Maybe a third of the way into X-Men: Days of Future Past, there’s a joke stolen from Shanghai Noon: Quicksilver asks Magneto if he knows karate, and the Master of Magnetism replies, “no, but I know ca-razy.” It’s not especially very funny, but it is particularly emblematic of a movie that, despite its best intentions, still finds itself unable to escape the early 2000s.
Before The Marvel Cinematic Universe changed everything, before the landmark The Dark Knight, and even before Spider-Man was pretty sweet, there were the X-Men. This franchise kicked off the super hero age of cinema (sorry Blade) in 2000 and has somehow been going this whole time, through several sequels and spinoffs and sequels to spinoffs. X-Men: Days of Future Past is an attempt to reign in all those years of continuity and leave the franchise in a place that would allow Fox to compete with Disney on the super hero universe front, all the while pretending the Brett Ratner movie and Sexman Origins never happened. And it does a fun, albeit sloppy job of getting there.
Basically everybody is back, including the cast from First Class, the prequel movie from a couple years ago. How does that work? Time travel! Screenwriter Simon Kinberg and cowriters Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn took the rough idea of the classic comic story, “Days of Future Past” and reappropriated it for the film franchise by making it about the cinematic series’ main character: Wolverine (the increasingly ripped Hugh Jackman). Basically, killer robots called sentinels have Terminator-ed the near future, and it’s up to Logan to travel back to the Seventies to undo the events that led to the creation of sentinels.
It’s pretty clear that Fox would like us to fall in love with the new cast, as most of the movie is spent in the past, where we how find how Professor X (James McAvoy), Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Magneto (Michael Fassbender), and Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) are coping with the fallout of First Class. There’s no sign of Moira McTaggert, and the other mutants from that movie either get cursory cameos or are mentioned in a list a dead people. But whatever, I like that core four and I didn’t mind getting to spend more time with them.
The problem is, I like the old cast more. Seeing Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan together again is great, and there’s something fun about Ellen Page and Shawn Ashmore again too. And Halle Berry’s there. There are even some fun new mutants that are only in the future, I thought Blink (Fan Bingbing) seemed really cool, and as a Bishop fan, it was cool to see Omar Sy doing his thing. But much of the future stuff is left unexplained, big stuff like how Professor X and Magneto are both alive and have powers, in favor of focusing on that past. And given the way the movie ends, I still kinda just want to see a movie with those original guys.
Maybe that’s over-thinking things, let’s focus on what this movie is. It’s a collection of some of the best fight scenes in this franchises history (I still don’t think anything tops the train scene in The Wolverine). And hey, speaking of new mutants, it’s Quicksilver (Evan Peters) who steals the show. His action scene is the best in the movie, and it’s just refreshing to see someone in this universe who’s not sad or pissed all the time. This is yet another X-Men movie that is focusing on suffering, sacrifice, and civil rights with action surrounding it. So I liked seeing one person, for a change, who seemed pretty stoked to have super powers.
In the end of this admittedly fun adventure, I was left wondering where do they go from here? This was not the simultaneous resetting of the canon and passing of the torch I thought Days of Future Past was supposed to be. It says something when the end of the movie is focused on the old cast, not the new. After all the time we spend with the young cast, the movie didn’t feel confident enough to fully commit to them… Which is a shame because I felt like the movie was almost there. Now that I’m hearing the sequel will have the team facing another apocalyptic scenario that may include both casts, I’m kinda bummed out. But, you know, at least The Last Stand never happened.