X-Men: Days Of Future Past (2014)

Days Of Future Past

In 1973 the death of Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) and the subsequent capture of his killer Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) leads the United States government to pursue the late inventor’s sentinel programme. Fifty years later, Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), Erik Lehnsherr (Ian McKellen), Ororo Munroe (Halle Berry), Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) and Logan (Hugh Jackman) are among the last mutants remaining after the shape-shifting robots have exterminated most of their kind. Using Kitty’s powers, Charles and Eric send Logan back in time to stop Mystique, save Trask and hopefully prevent the future as they know it from ever happening. In order to succeed he must seek out their younger selves (played by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender respectively), a task that is easier said than done given that they are no longer on speaking terms, with the former suppressing his abilities with the aid of a serum and the latter incarcerated miles beneath the Pentagon. Luckily, he has Beast (Nicholas Hoult) and Quicksilver (Evan Peters) to help him.

I think it’s safe to say that for a while there thing’s weren’t looking very good for 20th Century Fox’s flagship superhero franchise. The X-Men had been in a bad way for some time; the saga had devolved into three separate sub-series, the continuity of which had become convoluted, often contradictory, and its biggest box office draw — the now ubiquitous Hugh Jackman — was openly considering an early retirement. Worse, the story behind the camera was often as difficult to follow as that which was unfolding before it: first, director Bryan Singer left the celebrated trilogy he had started in the ill-equipped hands of Brett Ratner, then Gavin Hood pursued a Wolverine prequel only for Matthew Vaughn to reboot the series with a largely new cast, while most recently James Mangold took on a second Wolverine spin-off, which — just to confuse matters further — acted not as a sequel to Hood’s film or a spin-off from Vaughn’s but as a continuation of the original trilogy. I did my best to make sense of it all here.

Some faith was restored when Singer announced that he would be returning to the series he started, and the revelation that he would this time be adapting the revered Days Of Future Past storyline from the X-Men comics was met with (admittedly wary) optimism. What Singer had planned was certainly ambitious: to use a time-travel plot device to not only knit together the now disparate threads — each with its own cast, often playing the same characters — but to unpick some of the narrative knots introduced into the series by Ratner, Hood, Vaughn and Mangold. It seemed from the outside as though Singer was plotting not just a movie but a rescue mission, and though he has ultimately succeeded in putting the franchise back on track his efforts go far beyond papering over the cracks supposedly left by others. X-Men: Days Of Future Past is not simply course correction — the film doesn’t tie itself in loops trying to plug every single hole (you may remember Wolverine had his adamantium claws severed in the last film, yet he retains them here) — but an attempt at something bigger and more exciting.

Considering just how much ground he has to cover Singer tackles the first act with an astonishing lightness of touch. We are reunited with Kitty Pride — complete with hitherto unseen time-travelling abilities — in a brief but brilliant opening salvo that also introduces four new characters and establishes the film’s dystopian future timeline. Patrick Stewart then explains the stakes, while also dispensing with fifty-odd years of history and laying out the various obstacles that Logan must overcome in his mission to save the future from the past. Before you know it you’re transported back to the 1970s, watching Wolverine struggle out of a waterbed and into a floral shirt — cracking wise once again after ten minutes of action-packed but sober exposition. After five movies and one gratuitous cameo you could be forgiven for expecting another glorified vehicle for Jackman; however, not only does Singer somehow manage to breathe new life into the character by putting him into a novel situation but he manages to keep Logan under strict control and just to the edge of the spotlight. X-Men: Days Of Future Past feels like the missing piece of the puzzle, and once in place it becomes clear that the series isn’t really about him after all.

Singer may give the likes of Storm, Shadowcat and Iceman one last chance to shine (not to mention Daniel Cudmore’s Colossus, who after three films of relative inactivity finally gets something to do), but his focus is ultimately on the newer cast of 1973. Despite fears of overcrowding born from seemingly endless casting announcements, Days Of Future Past is in fact a surprisingly intimate affair. This is the story of two feuding friends, and of the young woman caught in their crossfire; as McAvoy’s Charles and Fassbender’s Erik pursue their individual ends, Lawrence’s Raven/Mystique is left to strike out on her own — a path that will ultimately lead mutant-kind towards extinction. A supporting character in the original trilogy, and somewhat underserved by Vaugh’s First Class, Mystique finally comes into her own, growing to embody the struggle between revenge and redemption that has been at the franchise’s core ever since day one. It’s such a perfect fit that you wonder if it has in fact been Singer’s plan all along — when Stewart (and later McAvoy) insists that it’s never too late to bring someone back from the brink, he could almost be speaking of the franchise itself.

Where Days Of Future Past really distinguishes itself, however, is in its surprisingly unspoiled and understated second half. It’s amazing just how little of the story has been given away in the film’s apparently excessive promotional materials. There comes a point after Mystique has saved Havok (Lucas Till) from Saigon and Professor X, Wolverine and Quicksilver (who makes an impression far exceeding the time he is actually onscreen) have freed Magneto from prison that you realise you have no idea what’s going to happen next. X-Men has always been the full package — offering not only superhero spectacle but also compelling characters and real satirical edge — and Singer weaves a story that makes absolute sense, whether you look at it from a logistical, emotional or historical standpoint. This gives the third act stakes not often seen in the superhero genre; Mystique’s soul, Charles and Erik’s friendship and fifty years of history (not to mention the films audiences have grown up with) are all on the line. By the time the film ends you will have laughed, you will have cried and you will have left Wolverine-esque gashes in the arms of your chair.

With Marvel having set a precedent in The Avengers, it seems that every studio with a superhero series to its name is pursuing an integrated mega-franchise. X-Men: Days Of Future Past is really the first film to deliver on this particular promise; Singer’s latest is an emotional, intelligent and thrilling movie in its own right but it’s also a part of something much, much bigger. It’s at once a conclusion (and an astonishingly satisfying one at that), a bridge between instalments (we get flashbacks/forwards to every film in the series) and a springboard for future adventures (I for one can’t wait to see more of Blink). Singer somehow manages to have his cake and eat it; rather than dismiss the films that came before, Days Of Future Past actually validates them — as if somehow elevating them by mere association with this towering achievement. He hasn’t just re-written history, he’s made it.

5-Stars

 

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About popcornaddiction
I am a psychology graduate, a News Writer for HeyUGuys/BestforFilm and, most importantly, a hopeless popcorn addict.

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