X-Men: Days of Future Past delivers. Bryan Singer, who directed the first two films in the franchise — the best ones — is back, adapting one of the most celebrated stories in the history of the comic book series. If you're a hardcore X-Men fan, you have a pretty good idea of what to expect. If you're not a hardcore fan, you'll need to prepare a bit, because you're going to be hit with a lot of information.
The basic set-up: In the future, killer machines called Sentinels are unleashed by the government to stem the "mutant threat." The Sentinels are more successful at their task than anyone imagined, wiping out not only mutants, but humans whose DNA indicates they might have mutant children.
As a last-ditch effort, a few surviving mutants, including Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen), use the powers of Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) to send Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back to 1973 to change the time-line by stopping the shape-shifting Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from killing Sentinels creator Boliver Trask (Peter Dinklage), the act that starts the deadly chain of events. To accomplish his goal, Wolverine must rally the messed-up younger version of Professor X (James McAvoy) and rescue Magneto (Michael Fassbender) from his prison cell beneath the Pentagon.
So there you go. To avoid a headache, don't think too hard about the time travel stuff. Just roll with the story and adjust your expectations. You know those great scenes in the first two movies where you get to see the happy young mutant students running around their school doing amazing things? You'll get that, but only for a few seconds and not for quite a while.
Instead, you'll spend most of the movie alternating between the nightmarish future and the attempts to alter the time-line in 1973. The tone is serious, but the retro sequences are leavened by some welcome (and nicely integrated) bits of humor. You'll see a lot of familiar faces, but only a few get significant screen time. The major players are Wolverine, both versions of Professor X and Magneto (but much more of the younger versions), Mystique and Beast (Nicholas Hoult). Quicksilver (Evan Peters) turns up, providing some of the movie's best scenes and funniest moments.
Kitty Pryde and Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) appear in supporting roles, while other mutants of note are only seen briefly, including Storm (Halle Berry), Colossus (Daniel Cudmore), Bishop (Omar Sy), Blink (Fan Bingbing), Sunspot (Adan Canto), Warpath (Booboo Stewart), Toad (Evan Jonigkeit) and Havok (Lucas Till). Keep your eyes peeled or you'll miss Rogue (Anna Paquin) and middle-age Beast (Kelsey Grammar).
I'm undoubtedly overlooking some mutant characters from the comics. Have fun picking them out. I'm also leaving out the characters that pop up during the big surprise.
SPOILER ALERT: READ AT YOUR OWN RISK. I'm not going to spell out the details of the big surprise, but I strongly suggest you take a couple moments to remember some of the major events from X-Men: The Last Stand, the third film in the series, the one directed by Brett Ratner that pissed off a lot of fans (check out the plot description on Wikipedia — it'll only take a minute). Watch and see how Days of Future Past deals with The Last Stand. Prepare to grin. END SPOILER.
X-Men: Days of Future Past is intense and packed with exposition. Newcomers are encouraged to hang on tight and focus on the main idea — change the future by stopping Mystique from killing Trask — and don't let a little confusion spoil the experience. There's so much good stuff here. Solid acting, a storyline that creates tension even if you can anticipate the outcome, and killer action set pieces more than make up for the slightly overstuffed feel.
NOTE: As is the norm with superhero movies, there is an extra scene at the very end, after the closing credits roll. Unless you're a really hardcore fan, you can skip it. And if you are a really hardcore fan, please drop me a note and let me know who the heck that was.