If you just think of each franchise X-Men film installment as a stand-alone alternative history, it will go easier for your brain.
It’s the future and we lost – not just mutant-kind but ALL of mankind. The Sentinels created by Dr. Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) in the 1970s evolve into machines that cease making the distinction between friend and foe since “normal” people can have mutant offspring and therefore must be destroyed. Kitty Pride (Ellen Page) has discovered the power to send someone’s consciousness back in time to their own body to warn everyone of an impending attack, but only for a few days at a time. Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen) launch a plan to send Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back in time to stop shapechanger Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from assassinating Trask and beginning the Sentinel program…all the way back to 1973. Of course, when you’re trying to change the past to fix the future, what can go wrong WILL go wrong.
How to you fix a story chock-full of wish-we-hadn’t-written-that revelations like X-Men 3? The same way Star Trek and countless comic books have always done it: change up yesterday for a brighter tomorrow. Putting aside his personal activities and legal accusations for the purposes of this review, director Bryan Singer had his pulse on the X-Men franchise before he and Brett Ratner swapped directing assignments, Bryan taking the reigns of the ill-fated Superman Returns and pleasing no one with a nigh-impossible assignment. Days of Future Past is based on the classic X-Men comic storyline but repurposed to reset the timeline and allow future franchise films to continue for Fox – and wow, does it ever.
First off, there are more mutants packed in here than you can shake a stick, all using their powers in every cool way you’ve always imagined. It still hasn’t been explained how Professor X came back to life or how Wolverine got his Adamantium claws back after The Wolverine, but whatever…fixing the timeline: right! This story is pure fan service with a purpose, from seeing the Nimrod-class of mutant-adapting Sentinels to the classic early-1970s, first-generation Harrier-inspired purple Sentinels. The story does an incredible job ramping up the tension into the climax happening in both timelines. James McAvoy’s younger Charles Xavier, Michael Fassbender’s younger Erik Lehnsherr, and Jennifer Lawrence’s portrayal of Mystique all earn equal billing with fan-favorite Hugh “Wolverine” Jackman, even sidelining the Clawed One at one point to let the new players shine. Over the top? A bit, but the natural humor that this script injects even into the most dire moments is what helps give the story and these X-Men the weight to be taken seriously.
There are problems, many of which stem from anachronism and just plain physics, but a moment of cinematic forgiveness lends itself to a few of the more hilarious plot points, particularly concerning Evan Peters’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-him appearance as Quicksilver. Also, was it really necessary to pick up an entire stadium and drop it around the White House just because it looked cool? Maybe not – we’ll even forgive the obvious issues with the original X-Men film mutant reveal if their current present leads to the future that created Sentinels – but the film is an all-around good time. Better yet, it cleans the slate…kind of like the way a comic story arc ends and everything goes back to status quo just before another pair of shoes drops out of the sky. Yes, X-Men: Age of Apocalypse has already been announced, so stay until after the credits for a little something extra!
(a three skull recommendation out of four)