Days of Future Past is the (nonsensical) X-Men movie we’ve been waiting for
As you read this review, please keep in mind that I loved X-Men: Days of Future Past. It’s everything a summer movie should be—fun, engaging, funny, exciting, entertaining, full of likeable characters and stakes that feel like they matter. I’m about to say a lot of stuff that’s actually critical of the movie, so it’s important to remember that DOFP works in spite of itself, and it’s tremendously fun along the way. It’s just that it makes no fucking sense.
Hands down the best thing done by DOFP is retcon the two worst movies in the franchise, X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine. I think they might have also accidentally retconned last summer’s The Wolverine, too, if only because I’m still not quite sure on how the time travel thing worked. Definitely don’t start thinking about the mechanics of the time travel, you’ll give yourself a migraine. I mean, how does the future know when Wolverine has “fixed” the past, anyway? Was there some kind of magical checkpoint, or a paradoxical moment? The whole point was to save Trask but he does that halfway through the movie but then more stuff keeps happen—no. Stop it.
DOFP is about a future in which giant mutant-hunting robots called Sentinels have basically destroyed the planet. Only a handful of mutants are left to fight them, which coincidentally happen to be mutants we’ve met in previous X-Men movies, like Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Professor X (Patrick Stewart), Magneto (Ian McKellan), Iceman (Shawn Ashmore), Storm (Halle Berry) and Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page), and some other mutants you’ve never heard of before, such as Blink (Fan Bingbing), Sunspot (Adan Canto), Warpath (Booboo Stewart) and Bishop (Omar Sy). They went deep on the mutant bench for this one. Everyone’s powers are realized beautifully (fucking finally, an all-powerful Storm!), except for Warpath. I still have no idea how his power works in the movie. Whatever—everyone looks cool.
So, in the future, Kitty Pryde sends Wolverine back in time in order—because she has that power now?—to prevent Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from assassinating Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage, criminally underused), the guy who invents the Sentinels. He has to find the young versions of Charles Xavier and Magneto (James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, respectively) and unite them in order to stop Mystique. Screenwriter Simon Kinberg wisely keeps this exposition breezy and director Bryan Singer keeps the pace clipping along quickly enough for us to buy this explanation, at least until Trask is saved and yet the past keeps happening and the future isn’t changed and WTF, no. Stop it.
McAvoy and Fassbender remain the best parts of the entire X-Men franchise. As in 2011’s First Class, they elevate every scene they’re in, turning popcorn fare into something a little more substantial. When Charles rages at Magneto for what he perceives as the ruin of his life, you feel every ounce of frustrated rage McAvoy projects (and yes, he keeps his “James McAvoy snots everywhere” streak alive). Fassbender is charismatic enough as Magneto that he’s hella fun to watch as he slides into supervillainy. Dinklage makes much of the little he’s given to do, but I’m still confused as to why Trask hates mutants. He thinks fighting mutants is a way to finally unite humanity, fine, but what is his particular reason for hating mutants in the first place? Trask is a severely undercooked villain, so it’s a good thing the meat of the movie is the ongoing conflict between Charles and Magneto, and not Trask’s “let’s create world peace by murdering a bunch of mutants” plan.
Lawrence, however, is miscast. She worked well enough in First Class, but DOFP shows her as the lone wolf Mystique more than as Charles’ adopted little sister, Raven. When she’s indulging in her humanity, Lawrence can be effective, but she projects no sense of danger or mystery as Mystique. Charles is trying desperately to prevent her from becoming a deadly assassin, but Lawrence never seems all that threatening. She’s stiff and wooden in her blue body paint, and I found Mystique terribly disappointing in this outing. If this is what we have to look forward to in a solo Mystique movie, count me out.
The action in DOFP is great, though. The best sequence is when Charles and Wolverine break Magneto out of jail with the help of Quicksilver (Evan Peters). His costuming is still ridiculous, but the way Singer visualized Quicksilver’s power—running really fast—is pretty brilliant. It creates the tightest, most fun scene in the whole movie. It’s also fun in the final scene to see the restored future, including the return of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) and Scott Summers (dreamboat James Marsden). And wait, shouldn’t Wolverine have remembered both pasts? Wouldn’t he have mind-jumped forward into his “new” future-body, thus inheriting new-future-Wolverine’s memories of the new-futur—NO. STOP IT.
Overall, X-Men: Days of Future Past is slick fun, in the tradition of slick, fun summer movies. Just don’t start thinking about the plot, because it won’t hold together. Focus instead on McAvoy and Fassbender, who carry the movie like it’s motherfucking Shakespeare, and on the fact that we can now pretend like X3 didn’t happen and maybe get a do-over on that whole Phoenix Saga thing.