With Disney, Sony, and Warner Bros all branching out their comics licenses into multi-property blockbuster series, it comes as no surprise that Fox would want to give its own funny book franchise, X-Men, a unique twist to make each new release stand out from the crowd. As luck would have it, 2011’s X-Men: First Class stumbled on the perfect hook: a retelling of American history with super-powered titans. Matthew Vaughn’s hit prequel set Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto’s (Michael Fassbender) epic bromance amid the Cuban missile crisis. Now X-Men: Days of Future Past sees the two mutant leaders hashing out their differences as the US withdraws from the Vietnam War.
I’m getting ahead of myself though. Bryan Singer, who helmed the original X-Men (2000) as well as X-2: X-Men United (2003), returns to the director’s chair at last, bringing along much of his old cast, including Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen as the elderly Xavier and Magneto respectively. I didn’t realise how much I’d missed Stewart’s opening voiceovers until I heard him pontificate about predestination while giant robots drop from the sky. You see, X-Men: Days of Future Past is a time-travel story, wherein the X-Men of 2023 send Wolverine’s (Hugh Jackman) consciousness fifty years back to prevent their dystopian reality.
Cynics will say the story aims to erase Brett Ratner’s X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) from canon, and there’s definitely some of that going on. Singer claims that he merely wanted to fix the series’ continuity, but this latest chapter introduces a whole new set of inconsistencies, like Stryker (Josh Helman) looking over a decade younger than he did in X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) and Beast (Nicholas Hoult) developing a mutant cure thirty years before the events of The Last Stand. No, the real purpose of X-Men: Days of Future Past is to provide a final hurrah for the old, leather-bound X-Men all the while freeing their younger counterparts from the shackles of prequeldom.
Each generation boasts a full cast, but only a handful of heroes are actually explored. X-Men: Days of Future Past expects us to care about Storm (Halle Berry), Iceman (Shawn Ashmore), and Shadowcat (Ellen Page) because we know them from previous films. Unfortunately, they’re given so little to do, it’s hard to think of them as characters rather than digital-effects generators. To make matters worse, because we’ve seen their particular powers before, our attention is immediately drawn to the new cannon fodder mutants, who share a total of five lines. I particularly like Blink (Fan Bing Bing), the walking Portal gun.
The X-Men of the seventies are considerably better served, what with their subplot taking up three-quarters of the runtime. It’s worth noting, though, that most of the characters from X-Men: First Class are dispatched off screen. Also, Quicksilver (Evan Peters), who gets a terrific slow-motion sequence showcasing both his abilities and offbeat personality, exits the narrative halfway into X-Men: Days of Future Past. You’ll find yourself cursing at screenwriter Simon Kinberg for not letting him tag along, especially since the action set pieces weirdly de-escalate from that point on.
Consider the climactic battle in the future, wherein the X-Men take a final stand to buy Wolverine more time. Their sacrifice is dramatic but woefully undercut by the fact that we saw a similar battle at the beginning of X-Men: Days of Future Past. The parallel thread in the past proves more effective, as our heroes try to stop Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from assassinating Trask (Peter Dinklage), a weapons manufacturer obsessed with wiping out mutantkind. I can’t, for the life of me, figure out why Magneto needs to lift a football stadium or where three of the four Sentinel robots disappear to midway into the fight, but the various mutants’ conflicting interests kept me invested throughout.
That’s what I love about X-Men: Days of Future Past: it keeps the characters and metaphor at the forefront. In the past, the X-Men embody the angst and frustration of the post Vietnam War era. The recipient of every thought in the nation, Xavier struggles with drug addiction and an existential sense of abandonment; incarcerated ten years for a crime he didn’t commit, Magneto demands a civil rights revolution; and, bearing witness to countless lives taken by the government, Mystique screams for justice. As for the future, you’ll have to watch the movie to find out, but aren’t you glad somebody’s doing more with super-heroes than crossing them over?