I guess everyone has their superhero. And while I’ve written endlessly for two-years about my superhero fatigue I’m allowed to enjoy this crap every once in a while. Maybe it’s dumb luck to have such an inconsistent series like X-Men find its stride again. Or maybe having Bryan Singer back in the Director’s chair gives X-Men: Days of Future Past the sure hand a movie with 47 superheroes desperately needs.
Ridiculously stupid title aside, Singer’s new X-Men is an elegantly crafted caper that plays to the strengths of this series. Singer mainly sidelines the bit players (I’m looking at you Hally Barry) and focuses our attention on the superstars (Wolverine, Mystique and the younger versions of our two favorite old men – Professor X and Magneto.) It’s actually a lot like the NBA Finals. No one wants to see Indiana play San Antonio. We want Miami-San Antonio. Superstars! Intrigue! Back stories!
Building off 2011’s fantastic origin story X-Men: First Class we find our heroes in a desperate fight for survival sometime in the near future. Because of a government program called “Sentinel” mutants are being wiped off the planet. Slowly the X-Men are losing the fight. The sentinels have gained the ability to adapt to their mutant foe rendering each fight a long battle toward the latter’s inevitable demise. Using the help of Kitty Pride’s (Ellen Page) exceptional power of time travel the small remaining team of X-Men are traveling back in time one-by-one to stay alive long enough to try and stop the evil sentinels.
The ultimate start of the sentinels is traced back to the assassination of the program’s creator (Peter Dinklage) in 1973 by none other than Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence/Blue Body Paint.) By killing him she online casino unknowingly created a martyr setting the entire program in motion and dooming the future of the mutant race. Thus my favorite conflicted badass, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) must travel back to 1973, find the disparate pieces of the X-Men and together convince Mystique to holster her 9MM. The future of Earth depends on it.
In lesser hands (like Brett Ratner’s – who thoroughly screwed up X3) a plot like this could become mind-numbingly convoluted. Instead Singer never goes full-Transformers and allows scenes to breathe, giving characters time to connect emotionally rather than with their fists. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of fists in faces and when the action comes it’s fairly inspired and furious. Wolverine has never been more badass and the use of his awesome natural bone claws are always a nice touch.
The film’s pinnacle sequence happens after Wolverine has convinced a drug-induced Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and his aid Hank/Beast (Nicholas Hoult) to break Magneto (Michael Fassbender) out of a hole in the middle of the Pentagon. To do this they recruit fellow mutant Peter…or Quicksilver (Evan Peters) who is so fast he can look through your whole house before you’ve stepped out of your car. What follows is a virtuoso break-in sequence that exhibits some of the best composed slow-motion action in some time. It’s full of hysterical moments and tense confrontations. It’s the best X-Men can offer mixed with a hint of Soderberghian-whimsy.
Singer is at home with X-Men. He is almost solely responsible for the influx of the modern superhero but he never loses sight of the subtext. The X-Men have long been a stand-in for the fight for equality so the last decade each film has never felt irrelevant. With Singer back at the helm he brings the issue again to the forefront, using his formidable acting stable to carry the weight. It’s actually a much smaller scale story than is being marketed. It has standard set-pieces but many of them are subverted with humor or lack the body count of many recent showdowns (Avengers, Dark Knight Rises, Captain America – just to name a few.)
By combining the new and the old X-Men: Days of Future Past gets to have his cake and eat it too. The best of both worlds is firmly in-tact; from the back and forth nature of early Magneto and Professor X to their (almost cuddly) modern-day relationship. But Singer knows we need a constant. For us that’s the comfort in knowing Wolverine and Mystique never age. In the face of constant sprawling conflict we can always count on Wolverine to roll his eyes and Mystique to kick-ass and be sexy and blue. They are the ultimate badass audience surrogates. They may be conflicted ass-kickers but at least they stand for something other than pure vigilante justice. I’ll take them as my superheroes any day.