*** ½ out of ****
X-Men: Days of Future past is not only without question the finest film in the long-running X-Men franchise, but maybe the most clever, emotionally charged blockbuster you'll see all summer. I must admit, I didn't go into the film with any expectations: seven films deep into the X-Men universe, my interest was starting to run on empty, especially since its cinematic offerings have been mostly disjointed one-offs (with the exception of 2011's X-Men: First Class) since the original trilogy concluded in 2006. What a pleasant surprise that DOFP turned out to be the best superhero flick since Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy.
The story begins in a not-too-distant apocalyptic future where murderous robots known as sentinels go all Skynet and target mutants and their human allies to the brink of extinction. In a hail-Mary throw to save the universe, Professor X and Magneto (Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, returning from the original trilogy) tap Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) to send Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back in time to 1973 to connect with their younger selves (First Class's James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender) to prevent the U.S. government from passing the Sentinel Act.
While DOFP is more character driven than any of it's predecessors, it features some insanely imaginative action sequences. Magneto's escape from a Pentagon prison lead by a mutant with the gift of super-sonic speed (American Horror Story's Evan Peters, in a memorable role) is the most fun fight sequence I can recall since I can't even remember. A final stand against the sentinels in the future towards the film's end is particularly ghoulish as well - the dystopian landscape of DOFP's future make the machine-made end of days from Terminator look like something out of Wall-E (2008).
What's always made the X-Men more interesting than other comic-based movies is that their super powers are what make them vulnerable, not empowered. It's also what unites rather than isolates them. Batman, Spider-Man, the Avengers…their powers all single them out and help them rise above their insecurities; the X-Men's powers make them targets of discrimination. The truly frightening hell world portrayed in DOFP doesn't lie in its barren future, but in its recognizable past, where bigoted politicians pass laws to oppress an entire class of people. Leading this movement is Game of Thrones' Peter Dinklage, in a brilliantly menacing performance as Dr. Task, mastermind behind the Sentinels.
Without trying to give away too much, the entire X-Men cinematic universe is rewritten as a result of the time traveling experiment at the film's end. What's interesting here is that producers can now continue forward with future films using the original cast (since 2006's X-Men: The Last Stand no longer happened), or the kind-of rebooted cast from First Class. It's refreshing that the writers created a loophole where they could start the series over fresh without a reset. Maybe its because I'm getting older, but it just seems films reboot too soon after they hit the "trilogy" mark; most of these do-overs suck, just retelling the same tired story with fresh actors and a few predictable "new" twists. DOFP made sure the franchise escaped this fate. Here's looking forward to what the future holds.