Thanks to the patience and planning of Marvel that culminated in “The Avengers,” now every franchise is rushing to super-size their output by converging as many properties into one film as humanly possible. Among these stuffed tentpoles, “X-Men: Days of Future Past” is probably about as clever as we can expect them to get. Bryan Singer’s latest entry in the franchise plays to its greatest strength, the strong ensemble cast, to help power what is otherwise a fairly average film.
In 2011, the series essentially rebooted with a cast of rising stars that included James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, and Nicholas Hoult as younger versions of the characters. Not that the original cast was lacking in talent with Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Hugh Jackman, and Halle Berry.
Since their timeline never really ended (not that this stops the studios nowadays), what better way to bridge old and new than with a little bit of time travel? And who better to be the intermediary than Jackman’s Wolverine, the only character popular enough to inspire spin-offs? It all makes perfect sense.
“Days of Future Past” also manages to incorporate Jennifer Lawrence’s Raven/Mystique into the proceedings quite a bit more. That, of course, couldn’t possibly be because she’s the most loved actress in America at the moment. It just so happens that she’s the key to preventing annihilation of mutants in the bleak future inhabited by the older versions of the characters. Wolverine must travel back to the ’70s to prevent her from assassinating defense contractor Raymond Trask (Miles Finch himself, Peter Dinklage) and enabling the creation of the mutant-massacring Sentinels.
Lawrence signed onto the film right after the release of “Winter’s Bone,” before she won an Oscar and headlined the supernova franchise “The Hunger Games.” Only in her incredibly enviable position could a series like “X-Men” take the lowest rung in someone’s priorities. She always seems vaguely distracted and a little bored when she’s on screen here. I can’t exactly blame her; she’s probably contemplating her next Oscar-nominated role for David O. Russell. But because she’s turned in nothing but solid performances in her still-nascent career, it shows that Lawrence is ever so slightly off her game and not nearly as invested.
Not to worry, though, Michael Fassbender does more than pick up the slack. Whether it’s a small indie like “Fish Tank” or a massive blockbuster like “Prometheus,” he casts a spell over the screen and draws us in to the psychology of some sinister men. As Magneto, a villain notorious for his occasional flashes of deceptive kindness, Fassbender electrifies “Days of Future Past” as he vacillates between good and evil to chilling effect.
This film favors the “First Class” cast for obvious reasons, which makes the film feel a little uneven as a result. Singer flashes back to the older Magneto, Professor X, and Ellen Page’s Kitty Pryde (who was apparently the character who does the time travel in the comic book) with only periodic frequency, and their presence comes off as somewhat awkward. That’s particularly true of Halle Berry, who does little but stand around in the background. You’d never know that she had an Oscar from her limited participation in the film.
Singer attempts to achieve an “Inception“-like balance with “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” perhaps even making it a little more commercial in the process. He’s working with half the levels of reality as that film, yet Nolan still does it twice as well. Particularly towards the end of the film, the coexistence becomes a little fragile as the editing doesn’t feel very seamless. But it’s a decent enough attempt at something a little more complicated than your average popcorn flick, and it doesn’t prevent us from enjoying some impeccable performances. B- /