Days Of Future Past isn’t just the best X-men movie to date, in many ways it feels like the first real X-Men movie. Back when this franchise started in 2000 and a Marvel Comics movie adaptation was considered a risky proposition, director Bryan Singer and co. didn’t really have the resources to deliver an X-Men adventure with the sheer scale of the comics. Even worse, the movies were dragged down by countless character introductions and the need to ground the series in relatable human reality to sell the concept to unfamiliar viewers. Thankfully, the filmmakers assembled a brilliant cast (and then a second excellent cast in X-Men: First Class). So now, 14 years later Bryan Singer has returned to the series he created and can finally produce an X-Men movie done just right.
Even better, audiences are so familiar with the franchise now that he doesn’t have to waste a second on backstory and can dive right into the adventure (just like any young reader who jumps into a comic book series midstream. No one starts with issue one). Better still, Singer can finally embrace the outlandish fantasy of the series, and delivers a statement of intent with the first scene that finally serves up Iceman with his proper ice face. Best of all, the film is a loose yet faithful adaptation of one of the greatest X-Men storylines of all time (Chris Claremont’s Days Of Future Past, duh!) and Singer transforms it into a version that could only work as a movie. In other words, this is the X-Men movie you’ve been waiting for, and it was worth the wait.
The film opens in an apocalyptic future where sentinel armies have killed most of the mutants on the planet and a huge chunk of the human population as well for good measure. A handful of surviving mutants led by Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellan) have but one last desperate hope for survival. They must send a mutant back in time to the moment when Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) kicked off this future by attempting to assassinate sentinel creator Peter Dinklage. Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is chosen for the task, because who could possibly be better? So, he wakes up in 1973 with one chance of saving the future. Thankfully, since the excellent X-Men: First Class exists, that means that he’ll have to team up with the James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender versions of Prof. X and Magneto for a period romp that will intertwine with the horrific future narrative. That means you get two X-Men movies for the price of one, a brilliant time travel romp worth telling, a collection of compulsively watchable actors playing iconic roles, action on a scale never possible in an X-Men movie before, no tiresome set up, built-in continuity correction possibilities to erase the pitiful Last Stand from existence, and more loving references to X-Men media of all forms than even the most jaded of comic book nerds could hope for. You’ll also get it all in just over two hours of screen time, which is practically a miracle of efficient filmmaking. In other words, it’s everything you could possibly want. The only problem will be the pain you feel in your cheeks from grinning uncontrollably throughout the running time.
One of the most satisfying aspects of the movie for comic book fans is the way it never panders or caters to unfamiliar viewers. The movie takes the audience’s intelligence for granted, plunging them head first into the narrative without any handholding. Don’t know who these characters are or what’s been covered over the last four X-Men movies? Too bad. Either figure it out on the fly or leave. It’s a simple storytelling choice and one that makes the film feel more like a X-Men comic, which rarely ever paused in the midst of its ongoing mutant soap opera to play catch up. Even more satisfying is the way the filmmakers squeeze in references to the comics, previous movies, and even history (most ingeniously, when it’s revealed Magneto was responsible for JFK’s magic bullet) just assuming that viewers will pick up on the references. The story is so clever and thrilling that it could be watched without any previous X-Men knowledge and be completely entertaining. Yet, if you’ve done your homework it’s just that much more satisfying. That’s how comics work too, people. For years, they’ve treated their readers as intelligent enough to figure things out on their own, and it’s nice to finally see a comic book movie treat audiences with the same level of respect.
Beyond all of the smart storytelling, franchise cross-referencing, and clever time-travel plotting, this is a massively enjoyable bit of popcorn entertainment as well. The screen is filled with a parade of not just movie stars, but movie stars who happen to be great actors devouring their roles while also fitting nicely into an ensemble. It’s amazing that the X-Men team managed to find two sets of actors capable of playing Professor X and Magneto so perfectly and wonderful that there was a time-travel plot that could allow them to share the same screen. Jackman owns Wolverine as per usual and centers the film nicely while Lawrence gamely transforms a former secondary villain into an equally compelling center point to the series. When the actors aren’t providing X-Men fans iconic characters brought vividly to life, they’re taking part in some absolutely outstanding action scenes. I won’t dare to spoil any of Singer’s glorious set pieces here, but expect to see reality warping comic book action unleashed with a purity that simply wasn’t technologically possible when this series started 14 years ago. In particular, a Pentagon heist from Quicksilver in the middle of the movie is so good that if the audience you see the film with doesn’t applaud, they have no heart.
Now despite that embarrassingly gushing explosion of praise, obviously Days Of Future Past isn’t perfect. Given all of the characters, plot threads, and action scenes competing for attention, the movie is understandably the least thematically rich of the X-Men series. It’s more of a time travel romp with heavy apocalyptic stakes than a mutants-as-discrimination-metaphor tale, but when the romp is delivered this well, that hardly matters. And despite the fact that Singer ingeniously used this timeline altering narrative as a means of erasing the most egregious mistakes from Bret Ratner’s franchise-low X-Men: The Last Stand, there is one big fat plot hole never addressed that is a distraction in hindsight. But that being said, any complaints that could be made about Days Of Future Past fall into the category of nitpicking perfectionism. The flick gets so much so right that it’s almost impossible to walk out of theater without having a new favorite X-Men movie. Half of the preceding entries in this franchise might have been great, but none of them captured the tone and excitement of the X-Men comics quite as successfully as what Bryan Singer and co. managed to accomplish here. With this being the first Marvel movie from Fox released under the supervision of Mark Millar, the project feels like fresh start for the series and the label. It gets so much so right that the folks over at Disney’s Marvel Studios might even sweat a little bit in their golden thrones atop comic book movie mountain (it’s a real place, I swear). If there was ever any doubt that we live in the golden age of superhero movies and the geeks have truly taken over the world, then Days Of Future Past should erase all fears. 15 years ago, it was impossible to imagine a movie like this could exist; now it’s not even possible but the standard of Hollywood blockbuster filmmaking. What a time to be alive. Savor it people, savor it.