There comes a time in every long running franchise when things need to be shaken up, cut loose, and set free. In movie terms, this is called a reboot. 2011’s “X-Men: First Class” was just that. After three hugely successful films in the early 2000s, “First Class” took the series in a brand new direction. New director. Fresh cast. An exciting and original storyline. The movie could have easily gone on to create any number of sequels. Instead of keeping with the typical reboot formula, however, Marvel and Fox have decided to rewrite the book with “X-Men: Days of Future Past.” The film is a comic book epic unlike any before it. Combining the best parts from Bryan Singer’s originals with elements from “First Class,” the result is an action blockbuster that expands the X-Men universe in the best ways possible.
Penned by “Sherlock Holmes” screenwriter Simon Kinberg, the film opens in a post apocalyptic future where the entire world is in absolute ruin. Think Panem from “The Hunger Games” or Chicago ala “Divergent,” but with a lot more dead bodies on the street. For PG-13, the carnage is pretty brutal. Right from the start, the audience watches as a massive unmarked grave is filled with fresh corpses. While inappropriate for the younger kids in the crowd, the image is a shocking confirmation that this isn’t going to be the typical powder-puff superhero movie.
All of this bloody carnage, we come to find out, is the result of a group of robotic monsters known as Sentinels. Created by evil mastermind, genius Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) in the early 1970s, these shape shifting, indestructible monstrosities have all but wiped out the entire mutant race and all humans that have tried to help.
This terrible history sets the stage for Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen), who are now fighting alongside one another against the Sentinel threat. Helping them is Storm (Halle Berry), Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page), Iceman (Shawn Ashmore), Bishop (Omar Sy), Colossus (Daniel Cudmore), Blink (Fan Bingbing), Sunspot (Adam Canto) and Warpath (Booboo Stewart).
With defeat and ultimately death bearing down on the entire mutant crew, Professor X informs his fellow fighters that their only hope for survival is to go back to 1973 and stop Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from killing Trask at the Paris Peace Accords. Oddly specific? Yes, but for good reason.
On that day, Mystique’s actions not only confirmed that mutants were indeed a dangerous threat worthy of extermination; it was also the moment in time when she was captured by Trask’s crew. This, it turns out, allowed the scientist to extract her shape-shifting DNA and use it to finalize his indestructible Sentinel army.
So, on the brink of total destruction, Kitty uses her mutant powers to send Wolverine back in time to meet up with past versions of Professor X (James McAvoy), Magneto (Michael Fassbender), and Beast (Nicholas Hoult) in order to find Mystique and save the day! Phew. That’s a lot of story to keep track of, but it’s a lot more exciting with all of the 3D action whizzing around at a nonstop clip.
And if that wasn’t enough, Kinberg even manages to introduce a few more mutants along the way. Most notably, teenaged Quicksilver (Evan Peters), whose high-speed hijinks are needed to break a certain metal-altering character out of a maximum security prison. Quicksilver also brings some of the film’s most hilarious moments. Just wait for the slo-mo kitchen scene.
With so many moving parts, original franchise director Bryan Singer, fortunately, is back calling all the shots. He keeps the complex story moving along fast enough to never bore the audience with unnecessary exposition, but also takes his time to give plenty of shout-outs to true X-Men junkies.
Along with all of this X-Men lore, costume designer Louise Mingenbach (The Hangover) along with special effects coordinator Cameron Waldbauer (X-Men: The Last Stand) saturate the screen with jaw-dropping set pieces and impressive period specific details. Balancing the film’s funky, 1970s retro setting with ultra-modern, high tech technology could have been an awkward challenge, but both Waldbauer and Sigel somehow make it work. The Sentinels, even in their 1970s prototype stage, look impressivefor our 2014 eye balls.
Because of its intensive storyline and generous amount of action, there really isn’t much time for any of the world-class actors on display to bust out any career making performances. The cast does, however, wisely make the most out of each line of dialogue and precious second of screen time they are given.
It has been over 14 years since the first X-Men premiered in theaters. In that time, superhero movies went from being once-in-a-while novelties to box office bread and butter. “X-Men: Days of Future Past” realizes that. It assumes that every single person glued to his or her seat, 3D glasses on each head, is a fan of the X-Men universe. With that in mind, it is best to do some research before buying your tickets. “X-Men”, “X2”, “X-Men: The Last Stand”, “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”, “First Class”, these are all fair game when it comes to references, flashbacks, and important plot points. My advice, brush off your old DVD collection or at least get caught up on Wikipedia.
Beyond the backstory. Beyond the special powers. Beyond the fact that X-Men are comic book characters. “Days of Future Past” is a success because it is simply a fantastic movie. Smart, action packed, and occasionally heart-wrenching [seriously!], Bryan Singer —despite his current legal troubles — shows that he can do at least one thing right: create awesome comic book movies. “Days of Future Past” is a must for fans of the franchise, and anyone else willing to embrace a superhero movie mythology that spans almost fifteen years.
By David Morris
Rated PG- 13 for sequences of intense sci-fi violence and action, some suggestive material, nudity and language