X-Men: Days of Future Past is a disappointing entry in a film series that now stretches back 14 years and almost half as many movies. It's disappointing mostly as a matter of pedigree; had Days of Future Past been made right after, say X-Men 3: The Last Stand, or the regrettable X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Days would seem like a genuine improvement. As it stands, though, the movie suffers from its placement after 20th Century Fox's two most recent X-Men knockouts—the surprisingly adroit X-Men: First Class in 2011, and 2013's (and this reviewer's favorite X-Men iteration) The Wolverine.
The greatest irony of Days is that it wouldn't seem half so bad if it weren't for the presence of movies like The Wolverine, which make explicit the problems that are implicit in movies like Days and The Amazing Spider-Man 2.
But first, some plot: it's the indeterminate future, and everything is awful. The X-Men—a team of super-power wielding mutants—have been hunted almost to extinction by the Sentinels, giant metallic robots whose only purpose is to eradicate all mutant-kind.
If the scenery is to be believed, much of the future exists as a kind of post-apocalyptic waste; it's only in a secret base that the X-Men have managed to stake out a brief foothold, while trying to figure out how to stymie the robotic onslaught. Professor X (Patrick Stewart) concocts a plan: the X-Men will send Wolverine's (played a record-breaking eight times by Hugh Jackman) mind back into the past so that he can prevent the creation of the Sentinels—but to do so, he'll need to unite Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender), who have become enemies following the events of the preceding X-Men: First Class.
(A note: I realize that this summary is nearly incoherent and riddled with holes and that many of the explanations are inaccurate. In my defense, recapping all this is kinda boring, and also the movie defies any coherent attempt to briefly summarize it—even by comic book standards, it's pretty out there.)
Unfortunately, at no point does this dual-timeline setup ever feel like one unified project—the aesthetics of mid-70's era America and the Vague Future Apocalypse are so wildly disparate as to feel like totally different movies (everything in the future is tinted blue and foggy, it seems, even under direct lighting). As such, the time-jumping—maybe the movie's most prominent distinguishing feature—is more confusing than it is helpful, and only serves to artificially weight one half of the story with drama when the other sags. I spent the whole movie hoping that the movie's climax wouldn't be jump cuts from Fight-in-the-Future to Fight-in-the-Past, and then was sorely let down when exactly that ended up happening. Layering the action on top of itself doesn't double the excitement—it only manages to halve our emotional investment in the action, a lesson in moderation best exemplified by 2012's Looper.