X-Men: Days of Future Past

Posted: June 15, 2014 in Film reviews

Directed by Bryan Singer. Starring Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence.

In the future mutants are an endangered species, and are being hunted down and exterminated by robots called sentinels that can adapt themselves to counter any defence the mutants can deploy. On the verge of extinction, and with no other hope, the remnants of the X-Men led by Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) hatch a last desperate plan, determining that one of them needs to go back in time to 1973 and prevent Raven/Mystique (Lawrence) from killing the brains behind the Sentinel programme Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) which, far from halting the program, will actually accelerate it.

The only mutant who can survive the journey is Wolverine (Jackman if you’re the 1% of people who didn’t know that) so before you can say “huh?” Wolverine has awoken in his body back in 1973 to a world of lava lamps, questionable fashion, and where he has bone claws rather than his more famous adamantium versions. In order to stop Mystique he’ll need the help of both Xavier (McAvoy in 1973) and Magneto (Fassbender). The trouble is not only do they hate each other, but Xavier is a broken man who’s traded his psychic powers for the ability to walk, and Magneto is imprisoned deep beneath the Pentagon, and even if Wolverine can persuade them both to help, can they convince Mystique to find another way, or is the dark future inescapable?

To say the X-Men films have had their ups and downs is putting it mildly. After a solid debut under Singer came a second, bolder outing (possibly still the best) also directed by Singer. Sadly at this point Singer departed the franchise to helm Superman Returns and was replaced by Brett Ratner on X-Men: Last Stand. To be honest nobody benefited from this. Singer turned in a dull Superman film and Ratner turned in, at best, a workmanlike X-Men film. Worse was to follow with the dire first Wolverine film (and though I haven’t seen it I hear the second one isn’t much better.)

Thankfully the franchise was reinvigorated by the wonderful X-Men: First Class, which traded the modern day for the 1960s, and swapped Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen for James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender. It was directed by Matthew Vaughn who, ironically, had been in line to direct Last Stand.

And now we have Days of Future Past, Singer is back, and Vaughn is gone (although he did have a hand in the story) and rather than make a choice between the old and new casts, the decision was made to mix things up through the use of time travel.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of it all is just how enjoyable the film is despite the huge cast (seriously pretty much every X-Man ever seen on screen shows up, if only for a few seconds) and the convoluted plotline.

After some really poor films it seems Bryan Singer has remembered how to direct. He’s helped by a script that, despite being exposition heavy in places, provides enough for the actors to stretch themselves, whilst also providing a lot of fun dialogue for all concerned.

He’s also helped by a cast at the top of its game. I’m not talking about Stewart and McKellen—who can play those roles in their sleep—and in fact most of the future scenes are when the film is at its weakest, although there are some nice fight scenes later on. When the film really scores is with the 1973 bits, and this is down in no small part to Jackman, McAvoy, Fassbender and Lawrence.

Jackman always turns in a great performance as the taciturn Wolverine, even when the material he has to work with his suspect, when the material is this good he can’t help but dominate many of the scenes he’s in, and in particular it’s nice to see a subtle change of pace, where once it was Xavier who had to save Wolverine, now the roles are reversed.

Fassbender is good, and even though you can’t quite shake the feeling that his heart might not be fully in it…well Fassbender with his heart not 100% in it is still better than most actors out there, and he and McAvoy work well together.

It’s really hard to believe that Lawrence is only 23, especially after seeing her playing characters far older as she does here and in American Hustle (I’m also wondering if she only makes films set in the far future or the 1970s now?). She plays the conflicted Mystique perfectly here, and you can see the struggle in her eyes in almost every scene she’s in. Like Fassbender she plays particularly well against McAvoy.

Which brings us to James McAvoy who, for my money, is the pick of a very good bunch and who’s rapidly turning into one of my favourite actors. His portrayal of both the broken, and the newly hopeful again Xavier is wonderful, on par with his character in Filth (in fact particularly early on he seems to be channelling Bruce.). The range of his performance is just great.

The supporting cast is too big to really talk about, so I’ll just make a few mentions. Nicholas Hoult is great reprising Beast and providing Xavier with someone to lean on. Evan Peter doesn’t get to be on screen for very long as Quicksilver but he almost steals the film and it’ll be a shame if we don’t see him play the part again. Dinklage I was disappointed in, but that might be down to my own high expectations given how utterly fantastic he is on Game of Thrones. Unfortunately here he isn’t given much to get his teeth into, so Trask remains a tame villain, which is a shame.

The effects are variable. The future battle scenes are intense but the time travel get out means you never quite feel people are in danger, and the sentinels themselves are pretty generic in both time zones, but especially in the future. Set aside this there’s some great trickery as Magneto demolishes a baseball stadium to encircle the White House, and a wonderful scene where we get to see things from Quicksilver’s perspective which is almost worth the price of admission alone.

Yes its convoluted, and the future scenes are a trifle grim, but once the film relocates to 1973 it becomes a joy to watch, with a great cast bouncing off one another in a hugely entertaining manner, big budget actions scenes balanced with a lot of character, and as I’ve said, in other hands juggling a cast of characters this huge might have made the film seem bloated, but Singer keeps most of the balls in the air most of the time almost as effortlessly as Magneto.

I think it’s time to retire the old X-Men crew and I hope the next film focuses again on McAvoy, Lawrence and co. If they do I think the franchise has a very rosy future.

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