25 May 2014

X-Men: Days of Future Past Review

I have a bit of a mixed view of the X-Men series. X-Men was okay, X2 was great, X-Men: The Last Stand is not as bad as people make it out to be (I just did a defense of the film here), whilst X-Men Origins: Wolverine is. X-Men: First Class is excellent and The Wolverine is just okay. It's a pretty mixed record when it comes to the films and with this film, the franchise has gone back to its roots, getting Bryan Singer back to direct an adaptation of one of the most popular story arcs in X-Men history, Days of Future Past and has made another great X-Men film.
The plot concerns a future world where mutants have been hunted into near extinction by the Sentinels, with humans who will have mutant children or grandchildren also being targeted. In a last ditch effort to prevent the war, Wolverine is sent back in time in order to get the younger Professor X and Magneto together to stop Mystique from assassinating Bolivar Trask, the creator of the Sentinels. Complicating matters is that, during this time, Xavier did not have his telepathic abilities, sacrificing them in order to walk. What really works about the plot is that the division of Xavier, Mystique and Magneto forms the main basis of the plot with Wolverine taking a bit of a back seat which works because these are the more interesting characters. Within all of this we see the guilt faced by Xavier over all the students at his school being drafted to fight in Vietnam and the abandonment that the characters all feel, Xavier feeling abandoned by Magneto after the events of First Class, Magneto feeling abandoned due to many of the mutants introduced in First Class being killed and the feelings of isolation that Mystique feels after spending so much time alone. What also works is that the future with the Sentinels does feel like it can come about since Mutants did show a clear threat in the world and the feelings of horror at mutants feel really genuine. Another thing the film does is that it essentially erases all the films except First Class from continuity, providing a fresh start for the X-Men series. However, there are a few things that aren't explained in the film, such as how Kitty was able to send Wolverine back in time when there was never any indication she could do this before, how did Xavier and Beast know that Magneto was accused of killing JFK and being held in the Pentagon when none of the other mutants knew, in fact, how were the events of the original X-Men films even meant to take place if Magneto was arrested for killing the President which I'm pretty sure is a life-means-life imprisonment. Still, these issues don't really detract from the overall plot of the film.

A major reason why the film works so well is because of the main cast. James McAvoy is brilliant as the young Xavier, showing a lot of guilt over not being able to stop his students being drafted and fully showing why he chose to sacrifice his powers in order to walk. Michael Fassbender meanwhile is just as good here as he was in First Class, showing how he believes that we he is doing will help prevent the war. Jennifer Lawrence acts a lot more like the Mystique from the original films and does a lot better with this material, showing her disdain for Xavier and fully shows why she believes assassinating Trask would work. Peter Dinklage meanwhile has this quiet threatening presence as Trask which makes him a great villain whilst also showing that his desire to eliminate mutants does have some root in his own disability (and before anyone mentions it, the film makes it abundantly clear that Bolivar Trask is NOT the same Trask played by Bill Duke in X-Men: The Last Stand). Nicholas Hoult gets a lot of the best lines in the film and, whilst Wolverine doesn't really do that much, Hugh Jackman still does a great job. The biggest surprise for me though was Quicksilver. Based on the promotional material I thought the character would be awful but Evan Peters steals the film with a very fast paced personality with a particular highlight being his look of utter boredom over having to walk slowly. There are a few cast members that feel wasted though. Out of the future scenes, only Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart and Ellen Page are given good stuff to work with and play a major role with their performances being great. Whilst Halle Berry, Fan Bingbing, Omar Sy, Daniel Cudmore, Shawn Ashmore, Booboo Stewart and Adam Canto don't get a lot to work with, they give good performances whilst Josh Helman as William Stryker gives a good job and helps cement X-Men Origins: Wolverine not being in continuity.

On a technical level, this film is the best out of all the films. Whilst there are a lot of elements from the original films here, including the music and the style of opening credits, everything is done a lot better here than in the other films. Bryan Singer directs some of the best action of his career with the Quicksilver scenes being a highlight, along with making great use of Blink's power to create portals. There's this great scale to all of the action scenes in the film that give the film a bit more heft. This is also helped by the incredible design of the Sentinels with the 1970s design being more reminiscent of the comics whilst the future Sentinels just give off this sense of threat and fear, letting you know why they were able to destroy the world so effectively especially in the opening of the film.

Overall, X-Men: Days of Future Past is a brilliant film. Whilst some plot issues and the wasting of a fair bit of the cast mean that it doesn't reach the high of First Class the strength of the characters, the overall plot and the brilliant direction by Bryan Singer makes this a fitting way to give the X-Men series a fresh start.

My Rating: 4/5

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