After a disappointing experience with Godzilla, X-Men: Days of Future Past set the summer blockbuster ship aright. With a strong script, a surprise performance, and great special effects, it’s one of the strongest (if not the strongest) entries in the series.
In the not too distant future, the world is ravaged by Sentinels, all-powerful, evolutionary beings that target and destroy mutants and any humans that give them aid. Mutants are on the verge of extinction, and humans seem to be nothing more than prisoners. The most powerful of odd couples, Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen), have teamed up with a handful of surviving mutants to resist the Sentinels. They devise a plan to, with Kitty Pryde’s (Ellen Page) help, transport Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back to 1973 to stop the creation of the Sentinels.
Wolverine confronts a younger Charles (James McAvoy) and Eric/Magneto (Michael Fassbender), who at this point in their lives despise one another after the events that concluded the previous film, X-Men: First Class. He must convince them to work together (no easy feat) to find Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) and keep her from falling into the hands of Dr. Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), who plans to use her DNA to give his Sentinels the ability to absorb mutants’ powers. As Wolverine works to change the future, Professor Xavier and Magneto must determine who they are going to become.
Almost everything works perfectly in Days of Future Past…almost everything because time travel is a sticky plot device. The special effects themselves are fantastic. The Sentinels are horrifying creatures of unstoppable destruction. Wolverine and Magneto’s powers are on awesome display, but it’s the “minor” mutants who shine, specifically Blink (Bingbing Fan) with her ability to create teleportation portals and Quicksilver (Evan Peters), who moves at supersonic speed. In fact, it’s Quicksilver, and the scene in which he cooperates with Wolverine, Eric, and Charles (above) to break Magneto out of prison, that absolutely steals the show. Jennifer Lawrence is great again as Raven/Mystique, a lost mutant, who is confused about whose side she is on as seemingly everyone fights to control her.
There are some broad themes at play here, most notably the nature of our future and its relation to our past/present, but one particular moment stood out for me. As a young Professor Xavier decides to follow Wolverine’s plan, he faces his own lingering doubts about his ability to rise to the challenge. His abilities to communicate with mutants telepathically causes him great pain that he fears will destroy him. His future self speaks to him across the decades and makes an impassioned plea for him to persevere. The older Professor Xavier tells his younger self that the best thing one can do is to bear another’s pain and suffering for them. This conversation, which takes place in a stained-glass setting reminiscent of a cathedral, conveys a deeply spiritual (and dare I say Christ-like) message of the importance of aligning ourselves with those who suffer and to help bear sorrows.
While the film wraps up, perhaps, all-too-conveniently for some, with warring factions going their separate ways, it at least reveals that this self-sacrificial stance holds great power, certainly more than the determined, self-centered reach for power and control that the villains always display. In the end, Marvel still has their heroes back safe and sound for future sequels.
X-Men: Days of Future Past (131 mins.) is rated PG- 13 for sequences of intense sci-fi violence and action, some suggestive material, nudity, and language and is in theaters everywhere.