Director: Bryan Singer
Writer: Simon Kinberg
Stars: Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence
Release date: May 22nd, 2014
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Running time: 131 minutes
Best part: The kinetic action sequences.
Worst part: The slight tonal shifts.
I’m going to state a fact that will make almost every cinema-goer feel incredibly old: the original X-Men movie was released 14 years ago. Kicking off the current, and seemingly unending, wave of big-budget superhero flicks, the original threw mutant powers, attractive stars, and thought-provoking issues at a modest $75 million budget. Today, this amount feels insignificant compared to the sums thrown at blockbusters like The Avengers and the Amazing Spider-Man instalments. This year, the latest adventure, X-Men: Days of Future Past, takes the franchise in a new and wholly welcome direction.
Attempting to revitalise a once-declining saga, Days of Future Past comes out swinging and, for the most part, pulls off more miracles than effect shots. After the thumbs-up success of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and thumbs-down debacle of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Days of Future Past proves just how prescient and touching these blockbusters can be in the right hands. Unlike the latest Spider-Man instalment, this movie ties multiple ideas together without giving off the overwhelming aura of studio interference. In this intricate and entertaining instalment, the X-Men characters we know and love – and even some of those we only mildly tolerate – come together after years of bickering and battling. The plot picks up with our heroes struggling to survive a 2023 Terminator-like apocalyptic wasteland, situated atop where our world once stood. Infected by destructive robots known as the Sentinels, the Earth houses mutant and human inhabitants under strict control. In the opening sequence, Several younger mutants try and fail to fight off the all-powerful Sentinels. Landing at a mountain-carved base, Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Storm (Halle Berry), Charles Xavier/Professor X (Patrick Stewart), and Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (Ian McKellen) have a plan to end the war before it can begin. Sent back to a Nixon-drenched 1973 by Kitty Pride/Shadowcat (Ellen Page), Logan must find the younger Xavier (James McAvoy), Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender), and Hank McCoy/Beast (Nicholas Hoult) to prevent a vengeful Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from assassinating slimy military scientist/Sentinel developer Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage).
Despite all this, the greatest assignment, related to this production, has been handed to screenwriter Simon Kinberg. Avoiding hiring multiple screenwriters – unlike most modern blockbusters – Kinberg’s task revolved around tying the original X-Men trilogy, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, The Wolverine, and X-Men: First Class‘ timelines together. Being a stressful and obstacle-laden mission, this labyrinthine system pays off more often than not. Thanks to its favourable character arcs, tangible plot threads, and valuable thematic details, Days of Future Past smoothens out the franchise’s rough edges. X-Men and X2 director Bryan Singer returns with a grand vision in mind. Legitimising even the franchise’s most frustrating instalments, the narrative is never tied down by its exhaustive number of super-powered creations. Moving at a rollicking pace, exposition and questionable explanations are pushed aside in favour of awe-inspiring action sequences and memorable character beats. Efficiently, the story’s time travel laws are discussed and dropped at opportune moments. After Logan’s time-jump, fun comedic moments and solid performances elevate this otherwise confusing thrill-ride. In fact, Logan’s journey is the movie’s strongest asset. In the first 70s-set scene, the clawed crusader must contend with mobsters, half-naked ladies, lava lamps, and water beds. Making for an impressive sequence, Logan’s amusing facial expressions deliver the most essential details. Of course, like with the preceding instalments, the historical and social aspects cast an inspired shadow over the action-heavy narrative. Comparing Nazi Germany and the Vietnam War to the West’s stranglehold over Earth, major events and emotion-fuelled moments amplify this series’ true merits.
“All those years wasted fighting each other, Charles…but at least we got a few of them back.” (Magneto (Ian McKellen), X-Men: Days of Future Past).
However, the average filmgoer, looking beyond the Paris Peace Accords and John F. Kennedy’s assassination, is expecting to see our favourite mutants showing off their extraordinary abilities. For better or worse, those sequences fuel a good portion of the exhaustive 130-minute run-time. Some effects, ranging from Toad’s whip-like tongue to Iceman’s slick manoeuvres, overpower certain scenes. Occasionally, some set pieces come off as excessive more so than necessary. In fact, the excessive number of characters and superpowers occasionally shifts the tone. However, the grander set pieces, along with the eclectic 70s aesthetic, bolster this ambitious saga. The Paris sequence, crossing several plot-strands at once, delivers intensifying and heartfelt jolts. With allegiances and motivations tested by significant political events, this sequence sets certain characters on edge whilst introducing the world to our lead characters. In addition, the climactic battle in Washington D.C. could be the year’s best set piece. Thanks to Magneto’s stadium-raising prowess, this sequence caps off this already sumptuous and captivating superhero drama. Thankfully, despite limiting some major characters’ screen-time, the leads re-invigorate their roles. Jackman, in his 7th outing as Logan/Wolverine, carries this confronting narrative with style and charisma. Perfecting his character’s gruff tone and purposeful mannerisms, Jackman’s prowess remains immortal. McAvoy and Fassbender delve deeper into their roles with effervescent turns. Meanwhile, in and out of the blue make-up, Lawrence and Hoult make for worthy members of this ever-expanding cast.
Admittedly, I have a soft spot for this franchise. Having grown up with this series blaring into my consciousness, I eagerly anticipate every instalment. Thankfully, Days of Future Past is a mature, exciting, and meaningful instalment. Legitimising this series in this post-Avengers era, this instalment rights some wrongs and justifies each character and storyline’s inclusion. From Quicksilver’s bullet-time sequence to Xavier’s resurrection via Cerebro, the movie delivers more outstanding moments than superpowers (and that’s saying something).