In a bleak vision of the future, mutants are being hunted down along with any human sympathizers by enhanced, robotic Sentinel hunters. With the last vestiges of hope at a remote location, Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Erik Lehnsherr AKA Magneto (Ian McKellen) join forces in a last ditch effort to alter the timeline using Kitty Pryde's (Ellen Page) transferring powers to send Logan AKA Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back to his body in the 1970s. His desperate mission is to convince the younger Charles (James McAvoy) and Erik (Michael Fassbender) to stop Raven AKA Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), from carrying out a vendetta against humans including a scientist named Dr. Trask (Peter Dinklage), who holds the key to the Sentinel army. However, tracking Raven is problematic while the younger Charles has lost his purpose having withdrawn into seclusion, and a young, embittered Erik is locked away for a significant crime. How Wolverine can 'put the band back together' is just the beginning of a convoluted storyline that not only involves time travel but exposing old, emotional wounds and the fleeting hope of salvation from a doomed future.
From the opening 20th Century Fox fanfare with its highlighted 'X', you know Singer has got his mojo back (after the misfire of Superman Returns). Having started the current Marvel era of filmmaking with X Men (2000), he knows these characters better than anyone, and the screenplay has a strong narrative with some genuinely funny lines. Like X Men: First Class, this film crisscrosses the globe from Vietnam to Paris to Washington D.C., and much of the early period parallels actual historic events and figures as in Watchmen.
Fate and destiny: can history be altered and can people change? The film has such a complex plot you wonder if it will shortchange the emotional content. It doesn't. In fact, you could almost have made this a two part film and expanded the possibilities. By trying to link the old with the new into one cohesive plot was challenge enough, but by sprinkling in bits of references to the Marvel canon and providing a great ending, comic fans should be giddy and thrilled. You don't have to have seen every X Men film, but it helps to enrich the experience for fans of Marvel lore by connecting a lot of dots.
Once again, the interplay between the younger Charles and Erik forms the core of a paradoxical love/hate relationship. First, Charles must find his way back from his self-imposed exile amid personal loss, and then it becomes a fascinating triangle of wills; Raven may be the target, but Erik and Charles struggle for her soul. Stewart lends authority (as the older Charles) as he narrates in grim tones the opening sequence which has parallels (as in the first X Men) to the Holocaust and human intolerance.
The large cast shines especially McAvoy and Lawrence, who gets to speak in Vietnamese much as Fassbender espoused German in First Class. You wish there were more of Stewart and McKellen, who are so good together, and despite relegating some cast members (including Halle Berry as Storm) to brief cameos or short scenes, plenty of familiar faces reappear from previous films to lend an air of continuity, and you feel the casts of both past and present are adequately represented.
New characters are introduced with cool powers particularly Evan Peters as Quicksilver, whose rapid speed proves instrumental in the film's standout sequence that ranks up there with X 2's opening White House assault by Nightcrawler. The special effects are that good. Just watching the final showdown where the mutants utilize all their unique powers to do battle with the Sentinels is a treat. Mystique's special morphing powers are on full display along with her acrobatic fighting style, and Magneto's powers are dead on as he literally raises RFK Stadium when the action shifts to DC and The White House.
Ambitious and well executed, X Men: Days of Future Past reaches the heights of X 2 and successfully merges two different universes both past and present, resets the timelines and events in a massive reboot, and results in a cohesive, entertaining story with an expanded, marquee cast. By applying equal parts reverence and boldness with the X Men mythology, Singer and company have accomplished a nearly impossible juggling act. With visionary directors like Joss Whedon (whose The Avengers is the gold standard) and Singer, the Marvel brand is likely to be an exemplary force of film entertainment for many years to come.
(Yes, stay until the end of the credits for a brief, elaborate setup for the next film!)