X-Men: Days of Future Past

The latest installment in the X-Men movie franchise is loosely based on the January 1981 X-Men comic book of the same title, which takes place in a dystopian future (2013!) where most mutants have been killed by the terrifying Sentinel robots and the rest of the world has gone to pot. It's determined that Kitty Pryde, the teenage X-Man who can walk through walls, is the ideal candidate to be sent back in time to Halloween 1980 (around the time that particular comic book was completed) to prevent Mystique from killing an anti-mutant Senator and thus bringing about nuclear war 33 years later. And yes, I got that comic when it was new, and I still have it now.

What has the film changed? Well, enough that X-Men writer Chris Claremont and illustrator John Byrne don't get a story credit. And while Ellen Page is decent in the role, Kitty Pride is not the popular character that Claremont and Byrne hoped she would be when they introduced her in 1980. So for the movie, Wolverine, of course, has been chosen as the hapless time traveler – sent in this case from post-apocalyptic 2023 to far-out 1973. Numerous other story changes stem from this decision and from the success of the 1960s-set X-Men: First Class. (Thankfully for the filmmakers, Jennifer Lawrence, cast as the young Mystique in First Class, became a superstar over the last two years, so that aspect of Claremont and Byrne's story hasn't been changed.)

Lest I bore you with too much comics trivia, I'll cut to the chase: Days of Future Past is terrifically satisfying. Director Bryan Singer, who left the franchise after X2, returns to show us how much talent he brings to the films. This X-Men is funny, scary, thoughtful, and suspenseful. James McAvoy does a bang-up job as the tormented young Charles Xavier; Lawrence, Hugh Jackman, and Michael Fassbender also deliver the goods. And kudos to the inspired casting of Peter Dinklage as the stubborn scientist behind the Sentinels.

Moreover, Singer and his writers (Simon Kinberg, Jane Goldman, and First Class director Matthew Vaughn) achieve the impossible, by balancing both the contemporary and the retro X-Men casts, introducing new characters into this massive fray, telling a story that unfolds across two different timelines – and having it not be exhausting. Superhero movie or not, that's some advanced filmmaking, folks.

The only downside to Days of Future Past is that it serves as a sort of living graveyard of the X-Men characters that didn't work out on screen. And thus Storm, Rogue, and Cyclops, all so heavily touted in the first X-Men, barely register here. But that awkwardness is well-compensated by the introduction of Peter "Quicksilver" Maximoff (Evan Peters), who provides a textbook definition of "stealing the movie": A scene in which the lightning-fast mutant disarms some Pentagon security guards is easily the film's high point. (It will be interesting, and possibly embarrassing, to see how they work Quicksilver into the next Avengers installment, given how they have a different actor playing the same character at the same age, only four decades later!)

Those new to the X-Men might be lost here, but for the rest of us, it's a welcome return to form.