Starring: Hugh Jackman (Logan/Wolverine), James McAvoy and Patrick Stewart (Charles Xavier/Professor X), Michael Fassbender and Ian McKellen (Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto), Jennifer Lawrence (Raven Darkholme/Mystique), Halle Berry (Ororo Munroe/Storm), Ellen Page (Kitty Pryde/Shadowcat), Nicholas Hoult and Kelsey Grammer (Hank McCoy/Beast), Peter Dinklage (Bolivar Trask), Evan Peters (Pietro Maximoff/Quicksilver), Anna Paquin (Marie/Rogue), Shawn Ashmore (Bobby Drake/Iceman), Omar Sy (Bishop)
With a budget of $225 million just to make the film, 20th Century Fox has gone all out to market the new X-Men release. When The Wolverine was released last July, a very cool, teasing preview featuring Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen was cleverly inserted into that feature’s credit sequence. An on-set tour video of the X-Men shoot was an extra in The Wolverine’s DVD release. Last summer, at San Diego’s mammoth Comic-Con convention, the X-Men team including Jackman, Lawrence, McAvoy, Stewart and Berry showed up in force to present footage from the film. The first trailer was released in October 2013 to worldwide scrutiny. A second teaser accompanied Amazing Spiderman 2’s release last month. Promotional partner Mountain Dew is running a TV commercial, using online ads and in-store advertisements and offering prizes. Another promoter is even offering a special X-Tra Bacon Thickburger. And, of course, there are multiple websites dedicated to the promotion of the film.
In a nightmarish future, mechanical, and horrifically adaptable, robots named Sentinels are killing humans and mutants. As the film begins, Sentinels are wiping out a small contingent of X-Men until the mutant super-heroes suddenly disappear. Also pursuing the band of mutants are Professor X, Magneto, Storm and Wolverine. They find the group led by Shadowcat and Bishop in a remote area of China. The duo have been saving their group by having Bishop sent a couple of days back into the past by Shadowcat, which gives them enough warning to flee the Sentinels.
Professor X decides that the only hope for mutants and humanity is to send someone back to 1973 to prevent the shape-shifting Mystique from killing Bolivar Trask, a scientist and industrialist, who had dedicated himself to destroying the mutant presence in the world. His assassination turned the world against mutants while Trask’s followers were able to use Mystique’s powers against her kind, giving prototype Sentinels the powers to kill anyone.
Wolverine, the strongest mutant, is sent back to 1973 to get the young Charles Xavier (Professor X) and Erik Lehnsherr (Magneto) to help him to prevent the assassination. There are problems, of course. In 1973, Prof. X and Magneto are sworn enemies, split because Mystique left Xavier for Lensherr—and then moved on to pursue her murderous scheme solo. And Lensherr is imprisoned in the Pentagon, accused of having killed President Kennedy. With the aid of the young Quicksilver, in the film’s funniest scene, Lensherr is freed. But how can the newly united mutants—including the young Beast—find and prevent Mystique from killing Trask?
Meanwhile, in the potential disastrous future, the Sentinels are searching for the mutants, who can’t move without waking up Wolverine, which would scuttle their plan to rewrite history.
That’s the set-up: moving back and forth in time, two groups of X-Men fight to prevent a horrendous future while the others attempt to survive in it.
Good films require inventive plots and interesting characters. You can’t have a real hit just with great action scenes. The best blockbusters of recent vintage—Joss Whedon’s The Avengers, Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight, and, yes, Marc Webb’s somewhat flawed Amazing Spiderman—score highly in terms of plot and characterization. After all, if you don’t care about the characters, whatever it is they’re wearing, then you won’t be concerned when those knockout scenery-chewing fights take place.
Bryan Singer knows this lesson well. His X-Men series has been consistently intelligent, with well-drawn characters. As far back as his Indie thriller The Usual Suspects, he’s shown that he can get fine performances form his stars. So it is with Days of Future Past. Jennifer Lawrence, the finest actress of her generation and an inspired James McAvoy are terrific as Mystique and Professor X; their superpowers are as thespians and they let their stunt doubles do the rest of the heavy lifting.
Crosscutting between dangerous scenes has worked well since D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance appeared 99 years ago. Singer makes it work here with 3-D and CGI effects that the old silent cinema masters would scarcely believed possible. This is a well-made movie.
Even if you don’t like summer blockbusters, X-Men: Days of Future Past will surprise you. This is smart filmmaking. On a big, big budget.