Review: ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’ is the series’ best and still only okay

Hugh Jackman gets to bro down with Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy in "X-Men: Days of Future Past." Credit: Alan Markfield
Hugh Jackman gets to bro down with Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy in “X-Men: Days of Future Past.”
Credit: Alan Markfield

‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’
Director: Bryan Singer
Stars: Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy
Rating: PG-13
3 (out of 5) Globes

The Marvel wing of today’s neverending comic book movie deluge has become same-y, each new entry largely interchangeable with the others. By that token, the “X-Men” franchise is refreshingly inconsistent, both in quality and in what we’re actually being shown. Each film is not only different from the others but radically different — the best way to deal with a comic that can be over-stuffed, requiring bite-sized episodes. The seventh is even a time travel romp, and though it reinvents neither the comics nor time travel form, it’s nifty enough to ignore that it’s a corporate bigwig’s dream — one that brings together all mutants, good and bad, young and old, into one scrumptious money pie.

Adapted from a two-issue favorite from 1981, “Days of Future Past” starts in a dystopian future where giant, government-run robots kill any and all mutants. In the comic, it was Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) who was sent into the past to stop them before they started. But neither Page nor Pryde are big enough with the moviegoers who don’t read comics, so it’s Hugh Jackman’s grouchy Wolverine who heads to 1973, where his pronounced muttonchops are a better fit anyway. His task proves difficult: He has to convince a bitter Xavier (James McAvoy), a bitterer Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and an outright belligerent Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) not to kill a mustachioed war profiteer (Peter Dinklage), whose death will mobilize humanity against them.

Also unlike most Marvel products, “X-Men” is about something bigger than mere personality clashes and routine battles. The comics and the films are ostentatious about exploring bigotry; “X2” even finds one “coming out” to his parents, who respond by saying, “Have you ever tried not being a mutant?” Out director Bryan Singer, who returns for this one, no doubt drew on his own experiences, but here he’s mostly about craftsmanship, bringing a focus many of the other “X-Men” films lack — including the first two that he himself made. Despite boasting over a dozen mutants, the film is tight and streamlined, sticking to the story’s path and moving its characters around like pawns.

Whoa, two Professor Xavier Charleses (James McAvoy and Patrick Stewart) get to hang in the new "X-Men." Credit: Alan Markfield
Whoa, two Professor Xavier Charleses (James McAvoy and Patrick Stewart) get to hang in the new “X-Men.”
Credit: Alan Markfield

In fact, if anything it’s too tight. And those dozen-plus mutants feel like pawns too. Most are defined entirely by their super power. Poor Omar Sy, the charismatic breakout star of the French crowd pleaser “The Intouchables,” does nothing but growl and shoot out kinetic blasts from his hands as Bishop. (Halle Berry’s Storm has even less screentime, but that’s probably for the best.) Wolverine tries to be a team player this time around, but it’s not clear if that’s because he’s matured and cooled-down or if there just wasn’t time to do anything with him.

The few times it dwells on character development, Singer and his screenwriter Simon Kinberg’s deep feeling for them shines through, as in a meet-up between McAvoy’s young Xavier and Patrick Stewart’s older, wiser version. But as exciting as it can be — and there is a delightful prison break set piece, plus Richard Nixon — it’s a character-driven comics movie that mostly forgets about the characters as characters, in addition to using to few shameless 1973 music cues when what the world really wanted to see was Wolverine strut to “Me and Mrs. Jones.”

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge


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