X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Bryan Singer

Stars: Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Peter Dinklage, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Nicholas Hoult, Ellen Page, Omar Sy, Evan Peters, Halle Berry, Marc Carmaro, Shawn Ashmore, Anna Paquin, Josh Helman, Daniel Cudmore, Fan Bingbing.

Much like Star Trek: Generations brought together two franchises of the popular sci-fi series, so too does the latest X-Men film bring together the stars of the two franchises. Bryan Singer brought the comic book characters to the screen in 2000 with the first of the X-Men movies. In 2011 Matthew Vaughn rebooted the franchise with X-Men: First Class, which was set in the 60s and gave us the backstory story of the bitterness between Xavier and Eric Lehnsherr, who became the villainous Magneto. That story was set in 1963 against the backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and explored the events that turned Xavier and Lehnsherr, who used to be close friends, into bitter rivals and how their hatred shaped the X-Men universe.

This new X-Men film opens in the not too distant future and finds the mutant race under threat of extinction from a breed of remorseless giant robotic hunters known as sentinels. These almost invincible machines were developed by Dr Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage, from Game Of Thrones, etc) who wanted to rid the world of the mutant species forever. Trask was assassinated by the shape-shifting Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) in 1973, but she was captured in the process. Ironically it was the death of Trask at the hands of a mutant that convinced the US government that the sentinel program was vital. Mystique’s own DNA was used to power the machines, which were then able to change shape and form and thus were able to adapt and use the mutant’s power against them.

With the help of Kitty Pride (Ellen Page), Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen) hatch a desperate plan to try and change the past and prevent the creation of the sentinels by preventing the assassination of Trask. But given the dangers of sending someone back in time so far – the process could literally tear them apart – Xavier believes that only Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) could make the trip. Especially since he has those superior regenerative healing skills.

Wolverine is transported back to 1973, where he has to try and make contact with both Xavier (James McAvoy) and Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) and convince them to work together to prevent Mystique from assassinating Trask. Easier said than done, especially since Xavier is a drug-addicted psychological mess and the X-Men have disbanded. The Mission Impossible style plot sees Xavier, Wolverine and the young Hank McCoy aka Beast (Nicholas Hoult) penetrate the bowels of the Pentagon itself, the most secure building in the world, to try and liberate Magneto from his subterranean prison.

Singer returns to the director’s chair for this film and he has a solid understanding of the characters. He also has a great sense of visuals and pacing that keeps things moving along at a cracking pace. Written by Simon Kinberg (Jumper, etc), in collaboration with Vaughn and Jane Goldman, X-Men: Days Of Future Past is not entirely successful, and the flawed internal logic of its convoluted plotting will baffle many. The time travel business seems inspired in part by the Terminator series. Like many films that deal with time travel it plays fast and loose with the rules of tampering with the space/time continuum. And does this mean that all those earlier films in the franchise now no longer exist?

The film is set in 1973, a time of the Vietnam War and Watergate, and this familiar backdrop casts a pall of cynicism and mistrust over proceedings. Singer and his production team have done a great job of authentically capturing the look and feel of the period, with the costumes, waterbeds, lava lamps, cars, and props. We get to meet a sleazy President Nixon, and Roberta Flack’s hit The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face features prominently on the soundtrack.

There are also some great special effects, which have been incorporated into the action quite seamlessly. There are two standout sequences – one in which Magneto plonks a massive baseball stadium around the White House during the climax, and the other is a shootout in the Pentagon kitchen when everything seems to freeze while Quicksilver rearranges the action at lightning speed.

There are some new characters introduced here, the most memorable of which is Quicksilver (played by Evan Peters), a teenage slacker who moves so fast that it seems like time stands still around him. In a movie jam packed with characters like this one, inevitably some of the peripheral characters are given short shrift and come and go without really registering. There is a darker edge to those scenes in which a number of mutants wage a desperate last ditch struggle against the overwhelming forces of the sentinels. A number of lesser mutant characters are killed off. These scenes are shot in dark and moody style that befits their darker edge.

Singer has assembled a great cast here, with most of the main X-Men: First Class cast reprising their roles. Most of the cast get quite a bit of screen time, although the likes of Shawn Ashmore, Halle Berry and Omar Sy (from The Intouchables) are wasted. Stewart and McKellen are both stalwarts of the London stage and the franchise, but here they are given little to do. Indeed, Stewart may as well have phoned in his performance here as he doesn’t seem to be emotionally connected to his character at all.

However, it is mainly Jackman, McAvoy, Fassbender and Lawrence (almost unrecogniseable under layers of blue makeup) who do most of the heavy lifting. They acquit themselves well in both the emotional scenes as well as the more physically demanding action sequences. This is the eighth time that Jackman has played the character of Wolverine, and he brings a taciturn quality and droll sense of humour to the familiar character. While fans may want him to do more in the way of action, Jackman seems quite comfortable with his role here.

Dinklage makes Trask a little more complex than your average comic book villain. Singer admits that he based the character on Adolf Hitler; but this mad scientist seems to be also driven by the Napoleon syndrome – a small man who wants to rule the world. Ellen Page mainly has to pout and look worried.

Nonetheless, this is arguably the best film in the X-Men franchise to date and goes along way to make up for the mistake that was Brett Ratner’s X-Men: The Last Stand. X-Men: Days Of Future Past is dark in tone, but it is also tinged with welcome touches of humour and ironic nods to the whole X-Men mythology. It will be interesting to see how the fanboys respond to this film that bridges the gap between the two X-Men franchises as they argue over the relative merits of each strand.

And as with most films in the Marvel canon, there is a post-credits teaser that sets up the possible direction for the proposed sequel X-Men: Apocalypse, which Singer is slated to direct.

★★★☆

 

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