The first installment in the X-Men film franchise, released in 2000 and directed by Bryan Singer, opened with imagery of a World War II concentration camp. Now that Singer has taken the helm of another X-Men movie for the first time since 2003’s X2, it can be no coincidence that one of the first images in his return film is of people being forced into a concentration camp. But this is a different time, a different situation. It’s sometime in the 2020s, in a post-apocalyptic world overrun by deadly robots called Sentinels.
The Sentinels that besiege our mutant heroes in this future time period aren’t the simple, giant, energy ray-blasting robots that will come to the minds of those familiar with the machines from the comics, though. These Sentinels are more advanced, more dangerous. No matter what sort of super power is directed at them, they will quickly adapt to it and use it as their own. And when one Sentinel gains this new power, they all gain it.
The robots were originally designed in the 1970s by a scientist named Bolivar Trask, who feared that the emergence of powerful mutants could signal the end of regular people, much like the rise of the homosapien ended the days of the neanderthal. And so he created the Sentinels to identify and track down mutants, hoping that the entire human race would unite against the mutant threat. As time went on, the Sentinels began to target not just mutants but also people who aided mutants, and those with genes who had the possibility of producing mutant children or grandchildren.
With their kind on the edge of extinction, a group of the few mutants still alive and free in the world – Professor Charles Xavier, Magneto, Wolverine, Kitty Pryde, Iceman, Colossus, Storm, Blink, Warpath, Sunspot, and Bishop – gather together to find a way to repair the world and save lives.
In addition to having the ability to phase through solid objects, and to bring other people through them if she’s holding on to them, Kitty is also able to send a person’s present consciousness back in time to an earlier point in their lives. The idea is conceived to use this ability to send one of the older members back in time to a very important point in history. 1973. When shapeshifting mutant Mystique assassinated Bolivar Trask, inadvertently causing his Sentinel project to gain acceptance. Mystique was captured after killing Trask, and it was her DNA that was used to give the future Sentinels their adaptive power. Someone needs to go back, stop Mystique, and stop the dark future they’re living in from happening.
The problem is, the average mind can only handle the consciousness being sent back a month at most, otherwise there’s a risk of the traveler’s mind “snapping” irreversibly. Since he’s an extremely powerful telepath, there’s a chance that Professor X’s mind could handle the five decade trip, but he was in a very bad emotional and mental state in 1973. The only other option is Wolverine, whose incredible healing ability may be able to keep his mind intact, although he’s the least likely to be able to handle the delicate process of convincing the past Xavier and Magneto, at that time bitter enemies, to work together and to get Xavier to finally pull himself back together after he was crushed by the events of X-Men: First Class eleven years earlier.
With the occasional, and occasionally action-packed, look back in on the future situation, the majority of the film’s running time is set in 1973 and focuses on the struggles Wolverine and his fellow mutants endure in the past. In-fighting, prison breaks, an interlude in Vietnam, thwarted assassinations, and a large scale climax set on the White House lawn ensue.
Previous films have established how well returning actors like Hugh Jackman (Wolverine), James McAvoy and Patrick Stewart (Professor X), Michael Fassbender and Ian McKellen (Magneto), and Jennifer Lawrence (Mystique) can inhabit their roles, so it’s no surprise that they are again awesome this time around. Nor is it a surprise that Peter Dinklage does fine work in the role of Bolivar Trask. The surprises come from a couple of the film’s new mutant additions providing it with some of its biggest standout moments.
These cool new mutants are Fan Bingbing as Blink, whose teleporting abilities are put to jaw-droppingly impressive use in some action setpieces, and Evan Peters as Quicksilver, whose ability to move at incomprehensible speeds are put to use during a sequence when Magneto has to be sprung from imprisonment in a cell far beneath the Pentagon. Quicksilver’s looks have been mocked mercilessly online during the build-up to the film’s release, and goofy-looking though he may be, he totally steals the show when he’s on the screen.
Not only did Singer make Days of Future Past a rollicking, emotionally-weighted adventure, he also used the time travel element to right some wrongs he felt had been done to the series in his absence… Namely, 2006’s high-grossing but poorly received X-Men: The Last Stand and 2009’s even more poorly received X-Men Origins: Wolverine take a beating. By the end of the film, the events of The Last Stand have been eradicated from the timeline by the changes made in 1973. X-Men Origins doesn’t even seem to get that much consideration, as the presence of the villainous character William Stryker in Days of Future Past already seems to be conflicting with Origins’ story as soon as Wolvie arrives in ’73.
Regardless of how much of the franchise’s less popular installments remain canon, Days of Future Past is in and of itself a fantastic entry that leaves the series in great shape for further adventures. The future is not written, but for the X-Men, it’s looking bright.