Michael Fassbender as Magneto in ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past.’
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If there’s a trinity of superhero directors, it’s Joss Whedon (The Avengers), Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight trilogy), and Bryan Singer (The X-Men).
While the first two in this triumvirate are obvious, the importance of Singer to the Marvel mutant franchise is unquestionable after X-Men: Days of Future Past, the fifth film in the series and the third he’s directed.
Simply put, Days of Future Past is the best X-Men yet, a superhero highlight reel that rivals The Avengers’ energy and popcorn fun and matches The Dark Knight’s brooding tone and memorable arch nemesis.
James McAvoy, left, and Patrick Stewart portray present and past versions of Professor X.
And like Whedon and Nolan, Singer brings audience spectacle and filmmaking verve to his X-Men works, along with fleshed-out characters that are more than conduits of CGI and individualized action sequences.
Based on the beloved comic book storyline from the 1980s, X-Men: Days of Future Past is a sprawling epic written by Simon Kinberg that opens in a gloomy future, as mutants battle for their very existence against the super-adaptable and deadly robotic creations that hunt them, the Sentinels.
After a gripping opening fight between the over-matched mutants and the unrelenting Sentinels — these shape-shifting, frightening giants make the T-1000 in Terminator 2: Judgment Day look like a metallic Gumby — the desperate X-Men telepathically link one of their own, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), to himself in 1973 — 50 years in the past — in a last-ditch plan to secure their survival. Wolverine’s mission is to prevent this war on mutants from ever beginning, but as with all time-travel stories, altering history isn’t easy.
First he must unite the mutant leaders Charles Xavier aka Professor X (James McAvoy) and Erik Lehnsherr aka Magneto (Michael Fassbender), whose friendship was severed by the events in 2011’s origins story, X-Men: First Class.
At this point, Erik is locked away stories deep in a hyper-secure Pentagon prison cell, while Xavier is mired in a self-pity funk fueled by excessive alcohol and a heroin-like drug that cures the paralysis of his legs but nullifies his mutant abilities to read thoughts and control minds.
Directed by Bryan Singer.
Written by Simon Kinberg, Jane Goldman, and Matthew Vaughn, based on the Marvel comic books.
A 20th Century Fox release, playing at Franklin Park, Fallen Timbers, and Levis Commons.
Rated PG- 13 for sequences of intense sci-fi violence and action, some suggestive material, nudity, and language.
Running time: 135 minutes.
Critic’s rating: ★★★★★
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender, Ellen Page, James McAvoy, Peter Dinklage, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Omar Sy.
There’s a ticking clock to their mission as well. They must stop Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from killing the scientist who creates the Sentinels, Dr. Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), thus making him a martyr for the cause to wipe out the mutants. And this must all be accomplished before the future-world Sentinels destroy the remaining X-Men in their final stand, including Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen).
Time-travel adventures are fraught with rabbit holes of logic and labyrinthine plots. But Singer steers clear of these troubles through remarkable focus and clarity and an understanding of Kinberg‘s script and source material.
More impressive, however, is Singer’s balance of the two casts and their worlds, jumping between the timelines just enough to remind us of the ongoing peril in the past and future.
It’s a kick to see the original generation of X-Men back onscreen, including Storm (Halle Berry), Iceman (Shawn Ashmore), and Colossus (Daniel Cudmore), along with new mutants such as Bishop (Omar Sy), though their reunion doesn’t go so well considering what they’re up against.
With Fassbender, Lawrence, and McAvoy from First Class leading the way of the 1973 iteration of mutants, the newer generation of X-Men fares equally well onscreen, including a love triangle between Xavier and Erik with Raven/Mystique that will ultimately determine their fate. Lawrence in particular has more to do in this film, but the actor having the most fun is Jackman, who never seems to grow weary of Wolverine and has maintained the physique to play the muscled warrior nearly 15 years on.
Singer and Kinberg bring in clever cameos and nods to the series, while it‘s Dinklage who delivers the most substance of the new additions as a well-meaning scientist with warped morals.
Unlike so many superhero films, Singer’s X-Men movies are less about the super-powers of its characters and more about the humanity attached to them. Whether appearing as the main roles or in cameo form, the mutants all serve a unified purpose of telling a grander story. But when the filmmaker does stage those mutants unleashed moments, few directors could do them better.
His Nightcrawler takedown of the White House in 2002’s X-Men 2 was the pinnacle action sequence of the X-Men series, until now, as Singer delivers not one but two equally “wow” moments: the opening mutant-Sentinel battle, and a slow-mo sequence in which a hyper-fast mutant named Peter/Quicksilver (Evan Peters) dashes around a room, altering the path of bullets mid-flight, and disabling the unsuspecting armed guards in rather comical ways, all to the tune of Jim Croce’s Time in a Bottle. If Whedon raised the bar for superhero films, Singer just matched him.
Now that Singer has definitively reclaimed the X-men series after Brett Ratner nearly killed it with 2006’s horrid X-Men: The Last Stand, it would appear the franchise is in the best hands possible. He is already attached to 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse — the subject of the post-credit teaser. But given the troubling allegations of sex with underage teenage boys Singer and several other Hollywood executives are facing, one can’t help but wonder about his future as a filmmaker and for a franchise that may be forced to move along without him.
Contact Kirk Baird at email@example.com or 419-724-6734.