Let’s do the time warp again.
The X-Men are back and looking better than ever, in 3-D and IMAX of course, and with a mind-stretching yet eternally entertaining tale as familiar as countless other mankind-saving, chronologically-obsessed popcorn crunchers, including such favorites as “Back to the Future,” “The Terminator,” 2009’s “Star Trek,” etc. There’s abundant sly humor tossed about the landscape, mostly in the Richard “I am not a crook” Nixon era that screenwriter Simon Kinberg uses as the moment when history must be changed to salvage our planet from a grim future. That’ll be when most mutants and humans have being mercilessly destroyed by an overwhelming force of killer robots known as Sentinels.
The origin of these machines dates to 1973, when they were foolishly devised by the film’s primary villain. No, not Tricky Dick, although he does have a major role in the shenanigans, but Dr. Bolivar Trask, a powerful mutant-smashing leader and card-carrying member of the military-industrial complex, as excellently played by Peter Dinklage a.k.a. Tyrion Lannister in HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” Seems the turning point in Earth’s timetable to its current bleak, dystopian future began with Trask’s assassination by Katniss Everdeen. Oops, wrong franchise; right actor (Jennifer Lawrence). The murder attempt, at the Paris Peace Talks ending the Vietnam War, actually will be done by renegade body-shifter Raven/Mystique, totally unaware of the cataclysmic repercussions she will be unleashing.
So, that’s the set up. Then the fun and action-packed adventure begins. As we know from previous films in the current X-Men iteration released through 20th-Century Fox (beginning with 2000’s “X-Men” and following with various sequels and spin-offs), the good mutants are led by the wheelchair-bound Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), battling the baddies led by friend turned nemesis Magneto a.k.a. Eric Lensher (Ian McKellen). But we also know from “X-Men: First Class” (which was set ten years earlier than “Days of Future Past”‘s present) that those characters, in their earlier lives, are portrayed by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender. We get all of them together in this film, although not at the same time (pardon the sad attempt at a pun). Anyway, the older gangleaders are now old friends battling those nasty self-evolving (and unbeatable) Sentinels, which, courtesy of Trask’s ability to use Raven/Mystique’s DNA, have been able to adjust their own mutant-killing powers.
The strategy has the future mutants, holed up in a hideaway somewhere in China, trying to figure out if Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page)’s ability to transport anyone’s consciousness through time can actually stretch as far back as needed. Wolverine, whose abilities include healing quickly, is picked for the mind-meld transfer, and thus his mind settles into his 1970s chassis, awakening in a water bed to the glow of a green lava lamp and Roberta Flack singing “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” on the radio alarm. There’s lot of laugh mileage when he first shows off his retro retractable claws, too. And, yes, the clothes are hilarious (and I used to wear them)! Man, this is sooooo groovy!
For a while, at least, but hey, this fight has serious stuff as well. When it comes time to convince the skeptics of the battle plan, a morose Professor X, holed up in his rusty relic of the mutant school in Westchester with Hank McCoy, the Beast (Nicholas Hoult) are dubious. And we lean that Hank has invented a serum that allows his boss to walk, but also suppresses his majestic mental abilities. But it doesn’t take super powers to realize that action must be taken. And that leads to the first extended, comic-laden sequence featuring the then unknown mutant Quicksilver, a fast-talkin’, fast-walkin’ slacker whose task is to enable the escape of Magneto (did you know he shot JFK?) from a prison 100 floors under the Pentagon. Duct tape and slow-motion photography have never been put to better use here, and it’s great to see the addition of Evan Peters (Todd in “Kick-A*s“) to the X-Men corral of characters.
It’s also great to see director Bryan Singer back in fine X-Men form (he directed the first two), although he’s been noticeable absent from the film’s press junket because of an ongoing sex scandal. Behind the camera, it hasn’t all been roses for him the last decade, having helmed such duds as “Superman Returns,” “Valkyrie,” and the real stake-in-heart “Jack the Giant Slayer.” Revived in tip-top shape, he handles the time shifting themes very capably, with a grand assist from John Ottman as both the film’s very frantic editor and composer! I won’t go into the great cast, but the ensemble gels, even if some old favorite mutants like Storm (Halle Berry), Iceman (Shawn Ashmore), and especially Rogue (Anna Paquin) don’t share as much on-screen time in this big-screen epic as in earlier projects. Other newcomers (aside from Quicksilver) to the X-Men movie show include Warpath (Booboo Stewart), Sunpsot (Adan Canto), and Bishop (Omar “The Intouchables” Sy).
Cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel, who worked with Singer on “The Usual Suspects” and six more films, also photographed “Drive,” one of my favorite films of 2010. He’s working on all cylinders again here, sometimes playfully. He does elect to intercut what appears to be stereoptic 8mm and 16mm footage (for the technically-challenged, that would mean grainier and in a different aspect ratio than today’s wide-screen HD formats) to mimic material which might have been captured by the many amateur filmmakers or newsreel cameramen surrounding events near the White House and at the Paris peace conference.
You really should see “X-Men: Days of Future Past” on the big screen. The heart-pumping effects are worth it alone. And the cleverness and wit are outstanding. Maybe the best is yet to come with “X-Men: Apocalypse” (due in 2016), but for now, the best is here.