Bryan Singer kicked off the X-Men movie franchise with a pair of high-concept action-thrillers (in 2000 and 2002) that used the beloved Marvel Comics characters and concepts as a way to confront and address xenophobia and homophobia, something the comics’ creators who came before him had also done to a certain degree.
However, despite being both critical and commercial successes, Singer either left the franchise voluntarily, or was dismissed by Fox a couple of years later, depending on which version of events you believe. Others followed in Singer’s wake, including a pair of Oscar nominees (Gavin Hood and James Mangold, who helmed the two Wolverine spin-offs, from 2009 and 2012, respectively), one of his protégés/pals (Matthew Vaughn, 2011’s First Class) and, of course, direct-by-numbers film “auteur” Brett Ratner, whose wretched, action-over-story three-quel, X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), was the antithesis of everything Singer was trying to say and do with the characters.
After more than a decade, Singer has returned to reclaim his title as the Master of the X-Movie Franchise with X-Men: Days of Future Past, an action-packed X-sequel that’s based on a fan-favorite storyline from the Chris Claremont-John Byrne run on Marvel’s “Uncanny X-Men” title. As he did earlier, Singer manages to address issues that are clearly on his mind and in the news. With help from longtime X-Men movie scribe Simon Kinberg, he also manages to clear up several years’ worth of storyline and character confusion that ensued with others in charge of the characters, which isn’t a particularly easy task.
Oh, and not to spoil anything, but there’s at least one really shocking, revelatory moment in which Singer and Company clearly extended a middle finger to Ratner and his Last Stand cohorts. That alone is reason to cheer for this film’s success – though it’s worthwhile for many other reasons. Thrilling, heady and not just a little funny, it’s easily as good as Singer’s other X-films, and rivals the best of the Marvel-based movies to date.
The confusingly titled Days of Future Past begins in the near future, one in which our heroic mutants are being hunted to the point of extinction by robotic “Sentinels.” Longtime “frenemies” Charles “Professor X” Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Erik “Magneto” Lehnsherr (Ian McKellen) have put aside their differences to battle this adaptable, deadly threat.
While the fight rages outside of their latest stronghold, the two also ask fellow mutant Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) to send the consciousness of Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) into the past, where he’ll “possess” the body of his younger self. The hope is he’ll be able to stop Raven “Mystique” Darkholme (Jennifer Lawrence) from killing the Sentinels creator, Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) – an act that was apparently the tipping point in the human-mutant “war.”
However, even when Wolverine arrives, he still has to convince the at-the-time powerless Charles (James McAvoy) and now seemingly human Hank “Beast” McCoy (Nicholas Hoult) to join his cause and, even more improbably, convince them to work together with Erik (Michael Fassbender), who’s been imprisoned in a seemingly impregnable cell.
Worse yet, it’s a desperate race against time, in more ways than one. As Future Kitty and Future Professor try to keep Wolverine in the past, the surviving X-Men – including Storm (Halle Berry), Iceman (Shaun Ashmore), Colossus (Daniel Cudmore) and Bishop (Omar Sy) – are fighting a losing battle against overwhelming numbers of inhuman enemies.
As you can probably tell from that synopsis, Singer has a huge cast, and has to juggle time for each, with the “past” versions of the characters getting the bulk of the screen time. And yes, the film is possibly a bit over plotted, even to the point that some slower audiences may need others to explain to them what’s going on. That’s especially true of the post-credits sequence, which teases the next X-Men movie. (If you’ve seen what the subtitle of that film is, you’ll have a good idea of what to expect.)
Luckily, Singer and Kinberg do strike the right balance between big-screen action (this film has the best of any of the movies in that regard), commentary, drama and tension-diffusing humor. In particular, the addition of Peter “Quicksilver” Maximoff, a kleptomaniacal speedster played by American Horror Story’s Evan Peters, is a welcome one. He steals every scene he’s in, and sets a high bar for the competing version of the character Joss Whedon is creating for 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron.
And while it’s hard to single out members of the remaining ensemble for praise (they all have their moments), McAvoy really registers as the embittered, broken and drug-addled Charles, who’s lost his way and his passion for the cause, and Jackman acts as comic foil when the story and action requires it.
Jeff Michael Vice can also be read reviewing comics and television for Big Shiny Robot! (www.bigshinyrobot.com), be heard reviewing films, television programs, comics, books, music and other things as part of The Geek Show Podcast (www.thegeekshowpodcast.com), and be seen reviewing films as part of Xfinity’s Big Movie Mouth-Off (www.facebook.com/BigMovieMouthOff).