The X-Men comic series has never had the best relationship with continuity. Partly because that’s what happens when a single group of characters, even a massive one, is handed down through dozens of writers for more than 50 years. The other part is because of the numerous timelines explored, with just about every major writer for the series wanting to create their own end of the world story, and each mucking up continuity just a little bit more. A similar disconnection came in the X-Men film franchise through the monstrosity of X-Men: The Last Stand and the triumphant relaunch of X-Men: First Class. (This is made even worse by X-Men Origins: Wolverine but it’s better to forget that abomination.) Fortunately, X-Men: Days of Future Past mostly works in combining the timelines and the best of each series.
It probably would have been easier to continue with a direct sequel to First Class, but doing so would deprive us of seeing Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen together again, and sideline characters like Kitty Pryde, Iceman, and even Wolverine. Thus Days of Future Past brings on one of the largest casts of known actors since It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. Rather than toss everyone together in some hackneyed past vs. future mess, the story keeps the two mostly separate. Even with so many different things happening at once, the film is structured so deftly that there is little confusion in what is happening at any point. If anything, it feels like the majority of events occur in the past with the future serving as a static, narrative frame.
Days of Future Past never quite finds the same energetic wit which made First Class such a revelation, likely due to Matthew Vaughn stepping down for Bryan Singer, whose reverence for the source material was palpable throughout the first two movies before it was brutally slaughtered by Brent Ratner. Here, Singer attempts to tie the best of the two timelines together, the intensity of Last Stand (the one thing it did well), the character work of First Class, and most of the best performers from both (sadly without Alan Cumming but so joyously without either January Jones or Zoe Kravitz). Nonetheless, there is still a certain Last Stand feel to the future timeline, as we’re introduced to several new mutants only to see them slaughtered during the opening sequence.
It’s actually during that opening sequence where we see the best staged team dynamic yet in the series. Instead of isolating into individual battles as frequently happens, we watch mutants complimenting each other’s abilities. Film series newcomer Blink provides great opportunities for both teamwork and inventive sequences that otherwise wouldn’t present themselves. Similarly, Peter (Quicksilver) is so much better than his original still photos, Carl’s Jr. commercial and Entertainment Weekly cover suggested. His featured sequence is the most inspired, clever and original work in the entire film, so much so that it feels his continued presence could break the world. The Sentinels are also treated quite well. Although at first odd for those familiar with the hulking purple and pink goliaths of the comics, the sleek redesign becomes both logical and terrifying within the film’s context. However, the reported 250 million dollar budget still can’t make the effects entirely convincing as many of the floating objects still have the plastic look of Singer’s earlier work in the series.
The greatest strength of the movie, once again, is in the cast. Stewart and McKellen are of course welcome inclusions, but their roles have been effectively taken over by James McAvoy and Michael Fessbender, while Hugh Jackman has definitely grown to wholly encompass Wolverine. The biggest difference between the original series and this new one is in the character of Mystique, whose entire role is built upon Jennifer Lawrence’s considerable talent, freeing Raven to do more than just look angry or sultry. Even Peter Dinklage shows some nuance in a limited part. While several other characters return for only short periods, a central cast this strong doesn’t make their quick appearances feel wasted.
Of course, with any film there will be problems, especially when playing around with time travel. In attempting to tie the last two films together, Days of Future Past actually introduces continuity troubles which, if dwelled upon, could unravel the plot and derail enjoyment of the film. Nonetheless as a summer superhero flick, it’s an effective tying of the series, and a sort of halfway point between the giddy fun of Avengers and the thematic grit of the Dark Knight trilogy, all of which places the X-Men exactly where they should be – in a universe of their own.
Days of Future Past still doesn’t quite climax in the way that the series potentially could. It isn’t big or profound enough. Actually, those familiar with the Age of Apocalypse storyline may feel a greater intensity in anticipating events for the next film. Days of Future Past isn’t the definitive X-Men movie, nor does it establish a single, satisfying timeline, especially if it means that McAvoy, Fessbender and Lawrence can’t continue their work. Still, it’s incredibly entertaining, fun, and jam-packed with so much mutant goodness that Days of Future Past could work as the film franchise’s lone end of world storyline. It won’t, but it could. Fifty years and a dozen end of the world stories later, the comics still haven’t figured that out.