X-Men: Days of Future Past finally answers the question: what if Wolverine went back to the 70s to protect a dwarf?

Ask someone what they think of X-Men: Days of Future Past and they’ll invariably let you know how they think it compares to Marvel Studios’ The Avengers. You could roll your eyes, or launch into a tirade about the state of cinema, but it’s a relevant comparison to make (intentionally or otherwise), as both films achieve a task previously considered impossible — the crossover of multiple characters and storylines in one cohesive film. But while The Avengers was a carefully orchestrated event years in the making, X-Men: Days of Future Past manages to stumble ass-backwards into it, and in that way it is one of the most faithful comic book adaptations yet.

In a dystopian future, Sentinels (robots built with the sole purpose of exterminating mutants) scour the globe in search of the last remaining mutants. These few mutants, led by Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen), send Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back to a pivotal moment in their past in a last ditch attempt to alter the course of history. In 1973, Wolverine must work with the young Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender), rivals in this time, to stop Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from assassinating Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), the designer of the Sentinels, whose death is the catalyst for the anti-mutant sentiment of the future.

The X-Men comics have long been a mess of continuity (pick up a copy of All New X-Men right now to find the original X-Men fighting side by side with the present day X-Men, after being brought forward in time for reasons I don’t have the word count to get into), and Days of Future Past is no different. There were multiple changes made to the X-Men story in 2011’s X-Men: First Class, and crossing that reboot over with the original X-Men series creates a whole mess of continuity problems. The only thing more convoluted than a time travel story is an X-Men time travel story (the aforementioned comic book X-Men of the past and present were recently visited by the X-Men of the future, with the sole intention of, I kid you not, warning them of the dangers of time travel). Luckily, X-Men: Days of Future Past is able to handle the same obstacles which have derailed lesser productions, with flippant remarks that dismiss any continuity problems so callously that you can’t help but respect it. In a particularly tense scene, as Wolverine reacts violently to a brief bout of amnesia brought on by the effects of his time travelling, the young Charles Xavier’s solution is to convince Wolverine that he has taken acid. Days of Future Past is littered with lines like these (plus a healthy dose of knowing references and winks at the camera), and it’s this embracing of the absurd that makes it work.

Despite being billed as a crossover, X-Men: Days of Future Past is at its core the sequel to 2011’s X-Men: First Class. The bulk of the story is set in this timeline, and besides the presence of Wolverine (who had a brief cameo in First Class) and a brief dream sequence between just two characters, there is no other interaction between the two worlds. The future sequences pick up right where X-Men 2 left off in terms of tone, intentionally skipping over 2007’s X-Men: The Last Stand (making the most of the time travel plot device to correct Bryan Singer’s decision to leave the franchise for Superman Returns in 2006). While Singer has just as much fun with the 70s as Matthew Vaughn had with the 60s, much of the film plods along in this post-Vietnam setting. Regardless, there is enough to keep things interesting; dynamic action sequences in the future add a ticking-clock urgency to the events of the past, which itself has some late setpieces that are truly breathtaking. Singer pays particular attention to the introduction of Quicksilver, a speedster whose few scenes are the unquestionable highlights of the film (Quicksilver is slated to appear in The Avengers: Age of Ultron next year thanks to some bizarre legal loopholes, and you can’t help but feel bad for Joss Whedon after witnessing Singer’s version of the character).

X-Men: Days of Future Past is a goofy film, and it’s very aware of it; so much so that it’s able to get away with giving a Richard Nixon caricature a heavy amount of screentime. While it does drag at times, it’s always enjoyable, and the return of the original cast is more than welcome. The film is able to have more than enough fun with the overlap of the two film series, while continuing to make the most of the period setting that made its predecessor so enjoyable. Days of Future Past manages to remain faithful to both versions of the franchise, while organically setting the stage for future installments, all in the guise of a time traveling romp.

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