On the Silver Screen – X-Men: Days of Future Past
Bryan Singer returns to the franchise he created with X-Men: Days of Future Past and basically proves that he should never have left in the first place. This film adapts the famous Chris Claremont comic book story Days of Future Past and unites both eras of cinematic X-Men characters in a way that is both satisfying and a lot of fun.
The story is that the future is a bleak and desperate time for mutants and humans alike. Machines called Sentinels have wiped out most of the mutants, most of the humans who sympathise with those mutants and anyone who will likely have mutant offspring -yes they are that good. There are a few survivors who are struggling to remain alive lead by Patrick Stewart’s Professor Charles Xavier and Ian McKellen’s Eric Lehnsherr (Magneto). The film doesn’t mess around with how horrific all of this is and gives the distinct impression of how inevitable their annihilation is.
All hope isn’t lost and a plan is hatched to undo this devastating war before it ever begins, that plan consists of sending Wolverine’s (Hugh Jackman) consciousness back in time to inhabit his younger body, find the younger Xavier and Magneto then get them to prevent the event that butterfly effected into the grim future they all live in. It’s an ambitious plan that naturally faces quite a few problems that the narrative does in some way address, there is a pseudo explanation given that gets around the “why don’t they just do this all the time from now on?” question somewhat and the difficulties of such a procedure are not ignored. The science of it all is somewhat questionable but the rules are laid down and stuck to so there’s definite props for that.
The majority of the film takes place in 1973 where Wolverine recruits a young Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) who initially set out to stop Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from murdering Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage). There is a massive tonal shift between the two time periods, the future being morbid, dark and unsettling and the past being much lighter and more hopeful. Surprisingly none of the film feels disconnected which is a testament to Singer’s skill in making all of this work as well as the slick screenplay from Simon Kinberg showing a massive degree of respect for the franchise and the characters. There are many easter eggs that will make longtime fans of the film and comic franchise happy as well as some really funny character based humour.
I really liked the 1973 set parts of the film. McAvoy and Fassbender do excellent turns as their characters who have aged about ten years since X-Men: First Class. Aside from not looking ten years older than they appeared in that movie there is a definite sense of progression in those characters who are both very different from their appearance in the previous film. McAvoy’s Xavier is an Xavier that we haven’t really seen before, far from the wise mentor figure that Patrick Stewart portrayed in the original trilogy. This Xavier is tortured by loss and has all but lost hope. I do wonder what would have shaken him back into action had the time travel not occurred. McAvoy has a lot of fun with the character, always seeming on the brink of snapping and only beginning to realise the potential his idea for the school has by the end which gives him a long way to go before he becomes the Xavier we’re all so used to seeing. He really is a great version of the character and a joy to watch.
Fassbender’s Magneto is also fantastic. He plays a man very much governed by his emotions, angry at the world for the treatment of mutants and angry at Xavier for seemingly giving up on what he believed in. I could detect more of McKellen’s mannerisms in his voice as well as his physical movements showing a defined movement towards that part of the character. Fassbender’s Magneto hasn’t got as far to go to become his future self because he was pretty close to that character by the end of the last one but he exhibits traits that are common to youth like anger and an impulsive nature causing him to act without really thinking about it. McKellen’s Magneto is more sedate and measured in his methodology which is something that Fassbender’s version has yet to grow into. He feels very much like the same character but at a much earlier stage of his life and Fassbender portrays that expertly.
Similarly Nicholas Hoult seems to have grown into his role as Beast, I thought his performance was somewhat ropey in the previous film but he does much better here. I really felt that he was more of the character that I wanted to see last time. I wasn’t totally on board with his Hulk like transformations but I can’t fault his performance.
Rising megastar Jennifer Lawrence nails it as Mystique too, she’s becoming more like the Rebecca Romijin version of the character with her impressive martial arts skills as well as her cold and detached methodology but there are still shades of the young, tortured Raven character that was introduced in the last film, she definitely comes across as a transition between one part of the character’s life and the other. I look forward to future installments and seeing her progress further. Jennifer Lawrence is a wonderful actress and plays this role very well.
Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine is pretty much as you’d expect him to be, his familiarity with the character is extensive and he doesn’t drop the ball in this installment. If anything, he’s a far calmer version than we’re used to who has the benefit of years spent in the company of those who are a positive influence on him but he is still at war with his savage nature and still tortured by his tumultuous past. As always, a spot on performance of the character.
Peter Dinklage’s Bolivar Trask is well acted enough but I feel that a bit more work could have been done to establish him as a character. We find out that he has something against mutants and that he wants to wipe them out but we never really get an idea why, his motivations are somewhat unclear. If you look at Striker in X2 then it’s clear why he hates mutants and why he’d like to wipe them out but that underlying reasoning just isn’t here with Trask. He’s a good character who is played well but as a villainous force he is somewhat weak.
One major surprise was Evan Peters’ Quicksilver. From the trailers and images it looked like he was going to be somewhat ridiculous but I loved him, he was arrogant, hotheaded, irritating in a good way and massively sarcastic. I liked how his powers were portrayed and I loved how he even talks quickly, he comes across as someone who perceives the world faster than everyone else. The sequence where he uses his super speed to save the others from death was excellent. It is a shame that it’s such a small appearance but what we got was excellent, Whedon’s version has a lot to live up to here.
It’s not really worth saying a lot about the rest of the cast as they are relegated to little more than cameos. A big deal was made out of Omar Sy’s Bishop appearing in the film but he has such a small role that it’s barely worth mentioning. That being said it was great to see much of the old cast together again if only for a short while. Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen collectively steal the show in the future set scenes but Ellen Page’s Kitty Pride is worthy of note as well. I really want to see more of her playing that character.
One thing that I really liked is that Wolverine is prominent in the film but the bulk of the story doesn’t revolve around him, he’s the catalyst for the story and is responsible for getting things moving but he doesn’t take center stage here, the focus of this tale is the relationship between Xavier, Magneto and Mystique, all who have complex relationships with one another. Magneto and Xavier both feel responsible for Mystique turning out the way she does in some way while Mystique is driven on her own mission. Wolverine doesn’t really play any part in all of that, other than reminding Xavier what is important and telling him what needs to be done.
As with any super hero movie there are a number of set pieces to behold. Singer does a great job of bringing these across, from Quicksilver’s high speed hijinks to a losing battle against Sentinels in the future there’s plenty of variety here and the characters are never forgotten in the larger scale stuff. The best sequence in the film is the aforementioned Quicksilver one which looks great and is hilarious.
It’s also worth noting that there’s a fair amount of swearing in this movie and it is actually pretty violent for a 12A, something worth considering before taking younger children to see this. I’m not saying I was shocked by it or anything but those things did stand out.
This was a fantastic movie which potentially takes the crown as being the best of the X-Men franchise. Bryan Singer and Simon Kinberg bring their love of the characters into this film and inject some great humour into what is very much a dark story. The film never forgets to have fun with the time period of the 70s with some great jokes regarding the technology of the time and always remembers that the focus of this should always be on the characters. The villain could have been better and I’d have liked to see Wolverine do some damage in the future scenes but those are fairly minor criticisms. Singer is directing the next movie X-Men: Apocalypse and very much proves why he should here. It’s good to have him back and long may his connection to this franchise continue. Also, stay through the credits for an extra scene.