Latest ‘X-Men’ is tough inroad for those entering the franchise

Nicholas Hoult in "X-Men: Days of Future Past."
June 1, 2014

The confusingly titled “X-Men: Days of Future Past” (doesn’t that mean “X-Men: Today”?) might be a tough inroad for those just encountering the franchise. The film series began 14 years ago with “X-Men,” and has since branched off to include two sequels, an origin story of one of its characters, a prequel, a quasi-sequel of the franchise for one of its characters, and now another sequel that takes place primarily after the events following the first prequel and ends prior to the first film released in the franchise.

Got that?

Fortunately, there is no GPS device needed to locate exactly where you are within the “X-Men” universe to enjoy “Future Past,” as it is satisfying as a smart, metaphorical look at America as a microcosm and truly feels like the least superhero-y superhero film this year so far (there’s nine comic book adaptations set for this year, for those keeping score).

Bryan Singer, the series' initial director (whose name is overshadowed by some legal issues at the moment) took the helm when Matthew Vaughn, who directed “X-Men: First Class,” (perhaps the most accomplished film of the series) had to drop out to tend to other projects. Singer returns with a spark that he hasn’t demonstrated in more than a decade since “X-Men 2.”

The film opens in a near future straight out of a James Cameron fever dream. Robotic sentinels are on a rampage to wipe out all mutants, who have been driven underground and are fighting desperately for survival. It’s a bit cluttered and chaotic, but it’s merely a setup to send the X-Men of today back to the days of “First Class,” and we spend the majority of the film in 1973, where Wolverine (the series anchor, played by Hugh Jackman) must try to reunite a young Charles Xavier (played by James McAvoy) and Erik Lensherr (played by Michael Fassbender). The two will later become allies Professor X (played by Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (played by Ian McKellen), but at the time of the film, they could not be more diametrically opposed.

There’s a ton of plot that details the goings-on for those immersed in the comic culture, but for those who wish to just casually catch the action, the film can be taken as just another “let’s get the band back together” device. Standouts here include McAvoy, who's having quite a year between this and his bleak, drug-fueled fiesta “Filth,” now in limited release. Then Jennifer Lawrence erases all memories of Rebecca Romijn-Stamos as Mystique, further cementing her as one of the most watchable actresses of her generation, and Evan Peters adds a welcome dash of comic relief as Quicksilver the lightning-fast slacker who uses his ability for mischief as well as justice.

If you’re new to the series, this is certainly not the place to start. Even for those who have seen each entry, there’s much to consume to merely keep up with the film’s pace. That said, there’s much to appreciate in its craftsmanship and its dedication to the source material, plus the underlying theme of exclusion and the frustration in and celebration of our differences.

The film’s coda hints at the next chapter, which is already planned for 2016, but it looks as though it should be in solid hands with its young, vibrant cast and a director who may just be getting back into the groove he had long since lost.