While dozens of X-Men may enhance the comic book stories, nonreaders are easily overwhelmed by the sheer number of mutants with special powers in the X-Men films. Nevertheless, this engrossing drama isn’t difficult to follow. It’s punctuated with action that easily stands on its own merits. Both aspects of the film benefit from Simon Kinberg’s screenplay and from Bryan Singer’s perceptive pacing and direction. The time-traversing themes remain coherent while revealing the motivations of the main characters and providing glimpses of those X-Men who make smaller, important contributions.
In this chapter the main characters are Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Charles Xavier/Professor X (James McAvoy as his younger self and Patrick Stewart as the elder statesman), Lehnsherr/Magneto (Michael Fassbender portraying him around 35 and Ian McKellen playing him as an octogenarian).
Due to his miraculous ability to heal and thus survive the mind-crushing demands of time travel, Wolverine is chosen to go back 50 years, from 2023 to 1973. The three key mutants he must find and persuade to change the course of history are young Professor X, Magneto and the shape-shifting, blue-skinned, red-haired siren Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence).
In 2023 mutants and their human sympathizers are hunted by unstoppable robotic assassins called Sentinels. The robots have done the job well, leaving Wolverine, Professor X and Magneto among the few survivors.
Appearing vaguely reptilian and exhibiting catlike movements, Sentinels are triple a man’s size and strength. Their built-in weapons include machine guns, flame throwers, saws, drills and swords. Sentinels are able to sniff out mutant DNA then group together to stage their assaults.
One mutant’s ability to open and close portals and another mutant’s ability to send others back in time are all that stand between them and total annihilation. In a last ditch effort to change history before the last of their kind are found and killed, Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) sends Wolverine’s consciousness back to 1973 because it was a fateful year for anti-mutant sentiment. After turning the public against mutants, shape-shifting Mystique was ultimately captured and studied by the U.S. government. Her DNA provided the basis for the Sentinels’ own shape-shifting structure.
Because the combined actions of Professor X and Magneto were responsible for setting Mystique on this path, it falls to Wolverine (among the least articulate of mutants) to persuade younger versions of his present-day friends to alter their courses. A scripting flaw fails to clearly illustrate Mystique’s motives, casting her as something of a wild card. Surely some normal humans in powerful positions ought to object to the concept of trusting an unrelenting robot army to wipe out mutants, whom are, in fact, a more evolved form of human being.
It’s difficult to tell whether the film intends to draw parallels between Sentinels and America’s use of robots in the war on terrorism. So far the two are incomparable since no human is seen pulling Sentinel strings, but humans do control the drones and other machines in our own timeline.
Still, as a precautionary tale and a philosophic probe examining what lengths we might approve in an effort to feel secure, the film makes interesting points. Those points, along with introducing a cast that will most certainly reboot the franchise, are ingredients for a worthwhile movie experience.