Let’s start by acknowledging that this a time-travel movie and that when it comes to time-travel movies it’s best not to think about the paradoxical implications of journeying to the past to stop a horrific future even though if it weren’t for the horrors of that future you never would have journeyed to the past. Just go with it.
That is advice that should be wholly unnecessary for viewers of X Men: Days of Future Past. After all, it’s another in a series based on comic books about mutants with abilities like turning themselves into balls of fire, manipulating anything made of metal, or controlling minds. If you’re not planning to just go with it, I’m not sure why you’d buy a ticket.
Days of Future Past, the fifth film in the X-Men series (not counting the spinoffs made about the character Wolverine), is a bit of thoughtless fun. It doesn’t let its action sequences get in the way of its central storyline, and it wisely takes a beat or two to inject levity into the midst of even its tenser moments.
That sounds like about all you can ask for in a big special-effects-driven blockbuster, doesn’t it? I only wish it weren’t quite so overstuffed with characters. Taking place both in the near-future and in 1973, the script has to juggle two distinct sets of mutant heroes, many whose names I never caught (but which I’m sure fans of the X-Men comic books will be delighted to see.) It’s the future cast that mostly gets shafted, reduced to waiting around on some mountaintop in China while Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) transports Wolverine’s (Hugh Jackman) mind back 50 years into the body of his younger self.
As the Vietnam War is coming to an end, a ruthless scientist named Dr. Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) has launched a program to create massive robots, called Sentinels, whose sole mission is to identify and destroy mutants. Wolverine has to stop Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from killing Trask and subsequently getting captured by the U.S. government, which uses her DNA to transform the Sentinels into unstoppable killing machines that eventually turn against both humans and mutants and come to dominate Earth in the future.
Wolverine is sent on this mission by the aging Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellan). He meets up with the younger versions of Professor X (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and convinces these best frenemies to work together to stop the future threat. With some help from other fan-favorite mutants along the way, of course.
I’m grateful that director Bryan Singer (helming his first X-Men movie since 2003’s X-Men 2) didn’t impose upon us yet another demolition derby through the downtown of a major American city. Days of Future Past does feature a climactic battle that causes structural damage to our nation’s capital, but it seems downright restrained when compared to every other super-hero movie lately, particularly those in Marvel’s Avengers universe. There aren’t fleets of invading aliens or massive government spy planes to obscure the focus from the decisions of the characters.
Most refreshing of all, in a genre that can sometimes involve relentless assaults on our senses, when the world is changed for the better, it happens in a quiet moment, with a decision to drop a gun rather than fire it.