X-Men: Days of Future Past is the latest film in 20th Century Fox’s enduring franchise based on the Marvel Comics team of superheroes. The plot hinges on the team’s main tough guy Wolverine (Hugh Jackman, fresh off last year’s solo outing as the character) being sent back in time to stop robots from taking over the world. An assortment of X-Men movie alumni make calculated appearances throughout the era-spanning film.
The film begins in a dystopian future, where security robots called Sentinels have gone rogue and laid waste to much of human society and the mutant population alike. As a voiceover from the film’s trailer proclaims, “They started out targeting mutants… then they started targeting everybody.” The status of most world governments is unclear but apparently the Sentinels have a global mandate, as what remains of the X-Men have become nomadic renegades. Even longtime mutant-rights rival Magneto (Ian McKellen) is now a de facto member. The ragtag outfit (including Halle Berry as weather-mistress Storm) travels the world, searching for a way to stop the Sentinels while trying to avoid capture or execution. The latest incarnation of the killing machines have the ability to create perfect counter-measures for most attacks, so even the mutants’ considerable powers are frequently stymied in combat.
A strangely resurrected Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart, whose character was killed in X-Men: The Last Stand) returns as the moral leader of the team. He’s strategized a Hail-Mary stunt to hopefully end the genocide and stop the Sentinels once and for all. His idea? Just have Wolverine time-travel 40 years into the past and stop the assassination of a key political figure. The powers of Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) help send Wolverine’s mind back into his 1973 body. (Wolverine looks the same as before, thanks to his longevity powers—but his claws aren’t yet fused with a steel alloy, so he’s only slightly less dangerous to tick off.)
But even when abetted by mutant powers, things are never as easy as planned. In the past, younger Xavier (James McAvoy) has abandoned running his boarding school for mutant children. Having retreated into alcohol, he spends most days un-sober and embittered about the creeping social animosity toward mutants. Meanwhile, the younger Magneto (Michael Fassbender) is imprisoned hundreds of feet beneath the Pentagon.
The would-be assassin that Wolverine is tasked to stop is Raven, a.k.a. Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), whose shape-shifting allows her to imitate anyone. She’s gradually working her way to getting rid of scientist Bolivar Trask (Game of Thrones’ Peter Dinklage). Convinced that mutants are an invasive species, Trask’s military-hardware company builds the Sentinels as the answer to containing “the mutant problem.” The grand unveiling of the Sentinels is planned to take place in the midst of Vietnam War peace talks. As such, even President Richard Nixon (Mark Camacho) is brought into the plot.
Only Nixon could go to China, and thus only the brawler Wolverine could be sent to play peacemaker between the estranged Xavier and Magneto as the dawn of the Sentinels nears. The plot is punctuated by yet another threat in Major William Stryker (Josh Helman), an army scientist using mutants as guinea pigs.
Taking into account the vast ensemble cast, Jackman, McAvoy, Fassbender and Lawrence get the most screen time and director Bryan Singer manages to get substantive mileage out of their respective performances. Audiences will believe in the alternating mutual bitterness and empathy between Charles, Magneto and Raven’s highly dysfunctional—and volatile—surrogate family, with Jackman’s Logan and Nicholas Hoult’s Hank as harried (and hairy) caretakers. The future X-Men have a smaller role to play here compared to their 70s counterparts, but the fight sequences with the Sentinels are top notch. New characters Quicksilver (Evan Peters in a very memorable turn) and Blink (Bingbing Fan), in particular, have some nifty visual tricks.
Perhaps inadvertently, the filmmakers (including director Singer and co-writer Simon Kinberg) manage to tap into contemporary concerns about drone-driven surveillance and warfare. Also of note is that the future X-Men team essentially takes on the role of terrorists—from the robots’ point of view, anyway. The comics’ pop-allegory about social tolerance (or the lack thereof) is somewhat obscured by dizzying fight scenes and laser bursts, but Days of Future Past is still a highly competent action fantasy.