X-Men: Days of Future Past (12A)
Directed By: Bryan Singer
Starring: Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan
Running Time: 131 Minutes
Things get timey-wimey for our favourite band of mutants as Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is sent back to the 1970s to stop Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from causing an event which will result in a terrifying apocalyptic future. Joining him will be a burned out Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and the master of metal himself, Magneto (Michael Fassbender)
“We need you to hope again.” – a line said by Patrick Stewart’s older Professor X to the younger, off-the-rails Charles Xavier at one point in the film. It’s a line which you could easily imagine 20th Centaury Fox saying directly to the audience after a series of recent mutant flops. Yes, for a while it looked as though the X-Franchise was dead in the water. Until of course 2011 saw the release of First Class, which documented the beginnings of the team as well as the early friendship of Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr. Its 60’s setting and cast camaraderie was a delight, so its interesting that its follow-up is not only a sequel to the 2011 film, but to 2003’s X-Men 2, widely hailed to be the best movie in the series so far. So how does Days of Future Past hold up as a sequel to two of the best received X-Men movies to date? It delivers, and then some.
The premise alone is pure comic book sci-fi, it may be called Days of Future Past, but aside from the title and basic concept, this is nothing like the acclaimed 1982 comic book story. Instead we get a fascinating time-travel yarn in which Wolverine’s consciousness is zapped back to his younger body in 1973 by Shadowcat to unite the X-Men against Bolivar Trask, played by a somewhat underused Peter Dinklage, who’s overall motivations are quite muddy.
The most interesting character arc in this film overall easily belongs to the young Charles Xavier. Broken by his failures over the years he’s given up on the world and even his mutation, and resorted to being a recluse with Nicholas Hoult’s Hank McCoy as his manservant. James McAvoy is given much of the emotional heavy lifting here, over the course of the movie he essentially has to turn his character from a washed out mess into the beginnings of the Professor X we see in the future. A particularly powerful scene in which the younger Xavier mentally interacts with Patrick Stewarts Professor acts as not only a passing of the torch, but a confirmation that McAvoy was the right actor to pass it to.
Unfortunately Michael Fassbender’s Magneto becomes more of a one-note bad guy this time around, which is such a shame given his tragic and emotional storyline in First Class. He even majorly contradicts his overall mission by the end just because the finale needed a mutant villain. Jennifer Lawrence has a blast in her role as Mystique, whether she’s beating ten bells out of people or in her quieter, more emotional moments, it’s clear that she’s settled into the character quite comfortably.
While its nice to see the original cast return they are restricted to glorified cameos with Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan’s characters resigned to the exposition graveyard. And forget Quicksilver – Anna Paquin’s Rogue is the real “blink-and-you’ll-miss-them” character. However this is a story which focuses on the younger Xavier, so the fact that other characters are pushed to the sidelines is forgivable. Hugh Jackman’s role just kind of fritters out halfway through, as soon as he’s traveled back to the 70’s and, essentially, put the band back together the rest of the story revolves around him either fighting off Sentinels or standing around looking grumpy.
It’s delightfully strange to see the newer First Class cast interact with locations from the original movies, such as McAvoys Xavier using Stewarts Cerebro, it really helps unite both movie universes. Of all the new mutants introduced in this movie, few make any real impact. Omar Sy’s Bishop gets a few minutes of screen time to fire a big gun, but Fan Bingbing’s Blink is a fantastic highlight. Essentially granted the power to open portals at will she cleverly redirects deadly energy blasts and Sentinel attacks away from her in some visually complex fight sequences. But by far the best new arrival is Evan Peters as Pietro Maximoff AKA Quicksilver. Looking like a rejected member of a Ska band, you would never have thought from the teaser trailers and promotional images that he would be one of the coolest additions to the crew. A particular sequence involving him zipping around Billy Whizz style as he takes on some security guards in super slow motion is genuinely hilarious and awesome in equal measure. And the cherry on the cake? The scene is set to Jim Croce’s 1973 tune Time in a Bottle. Priceless. It’s a real shame that after the first act he disappears from the movie, as I think they did an excellent job of bringing his character to life. So its over to you now Mr. Whedon, for Aaron Taylor Johnson’s take on the role in next years Avengers Age of Ultron, but the Days of Future Past incarnation of the character will be hard to beat.
Overall, Bryan Singer’s return feels much needed. He’s the father of the franchise, kicking it all off back in 2000, and its clear he still knows how to handle it. His direction feels fluid and perfectly executed. Its nice that in a post Batman Begins world where our superheroes cant even crack a smile that Days of Future Past isn’t afraid to make with the jokes from time to time. One humorous moment involves an adamantium-less Logan marveling at his ability to pass through a metal detector without setting it off. It’s a little moment, but it lightens the mood nonetheless. Likewise the young Xavier’s call-back to Wolverine’s F-bomb dropping First Class cameo provides some chuckles. In fact, for a movie which is primarily about preventing an apocalyptic future it still allows time for some razor sharp quips, one-liners and genuine fun.
Having said that, the future war battles are particularly harrowing – mutants are repetitively slain in rather brutal ways from decapitations to face melting, something which younger fans might find quite scary. And its not without its flaws, as I said Fassbenders Magneto and Dinklage’s Trask are majorly underwritten, and I guess Xavier’s line “You’re not the only one with gifts” from the post credit sting in last years The Wolverine is as close an explanation as were going to get for his mysterious resurrection. Speaking of post credits stings, this movie does include one. It’s not a big deal if you miss out on it, but it does hint at what the team are up against during their next outing.
The time travel actually makes sense and is easy to follow – a scene early on sets up the rules and parameters slowly and carefully like a school revision guide to history manipulation. Singer has stated that he wanted to get the time travel aspect right and has even had a conversation with Director James Cameron about various string theories and paradoxes, and its clear that he’s done his homework. In fact, Days of Future Past is quite reminiscent of Cameron’s Terminator 2 Judgment Day, with its future war beginning, time travel element, and the desperate rush to change history. Additionally the time travel aspect seems to be an opportunity to clean up some of the franchises past mistakes (By the final act its clear that The Last Stand has been wiped from the canon completely). And on top of that some fan-pleasing moments have finally been included, such as Iceman finally doing his trademark ice-slide thing.
I also have to admire the contrast between the dark apocalyptic future and the bright saturated 70’s timelines, which gives a great visual juxtaposition during the cross cutting finale between the future war and battle with the sentinels in the 70’s. It really ups the stakes and reminds the audience that both battles are pivotal and happening parallel to eachother.
I saw the 3D version of this movie and frankly I was amazed with how good it looked. Being the first X-Men movie to be shot in 3D it gives the future war action and even the calmer 70’s scenes an added depth without being too jarring or distracting from the overall plot. Surprisingly this is one movie that I would actually recommend seeing in 3D.
Ultimately the movie is packed with drama, thrills and fun and is a return to form for the series and Bryan Singer himself, and I cannot wait for 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse. In short, Days of Future Past accomplished its mission statement – It made me hope again.