It can’t just be me who thinks that it’s incredibly interesting that director Bryan Singer was first hired to retcon out of existence Superman 3 and 4, and has now been brought back to the X-Men franchise (he directed the first two) to do the same with its third and fourth installments. The key difference, I suppose, is this film doesn’t just ignore its predecessors. It instead uses time travel to eventually negate their events. With Superman Returns, Singer simply chose to forget about the other two films and make a direct sequel to Superman 2. Here, he just nullifies The Last Stand and probably also Origins: Wolverine, although we’ll have to figure out exactly what “counts” and what doesn’t.
The plot initially takes place in the near future, which has seen the majority of mutants killed off by robots called Sentinels. They target mutants or anyone who could potentially breed mutants in the future, and have essentially made a Terminator-like vision of the future. The surviving mutants hide for as long as they can before being found and having to move. The Sentinels cannot be defeated; you can only flee from them. This will surely be the end of humanity and mutant-kind alike.
A plan is hatched. Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) will be sent back into the past by Kitty (Ellen Page) — because she can somehow do time travel now, even though she never could before and it’s never explained why she can — in order to prevent the Sentinels from being created. Essentially, this turns the film into a sequel to X-Men: First Class, even though the future parts also matter. It’s a little confusing to describe, but once it’s established in the film, it all seems to work out.
Essentially, this means that Wolverine is going to team up with Charles Xavier (James McAvoy in the past, Patrick Stewart in the “present”) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender/Ian McKellan) to stop Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from killing the Sentinels’ creator, Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), as that’s the event that convinces the government to fund the project that will eventually put an end to all mutants.
What does this mean for the film? Well, there’s a lot less action than in the past X-Men movies. There’s a lot of dialogue, which hammers home themes that the films have long since established as being staples of the franchise, as well as a lot of building to action scenes. We’re under a time limit, which adds urgency, and the stakes keep mounting and the certainty that the heroes will prevail is always in doubt. There are points in Days of Future Past that I didn’t see the way the characters would be able to pull it off. Maybe they don’t. Watch the movie and find out.
The film has a sense of urgency, it’s fast-paced, and it’s a great deal of fun. There isn’t a dull moment in its 130-minute running time. But I do feel as if you need to have already seen the earlier films and know these characters in order to get a lot out of it. Note how I never really mentioned who all of these people are, or even that they’re superheroes. You need to have seen at least X-Men, X2, The Last Stand, and First Class in order to get the most out of this movie. You need to be more than familiar with the franchise.
And it’s because of that familiarity and how ingrained everything is that it’s very easy to look past many of Days of Future Past‘s flaws. You are in this culture and you basically just accept everything that it has to offer; you don’t look too hard for logical flaws or how a lot of the dialogue is a repeat of earlier films, or how so many characters are essentially reduced to cameos — you’re just happy to see all of them here, possibly for the last time. It’s pure spectacle, and it works to great effect.
There are a couple of new mutant characters, the most prominent of which is Quicksilver (Evan Peters), who can move at really fast speeds. He gets one really great scene and then basically disappears. He probably would have been helpful throughout the rest of the movie, but that would be cheating, I guess.
If there’s one thing that Days of Future Past does, it renews interest in the X-Men franchise. That’s not to say that there wasn’t intrigue before, but this one opens up a whole lot of new doors to explore. It does, unfortunately, potentially close the door on the cast from the First Class saga, but now that time travel has gotten involved, I suppose anything’s possible. Note: Stay through the credits. All of the credits. There’s a post-credits scene that you won’t want to miss, even if those who don’t read comic books might not have a clue what was going on. (I didn’t really understand, but I wouldn’t have wanted to miss it.)
X-Men: Days of Future Past exists as a way to “fix” the X-Men franchise, which its director, Bryan Singer, believed to be broken. It opens the door to take the series in new and interesting directions, and also allows fans to believe that a couple of the earlier films don’t “count.” As a standalone film, it has some issues, but those who are already indoctrinated into the culture surrounding the X-Men films won’t notice them. The sheer spectacle overcomes almost all of its flaws.