Hollywood's given us seven X-Men movies since the year 2000, and when that many films have been made in that short a time with the same subjects, franchises have to devise clever ways to not repeat themselves.
The last X-Men movie, for instance, solved that problem by recasting the X-Men as kids, precocious misfit kids with superpowers who had yet to be transformed into their adult selves (and ultimately branded as Magneto, Wolverine, IceMan, Mystique, etc.)
Thus, instead of the great Patrick Stewart and the even greater Ian McKellen playing Professor X and Magneto once again, we were treated to the much younger actors James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender playing the much younger versions of the two X-Men leaders.
Now, in this latest incarnation, "X-Men: Days of Future Past," the franchise has cleverly managed to incorporate both generations of mutant superheroes, keeping the new cast without jettisoning the old-timers. How, you ask? Well, time travel, of course!
In a bleak near future, the X-Men and their brethren mutants have just about been wiped out by Sentinels, giant, government-controlled robots. The few remaining X-Men realize their only hope to survive is to travel back in time and stop the Sentinel program in its tracks.
This allows the movie to operate on two parallel tracks - the youngsters duke it out with the bad guys of 1973 while the old-timers try to hold off the marauding Sentinels of right now. That way we get Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan, and James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender along with all the other actors from both generations (Halle Berry and Jennifer Lawrence, etc.)
Kudos to the filmmakers for coming up with a way to refresh and complicate some tried and true material. Even more ingeniously, since this movie changes the past, it potentially wipes out everything that we've already seen in all those previous X-Men movies, or at least the ones happening after 1973. Hello, clean slate.
As for the movie itself, it's certainly a competent and respectable entry in the summer blockbuster action movie sweepstakes. It doesn't have the sense of fun or the political edge of "Captain America: The Winter Soldier." But it has more focus and gravitas than the latest Spider-Man and has much better pacing than "Godzilla."
I like the X-Men films best when they take the time to explore and have some fun with the various superpowers of its mutant characters. The film's opening is a good but all too rare example of this, when a number of X-Men use their various powers in concert with each other to fend off the Sentinels. One throws fire, another shoots ice, and yet another creates portals that the others can escape through. These are comic book characters, after all, so the film might as well enjoy their outlandish capabilities.
The best scene in the movie does exactly that. The character Quicksilver happens to be super fast, so fast in fact that it seems like he can just disappear and reappear whenever and wherever. This speed comes in handy when some X-Men are surrounded by a dozen or so security guards in the White House kitchen. Quicksilver in slow motion readjusts the trajectory of each of the bullets flying toward his compatriots and re-positions the fists of all the guards so that they hit each other or even knock themselves out. All this, while Jim Croce's "Time in a Bottle" is playing on the soundtrack. It's a brilliantly conceived scene with a great sense of humor, and a scene that unfortunately stands out all the more because so much of the film takes itself so seriously.
"X-Men: Days of Future Past" is a solid citizen of a movie that could afford to lighten up just a bit.