You know what the “X-Men” franchise is? I’ll tell you what it is. Venerable. The first installment, way back in 2000, launched a series that now has seven entries — without any reboots! (Superman has started over twice since then.) That first “X-Men” also initiated the modern superhero trend that has come to dominate the conversation in Hollywood, changing the movie business. Them mutants is powerful.
Given its age and size, it’s surprising that the franchise still has life in it, but that’s exactly what “X-Men: Days of Future Past” proves. After two Wolverine-centric spinoffs and a prequel (“X-Men: First Class”), Bryan Singer, who directed the first two chapters (and made one of those Superman reboots), returns with screenwriter Simon Kinberg (“X-Men: The Last Stand”) to tie everything together. The deftness with which they accomplish it is impressive. Notwithstanding the previously introduced characters who aren’t present, and the ones who have returned but don’t have anything to do (Halle Berry’s Storm just stands around), “DOFP” delivers intelligent action, consistent humor, and a compelling narrative.
We begin in the near future, when the mutants are losing a war against an army of tall, slender death robots called Sentinels, which were designed back in 1973 by a mutant-hating scientist named Dr. Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage). Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen) determine that the only way to survive is to send Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back to 1973 — not to stop the Sentinels from being invented, but to stop Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from doing something else that set off a chain of events that led to the current situation. There’s probably a good reason why they don’t just prevent Trask from designing the Sentinels, but I don’t know what it is. Anyway, they are able to send Wolverine back in time because that is a thing they can do.
In 1973, where we spend most of the film, Wolverine rounds up young Charles (James McAvoy), young Beast (Nicholas Hoult), and young Magneto (Michael Fassbender), to tell them what must be done. Assisting briefly is a new kid named Peter (Evan Peters) — known to comic book readers as Quicksilver — a mutant with super-speed, whose teenage flippancy is a breath of fresh air amid so many somber mutant faces. His showcase scene, a slow-motion breakdown of him taking out a room full of enemies in a fraction of a second, is the movie’s highlight. Never mind all that heroic stuff, here’s where Singer reminds us how cool it would be to have superpowers.
1973-ish things like Vietnam and Nixon come into play, as do a handful of other mutants, though most only briefly. Like that one guy, Toad (Evan Jonigkeit), who has all the powers of a toad. Love that guy. Wolverine, Charles, and Magneto are the core trio, putting the film’s weight on the brawny shoulders of Jackman, McAvoy, and Fassbender, where it rests comfortably. The three characters’ internal conflicts keep things interesting between major plot points, but they’re the only ones we get personal with. Mystique is supposed to be conflicted about whether she’s a good witch or a bad witch, but Lawrence’s performance is uncharacteristically flat in that respect. (She kicks butt in other areas, though.)
The finale wraps things up satisfyingly while opening the door to a variety of intriguing possibilities for future chapters. The behind-the-scenes factors that prevent the X-Men from interacting with other Marvel characters are silly, but the situation is good from a creative standpoint because it lets the X-Men series build its own stories, without having to correlate with the master plan governing each of the Avengers’ movies. “Days of Future Past” will probably appeal most to viewers who already have some attachment to these characters, and I can understand why some of my colleagues say it left them cold. As someone whose X-Men experience begins and ends with the movies, I can tell you that I had a good time with it, and that I hope there’s more Toad in the next one.
B (2 hrs., 11 min.; )