Many are rejoicing at Bryan Singer’s return to the Marvel mutant franchise, and for good reason. Singer began the franchise all the way back in 2000 with X-Men and its sequel X2, with both still standing as arguably the best of the series.
With X-Men: Days of Future Past, Singer proves he still has that magic touch, succeeding in not only creating a story that’s character driven—or, rather, mutant driven—but he takes what could be an elusive and confusing story involving multiple timelines and time travel, and roots it firmly within the characters’ arcs. It’s possibly the best X-Men film since his own X2.
Matthew Vaughn— who got a story credit on Days of Future Past—seemed to revive the series with X-Men: First Class after Brett Ratner’s 2006 X-Men: The Last Stand was met with a collective shrug. But whereas First Class was supposed to be the origin story of how the mutants pulled together only to be separated by the philosophical differences of Charles Xavier, aka Professor X, and Erik Lehnsherr, aka Magneto, it put too much emphasis on an outside, third villain that detracted from the much more interesting story brewing within its main cast.
Singer re-focuses on this relationship, bettering Vaughn’s story, while also creating a reboot of sorts for the franchise. Hitting the reset button feels a bit convenient, and Singer can’t quite reconcile it within his larger story, but he manages to at least have a convincing argument for doing so.
Opening in 2023, the world has become one large war zone in the fight of human vs. mutant. The mutants are slowly being eradicated thanks to robots dubbed Sentinels, which were designed by scientist Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) back in the 1970s to combat, what he saw, as the impending mutant problem. The real reason his Sentinels have succeeded, however, is because he was able to infuse them with Mystique’s (Jennifer Lawrence) DNA, allowing them, like her, to adapt to their surroundings, and therefore any mutant power they come up against.
Knowing that the end is near, the remaining mutants, which include Storm (Halle Berry), Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Professor X (Patrick Stewart), Magneto (Ian McKellen), and Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page), among a few others, must come together with a plan. This is an especially big moment for Magneto to swallow his pride and, once again, team up with the Professor for the greater good.
Using Kitty Pryde’s phasing power (she is able to send one’s mind back in time), the Professor has a plan to go all the way back to 1973, when a rogue Mystique assassinated Trask, was captured, and her DNA harvested for the Sentinels. Unaware that her actions set everything in motion, they decide they must convince her to not go through with it. Wolverine is chosen to relay the message to the younger Professor and Magneto, as he’s the only one whose mind can handle the stress of traveling decades back.
Unfortunately, when he reawakens in groovy 1973, he finds it won’t be so easy to round up the gang. Following First Class’ events, the younger Professor (James McAvoy) is in a heavy state of depression, owing to the loss of his school to the Vietnam War draft, the loss of the use of his legs, but most importantly, the loss of Mystique—real name Raven—who he grew up with him like a sister, and who ultimately chose Magneto over him. He’s also lost the use of his mental powers thanks to a serum cooked up by Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult), which McCoy derived to temper his own powers as The Beast, and although it restores the use of the Professor’s legs, it’s at the cost of his powers — which he is unable to handle in his state of despair, anyway. So not only does Wolverine need to prop up Charles into the leader he knows he will become, but he needs to once again bring him together with the younger Magneto (Michael Fassbender).
It’s a clever story and writer Simon Kinberg has a lot of fun with the past, deriving cheeky jokes from historical events that were secretly due to mutant activity. And while Kinberg and Singer don’t shy away from the humor, the film is firmly grounded within the story they set up. As great as Jackman is as Wolverine, however, it seems that he’s always the one leading the films — not to mention his own two spinoffs — and it would be nice to see another character in the driver’s seat, even if it makes logical sense within their universe for him to go back in time.
Singer brings together a fantastic cast, however, that mostly relies on alumni from First Class’, and the best part of that film was its casting, especially McAvoy and Fassbender. They once again prove themselves to be a viable diabolical duo and both have a lot of fun with their respective parts this time around. Singer rightly centers the film around this relationship but does it subtly, without hammering their feud home. Instead, everything extends from their toxic friendship and as great as Dinklage is as the film’s main antagonist, it’s really a film about the two mutant leaders needing each other to undo the future.
Singer may have some slips along the way, and it’s not always as airtight as it could be — remember there’s a lot of time travel involved — but he pulls it off and shows the world what these mutants are made of.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5