X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
Directed by: Bryan Singer
Written by: Simon Kinberg
Starring: Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender, Nicholas Hault, Patrick Stewart, Peter Dinklage
We’ve had a trilogy of original X-Men films, two good and a dodgy third, one terrible and one apparently mediocre stand-alone Wolverine films and a variable prequel in X-men: First Class and now Bryan Singer, director of the best two instalments, is back to tie all of them together in X-Men: Days of Future Past.
In the year 2023 the earth is ravaged and mutant and human mutant sympathisers are hunted down and destroyed by adapting robots called Sentinels. Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen) track down one of the few remaining groups of surviving mutants, including Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page). They use Kitty Pryde’s power to send Wolverine’s (Hugh Jackman) consciousness back to his body in 1973 so that he can track down the young Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) who lives in the now defunct mutant school and Eric Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) who is currently being held in a concrete prison, fifty stories under the pentagon. Together they must stop Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from assassinating human scientist Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), who has been creating the sentinels, and thereby stopping the creation of the sentinels and the destruction of the mutant race.
With me so far? Good. The seemingly overcomplicated plot, explained in chunks of exposition several times to various characters, is based on a famous short run of the X-Men comics and serves to bring together the cast of the original X-Men films with the younger cast of the First Class prequel. It is really a structure that allows them to alter the film timeline as they wish and therefore write themselves out of the hole that X-Men: The Last Stand stuck them in, and will allow them to carry on the franchise, as they indeed are with X-men: Apocalypse coming in 2016. Admittedly there is a feeling of annoyance as Days of Future Past effectively retcons all the films that have gone before it leaving me feeling a little bit cheated. Still, it would seem that Bryan Singer has managed to breathe new life into the franchise which makes the upcoming sequels more of an exciting prospect.
The film’s over two hour running time never feels like a weight, allowing the film just the right amount of time to give its plot and main characterisation room, but without ever dragging as Singer keeps things bouncing along at a good pace. The film is now packed with new mutants, some of which have only a disappointingly short amount of screen time. Quicksilver for example has one of the most talked about scenes early in the film but is left out after this even though he seems like he would have been very useful later on. Some of the mutants will be familiar to fans of the series, especially those in the future sections, but some things may be a bit confusing if you have come to this film fresh and even if you haven’t seen all of the post credit scenes from some of the other films. However, the lesser mutants in the future sections really only serve to create some great action sequences and the main action focuses on the series’ recurring and favourite characters. Hugh Jackman could almost do Wolverine in his sleep having played him for fourteen years and over six films, and here he is at his muscle straining peak, though his veins now stick out so much that I am seriously worried about Hugh Jackman’s heart. Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique is mostly just a plot device but she still gets to have a few fun action moments. McAvoy’s Xavier gets the biggest character arc going from a disillusioned and drug addled shell to a beacon of hope and change in the mutant community. Fassbender is brilliant as the young Magneto, here falling in to true supervillain territory. Fassbender is always a magnetic, no pun particularly intended, screen presence and, as in First Class, the scenes where he is allowed to go around doing his evil magnetic thing are some of the best, even if he does seem to inexplicably become very good at costume making at the end. I could happily watch a whole film of just him. It is also with Eric Lehnsherr that the film gets a lot of its thematic brains, with the ideas such as killing one to save thousands and becoming the bad guy by protecting your own kind, which pushes Days of Future Past a little above your standard action blockbuster. The film is also one of the more violent superhero movies of recent years, earning its 12a certificate, with a lot of mutants getting killed quite violently but bloodlessly. It’s a little shocking and does add to the severity of the mutants’ situation.
The film continues its theme of fear of terrorism which has been seen in previous entries into the franchise, and which is also seen in many modern blockbusters and especially superhero movies post 9/11, which continues to be an interesting theme as in this case, to an extent, the feared terrorists are our mutant heroes. The 70’s period setting is well created and there are a couple of fun historical moments written in to the mutant world, much like in First Class. The future setting suffers a little more as it is just an excuse to send Wolverine’s consciousness back, meaning after the interesting opening which has shades of the holocaust and the future of Terminator 2, we don’t get a lot more than dark and scorched landscapes. The more recognisable mutants here are also mainly side-lined with Ian McKellen’s Magneto not doing much, Halle Berry’s storm barely getting a line and Ellen Paige’s Kitty Pryde mainly just sitting with her hands around Hugh Jackman’s head. Still, as far as a complicated juggling act goes, and barring an ending detail which doesn’t make sense, Bryan Singer and writer Simon Kinberg have managed to handle the plot well, for the most part making a sprawling and fairly complex scenario easy to understand yet still keeping a core drive, punctuating it with enough action to keep the entertainment levels high.
With the seventh X-Men film the returning Bryan Singer has managed to breathe new life into a stagnating franchise in a hugely crowded genre. X-Men: Days of Future Past moves at a good pace and is entertaining and enjoyable.