Director: Bryan Singer
Starring: Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Peter Dinklage, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Shawn Ashmore, Ellen Page, Halle Berry, Evan Peters
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Sentinels. This is, arguably, the most accomplished if not also the most entertaining film in the entire X-Men movie franchise. It takes on what could have been an otherwise tricky, convoluted story arc from the comics and makes it work really well, for the most part anyway– I deducted a half-point to acknowledge my ever-so-slight frustration with the film’s rushed denouement and the way its subsequent conclusion begs even further questions of canonical consistency, to go along with the many that had already existed. Overall, however, the film handles its time travel elements to great success, and the blended cast is also brilliant, as expected. Most importantly, the stakes were always increasingly high for these beloved characters in both past and future, leaving us audiences here in the present with a truly fun, complex, emotionally-charged superhero movie that rewrites both its own history as well as our country’s in an epic and intelligent fashion.
This entry into the franchise begins in the future, with our remaining X-Men, including both Professor X and Magneto together, fleeing from and fighting in a devastating war, or rather a war that has already devastated: Sentinels– massive, merciless robots with the capability of absorbing and redirecting mutant powers– have targeted and wiped out more than just mutants, killing also countless people who may pass the X gene down to future generations, as well as those who aid mutants. With the help of Kitty Pryde, played again by Page, Professor X devises a plan to go back in time in order to prevent the war (by preventing Lawrence’s Mystique from committing a cataclysmic act of violence that leads to her capture and, eventually, the acceleration of the Sentinel program). So, Jackman’s Wolverine, the only mutant who is actually fit for the task, is sent back to 1973, where he must recruit young Charles and Erik (played by McAvoy and Fassbender, respectively, resuming the roles from First Class) to help stop Mystique.
Sounds complicated, right? Well, it only gets worse, which is to say that it only gets better. In fact, with every obstacle and set-back and ripple in history, the higher the stakes become in the film; there are moments when both we and the characters begin to wonder whether history is bound to repeat itself, whether certain things are simply meant to happen, or even whether a darker timeline might ensue from their efforts. The film is consistently gripping, both during scenes of action as well as the lulls between such scenes, because we are always aware that time is running out. Plus, our characters from First Class have changed, but in many other ways, they have remained the same, which certainly gives the film some of its emotional weight. Mystique is jaded and bitter and conflicted. Charles is perhaps even more bitter, feeling so abandoned and broken that he takes injections that quell his gift and allow him to walk. Erik, on the other hand, is particularly consistent, though very much still afflicted; Fassbender is always fascinating to watch, portraying coldly and reveling in Magneto’s antagonistic, aggressive way of dealing with things, which always remains a source of tension and conflict, even when he is not the main enemy. So, needless to say, Erik and Charles have some catching up to do, and they all have coping to do as well, and powerful confrontations with past and future selves even come into play during that process.
The film is full of little twists (or perhaps they can be better understood as bumps in the narrative road), humor (the scene with Quicksilver, played by Peters, in the Pentagon is of particular note here– stylishly and hilariously executed), and action and suspense, as I mentioned already. It is a joy for fans of the franchise to watch the two casts merge and interact for the same common goal that bridges some of those gaps in the franchise, and it is a joy too that Singer never ignores the mutants’ humanity even during some of the film’s most spectacular moments. I also love the way, like First Class, this film cleverly plays with American history, but here, that playfulness is taken to its highest possible level, because in a comic book movie about time travel, the very history of these characters can be rewritten as well. This may frustrate some people, particularly those who have always nitpicked the inconsistencies of the franchise. I was more unnerved by the finale’s unnatural feeling of status quo, the way explanations are implied but not really given, and the way this film potentially flips the original trilogy, especially The Last Stand, and the Wolverine spin-offs on their heads. But, none of this hindered my enjoyment of this movie, and whether taken as its own entity or as a sort of prequel/sequel, a kind of time-warped mash-up, it is everything I could have ever wanted from a summer superhero blockbuster, and it’s everything I wanted from an X-Men movie too– it is, at times, laugh-out-loud funny and at others, I found myself literally on the edge of my seat, holding my breath, or clapping. I want to say more but for fear of repeating myself even more than I already have, I will end my review simply by saying that this is one of the can’t-be-missed movies of this summer.