“X-Men: Days of Future Past” tackles one of the most iconic storylines from the comic book pages of its source material, something that often isn’t done in big screen adaptations. However, with the way Fox and Bryan Singer have set up their mutant Cinematic Universe, this was never going to bear much resemblance to its roots. However, that’s not inherently a bad thing (except to die-hard purists, of course). Indeed, there is a lot to like in Singer’s return to the X-Men franchise director’s chair since 2003’s “X2.” Strong, well-defined characters are front and center, with impressive action pieces built around them and their motivations and turmoils.
The newest disaster forcing the mutants into action is a dystopian alternate future in which Mystique’s (Jennifer Lawrence) DNA was used to make unstoppable Sentinels that have left the mutant population dwindling and mutant-friendly regular humans locked up. A plan is hatched for Shadowcat (Ellen Page) to send Wolverine’s (Hugh Jackman) consciousness back in time to his 1970s body, in order to stop Mystique from killing Boliver Trask (Peter Dinklage), the creator of the Sentinels, in the moment that the future X-Men have determined was the one that set them on their current, doomed course.
Once there, it’s not so simple to course-correct. Mystique is not in the mood to listen to reason from Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), and the former professor’s plan to team up with Magneto (Michael Fassbender) again on this mission to stop her first murder backfires spectacularly. The good guys and bad guys each have complicated motivations and deal in shades of grey, perhaps even improving upon the original idea from the comics, which was a much more straight-forward “stop the bad guys” heroic act. Here, the struggle is more internalized amongst our core group, and luckily the strong cast assembled by Matthew Vaughn for “First Class” readily step up to the challenge of playing these layered, compelling characters.
It was probably a matter of timing and sheer luck that they were able to get someone like Lawrence to play a Rebecca Romijn part, but luckily the filmmakers realized what they had and to the film’s betterment, made Mystique a centerpiece of “Days of Future Past.” Not just her naked blue karate skills either, but the film digs deep into her psyche. It may even be argued that this film is a battle for Mystique’s soul, with Xavier on one side and Magneto on… not the other, exactly. We know how she ultimately turns out (or do we?), but her journey, with all shades of grey and no easy answers, is fascinating.
That being said, this franchise’s Wolverine Problem is still very much present and accounted for here. The guy is overexposed beyond belief to the point that one can only laugh when yet another reason is invented for Wolverine to be the one who is sent back in time, rather than Shadowcat herself, as in the comics. Page, in what should have been her movie, is reduced to sitting at the head of Wolverine’s comatose body for occasional cutaway shots. While the younger versions of Magneto, Xavier and Mystique are at the heart of this story, plenty of room is made for Wolverine so he doesn’t miss out on even more of the spotlight.
Of course, it’s summer blockbuster season, so characterizations aren’t quite as important as the big action sequences, and luckily this film is chock full of them, including one involving the much-derided Quicksilver (Evan Peters) using his super speed to have some fun and kick some ass. And hell if it isn’t pretty incredible to see Sentinels (the classic ones, not the mutated futuristic ones) in action on the big screen. It’s undeniable that there is plenty here to like for longtime comic book fans and newcomers alike. And yes, you’ll want to stay through the end credits.