Introduce the concept of time travel into a film and you set yourself up for all kinds of problems. But masterful director Bryan Singer, who has helmed previous X-Men films, expertly navigates the treacherous waters of time travel with X-Men: Days of Future Past, a film that acts as a sequel to both 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand and 2011’s X-Men: First Class. Having a terrific ensemble cast play the characters from the Marvel comic book series certainly helps too. The film shows at select movie theaters tonight and then opens areawide tomorrow.
Set in 2023, the movie opens in China. A group of Sentinels — nasty flame-throwing robots with glowing red eyes — attacks a renegade gang of mutants whose special powers seem to be helpless against these creatures. The mutants' only defense is to have Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) transport one of their best fighters into the past to defeat the Sentinels, thereby preventing the attack altogether. But the mutants are losing the war and the Sentinels have killed so many of them that the mutants are on the verge of extinction.
In order to save their race, Magneto (Ian McKellen) and Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) hatch a desperate plan to try to prevent the Sentinels from ever becoming created. That involves sending Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) all the way back to the ‘70s. It also enables Singer to rely heavily on the terrific cast that dominated X-Men: First Class, a film about the origins of the characters that featured James McAvoy as a young Professor X and Michael Fassbender as a young Magneto.
McAvoy and Fassbender dominate this film too; one of Wolverine’s first tasks after he’s transported back in time is to free Magneto, who’s locked in an underground vault. To do so, he enlists the speedy Pietro Maximoff/Quicksilver (Evan Peters), a smart ass who can run at supersonic speeds. The escape scene is artfully crafted and resembles something out of the Oceans 11 films. The rest of the plot sags a bit as Wolverine and co. try to intercept Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) before she kills off Boliva Trask (Peter Dinklage), the guy responsible for creating the Sentinels (his death turns him into a martyr and makes the U.S. government put even more resources into the Sentinel program). And while the plot sounds like a big mess, it's so meticulously crafted that it's hard to find any inconsistencies. The film's climax is a terrific showdown between Magneto and Professor X. We won’t spoil the film here, but the scene involves mass destruction and the two have a falling out that won’t be resolved for years.
Since every year brings with it a glut of super hero movies, each featuring bigger and better special effects, it’s all the more remarkable that Singer’s flick stands out so distinctly from the pack. X-Men: Days of Future Past shows that having a good story and a great cast is essential — even for big blockbuster sequels with built-in audiences.