Another year, another X-Men movie – as I’ve previously discussed, I’ll watch just about anything featuring Hugh Jackman’s steel-clawed Wolverine. That said, “Days of Future Past” is a particularly effective installment that throws the series back into high gear.
Sometime after the events of “X-Men: The Last Stand,” the mutant species has come up against an unstoppable threat: an army of “Sentinel” robots capable of adapting to – and assimilating – mutation-driven attacks directed against them. Facing unavoidable destruction, formerly rival mutant leaders Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Erik Lensherr/Magneto (Ian McKellen) concoct a plan to project Wolverine’s consciousness back in time and avert disaster. The rationale behind such a move: the Sentinel program originated after the 1970s assassination of scientist Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage, of “Game of Thrones” fame) by shapeshifting mutant Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence). In this decade, Xavier and Lensherr are played by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender – successfully bridging the gap between the original trilogy and 2011’s “X-Men: First Class” prequel.
If it’s not already abundantly clear, this cast is pure dynamite – and undoubtedly the biggest and most talented ensemble ever assembled for a superhero film. “Days of Future Past” draws on its stars’ interpersonal chemistry for most of its propulsive energy, which makes the movie a consistently entertaining blockbuster. Think of this as the X-Men equivalent of “The Avengers” – except with higher-caliber stars.
Moreover, director Bryan Singer – responsible for the first “X-Men” film and its first sequel – clearly grasps the true heart of the X-Men franchise: the strained role of the Other in society. “Days of Future Past” asks the question, “when your friends and companions are being massacred, purely on account of immutable characteristics, is it morally conscionable to embrace a hands-off, education-centric approach, or is it permissible to fight back violently?”
On this note, it’s worth noting briefly that the series has always stumbled slightly when it plays up Lensherr/Magneto’s domination-oriented tendencies. It debases a complex character (who happens to be a Holocaust survivor, as “X-Men: First Class” depicted) to show him interested in merely turning the tables on humans and establishing a regime in which mutants are treated as gods. The effort to provide clearcut Hollywood-style moral dichotomies distracts from the real ethical tension at the franchise’s core: far more compelling – and unsettling – is the question of whether or not violent resistance to persecution can be morally justifiable.
This is complex stuff, and Singer handles it deftly.
Having said that, it bears mention that the plot – as one might expect from any time-travel story – groans under the weight of its internal inconsistencies and discontinuities with prior films. Little to no effort goes toward resolving these issues. Just a few questions: how did Magneto get his powers back after “X-Men: The Last Stand”? How did Professor Xavier survive that psionic explosion? How did Wolverine get adamantium re-bonded to his claws after “The Wolverine”? And perhaps most importantly…will anyone ever learn to keep away from Wolverine’s claws while he’s having traumatic mental experiences? (Seriously people, this is literally the fourth time someone’s gotten stabbed under similar circumstances.)
If you like this series – or superhero movies in general – this installment is definitely recommended, for its stellar cast alone if nothing else. Additionally, the requisite action set-pieces are gorgeous, as expected, but never come close to overwhelming the human drama. In a franchise that’s previously come precariously close to running off the rails, “Days of Future Past” places things firmly on solid ground.
Forget the weak storyline, just focus on the actors and the action. That’s more than impressive enough.
Normalized Score: 6.9