film's opening battle scene perfectly sums up what makes Days of Future Past work so well. By effortlessly weaving impressive visuals with strong characters and a unique atmosphere, Bryan Singer delivers a blockbuster spectacle with heart and soul.
Once Wolverine makes it to the past, he enlists the help of younger versions of Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) in order to stop Mystique. Even though Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen have a longer tenure as Xavier and Magneto, it’s McAvoy and Fassbender who breathe the most life into the characters.
While the older versions are self-assured and harmonious in their relationship, their younger counterparts are angry, broken, and ready to kill at the mere sight of each other. It’s the conflict between these two that drives the film, as Wolverine helps Xavier back to his righteous path in order to stop Magneto from altering history and igniting a war between mutants and humans. This type of plot has been done to death in the X-Men movies, but the strong performances and Singer's handle on the material make it feel new again.
While the trio of Wolverine, Magneto, and Xavier thrive under Singer’s direction, there are plenty of missed opportunities with the cast. Ellen Page and Halle Berry are basically nothing more than expensive cameos, while Jennifer Lawrence comes off as surprisingly two-dimensional in her pursuit of revenge against Trask. And speaking of Trask, Peter Dinklage is able to pump out an admirable performance in an otherwise underwritten role, but don’t expect him to wind up alongside William Stryker and Magneto as one of the preeminent X-Men villains. His motivations aren’t developed, and he simply doesn't get the screen time to develop into a credible threat.
Still, while some characters might not live up to their potential, none of them are glaringly misused. This is a big movie that manages to balance the major players well, despite shortchanging a few. Surprisingly, the film’s most memorable character might be Quicksilver (Evan Peters), who completely steals the entire movie in his brief moments on screen. His trademark scene in the Pentagon is a microcosm of the entire film: visually groundbreaking, but with an emphasis on character over empty set pieces.
It was always a gamble to try and unite the casts from Singer's original X movies with Matthew Vaughn's First Class, but it's handled effortlessly here. The two casts never meet, save for one scene between the Xavier's, but make no mistake about it: this movie belongs to the younger generation. Fans of the originals should take solace in Singer giving his X-Men and X2 cast the proper sendoff in the end, but Days of Future Past is the passing of the torch as the X-Men franchise is officially rebooted by the time the credits role.
Even with a time travel plot that borders on illogical, Bryan Singer and writer Simon Kinberg manage to present a story that is so engrossing and exhilarating that it’s easy to gloss over the occasional lapses in logic and continuity errors. This is done by boiling the X-Men down to their essence, giving them back their wit, and focusing on what has made the comics endure for more than 70 years. Like Wolverine himself, Singer has found a way to heal old wounds and give a glimpse of hope for this franchise’s future.
And if you want a closer look at that future, stay after the credits to see a classic X-Men villain finally come to life.
Jason Serafino is contributing writer who can go toe-to-toe with any self-proclaimed comic book nerd. He tweets here.