The X-Men series has been one of the most consistently impressive of all the cinematic comic book franchises of recent times. Whilst there have been a few missteps along the way, these films have generally proven to be sophisticated and thought provoking as well as thoroughly entertaining without the over-the-top bombast to which so many other films of this type fall victim. By and large, X-Men: Days of Future Past fits the bill in this regard, with story and characters holding their own against the tsunami of special effects and action sequences that we expect in a science-fiction film of this type. A star-studded cast helps considerably and the return of Bryan Singer to the director’s chair lends the film a sure hand that puts it on par with the best in the series thus far. Obviously, there is a silliness to it all, but Singer wrings plenty of tension from the series of events and ultimately delivers a film that allows you to overlook the preposterousness of the premise to actually give a damn about the characters.
This seventh film in the series offers the best of both worlds in that the established X-Men regulars link up with their younger selves from X-Men First Class to change the course of history and save the mutant population from extinction. As such, X-Men: Days of Future Past begins with the X-Men under attack from robots known as Sentinals, developed by millionaire scientist Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) to eliminate all mutants. In the face of obliteration, Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen) bury the hatchet and join forces to hatch a survival plan. With an ability to transport a consciousness back in time, Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) is called upon to return Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) to 1973 with a mission to thwart Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) in her bid to assassinate Trask. Along the way we meet several new mutants, easily the most interesting and amusing of which is Quicksilver (Evan Peters), whose lightning speed proves vital in helping Wolverine and the young Professor Xavier (James McAvoy) break the young Magneto (Michael Fassbender) out of his underground cell beneath The Pentagon in a sequence that is a lot of fun.
Through the course of the film we discover that mutants served in the US military during the Vietnam War and that President Kennedy was himself a mutant, killed despite the best efforts of Magneto to divert the bullet. Yes, it is a silly premise, but we are willing to accept it because the film never takes itself too seriously and is certainly devoid of the earnestness that tends to pervade contemporary superhero narratives. Perhaps it is the fact that these characters are not heroes per se that allows the filmmakers to make them much more morally ambiguous and thereby more interesting. Whilst the film contains plentiful political and historical references aimed squarely at older audiences, there is no doubt that the current cultural cache enjoyed by the likes of Lawrence and Dinklage will also lure in younger viewers who might not ordinarily be drawn to such films. Nicholas Hoult features prominently as the 1973 version of Beast while, in the present, Storm (Halle Berry) and Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) team up with Blink (Bingbing Fan), Colossus (Daniel Cudmore), Warpath (Booboo Stewart) and Sunspot (Adan Canto) in trying to keep the Sentinels at bay. The beguiling Famke Janssen makes a late appearance as Jean Gray and there are blink-and-you-miss-them moments from the likes of Kelsey Grammar, James Marsden and Anna Paquin.
It is Wolverine, the only character to appear in each film played by the same actor, who again proves the central figure in driving the narrative. He is charged with alerting the younger incarnations of Magneto and Professor Xavier to what the future holds if they do not work together and, as such, Jackman is the only performer who appears in the past and present sequences of the film. However, McAvoy and Fassbender are very effective in their portrayals of their somewhat complicated characters, which bodes well for the future of the X-Men series. The return of Singer (who helmed the first two films in the series) has resulted in a film that is both entertaining and thought-provoking, exploring the two things that, perhaps more than anything else, motivate people to act badly towards others; ignorance and greed.