Movie Review: X-Men Days of Future Past

Ooh boy, been waiting for this one for a while…

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Starring:
Hugh Jackman, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender
Director:
Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects, X-Men)
Rating: M
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What’s this? A good multi-superhero movie that isn’t made by Marvel Studios?

As movie franchises go, the X-Men movies mean a lot to me. Not only do I remember where I was when I first saw X-Men III: The Last Stand in cinemas back in 2006, I also remember what I was wearing and who I was with. I was so damn excited for that movie and to see it play out as such a mess after the first two X-Men films had literally made me interested in comic book mythology was not the greatest feeling. Three years later the release of the underdone and just generally awful X-Men Origins: Wolverine meant the franchise was suddenly “only 50% good”, and while 2011’s X-Men First Class was a triumphant return to form with a fun political twist and last year’s The Wolverine didn’t suck, the franchise was still lagging far behind the efforts of Disney’s Marvel cinematic universe. And there was still that lingering bad taste in my mouth from 2006. Well, not anymore.

After several directors tried their hand at making X-Men movies over the last decade, the man behind the first two, Bryan Singer, has returned to the main chair and wasted very little time re-asserting his dedicated vision for the series. He does so by visiting one of the most famous X-Men comic book stories ever written, although even with a few simplifications and character reshuffles it’s still a meaty proposition. To boil the plot down, the X-Men of the first cinematic trilogy, along with some newcomers and Magneto, live in a post-apocalyptic version of the year 2023, where mutants and humans alike are hunted down and either exterminated or enslaved by the Sentinels, a collection of super-scary bio-engineered robots capable of adapting themselves to counter any mutant power. In order to combat a foe who has essentially already won, Hugh Jackman‘s Wolverine is sent back in time (supposedly because his healing factor makes him the only candidate strong enough to withstand the process – bear with me here) to the 1970s. There he must bring together the depressed and drug-addicted younger version of Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and the incarcerated JFK assassination suspect Magneto (Michael Fassbender) in order to convince Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) not to assassinate the creator of the Sentinels, Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) so that the US government won’t panic and go after her Sentinel-crucial DNA. He has a limited time to do this, because the future X-Men are just about out of hiding places. It’s a lot to take in.

To get the most out of this potentially convoluted tale, a lot of fat has been trimmed. Indeed Singer has little to no interest in newcomers to the franchise and, for better or for worse, you will be lost if you haven’t seen both the original X-Men trilogy and First ClassExposition is reserved just for the plot here, rather than explaining who characters are, where they come from and how they discovered their powers. The result is a wonderfully rapid pace and a tight focus on story that keeps things as streamlined as is possible in this kind of movie, but it may alienate some viewers.

My biggest fear for Days of Future Past in the lead-up to its release, and one of the principle reasons why I tempered my expectations, was the sheer size of its mutant cast as revealed to the public over the past few months. February’s massive rollout of 25 unique Empire Magazine covers, most of which highlighted new characters, had me feeling an ominous sense of The Last Stand deja vu. Perhaps the film’s greatest achievement is that things don’t feel overcrowded despite its truly staggering volume of onscreen personnel. In the wake of The Wolverine‘s relative success with a tiny cast and The Amazing Spider-Man 2‘s significant missteps with a big one, this is particularly impressive. Screen time is allocated sparingly and with purpose, which is a much easier task when you don’t have to retread old ground with returning characters. Old favourites from the first Singer trilogy get mere minutes, if that, fulfilling their role as part of a believable unit and no more. A quartet of newcomers. led by Chinese superstar Fan Bingbing as team playmaker Blink, exist only to execute some of the coolest superpowered team-up moves I’ve ever seen in a movie, with real and tragic stakes backing them up to urge the past timeline forward. Days of Future Past well and truly belongs to the 1970s half of the core cast, but the others add considerably to the richness of the production, rather than distracting from it.

There are plenty of memorable sequences strewn throughout the movie, including creative action set pieces, verbal character face-offs and an emotionally intense moment involving the two versions of Charles Xavier. It’s also really good to see a movie that finally gives Beast (here portrayed by First ClassNicholas Hoult) some room to move about and get his hands dirty. But the best of the lot belongs to the film’s breakout character, Evan Peters‘ Quicksilver, whose hilariously carefree attitude and cleverly showcased powers turn him into an absolute highlight. He isn’t the only source of humour in the film, either, with just enough quips and site gags present to ensure that the otherwise heavy plot doesn’t weigh itself down.

As superhero film properties go, I am particularly biased towards X-Men, so it’s a real pleasure to get a film that ticks as many boxes as Days of Future Past. Bringing back Bryan Singer was not, as I had feared, a step backwards for the franchise, but a justified motion of confidence in a passionate and capable director. Give yourself a prior movie refresher and then go see it – it’s unlikely you will regret it. Oh, and stay till the very end of the credits.

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THE VERDICT

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Good:
Several standout scenes, surprisingly tidy story, cracking pace, balance of humour and pathos
Bad:
Very reliant on prior audience viewing
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4.5 VsI N C R E D I B L E

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