Convoluted third act and all, “X-Men: Days of Future Past” is a fun and inventive rollercoaster of a superhero movie that uses a tremendous cast and a mostly excellent script to deliver an exciting entry in a familiar franchise. “Days of Future Past” may not be breaking new ground, but anyone willing to look past some clunky dialog and a few logical gaffes – it’s a movie about super mutants, after all – might see that it’s also one the smarter blockbusters to hit theaters in a while, leaving it a better ending away from being the best in the series. By finding a fast pace that doesn’t feel rushed, director Bryan Singer returns to the franchise he helped launch with a creative popcorn flick complete with a good sense of humor and enough innovative action sequences to overcome most of the kinks.
After the inspired 2011 reboot, “X-Men: First Class,” “Days of Future Past” comes flying right out of the gate with an action-heavy beginning that shows our hero mutants finally have met their match. In a dark and not-so-distant future, Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart), Magneto (Ian McKellen) and others watch in horror with their species on the brink of annihilation. Somewhat like the ominous bad guys from “The Matrix,” an amoral group of robots known as the Sentinels are hunting for all of the mutants, knocking them off one by one with superior powers that even the strongest mutants can resist.
The good news is that they have a mutant named Kitty (Ellen Page), who is to be able to manipulate the subconscious of people in their past. If this is the type of thing that might cause you to scratch your head, you also wouldn’t be the only one, as Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is just as confused as everyone else. Though the “X-Men” franchise deals with some fairly outlandish plots and schemes, it can also count on the simmering and practical Wolverine to prevent the plot from spinning completely out of control. As Professor Xavier and the rest of the group talk about mental time-travel and other ideas edging on insanity, Wolverine is there to remind everyone that it’s OK to be bewildered by developments too ludicrous to truly comprehend.
After volunteering to go back in time to the early 1970s, Wolverine is thrust back to the tipping point of the catastrophic war of the future. Though the younger Professor Xavier (James McAvoy) and Beast (Nicholas Hoult) think he’s a raving madman, Wolverine has a few methods of persuasion as he hopes to get the team back together and alter the future. That may sound like a plot that could turn into a cartoon in a real hurry, but the screenplay by Simon Kinberg keeps us grounded by delving first into the characters before turning the action switch back on.
A broken lush on precipice of a complete meltdown, McAvoy plays Xavier as more of a hippie than a professor, teetering back and forth between madness and clarity while never missing an opportunity to stay lubricated. But like many broken heroes from cinema’s past, all it really takes is a good cause to get him out of the house, and soon Xavier and the group are chasing down the shape-shifting Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) and younger Magneto (Michael Fassbender) to get a handle on the situation.
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The problem, though, is that the mindset surrounding mutants is beginning to change, with the thoughtful and eloquent Dr. Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) leading the charge for humans to take control of the mutants. Far from a psychotic megalomaniac, Trask is a refreshingly understated villain who understands the danger for the entire human species if mutants ever turn on them. Even though Dinklage is given the Bond villain treatment from the very first shot, the joke is that he’s very far from his villainous predecessors.
Also nearly stealing the show is Quicksilver (Evan Peters), a rebellious teen who also happens to be a mutant who is faster than the speed of sound. In the film’s best sequence, the rest of our heroes look around dumbfounded as to how they can bring down a roomful of bad guys, only to have Quicksilver comically solve the problem before they have a chance. Instead of another messy PG-13 shootout, Singer takes us inside the mind of Quicksilver to give us a hilarious sequence that allows us to move on without our heroes having to slug it with more anonymous bad guys.
But even if it has plenty of strengths, “Days of Future Past” also has its stark limitations, most notably a fairly manipulative and jumbled final act that bounces back and forth between the 1970s and 2023. By the time Richard Nixon comes onto the scene, many will think the movie has jumped the shark, though it also fits with a fairly silly finale that is somewhat beneath the quality of the setup. Still, “Days of Future Past” is a well-made and clever application of familiar materials that has enough going right to allow for a few missteps, leaving us with an entertaining popcorn flick that mostly lives up to the hype.