Back to the Future, Marvel Style

By Ygal Kaufman

XMenReviewX-Men is about racism. You all knew that, right? Because they belabor that point quite a bit in the first four films. The spin-off Wolverine series is, as far as I can tell, about erectile dysfunction, or perhaps spaying/neutering your pets, but either way it’s somewhat less heady material. This sort of clubfooted allegory is a feature of basically all the classic Marvel titles.

I think The Incredible Hulk may be about vaccines and autism…

Anyway, after the third installment of the series, The Last Stand, ostensibly killed off half the team, not to mention sucked really bad, people sort of thought X-Men was done on the big screen for a while.

Then 2012’s X-Men: First Class took the action and adventure back to the 60s where the racism discussion got really on the nose and the acting also got a lot better. So it’s with some trepidation that we take in the new installment, which seeks to Avenger-ify the series, and take a break on the preachiness.

X-Men: Days of Future Past may in its own way be the best of the films; it’s finally about mutants being awesome and using their powers to kick asses and talk a little less.

For those who aren’t enthusiasts of the source material, the story goes like this: our beleaguered X-Men, mutants with special powers trained by the benevolent genius Charles Xavier (get it? Xavier… X-Men… it’s really pretty solid wordsmithery), are trapped in a future dominated by robots that are really mean. Basically The Matrix meets… The Matrix. They “trace” their awful future to one event in the past: the murder of a dastardly scientist by one of their own, or at least one who was previously one of their own. So they send the lovably gruff Wolverine (Hugh Jackman, for the seventh time) to rally the young versions of themselves for a bit of Enchantment Under the Sea.

First, the good: as The Avengers already proved, seeing an all-star Who’s Who of the Marvel universe on screen just works. We know these characters well, and after four films of setup, we’re finally ready to see them at play.

Also good: the time they didn’t waste with Wolverine having to convince people he was from the future. A lesser filmmaker would have wasted 15 minutes with a Marty McFly explanation, but Bryan Singer lets this story flow briskly and confidently.

The main success of the film is the combination of the cast of First Class with its older counterparts. Michael Fassbender, who by now should be a household name, is a bona fide superstar. He stole the show in First Class and in this film, and he has a promising future anchoring the franchise.

The only shortcoming of the film is also a byproduct of its success. As an issue or mini-series of comic books, this story is wonderful. As an installment in a film series, it’s a little uneven. The story comes out of nowhere, does nothing to explain where we are with the characters based on where we left them in The Last Stand (which includes bringing one back to life with no explanation), and it ends in highly uncertain territory.

But as both a fan of the source material and a fan of the summer movie experience, I can confidently say X-Men: Days of Future Past has positioned itself as the blockbuster to beat for 2014.

Your move, Dallas Buyers Club Part II.