X-Men has cemented itself as the longest-standing comic book movie franchise yet to be rebooted. It’s a series that’s built a strong mythology for itself over the years, though with a few misfires along the way, the films plunged into mediocrity and convolution. Enter returning X-Men and X2 director Bryan Singer. After saving the superhero subgenre from extinction following Batman & Robin, he’s back to deliver the X-franchise’s finest installment yet, a film which is, in many ways, a culmination of everything the series has been building towards all these years.
We open on a desolate post-apocalyptic future, where humans are captured and mutants are killed on sight by the dreaded Sentinels. Our heroes, last seen in 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand, have banded together to fight these Sentinels – even Magneto (Ian McKellan) has joined forces with former rival Professor X (Patrick Stewart). The mutants agree the only way to win the war is to prevent it from ever happening to begin with, and send Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back to the 1970s to stop Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from igniting the humans’ war against mutants, spurred by Sentinel creator Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage). Yet Wolverine must also unite the young, feuding Professor X (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) to ensure a better future for both man and mutant-kind.
Days of Future Past is the sweet dessert after a mixed 6-course meal. It works as both a sequel to The Last Stand and last year’s The Wolverine and to 2011’s X-Men: First Class, paying off moments teased throughout the franchise while also telling its own story. It’s a rather brilliantly-woven yarn, using the beloved Chris Claremont/John Byrne comic series as its jumping-off point, and crafting a densely, yet smartly-plotted script that feels a fitting tribute to the whole of the mythology. The way it deftly juggles character after character, subplot after subplot, fan nod after fan nod, is nothing short of extraordinary. Everything, down to the design of the classic purple Sentinels themselves, is simply well thought-out.
And the time travel element isn’t just a clever plot device – it’s a way of cleaning up and uniting the cluttered, plot hole-ridden visions of the past into one, celebrating them while also altering their canon for the better. Credit director Bryan Singer and writer Simon Kinberg for crafting one big, beautiful retcon for the series that, for the first time, makes the X-universe feel whole and complete. And Singer himself directs with both the pathos of his first two films and with the genuine concern for character in First Class. These mutants finally feel like full-fledged personalities, thanks to the gravitas brought by each and every old and new returning cast member. And finally seeing Magneto in his purple armor taking control of the Sentinels? I’m flashing back to the old X-Men arcade game, and I want nothing more than for these guys to “GO…AND SAVE THE CITY!”
One of my biggest complaints with Singer’s first two films was that they lacked light, colorful backdrops for their inherently pulp-y icons to occupy. Because the comic book movie was an unproven property at the time, much of Singer’s work was exemplified by stiff, awkward exposition and dark, drab, joyless color schemes. This was finally addressed in the more fun, vibrant First Class, and Days of Future Past looks to continue the trend; now that Hollywood loves the comic book movie, filmmakers are finally allowed to take a bit more joy in the proceedings. Best of all, Days of Future Past bears no distracting homosexual subtext to my eye. Where past films often included groan-inducing parallels firmly limiting mutation to being a metaphor for homosexuality, Days of Future Past is content to let the metaphor speak for itself. And really, shouldn’t mutants stand for all minority groups, not just one?
The film’s continuity revisions aren’t seamless. What of the death of Professor X and the curing of Magneto in The Last Stand? How does Wolvie have his metal claws back after the end of The Wolverine? Why does Patrick Stewart’s Professor X speak passionately of growing up with Mystique when he never even mentioned her in the original trilogy? No matter; this is a gripping, entertaining, and most importantly, smart and fresh revision of the X-franchise. It’s already-announced sequel Apocalypse certainly has some high expectations to live up to.