The X-Men films vary in quality, but their unifying principle is that do not really depend on each other to make sense. They all need to work as standalone films because, starting with First Class, they jump around in different timelines. Days of Future Past is the most audacious because it takes a Terminator-style plot and infuses it with some Nixonian paranoia and nostalgia culture. This time future Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) must have his consciousness transmitted into the past so he prevent a political assassination that will end mutant life as he knows it. This requires him working with younger and older versions of Professor X (James McAvoy and Patrick Stewart), plus Magneto (Ian McKellan and Michael Fassbender). It also requires him to spend a fair amount of time in DC.
Now in the past, Wolverine has to spring Magneto out of a secret prison in the Pentagon. This leads to arguably the best scene in the movie, where Quicksilver (Evan Peters) uses his super speed to save his new friends from certain death. This is all a prelude to the film’s climax: Magento uses his powers to lift RFK stadium and put a giant fence around The White House. This is an inventive use of DC architecture, and just because it shrewdly combines “Washington” and “DC” parts of #ThisTown. It certainly makes more sense than a giant airship emerging from the Potomac. Days of Future Past‘s lapses in accuracy pale in comparison, however, to the lapses of logic. Future Magneto insists that Wolverine will need his help to stop the assassination, but when Wolverine springs him from jail, young Magneto only gets in his way. I realize Magneto is necessary in order to create a story and conflict, but those hammy McKellan lines only underscore the film’s greatest absurdity.
The X-Men films will never quite be the same. Dark Phoenix will come out next year, sans Wolverine and amidst significant delays, since Jackman finally killed off his most famous character in Logan and 20th Century Fox is no longer as confident in their franchise. But in terms of what X-Men does well – a broad canvas of characters, mixing modern anxieties with superhero action – Days of Future Past is one of the most successful, even if its antagonist is little more than a plot convenience.