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It’s outclassed by First Class, but Days of Future Past is a solid addition to the X-Men canon.

X-Men Generations

"X" marks the spot
“X” marks the spot

In 2011, First Class gave the X-Men series a fresh start after three successful movies from 2000-2006. It’s a clever bit of high-energy filmmaking set in the 1960s and it ended with all the pieces in place for its young cast to forge ahead with new adventures.

But, like the mutants who make up the super-agent group of X-Men, the film series seems to perpetually struggle with its own identity crisis. Like last year’s spin-off, The Wolverine, the story here is ultimately a vehicle to reset the playing field — again.

Instead of smoothly picking up where things left off in First Class, Days of Future Past is based on an Uncanny X-Men storyline from 1980 and the action starts sometime around 2024, in the thick of a brutal war between man and mutants. New York City and Moscow have been laid to waste and the rest of the world looks to follow suit.

It’s an opportunity to pull a Star Trek: Generations trick as Patrick Stewart (Star Trek: The Next Generation) returns to his role as Professor X and gets to, essentially, mind-meld with his younger self in the person of James McAvoy (Wanted). And Ian McKellen (The Lord of the Rings trilogy) returns as Magneto in this future state, while Michael Fassbender (A Dangerous Method) returns to the same role, but in the 1960s.

Confused? Don’t worry about it.

The bottom line is this: Raven/Mystique (don’t worry about this distinction in naming, either) sets in motion a series of events that leads to this devastating war when she assassinates Dr. Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage, TV’s Game of Thrones) during the Nixon administration. It’s up to Wolverine (Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables) to go back in time and prevent Raven (Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook) from committing the crime.

Future History

This setup allows for the best of both X-Men worlds and this cast is a spectacular collection of A-list talent.

But it’s a semi-choppy ride with Bryan Singer back at the helm. Sure, he directed the first two X-Men movies and he also directed Superman Returns. There’s something about Singer’s directorial sensibilities that don’t quite follow the same comic book-inspired beat Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass) marched to so effortlessly in First Class. Vaughn knows how to maintain a fast pace, Singer not so much. And Henry Jackman’s peppy, agressive, ’60s-inspired score is also missed here, replaced by Singer’s frequent collaborator, John Ottman.

Nonetheless, the X-Men series rates as the second-most consistently interesting and entertaining comic book movie series, second only to The Dark Knight trilogy. With the reboot going back to the beginning of the X-Men’s history, the series has found a cool niche in the ’60s and ’70s time period that allows the characters to play off historical events like the Cuban missile crisis and dance around the prospects of Magneto being implicated in the assassination of JFK.

Hope Again

Marvel is on a breakneck pace of cranking out entries in a number of properties. Spider-Man is continuing on and word has it even characters within the Spidey universe will be given their own movies. The Avengers are coming back for another adventure, while separate movies for Iron Man, Thor and Captain America are on the calendar, with the possibility of other characters, such as Black Widow, getting spin-off treatment. And the Fantastic Four will be back in their own reboot.

It would seem the comic book movie genre is at maximum capacity, but the box office numbers warrant this perpetual grind of one installment after another.

Hopefully the younger X-Men crew will now move on and continue to explore the ’70s and the nutty events of that decade which have led to the borderline unhinged state of the world today. The X-Men have a niche all their own by not being locked in contemporary times.

That’s something to take advantage of — something that can generate appeal beyond the world of X-Men afficianados, something to give audiences hope again.