When I was in the age group that comic books used to be aimed at — that is, adolescence — DC ruled the comic book universe. If a crystal ball had told me that someday Marvel would become supreme, first I’d have laughed; then I’d have taken the crystal ball in to the shop for repairs; and then I might even ask, “Marvel who?”
Many decades later, I’ve seen the error of my ways. Do you think it’s too late to convince Stan Lee to adopt me?
To point out the obvious, “X-Men: Days of Future Past” is the third Marvel-generated blockbuster released this year — in just the last seven weeks, in fact — following “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” and “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” the second and third highest grossing releases of 2014 to date. (Number one is “The LEGO Movie.” Who’da seen that one coming?)
This is the fifth or seventh major X-Men film overall, depending on whether you count the two Wolverine solo efforts as part of the series or as spinoffs. Bryan Singer (“The Usual Suspects”) directed the first two (2000, 2003) but bailed on directing the third so he could make “Superman Returns” (2006) — a DC character, for what it’s worth. With replacement Brett Ratner (“Rush Hour”) at the helm, “X-Men: The Last Stand” (2006) was a disappointment.
Singer has returned for the new movie, “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” and delivers once again. The plot is the most implausible to date, which is saying quite a bit. The war of humans vs. mutants has reduced the world to a fascist dystopia. In 1973, Raven-now-called-Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) assassinated Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) — who had been designing giant mutant-hunting robots called Sentinels. Not only does she make him a martyr for the anti-mutant cause, but she is captured and experimented on. Her DNA turns out to be the last ingredient Trask’s engineers needed to make the Sentinels superduper awesome.
It’s hard to keep track of tenses when talking about this sort of film, but, in the movie’s “present day” world, the X-Men are about to be wiped out by Sentinels. Their only hope is for Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) to send someone back to 1973 to convince Raven to lay off, thus stopping the Sentinels from being completed, as well as removing one of the triggers for the war.
Because of his recuperative powers, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is the only one whose mind could survive the trauma of the time travel, which is accomplished by sending his current consciousness to take over his 1973 self. It’s a variation on the technique used in “Somewhere in Time” and “La Jetee,” not to mention Henry James’ final novel “The Sense of the Past.” While he is in 1973, his “present day” body remains on a slab, with Kitty in attendance. The climactic race between the arrival of the Sentinels and Wolverine’s effort to stop Raven is mechanically similar to Neo’s last venture into the Matrix in that series’ first film.
None of this exactly makes any sense, because it’s, you know, time travel, but Singer and his writers make a game effort to work out the rules and explain them to the audience.
As Wolverine ’73 gathers Xavier (James McAvoy, looking very little like the Patrick Stewart he will one day become) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender, who could maybe age into Ian McKellan), his culture shock provides most of the humor, even though he did already live through the period. The rest of the humor comes from the obnoxious Quicksilver (Evan Peters), whose superspeed gives him the ability to more or less freeze time. His action scenes — basically an embellished version of “bullet time” from “The Matrix” — are the most memorable moments in the movie.
All of this is presented in spectacular fashion. The big-screen 3D seems natural and unobtrusive until you forget about it, at which point it becomes redundant. Does anybody really think that — outside of a few obvious examples like “Avatar” — 3D contributes to a film’s effectiveness? Would a little less visual immersion (and fewer cases of eyestrain) have even slightly reduced our involvement with the story?
No, not if the filmmaker is doing his job well — which Singer assuredly is.
ANDY KLEIN is the film critic for Marquee. He can also be heard on "FilmWeek" on KPCC-FM (89.3).