Traveling back in time to fix a bad situation or a bleak future is one of the top science fiction tropes in the multiverse. “X-Men: Days of Future Past” is based off a popular storyline from the original comics that involves revising history, and not the kind conservatives are always accusing the left of doing and vice versa.
The conceit is quite clever. It’s 2023, and mutants are being hunted down and slaughtered genocide-style by frighteningly lethal robots called Sentinels. The tattered remnants of the X-Men devise a plan to send Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back half a century to change history.
His task involves preventing the assassination of a scientist, Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), who invented the Sentinels. Trask’s violent death at the hands of Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) would eventually lead to humankind turning against the mutants, which would then lead to the bleak dystopian future whence the movie begins.
Wolverine’s consciousness is transported into his body, circa 1973. Confusion, action and hilarity (as well as bell bottoms and smoking cigarettes indoors) reign as Wolverine has to convince and recruit the past versions of the X-Men and other mutants to help him stop Mystique from carrying out her plans.
The story is exceptional. After all, it was based off the work of Chris Claremont and John Byrne who were at the helm of the series during its golden age (sorry, comic book geek at work here).
But the filmmakers gleefully take the storyline to another level of greatness by utilizing teams from both X-Men franchises. “Days” is the first time that I know of where two versions of a movie franchise coalesce into one thread.
Characters and actors from the series that began in 2000 with the original “X-Men” are merged with the group from the reboot that commenced with 2011’s “X-Men: First Class.” Thank you, time travel. And plastic surgery.
Bryan Singer, who directed the first two installments from the original series, takes a challenging story involving two dozen characters in two timelines over three continents, and is able to make the best X-Men movie yet. It’s an understatement to say that rare is the sixth movie in a series that is any good (Other sixth movies in a series: “Friday the 13th VI: Jason Lives,” “Rocky Balboa,” “Police Academy 6: City Under Siege”).
Some folks may find the huge ensemble cast confusing without at least a cursory grasp of the X-Men canon. But others who are used to the huge acting teams of “Lost” and “Game of Thrones” will be fine.
And what a cast it is — Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, Halle Berry, Ellen Page, Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart. This movie has Katniss, Capt. Jean-Luc Picard, the evil plantation owner from “12 Years a Slave” (no, I don’t mean Donald Sterling), Juno, the hottie from “Swordfish” and Gandalf the wizard! On May 23, when the movie opens, nerd heads will simply explode.
The action sequences are surprisingly understated, but still fun and enjoyably “comic booky.” I enjoyed it much more than the action-heavy “Avengers” and predict I enjoyed it far more than the future, Affleck-heavy “Justice League.”
The best scene of “Days” and maybe the entire summer blockbuster season is courtesy of a young Quicksilver (played by Evan Peters from “American Horror Story”) early on in the kitchens of the U.S. Pentagon. Let’s just say it involves slow-motion photography and a soundtrack from Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle.”
For a guy who wasn’t even into comic books until starting the first X-Men movie, Singer has a wonderful grasp of the work. While ostensibly just a pulpy comic book, the travails of the X-Men and mutants in particular, speak of larger, grander themes about what it means to be different, and the pain of being mistreated or even slaughtered for simply being who you are. As a gay man who grew up Jewish, Singer obviously has an affinity for the content.
He also shows reverence and respect for the Marvel universe and the comic book medium. Many little nuances of the film will satisfy the legion of fanboys and girls.
Finally, a little history: Back in 2005, Singer left the X-Men franchise to direct “Superman Returns.” Both Singer, by making a bomb, and the third X-Men movie, by being made into a bomb by Brett Ratner of “Rush Hour” fame, were caused irreparable harm. Those series of bad decisions begat the unwatchable fourth X-Men film, “Origins: Wolverine.”
While “Days of Future Past,” does not travel back in time to prevent this awful sequence of events in movie history, it does go a long way toward repairing some of the harm.