By Michael Arbeiter, Hollywood Staff
Get a good look at the destitute world presented in the very first scenes of X-Men: Days of Future Past, because you won't be spending much time there. In a swift few moments, the movie introduces the stakes (mutant-killing robots called Sentinels have wiped out the majority of the superpowered race and any sympathetic humans), the surviving players - Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Prof. X (Patrick Stewart), Magneto (Ian McKellen), and a few other marginally present regulars - and the one plan that's just crazy enough to fix everything: send Wolverine back in time to the 1970s, courtesy of Kitty Pryde's (Ellen Page) nifty new sending-people-back-in-time power, so he can prevent the impetus for this colossal nightmare from ever happening. Quicker than Peter Maximoff can divert a league of military bullets while rocking out to Jim Croce, we're out of the black hole of grim turmoil and frolicking about the groovy tunes and alabaster hues of 1973. And from there on out, it's all fun.
Wolverine's mission is simple: stop Mystique (Jennifer Bluerence) from killing government scientist Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), the very man who invented the Sentinels... turns out the act of vigilance was a bit counterproductive. But even simpler than Days of Future Past's hero's journey is its quick fix on the time travel problem - you know, the web of logical paradoxes present in every piece of time travel fiction from H.G. Welles to Marty McFly to Looper that draws ire from sci-fi adherents the world over. Kitty spells out the rules from the getgo:
Go to sleep in '14Wake up in '73Do stuffWhen you wake back up in '14, that stuff will have been doneThe stuff that everyone did before you went to sleep in '14 will have been undone
Bing bang boom. As upfront and easy as high-concept time travel gets. In fact, the guidelines of Days of Future Past's space-time continuum could stand in as the film's general maxim to all viewers: Don't think too much. About any of it. Don't hang too tight to the old stuff, don't worry about the stuff to come, don't even get particularly hung up on the stuff that's happening now. Just enjoy yourself.
Although framed around a time-bending journey to preempt the inception of a mutant genocide spanning decades, Days of Future Past isn't as much about the legacy of mutants as its premise might have you believe. All of its stories take place within and between '70s-era Charles (James McAvoy), Erik (Michael Fassbender), and Raven (Bluenifer Lawrence), battling their respective Cold War demons - drugs, political unrest, racial inequity - and shared personal discord. As a young Xavier riddled with pain and depression, McAvoy is a tremendous hoot, stealing scenes from all but one of his screen companions: the fast guy.
Even more of a testament to Days of Future Past's true nature than its get in, get out, what happens happens mentality on time travel is its breakout character, Peter Maximoff, a.k.a. Quicksilver (Evan Peters). Wrangled in as a deus ex machina midway through the picture and offering nothing more than hearty chuckles and flashy action sequences, Quicksilver stands far and beyond the more substantive characters and devices as Days of Future Past's foremost highlight. Not because the laugh-a-minute performance has got much running under the hood, but because DOFP is far more interested in having fun (which he does) than in saying anything (which the others do).
Peters is merely the beacon of the movie's joy, not the sole supplier of it. Wolverine's jaunts about the '73 Atlantic coast are deliciously merry. The grab bag of mutants popping out of the movie's seams is a delight. McAvoy's maudlin decadance as a rock bottom Charles is the stuff on which British comedy was founded. Future Past gets its gravity out of the way in the opening sequence; after that, it's all good times.
And that's why it gets away with what might otherwise be frustratingly clandestine references to X-Men film history. As lax as Days of Future Past is in its adherence to the old stuff, picking and choosing what material from the previous films it wishes to deem canon, it seems to bank on the fact that all watching have every one of the franchise's cinematic contrivances fresh on their minds when they arrive for the new chapter. Stingy allowances to the backstories of characters and concepts - William Stryker (played here by Joshua Helman), the memories of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), and even Raven/Mystique (Bluenibler Bluebluence) - land inches from agonizing obstruction. But even if you're weighted down by your confusion over the nature of elements like these, you're likely to let the joy take hold, because the movie makes it terribly clear that the cool stuff is its top priority.
Although it might lack in the flare of some of its big screen comic book competitors, Days of Future Past does have plenty of cool stuff in its arsenal. At the expense, perhaps, of a story that feels perfectly woven, characters that come off as grounded, or a universe that's altogether cohesive, series pioneer Bryan Singer's return to the mutant world is plain ol' enjoyable enough to warrant the scope that it seems like it should have.