The history of the X-Men movies has been very turbulent since the first film, X-Men, came out in 2000. The first film was toted as a superhero movie group film finally done right. Hell, back in 2000 superhero movies were mostly considered jokes. You had the classics, the first two Batman movies and the first two Superman films but those had been made throughout the 70s through early 90s. After Batman and Robin came out, the superhero genre was pretty much considered dead. At the time we didn't have any Spider-Man or Avengers films, the closest Marvel had gotten to making good superhero films were the Blade films, which while good, are more ultra-violent action/horror flicks than traditional superhero films. Marvel had tried a couple times before to make movies based on their characters but movies like The Fantastic Four (1994) and Captain America (1990) were pretty awful and didn't do much at the box office.
So X-Men was revolutionary for Marvel and the superhero genre in general. X-2 was also well received by critics and the general viewing audience. At this time period, 2003, Marvel had started to become a huge entertainment money making machine. Spider-Man, Hulk and Daredevil had come out, each doing well at the box office and with dvd/vhs sales. While the later two were critically lauded (well by most people, I've seen some defenses of the 2003 Hulk film) it didn't really matter because Marvel was doing so well financially. It seemed that the X-Men franchise could do no wrong.
And then X-Men 3: The Last Stand came out. Jeez... The film was hated by critics and fans alike with probably the only redeeming part of the film being Wolverine and Jean Grey's relationship and the emotional ending. Also, Charles Xavier dying was emotionally touching but anyway, the point is that X-Men 3 took away the good will people had with the X-Men series and the status as critical darlings. The next movie, X-Men Origins: Wolverine didn't help matters as a premise as simple and as GOOD as going into Wolverine's backstory and personal demons, to flesh him out more than they already had in X-2 AND to go off and make a solo Wolverine film was somehow handled horribly and ended up completely botched. The only thing people even remember about this movie is the shitty, Mortal Kombat-like Deadpool who had no dialogue and was just a dumb monster who had the ability to teleport.
The next two movies turned critical opinion around. X-Men: First Class and The Wolverine were both well received. I think that's what funny about that is that with this movie Marvel basically looked at their last two films and went fuck it, why not combine them?
What I think is interesting about these series of X-Men films is that, a far as I can think, this is the first series of films who actually have some of the same characters, but go back into their past, have some of the same characters from the original movie played by different people WITHOUT doing a reboot AND combines the two worlds. That's pretty damn ambitious.
The film starts off in a completely fucked apocalyptic world where mutants are taken to CC Camps along with any humans who had enough sympathy to try and protect them This is enforced by some seriously badassed Sentinels, who can morph their substance and are just straight up killing machines. The remaining mutants, Kitty Pryde, Colossus, Iceman, Bishop, Warpath, Blink and Sunspot, convene with Wolverine, Storm, Professor Charles Xavier, and Magneto in a hideout in remote China. The remaining mutants have been barely surviving by, well not actually surviving. Kitty has the ability to send someone back in time so she's been sending Bishop back in time to warn them that the Sentinels are about to come. Which, if you think about it, means that they've probably died, or at least members of them have died, multiple times already in an alternate timeline. You can really see the desperation here as the mutants, the SUPER HEROS have completely given up on fighting the villains because the villains ARE the system now and they have the mutants completely outmatched and outgunned. I think this is a pretty ballsy approach because it shows that, even with the remaining mutants entirely united the odds are just too much for them handle. This actually reminds me more of the "Age of Apocalypse" story than the original "Days of Future Past" story.
Anyway, Charles and Magneto know they don't have a whole lot of hope if things keep on going the way they are so they devise a plan to send Wolverine back in time to the 1970s(!) so Wolverine can somehow get Charles and Erik back together and stop Mystique from killing Trask ala the midget from Game of Thrones (who turns in another great performance in this). So Wolverine goes back to the 70s, which means he's actually in his 70s body, which is before he got the admantum casing and metal claws but he still has his healing ability and bone claws. After killing some mofos who won't leave him alone just because he banged some chick he was supposed to be protecting, Wolverine makes his way to Charles' school Wolvie after a fight with Beast, tries to tell Xavier what's up but the good professor has become the equivalent of the mutant version of a heroin junkie. He's taking a dose of the same chemical that Beast used to make himself "normal," which ended disastrously for Hank back in 1962, but now that he's had ten years to work on it, he seems to not only have perfected the formula but made it so it can fix Xavier's legs too but deprives him of his telekinetic/mind reading powers.
Xavier, you see, isn't the same man he is in the future. Here he's addicted to the mutant serum, seems to always be drinking, goes around in pity for himself and is kind of a dick. I have to say, I LOVE this performance by James McAvoy (who also had another great performance in Split this year) This flawed version of Charles Xavier, a man who WANTS to do the right thing but has been fucked over so many times and who has had so many people die, a man who just wants to lie around and pity himself, a man who just wants to fucking WALK again and not have to deal with other people's thoughts is infinitely more interesting and seems like a more realistic, three-dimensional character than Patrick Stewart's version of the character, who always seemed more like a two-dimensional wise old man who's always right about everything.
Anyway, Wolvie tells Xavier what's up and they agree to do it but know they need help. They get a young Quicksilver (Evan Peters, from pretty much every season of AHS) to help them break Magneto out of the Pentagon, who is in there for of course killing JFK. I liked this addition to his character and thought it made sense and would have been a cool did-you-know-thing but they change it later when Magneto tells Charles he was trying to save JFK because, get this, JFK was a mutant. Anyway, the whole escape from the prison is extremely well done, with fast, exciting action sequences, good comic timing and nice little references (Quicksilver tells Magneto that his mother dated a guy who could bend metal). Evan Peters is perfect as Quicksilver and is quite simply a joy to watch. The slow-mo sequence of him taking out the guards while listening to Pink Floyd is honestly probably one of the more iconic scenes in recent Marvel films. It kind of sucks that after they break Magneto out of prison, Quicksilver leaves the film because I feel that keeping him in there could've added some brevity and would've added to the action sequences. It sucks even more when you think about that the next film that he actually did get to prominently be in, Apocalypse, sucked ass.
Magneto and Charles get into an argument and Magneto DRILLS into Charles for not doing shit about all the mutants dying. Michael Fassbender really puts a good performance as Magneto in this movie, where you know he's wrong but everything he does has a reason and you can definitely see where he's coming from. Fuck, you could say the same thing about Trask but I think that Magneto comes across as the more sympathetic of the two villains. Another case in this film of both the actors AND the writers understanding the character and writing them well and cohesively.
Meanwhile, with Mystique, she's been busy killing horny Asian generals and taking their place at meetings about mutants. What she didn't know is that Trask has made a device that shows him who's a mutant and uses it, as a demonstration in the meeting, which of course uncovers the fact that Mystique's there. She fights off security and goes to shoot Trask but gets distracted when the kinda sorta X-Men come in. Good thing too, as shooting Trask is what started everything... Mystique gets tazed by Stryker, Trask's bff and bodyguard. Oh and also the guy from X2 who experiments on Wolvie and gave him those oh so special admantuam casing. Wolvie has a bit of a freak out here and loses his future consciousness and reverts back to his 70s self. This leads to a pretty funny part where Xavier, running out of things to tell Logan, just says fuck it and tells him he took some bad acid. It's the 70s! Cats were dropping acid and shooting smack 24/7 ya dig!? The point is that Wolvie is pretty much useless for the next sequence that happens where Magneto turns on Wolvie and Friends (this is also why I think they took out Quicksilver, Magneto could reasonably take Mystique, Xavier without powers and the Beast but I'm not sure if he could've taken out Quicksilver and Wolvie).
Magneto feels, with the facts that he's been presented, that the only way that he can be sure that the mutants are going to be safe is to kill Mystique, which while pretty fucked, is still very understandable from his point of view. Mystique tries to escape but eats a bullet in the leg and jumps outside where the film decides to do something really damn cool. Beast and Magneto fight, Mystique tries to escape, shows off her powers a bit before blending in with the crowd and Magneto almost gets taken out by Beast before tying him up in metal poles. Nothing about that seems particularly amazing I know but the film decides to do a nice trick and show us the fight through the reporters shitty 70s cameras. The way it's shot and acted is so realistic and it makes you feel as if you're watching a film in the 70s, you could totally imagine that reaction and WHY people would be scared of mutants. A small touch but a nice one.
Then we get Tricky Dicky himself petting his three dogs while watching the footage. Trask gets Nixon to listen to him about the Sentinel program and Nixon signs off on it because NIXON IS STUPID!!! This leads to the third act, which if you're watching the Rouge Cut is another HOUR and thirteen minutes! The fuck!? Anyway, there's a lot of moping around the mansion, Xavier getting his confidence back after talking to himself in the future and then a big showdown at the White House where Magneto has put metal in the Sentinels so he can control them leading to a big showdown between Wolvy and Friends against Magneto and the Sentinels, and they have to not only put Magneto down but somehow convince the world that mutants aren't so bad so the future isn't so fucked. Meanwhile, in the future, the rest of the remaining mutants put up their last stand against the Sentinels in what is probably the most brutal fight scene I've ever seen in a PG-13 superhero team-up film. The mutants in the future man, they get KILLED BRUTALLY!
At the end of the day, this is most likely my favorite Marvel movie. The future parts feel like the 90s animated TV show with a huge cast of Mutants like Bishop and Psychloke while the past part feels distinctly grown up and 70s. The thing is, with this movie the premise seems so lazy that it SHOULDN'T have been this good. As I said earlier the movie's premise seems like a reason just to get Wolverine into the past and have him interact with the cast of First Class. But because of the strong writing and excellent acting that this film turns into not only the best X-Men film (excluding Logan) but also arguably the best Marvel movie. This story is actually dark, people die, and the characters' actions matter. That's why I sometimes prefer the Fox films to the Disney/MCU shit. The Fox Films feel like actual movies where characters change and their actions matter, where the MCU movies just feel like audience placation.
The ending does feel a little bit cheap but at the same time, the whole point of Wolverine's journey was to save everyone. And he did. One more thing I forgot to mention, it's a joy to watch Hugh Jackman play Wolverine here. He has the character DOWN, at this point, most people thought Hugh Jackman WAS Wolverine. And watching Days of Future Past you can clearly see why.
Overall an excellent film that takes a lot of inspiration from the original comic arcs, is dark, and has the characters well written and consistent. My favorite Marvel movie yet 5.0/5.0