With Days of Future Past, Fox has finally given us the X-Men movie we've dreamed of. Director Bryan Singer's return to the franchise features practically every mutant that's ever made it to the big screen. It's big and bombastic and feels like a comic book, but more than anything, it's proof that what we want isn't always what's best. The story revolves around a dystopian future where the world is in ruins and almost all mutants have been eradicated. In order to right wrongs, Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen) decide to send Wolverine (as always, the mega-swole Hugh Jackman) back in time to stop Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from assassinating mutant-fearing scientist and Sentinel creator Bolivar Trask (Tyrion Lann...I mean, Peter Dinklage).
Confused? Good. You're not Singer's target audience anyway. Days of Future Past offers no lengthy introductions, no background information. We're dropped into the fray, given a brief bit of exposition and plunged into the mission. If you haven't seen all of the X-Men movies (even the abominable The Last Stand) you're shit out of luck.
This isn't a bad thing; most of the complaints leveled at 2012's The Amazing Spider-Man revolve around its desire to force-feed us another Spider-Man origin story. We know about the radioactive spider and Uncle Ben and the high school bullies and the cute girl; get to the web-slinging already. Singer wisely chooses to forgo all of that and focus on the adventure at hand, which is sprawling enough as is.
The bulk of Wolverine's time is spent with young Xavier (James McAvoy) and young Magneto (Michael Fassbender), who can't stand each other and differ greatly in how they plan to alter the nightmare that is their future. Again, this is the right way to go; their dynamic was the best part of X-Men: First Class, and watching them interact (and occasionally do battle) with Jackman should be a fanboy's dream.
The problem is, everything in the future seems much more interesting. The bickering between Baby Xavier and Baby Magneto feels like the same old spiel coming out of younger faces, and there's nothing Dinklage brings to the table as a villain that we haven't seen before. I'd much prefer to hear about when the Sentinels hunted down all the mutants, how Professor X and some of his students made it this long, or what led Magneto to decide that survival was more important than old grudges.
Instead, every glimpse of the future revolves around Wolverine's time-travel freakouts or the Sentinels that are slowly closing in. It feels like Singer was bored out of his mind with the original trilogy's cast and included them out of necessity to the story. Which is fine on paper; I'm not clamoring for more Ellen Page's Kitty Pryde or Daniel Cudmore's tragically boring Colossus. But the little snippets we were given did leave me wanting more.
One thing I will say about Singer is that he tries to give his X-Men movies real tidbits of meaning amidst all the action and excitement. Xavier's addiction to a serum that turns off his powers but turns on his legs is (surprisingly) subtly delivered as a heroin junkie who needs his fix; Trask's concerns about human extinction echo a time when the Vietnam War had ended and America was suddenly aware of its vulnerability. Comics have always shined a light on social issues and injustice, even if many of their readers didn't notice, and Singer seems to recognize the value in that far more than, say, the entries in Marvel's official Cinematic Universe.
Ultimately, though, he seems unable to stitch this particular fabric together. Days of Future Past becomes about the battle for Mystique's soul; will she listen to Xavier and learn to forgive humanity for their transgressions, or will she lash out in a style more befitting Magneto? My question is, if Jennifer Lawrence weren't The Hottest Thing in the World, would this all be so Mystique-centric? There are too many ingredients in Singer's recipe, and time isn't allotted appropriately. We're never given a lot of insight into Trask's more sinister motivations, or why Magneto can't seem to go along with any of Xavier's plans. At a certain point, everyone falls into their roles: good guy, bad guy, angel of vengeance. There isn't even much room for Wolverine at the end; short of delivering a few messages, I'm not sure what part he ended up playing.
Credit where it's due: Days of Future Past comes very close to nailing a story that seemed impossible to adapt into a feature film. Singer should be praised for his ambition, and his ability to retcon the mess that was The Last Stand. It sounds like his next foray into the world of mutants will focus on the McAvoy/Fassbender/Lawrence time period; based on X-Men and X2, we can expect a considerably tighter product to emerge. For now, this will do.