The latest episode in the series marks a welcome return to form.
Never have I seen a movie work so hard to wash away the stink of one of its predecessors. You see, while most of the six previous X-Men films were generally well received by audiences and critics alike, 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand, the third effort in the long running franchise, proved to be an exception. Almost ten years after its debut, fans still take to social media on a regular basis to lament what a disaster that movie turned out to be, what with its bungled storyline and gross mishandling of beloved characters. Well, it’s apparent that the creative team behind X-Men: Days of Future Past have taken all those criticisms to heart, because they have their merry mutants in this latest installment of the X-Men saga act with one singular purpose in mind: to travel back in time and do whatever it takes to prevent X-Men: The Last Stand from ever happening.
Now, obviously, trying to erase the psychological scars of a terrible film from the public’s mind can’t be the actual plot of a movie. No, that goal has to be dressed up in a story somehow. To that end, the narrative of X-Men: Days of Future Past begins in a near future in which the world has been taken over by giant robots known as Sentinels. The prototypes for these mutant-hunting machines had originally been constructed by the world’s governments following an incident in 1973 in which the shape shifting mutant Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) publicly assassinated the robots’ creator, Dr. Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage). Unfortunately, in the decades following their activation, the Sentinels self-evolved beyond their original mutant-only programming and began to murder ordinary humans whose DNA showed a potential to conceive mutant children. They also began to imprison any humans sympathetic to the mutants’ plight.
With much of the unpowered human population enslaved and the mutant race itself nearing extinction, the last surviving X-Men, including a few old fan favorites such as Storm (Halle Berry) and Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page), concoct a desperate scheme in which they hope to send the consciousness of the elder Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back in time to 1973 to inhabit his younger body. Once the transfer is completed, all Wolverine will need to do is enlist the aid of the younger Professor X (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) to help him track down Mystique and prevent the assassination of Trask. Doing so would not only prevent the future events depicted at the start of the film from ever coming to fruition, but could potentially eradicate certain other things from the timeline, like say much of what fans hated about X-Men: The Last Stand. The problem, of course, is that by the end of the events depicted in 2011’s X-Men: First Class, the younger Professor X and Magneto had become sworn enemies, so even if they choose to believe Wolverine’s story, getting them to cooperate with one another will be highly unlikely, if not impossible.
For a time travel story involving a multitude of characters and storylines from six previous movies, it’s a surprisingly easy set-up to follow. The filmmakers do an excellent job of keeping the main plotline intelligible even to new viewers. That’s not to say the movie is completely accessible to those uninitiated to the X-Men universe, however. The full impact of certain scenes rely heavily on the viewer’s familiarity with what has come before. For instance, it helps to know Wolverine’s history in order to understand why seeing a certain individual’s name tag rattles him so much he almost ruins the entire mission, or why the photographs of certain mutants killed by Trask drive Mystique to such a rage. And without having seen the previous movies, newbies will most certainly sit befuddled during the final pre-credits scene while others in the audience cheer wildly. Overall, though, the movie will likely work for fans and newcomers alike.