After the disappointment of Godzilla last week, I needed this to be good. Fortunately it is, it’s very good.
In some respects X-Men: Days of a Future Past is a direct sequel to three separate films, X-Men: The Last Stand, The Wolverine and X-Men: First Class, but it is the last of these it follows on from most.
Certainly we see Wolverine and his original trilogy compadres some years on from their misadventures on Alcatraz Island but we don’t really get a sense of how these characters have moved on. They are just there, in some kind of dystopian future, survivors of an ongoing war against twelve foot mutant killing robots.
In fact the film is so unconcerned with the details behind this that it doesn’t even bother to explain how the biggest cliffhangers from the previous films have been resolved. It is as though returning director, Bryan Singer, didn’t have the energy or inclination to write himself out of the corners other film makers had put him in. Yeah, Professor Charles Xavier was dead and Wolverine was declawed but they’re not anymore so let’s move on.
The majority of the movie then is spent catching up with the younger Professor X, Eric ‘Magneto’ Lensherr and Mystique. It is now 1973, eleven years after the events of The Cuban Missile Crisis seen at the end of their last film. Lensherr is intense, charming and untrustworthy so no great change for him but Xavier has become a broken man and Mystique is now totally bad ass and all three actors, Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy and Jennifer Lawrence play them brilliantly.
Lawrence in particular has not played anyone this unforgiving before and she is really really good as it. She wasn’t the superstar she is now when she was cast for the last movie, and it is entirely possible that she wouldn’t necessarily be signing on for superhero films anymore but she has grown into the role superbly. Gone is the young actress who could shine with the right director and here to stay is the experienced performer who is great in everything she does. Not bad for a 23 year old. Make no mistake about it, we are witnessing the early career of a future Hollywood legend here and once again she is one of the best things in the movie she has made.
The X-Men films have always been good at balancing ensemble casts, or at least the first two were, but this time around they seem to have really set themselves a challenge. In addition to Xavier, Lensherr, Mystique and Wolverine, X-Men: Days of a Future Past also sees the return of Storm, Hank ‘Beast’ McCoy, Rogue, Kitty Pryde, Iceman, Colossus, Havok, Toad and William Stryker. Add to that new characters Bishop, Blink, Sunspot, Warpath, Ink, Nixon, Scarlet Witch (if you know how to spot her), Quicksilver and Boliver Trask (the last two of which are particular standouts). Also, while they may not appear in the film, there is even time to finish off the stories of Azazel, Angel, Jean Grey and Cyclops. There are clearly a lot of people to juggle but this is managed by making most of them incidental. The film only really concentrates on Wolverine, Professor X, Magneto, Mystique and Beast but while they may not get a lot of screen time, there isn’t a single one of those characters that is extraneous. Incidentally, on Beast, I am so glad they have sorted out his appearance this time. In the last movie he looked like something you’d bring home from Build-a-bear Workshop.
Getting back to Quicksilver and Trask, both of these are superb additions to the roster. Antagonist Boliver Trask is played by the excellent Peter Dinklage so it is no surprise that he is memorable but it is worth celebrating the total irrelevance of his achondroplasia. It isn’t often that an actor with dwarfism is cast in anything but the role of someone with dwarfism but here it isn’t a part of the role.
Evan Peters is also effortlessly compelling as the super speedy Peter ‘Quicksilver’ Maximoff. For various reasons of open character rights, Quicksilver will also be featured in Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron. On that occasion he will be portrayed by Peters’ Kick Ass co-star Aaron Taylor Johnson but that actor will need to up his game if he is going to compare (particularly after his bland showing in Godzilla). Peters very nearly steals the show and his main scene is just a total joy. Expect him back for the sequel.
The other great sequence in the film actually features the young oldies and their newbies colleagues in the future set opening of the film. Most blockbuster movies have the best action scene at the end but here it is right at the very start as Iceman, Colossus, Sunspot, Bishop, Kitty, Warpath and Blink fight off their robot aggressors. It doesn’t matter that the film peaks early in this respect as what it treats us with after is great performances, characterisation, story and script. A less confident director may have felt the need to concentrate on having ever more bombastic action but Singer knows the strengths of what he’s got here and that is not his priority. Too many recent adventure films have finished with big explosive shooting, punching and shouting battles, Avengers, Iron Man 3 and Captain America 2 included, and this film is a nice change from that.
Wolverine remains the lynchpin of the film series and, seven films in, Hugh Jackman is still good in his signature role. It is a different Logan we are seeing here though. He seems to have lost his edge just a little and only displays his typical berserk rage on one brief occasion. There are story reasons for this with Xavier playing the acerbic card instead but the character has lost something, for this film at least.
The story does not seem entirely original either but consider that the comic on which it this based was published in 1981. Nonetheless for a cinema audience there are elements of this that will seem familiar and TerminatriX-Men would not have been an ill fitting title. It does not matter though, this latest X-Men movie is just a lot of fun.
The film can play it serious without taking itself too seriously, it is often comic, has an engaging story and excellent performances. What more do you want from a popcorn picture? (Certainly not a giant lizard.) Days of Future Past is definitely recommended. Providing that you’ve seen parts 1 – 3 because you do need to have done.
Incidentally, that dude in the post credit sequence is Apocalypse, the oldest and most powerful of all the mutants. Since the next film has been announced as X-Men: Apocalypse, we can assume it is just set up for that. (I had to look that one up. I recognised Thanos but this guy represents a gap in my knowledge. I clearly didn’t spend enough of my teenage years reading comic books after all.)
The ISWYS Test
Despite the gender biased moniker, the X-Men films have always represented women well. Less so the Wolverine spin offs but the main movies have given us superheroines to match the superheroes. This latest film may be a step back in this respect as it does concentrate on the boys but Mystique as the female lead is a great character. Her motivations may not always be altruistic but they are understandable. Also when you consider the cool stuff that Storm, Kitty and Blink get to up to in the action scenes then I think overall this earns a score of 3 out of 3.
Is this one for the kids?
The good thing about having characters who can turn to solid ice or metal is that you can do some pretty violent things to them without it getting messy. Generally the violence is what you’d expect from a 12A superhero film.
Of course you do have Jennifer Lawrence parading around in little more than a few strategically placed prosthetics and blue body paint but actually her hue does make this a little less obvious, a little less.
There is some drug use as well and while it is medicinal, the character in question is a bit of an addict. If you see it with young children you may have to explain why he has a tight band strapped round his upper arm at one point.