In July 2000, when the original X-Men was released, the multiplex was a very different place as far as superheroes were concerned. Sam Raimi’s Spiderman was two years away, Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins was even further down the pike and Marvel had yet to develop its own features, so Iron Man and the rest of the Avengers were not even on the horizon. But X-Men was a clever, sharply directed film with just the right amount of tongue-in-cheek humor as well as reverence to the source material.
Fourteen years, several sequels and two standalone offshoots later, we have X-Men: Days of Future Past, a film that collects all its characters and actors into one megasized package, a la The Avengers, but developed outside the Marvel stable. And with Captain America, Thor, Iron Man and seemingly every other superhero dropped into the theaters on what seems like a weekly basis, is there something new that the X-Men can bring to the table? The answer is not exactly, but that isn’t a bad thing. In short – you get what you want, and a little bit extra.
Opening with a flashy and loud action sequence with zero exposition, the film already has to catch up with itself only 10 minutes in. However, once the fireworks die down, it’s laid out for us: In the future, evil drones called Sentinels, which can resist the special powers that the mutants can dish out, have ripped civilization asunder and demolished all the worlds’ capitals. Only the few remaining X-Men, including Professor X (Patrick Stewart), Magneto (Ian McKellen), Storm (Halle Berry) and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) have allied themselves to fight the Sentinels. But mutant Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) has the ability to zap the other mutants back in time, so Wolverine volunteers himself to get transported back to the early 1970s, where fashion is loud and mutants still live incognito.
If ever there was an actor who was truly meant for a character, it would have to be Jackman and Wolverine. Bringing just the right balance of snarling rage and sardonic humor, Jackman is the series’ MVP – whether in his spinoff movies or with the other mutants. However, since the bulk of the film does take place in the past, it means that Stewart, McKellan and Berry take the back seat while the younger versions of Professor X (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) carry the bulk of the action, along with Beast (Nicholas Hoult), who appears to be a furry, blue version of The Hulk, and Raven aka Mystique, played by Jennifer Lawrence, who proves just as adept at karate kicks in blue body makeup as she does with a bow and arrow.
The thrust of the story involves the remainder of the X-Men trying to prevent Mystique from assassinating a scientist (“Game of Thrones’” Peter Dinklage), which will bring about the war between the Sentinels and the mutants, and the usual set pieces come into play: lengthy close quarters battle scenes, standoffs with monstrous robots, and a floating baseball stadium thrown in for good measure. Are any of these particularly groundbreaking or inventive? My answer is no, but at the same time the story moves at a fast enough clip, and the dialogue-driven scenes are compelling enough to make the exposition more palatable.
Returning to the director’s chair this time is Bryan Singer, who directed both the first film and 2003’s X-Men United. After the most recent installment, 2011’s X-Men First Class, helmed by Matthew Vaughn, Singer’s return gives the proceedings a welcome jolt, and though I had trouble keeping the myriad of mutants straight, the film provides enough diversion without making you feel guilty about it.
So, no, there’s nothing really new here. But then again, I enjoyed X-Men: Days of Future Past for hitting all the right beats, and leaving the door open for the series to continue even further.