The future. A post-apocalyptic wasteland that’s patrolled by mutant-hunting machines known as Sentinels. In their desperation against the unstoppable foe, Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellan) send their most ferocious companion, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), back in time to 1973. Here he must shake some sense into a mopey Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), break a mutant terrorist (Michael Fassbender) out of prison, and change the very course of history…
In a cinematic climate of sequels, prequels and reboots, X-Men: Days of Future Past somehow manages to be all of these things at once. The story plays out over two time periods, the first being ten years after the events of X-Men: First Class, where the X-Men are at very different places in their lives. The other period being a terrifying future where mutants are hunted and forced into internment camps, and the X-Men are all but scattered or dead.
When attempting to combine the casts from the original X-Men trilogy and the First Class generation, there was a real danger that the narrative would be too busy, but the director spryly dodges that bullet. Previous installments in the series, namely X-Men 3 and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, were deemed truly X-cruciating by audiences (Sorry). Singer seeks to undo some of that damage this time around by taking a page from J. J. Abram’s Star Trek, using a time travel plot device to retcon the entire X-Men universe. The result is one of the best blockbusters in recent years.
Tonally, it’s spot on. With a vision of a bleak futurescape from the get go, this could’ve easily been a more somber affair, but as soon as we’re thrown back to the ‘70s the gags start rolling.
In terms of visual effects, the ante has been upped yet again with the Sentinels looking slick and terrifying. One stand-out sequence involves a slo-mo prison break, in a scene that manages to eclipse the iconic attack on the White House from X2.
The film might have buckled under the weight of such a burgeoning cast, but Singer pulls off a delicate balancing act. By really focusing on the key character arches, he avoids the pitfalls of broad storytelling that befell X-Men: First Class.
While fans will be overjoyed with the return of Wolverine to the fold, it’s a shame he isn’t given more focus, instead he plays second fiddle to McAvoy’s washed-up professor. Not that McAvoy’s Charles is an uninteresting character, far from it, he is captivating here as a former leader who has strayed into apathy and addiction.
While the cast is large and impressive, there is also clearly a great chemistry among its key players. In one airborne scene, we witness a long-awaited confrontation between Charles and Erik that’s goose-bump inducing.
Jackman is as on form as ever as the gruff Wolverine, while Lawrence’s Mystique gets more to do this time around in her dual role as would-be villain/MacGuffin of the piece.
With such a sprawling narrative, some areas are inevitably underdeveloped: McKellan’s Magneto doesn’t garner the screen time he deserves, the intriguing new X-Men of the future period get little to no dialogue, and we are never offered a great deal of insight into the motivations of Peter Dinklage’s warmongering villain.
Singer confidently retakes the reins of the cinematic franchise which he birthed, with plenty of nods to earlier installments for the fan-boys to lap up, while newcomers will have much to enjoy here regardless: The latest addition to the X-Men saga is truly X-cellent (I’m so sorry). Be sure to stick around for the after credits sting, which gives a teaser of the next entry in the series, X-Men: Apocalypse.