I forgot how thrilling the X-Men movies were until the moment in Days of Future Past when a Sentinel robot shattered Iceman's head. So I wasn't surprised to discover that the fifth (or seventh) installment in the franchise is as casually creative and proudly pseudo-profound as its predecessors. With the exception of a few moments of lachrymose speechifying, its unrelenting, almost sadistic intensity makes it the summer's most ruthlessly efficient blockbuster. You will be entertained. Resistance is futile.
Although I confess an irrational fondness for Brett Ratner's X-Men: The Last Stand, bringing back two-time X-Men director Bryan Singer for Days of Future Past was a wise choice. His third entry (after the original X-Men and its first sequel) in the series satisfies serious fan expectations and respects the cinematic universe built by the previous four films. And if you don't look too closely or think too hard, he also straightens out the previous tetralogy's knotty timelines, gaps, and inconsistencies.
A movie this size is a big undertaking, and at times it creaks like some superhero version of It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. The army of recognizable faces in Days of Future Past is formidable: we see old and young Magneto (Ian McKellan and Michael Fassbender), old and young Professor X (Patrick Stewart and James McAvoy), new Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), old Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page), old Storm (Halle Berry), and more fresh faces and peripheral favorites. At the center of this mutant whirlwind stands Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), an immortal tough guy for whom history is a nightmare from which he cannot awaken.
In Days of Future Past, Pryde sends Wolverine's consciousness back to the 1970s in an effort to avoid the nightmarish future the surviving mutants now live in, where they are hunted down and obliterated by the sleek, chain-mailed Sentinels. But the fight scenes are only part of the show. Singer's film is also a poppy, propellant gloss on Jean Renoir's famous observation from The Rules of The Game: "The awful thing about life is this: everyone has their reasons."
Take Magneto, whose hostility is partially rooted in his belief that fearful humans will wipe out his mutant brothers. Or take scientist and industrialist Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage). Trask believes that mutants will do the same to humans because that's the way evolution works. And don't forget the eternal optimist Charles Xavier, who continues to believe in human decency and human hope even when he's a drug-addled, powerless version of his former self. Each of them is, at some point in the film, doing the right thing.
Although its most fully realized set piece is a funny slow-motion musical interlude inspired by the 2006 animated film Over The Hedge, Days of Future Past is the most serious film in the X-Men cosmology. There's not much time for verbal grace notes, but there are plenty of visual ones, from Wolverine's gray-streaked temples to an army of Sentinels spreading out over a stormy sky like skydiver-shaped warheads. It traduces history because its whole premise is that history is changeable bunk, and for a global $300 million smash hit, it gets awfully dark before the dawn. Good stuff.