While casting envious eyes at the success of “The Avengers” and making plans to attempt to replicate its success, DC/ Warner Brothers have overlooked the other advantage Marvel have over them: there’s more than one studio making Marvel movies. Warner Bros simply doesn’t have the financial resources to match the combined might of Disney, Sony and 20th Century Fox. Simply put, there will always be more Marvel product on offer than DC. This year alone, we’ve had “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2”, “X-Men: Days Of Future Past” and soon “Guardians Of The Galaxy”. Meanwhile Warner Brothers have managed to release a photo of Batman and the Batmobile, and have their chief writer piss off comic book fans across the world.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-DC or anti-Warner Brothers. I really, really want “Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice” to be great (and have a better title), it’s just that while they’re tinkering away with their mysterious blockbuster, their rivals are raising the bar. Case in point: “X-Men: Days Of Future Past”.
As a film franchise, the X-Men have a patchy track record despite consistently having the best cast any superhero movie has ever managed to – ahem – assemble. For all the success (“X-Men”, “X-Men: First Class”, “The Wolverine”), there have been some duds (“X-Men: The Last Stand”, “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”). There’s also been one triumph (“X-Men 2”). Some franchises desperately wish they could go back and rewrite history. Bryan Singer’s brazenly confident return to the mutant universe does just that, with style, gusto and a sly grin on its face.
“X-Men: Days Of Future Past” may be the most comic book comic book movie yet. Very little quarter is given to anyone unfamiliar with all but the most conventionally well-known X-Men and there is little effort to introduce any of them before the action kicks off. Add to that the twisty-turney timey-wimey nature of the plot and you’ve got a powerful mixture which will delight comic fans but may leave the more casual viewer scratching their head quite a bit. As a gift to X-Men fans, though, it’s something to savour.
The action begins in the near future, slightly jarringly, a considerable time after the end credits teaser scene of “The Wolverine”. At least Magneto has used the time to sort Wolverine out with a shiny new set of metal claws after the brouhaha with the Silver Samurai cut him to the bone. The world is a desolate and dark place where near-invincible Sentinels hunt down and control humans and mutants alike. A small band of X-men remain active: Shadowcat (Ellen Page), Iceman (Shawn Ashmore), Bishop (Omar Sy), Colossus (Daniel Cudmore), Blink (Fan Bingbing), Sunspot (Adan Canto) and Warpath (Booboo Stewart) who use Shadowcat’s time shifting power to escape repeated Sentinel attacks, resetting the timeline by a few days to change their personal histories.
When the group rendezvous with Storm (Halle Berry), Magneto (Ian McKellen), Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), they realise their only hope is to send Wolverine back into the past to change the course of history and make sure the Sentinel war never happens. Unfortunately, back in 1973, the X-Men are defeated and disparate. Magneto (Michael Fassbender) languishes in a maximum security prison at the heart of the Pentagon while Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) is pursuing her own vendetta across the globe. Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) is a drunken shadow of his former self, looked after by a similarly downcast Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult). Wolverine’s only hope to unite the mutants and put a stop to Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage)’s Sentinal Programme is to get the help of an old acquaintance: Peter Maximoff aka Quicksilver (Evan Peters).
Although the cast is so big it almost overwhelms the film, it’s structured cleverly so the bulk of the action takes place in the 1970s with the future-set portions largely acting as book ends, with a couple of brief plot-driven exceptions. Singer has lost none of his talent for staging great superhero action sequences and although he doesn’t have the luxury of the time to introduce the newer mutants to the audience personally, he does a sensational job of letting their abilities speak for themselves. The future set scenes are especially inventive as we see the X-men combine their powers during a dizzyingly multifaceted battle with the unstoppable sentinels. The 1970’s scenes aren’t quite so spectacular or kinetic, with one massive exception: the scenes involving Quicksilver are absolutely magnificent. You can let go of all your doubts and fears you had after pictures of the character were released – he’s done brilliantly in this film and it firmly throws down the gauntlet to Joss Whedon to do the character similar justice in “Avengers: Age Of Ultron”.
Jackman brings his usual charismatic swagger to Wolverine. He’s so comfortable in the role now that even he – for all his talk of imminent retirement – can’t really bring himself to quit it. Fassbender seems more subdued than usual though and maybe because so much of the story rests on her character, Jennifer Lawrence seems a little uncomfortable in the make-up this time round. I could go on through the nearly endless roll call but suffice to say there isn’t one member of the cast who doesn’t deliver what’s needed and as an ensemble, they’re impossible to beat, and that’s before the cavalcade of cute cameos towards the end. Bryan Singer even gets in on the action with a Hitchock-esque cameo as one of the camera men during the Paris peace conference.
If the film has a flaw, it’s in the pacing which is pretty uneven and at times the film becomes a little too talky for its own good. Part of this is necessary to bring the characters from where they were at the end of “X-Men: First Class” to where they need to be now but much of it is due to the need for a lot of exposition and Singer’s fondness for the characters themselves (“Superman Returns” suffered the same problem to a much greater extent). When the action or intensity are high, it’s dazzling, but there are undeniably moments where it feels a little sluggish. The script is sharp and peppered with good one-liners, although it is conspicuously sweary, perhaps in an attempt to bolster the 1970’s vibe of the main action but it might make this otherwise family-friendly super-hero blockbuster unsuitable for younger children or those prone to repeating all those interesting words the Mum and Dad don’t seem to like.
I’m trying very hard to keep this review spoiler free so rather than geek out about the way the film ends, I’ll just say this: if you’re one of those people who think “Man Of Steel” is being treated disrespectfully by having its sequel actually be more about another bunch of characters than Superman himself, then brace yourself because “X-Men: Days Of Future Past” pulls off the most audacious case of retconning movies have ever seen.
Although for my money, “X-Men 2” retains its crown as the best cinematic outing for the X-Men so far, the margin of victory over “X-Men: Days Of Future Past” is (adamantium) razor-thin. Both generations of cinematic X-Men are served well in this fusing and healing entry in the franchise and with a brief post credits stinger pointing towards 2016’s “X-Men: Apocalypse”, the future looks bright for mutant-kind and audiences alike.