Loosely based on one of the most iconic stories from the X-Men canon, X-Men: Days of Future Past throws a unique time-travel spin on the Superhero genre. The resultant film works as both a fresh installment in its own right and as a clever merger of the original trilogy and X-Men: First Class. The intricate story essentially follows Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, as he is sent back in time to the 1970s in order to prevent an assassination,that will effectively trigger an apocalyptic war in the future. One of the most impressive things about Days of Future Past is that it manages to execute its complex story and juggle its hybrid cast coherently. The film achieves this by functioning more as a sequel to First Class than to the original trilogy; as a result, director Brian Singer is able to wisely pinpoint a clear focus in terms of characters and story, so that the film never becomes an overcrowded mess.
The X-Men films (well the good ones at least) have always distinguished themselves by having more smarts than the average superhero movie. Days of Future Past is no exception. One of the film’s considerable strengths is that it (arguably) manages to deal with the smaller, character driven moments better than it does the explosive action sequences. Part of that is down to Singer’s direction, yet the real excellence doesn’t derive from him, but from the caliber of his cast and the screenplay.
McAvoy is his usual charming self and brings real pathos and vulnerability to a broken and disillusioned Charles Xavier. Fassbender also maintains the same level of cool and menace that he established in First Class, some of the film’s best scenes are the more intimate, talky moments between the two of them. Meanwhile Jennifer Lawrence has noticeably adapted to the role of Raven/Mystique and she’s given a great deal more importance this time round. Any cynics claiming that this new prominence is simply a cash-in on her post-Hunger Games stardom, should note that Mystique plays a similarly large role in the Chris Claremont story on which the film is based. Lawrence forms the emotional and narrative crux of the film and carries that weight expertly, justifying once again, why everyone loves her so damn much. All of the returning faces from the original trilogy supply the necessary heft and dramatic force that the story demands, whilst some of the new additions (Evan Peter’s in particular) also prove to be engaging screen presences. Naturally some people (most notably Ian McKellen and Peter Dinklage) feel a little sidelined but each member of the immense cast is more than capable enough to make an impression, even if they have a scarce amount of screen time in which to do so.
There are inevitably some issues however. Perhaps most obvious of all is that the film’s set-pieces rarely thrill in the same way that say, Avengers Assemble’s did. That’s not to say that there aren’t visually outstanding moments, there are, it’s just that Singer’s film struggles to rise to the same level of glorious spectacle that other comic books movies now dutifully deliver. The film’s climax is decidedly more emotionally driven than the usual destruction porn that obligatorily ends blockbusters nowadays. In fact, the scale of the movie is a lot smaller than it first appears. The true core of the film is actually located in its character development, particularly in the relationship between Raven and Xavier. Once that realization fully sinks in, the film turns out to be all the more satisfying for it. But whilst this is admirable, a little more gleeful carnage would have helped really elevate this into the best summer blockbusters of all time territory. What’s slightly irritating is that, there are great popcorn moments in the first half of the film that really do stand out. An opening skirmish between the X-Men of the future and the sentinels (formidable robot adversaries brilliantly brought to the screen by Singer) delivers witty, inventive action that sets a high bar for the film that follows. Likewise a prison break sequence towards the end of the first act sees the film reaching a peak which it struggles to reach again.
If it managed to keep on hitting these same heights, this could have been the greatest comic-book movie of all time. As it stands the latest X-Men film is frustratingly close to being outstanding. Not underwhelming, just frustratingly close to pure brilliance. Nonetheless, this is one sequel that can’t be accused of not advancing the story any further, in fact it moves several stories along and even rewrites others. Whilst we don’t quite get the perfect superhero film (which is by no means a disappointment) we do get engaging drama, flashes of excellence and terrific performances, all wrapped up in smarter than average storytelling.
X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014), directed by Brian Singer, is distributed in the UK by Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation , Certificate 12A.