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How much money does it take to make an X-Men feature film that allows multiple superheroes to use their powers on-screen all at the same time? It’s apparently about 250 million dollars, but based on the results of this movie it was all well worth it. X-Men: Days of Future Past, directed by the returning Bryan Singer (who directed X1 and X2), is the latest (and probably the best) film in the long running series (it’s still a bit too early to call it the best). It doesn’t always work neatly and perfectly, but what’s on screen is a pretty damn good summer blockbuster with more than enough intelligence and solid character interaction to make it stand out in the crowded superhero film genre.
Days of Future Past jumps back and forth between roughly ten years in the future and fifty years in the past. In 1973, Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) murders wealthy industrialist and anti-mutant advocate Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage). This sets off a chain reaction of anti-mutant sentiment, leading to the creation of the Sentinel program. The government is able to use Mystique’s unique shape-shifting DNA to create the ultimate anti-mutant weapon, which eventually wipes out virtually every mutant on earth as well as millions of regular human beings. Very few of our mutant heroes are left alive. Thus, Professor X (Patrick Stewart), Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Storm (Halle Berry), and Magneto (Ian McKellen) must find a way to win the war and save both humankind and mutant-kind.
Meanwhile, in the near future, Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) and a band of mutants face off against the Sentinels. When the Sentinels gain an advantage, Pryde sends mutant ally Bishop (Omar Sy) back in the past a few days by transferring his present conscious into his past self. Bishop then warns his friends about the incoming Sentinels, and they are able to move locations before the fight begins. Professor X convinces Pryde to send X-Man Wolverine back into the past, so that Wolverine can find the younger version of the professor (James McAvoy) and the younger version of Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and help stop Mystique from murdering Trask and thus setting the stage for the creation of the Sentinel program.
The plot is fairly complex, as it is in most mediums concerning time travel. The script does a great job of simplifying it, however. Days of Future Past is the kind of film that fosters questions only after one has watched it and thought about it for a while. In the midst of things, I was able to suspend my disbelief and just ride with things. The film also does a great job of trying to retcon the past films into a more cohesive narrative. It isn’t always successful, but it mostly works. It had to be a real beast to make sense of all the things this film franchise has done, things both and right and wrong, and get them into one shared universe. I give the filmmakers credit for what they’ve done here.
The best parts of the movie are its character moments. Like X-Men: First Class, Days of Future Past is incredibly successful in what it does with the little moments in between the action set pieces. McAvoy and Fassbender continue to do good work together as young Professor X and Magneto. Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique is much better realized in this film (though still not quite given enough to do). Hugh Jackman is still Wolverine (which is good). Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart are still both amazing in their roles as well, especially considering their somewhat limited screen time. Only the future mutants (Bishop, Warpath, Blink, Sunspot, Iceman) aren’t given all that much to do throughout the film. But they look really cool throughout the film, and their Sentinel fights are very well done (especially Blink’s portals).
The film has surprisingly few action set pieces for a summer blockbuster, but this is almost a good thing. Though the future is at stake, the film feels a bit low-key due to its solid character interaction. I would have liked a great big action scene in the middle of the film, because it did start to drag just a bit and could have used something to help with the pacing. I almost always complain about unnecessarily long running times in these kinds of films, so I do appreciate that Days of Future Past only ran about two hours and ten minutes instead of what seems like the now mandatory three hour run time. The special effects are pretty great throughout, with one huge notable exception that I won’t mention here (you’ll see it for yourself and maybe cringe or chuckle). The future stuff looks the best out of everything I thought.
Days of Future Past does a pretty great job of trying to clean up the continuity problems in the X-Men film franchise, but it also stands out for being a decently smart action-thriller with great character moments. Once again the Professor X/Magneto relationship shines, just as it did in First Class. Though it has its fair share of flaws (which include Singer’s need to shoe-horn in corny jokes), it is a very solid summer blockbuster and probably the best X-Men movie yet. The balance between past and future doesn’t always work neatly, but it is incredibly compelling, and the special effects are outstanding. The film really gets a lot out of its budget, and it really feels like the X-Men are finally allowed to use their powers as a team. It only took us 14 years and 250 million dollars to get there.