Here’s something that is rarely said about cinematic adaptations of comic books. “X-Men: Days of Future Past” featuring the return of director Bryan Singer to the franchise he helped launch in the summer of 2000 is the best comic book-to-film ever made.
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, Peter Dinklage.
Rating: PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi violence and action, some suggestive material, nudity and language.
It is the only instance in which the cinematic version is superior to its melodramatic source material in every way, and I say this as someone who has read more than his fair share of comics for more than four decades.
I know. That makes “X-Men: Days of Future Past” better than Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy, the first two installments of “The X-Men” series, “X-Men: First Class,” the first “Iron Man,” the first two “Spider-Man” movies, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” and “Marvel’s The Avengers,” in my humble opinion.
The film opens in a distant, dystopian future Earth patrolled by malevolent Sentinels, artificial life forms created to hunt super powered mutants and adapt to their abilities. This version of the Sentinels is far more terrifying than the familiar, robotic version in the comics.
We’re quickly introduced to a ragtag cadre of mutants led by Charles Xavier, also known as Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and his powerful ally and sometime foe Magneto (Ian McKellen) hiding out from the Sentinels in remote China.
Along with Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Bishop (Omar Sy), Sunspot (Adan Canto), Colossus (Daniel Cudmore), Storm (Halle Berry), Blink (Fan Bingbing) Warpath (Booboo Stewart), Havok (Lucas Till) Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) and Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page), Xavier and Magneto conspire to send Wolverine’s consciousness back to the 1970s to stop an assassination that leads indirectly to a deadly modification of the Sentinels.
Wolverine finds himself transported to 1973, tasked with convincing a younger, more embittered version of Xavier (James McAvoy) to believe his story about being from the future. When Wolverine asks Xavier to help break Magneto (Michael Fassbender) out of a metal-free prison in the bowels of the Pentagon, he’s literally asking him to help spring his deadliest enemy from custody.
With Hank “The Beast” McCoy (Nicholas Hoult) in tow, Wolverine and Xavier convince a young Quicksilver (Evan Peters) to use his super speed to haul Magneto out of government’s clutches in the movie’s most impressive special effects sequence.
The reluctant allies must then locate the elusive Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), a shape changing mutant and former childhood friend of Xavier’s turned ally of Magneto, before she can assassinate Dr. Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), the creator of the first generation of Sentinels.
It isn’t long before Magneto and Xavier find themselves at odds again, threatening the future of all mutants along with humanity if they can’t resolve their personal issues.
Meanwhile, back in the future, the Sentinels are closing in on Xavier, Magneto and their exhausted allies. Will the relentless mutant hunters kill these heroic survivors before Wolverine and the first generation of X-Men can prevent the fiendishly adaptive creatures from coming into existence in the first place?
Like its predecessors, the latest “X-Men” film has visual spectacle to burn. But this outing also holds together as a well-told, genuinely suspenseful tale of redemption and the power of right and wrong choices. Even those familiar with the original comic book story arc, upon which it is loosely based, will be carried along by its departures from and improvements to the canonized story.
“X-Men: Days of Future Past” is blessed with a level of plot complexity that won’t alienate those unfamiliar with half a century of comic book continuity, though it would help to know a little political history of the early 1970s, especially the Nixon White House. Kennedy assassination aficionados will howl over the explanation for the “magic bullet theory” — and, no, you will not see it coming.
There’s also moral hazard at play rarely encountered in such films and a very real sense that even though it is a superhero movie where good must inevitably triumph over evil, it may not go down in the way audiences expect.
Because the cast is so large, some major characters get a few lines and even fewer of those are memorable. Even clocking in at more than two hours, there isn’t a moment of drag in this film and none of the confusing fight scenes that clutter so many superhero films of late. It also has a bonus scene teasing “X-Men: Apocalypse” after the credits, so sit tight.
“X-Men: Days of Future Past” is a smart, inspiring piece of filmmaking that will satisfy even the most discriminating comic book snob. It is 100 times better than Mr. Singer's disastrous "Superman" reboot from a few years ago and instantly raises the bar on superhero films. It will even make you forget your growing and justifiable disappointment with the genre.
Tony Norman: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1631; Twitter @TonyNormanPG.