Film Review: X-Men: Days of Future Past

Mutants in the past team up to prevent a future apocalypse in this sturdy, fast-moving X-Men outing.

The Marvel machine cranks out another fine-tuned blockbuster with X-Men: Days of Future Past, a vigorous entry in the long-running franchise. Balancing action and drama, it benefits by drawing together popular characters from other entries in the series. Fans and word of mouth will help this put a serious dent into Godzilla receipts.

Simon Kinberg's screenplay tosses about mutants and time settings with abandon, starting with a post-apocalyptic wasteland that recalls the Terminator series. Here, the surviving superheroes take a stand against Sentinel machines that absorb their foes' powers while destroying humans and mutants alike.

With Sentinels closing in on a mutant hideout in China, X-Men leader Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and his followers come up with a daring plan: send a mutant into the past to rewrite history. Specifically, prevent Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from assassinating arms entrepreneur Boliver Trask (Peter Dinklage) at 1973's Paris Peace Accords.

The Wolverine's (Hugh Jackman) self-regenerating genes make him the only candidate who can survive the journey. Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) transports his consciousness to New York City, where he finds a younger incarnation of Xavier (James McAvoy), still recovering from the crippling fight with Magneto (Michael Fassbender) detailed in X-Men: First Class.
As the bloodthirsty Mystique closes in on Trask, Wolverine has to find a way to unite Xavier and Magneto, the latter held prisoner in the bowels of the Pentagon. (Accounting for a future in which Magneto and Xavier remain enemies for decades takes real ingenuity on Kinberg's part.)

Springing Magneto from his concrete cell requires the help of Quicksilver (Evan Peters), a proto-punk mutant who can move so swiftly that time seems to stand still. His scene is one of the showiest and most satisfying in the movie, which has so many characters that some are inevitably shortchanged. Asian star Fan Bingbing barely gets a word in as Blink, while Anna Paquin's Rogue is essentially MIA.

After her commanding appearance in American Hustle, Jennifer Lawrence's Mystique—threatened, defensive, hostile—is a bit of a letdown. Despite a couple of decent fights, even Wolverine feels muted, although Jackman is characteristically solid as the blue-collar brawler.

Part of the fun in this entry is seeing how all the plot elements click into place for episodes that have already been released but have yet to take place. Knowing how Xavier and Magneto end up adds a sad tinge to scenes between James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender; Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart, on the other hand, are so subdued they retreat to the sidelines.

Compared to a franchise like The Avengers, X-Men movies have always seemed introspective, even mopey. With its drug-fueled melancholia, personal betrayals and intimations of looming disasters, Days of Future Past is no exception. Even so, Bryan Singer directs with intensity and focus, making this his best outing in several years.
Days of Future Past captures the tone and atmosphere of the original comics better than many of its competitors. Even as buildings are smashed and civilizations threatened, it's always clear that larger issues of personal identity and freedom are at stake.

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