Monday, 14 July 2014

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
Directed by Bryan Singer; Starring Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence

Rating: 4/5

Once again, it’s time for another superhero movie – another superhero sequel to be precise. There have been a lot of these lately, but that seems to be the way of the world. Now, counting all spin-offs and prequels, we’re on the seventh X-Men movie, with an eighth confirmed to be on the way, continuing the franchise that started it all back in 2000. We’ve even got the original director Bryan Singer back in the chair, who previously abandoned the franchise to make the quickly forgotten Superman Returns (2006).

However, rather than take the easy route and reboot it, this film is an ambitious attempt to reconcile the existing storyline, tie up some of the loose ends of X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) and bring it all together with the cast of prequel X-Men: First Class (2011). The result ends up a little jumbled, and there are loads and loads of characters, and multiple actors playing certain characters, but perhaps that’s to be expected in any film involving time travel as a major plot point.

That’s right, as the title heavily implies, in a Back to the Future-style confusion of tenses, this film is largely set in the ‘70s, sometime after the events of First Class. It’s very easy for me to get behind such a film, chock full of retro vibes, cool cars, leather jackets, burgundy suits, sideburns and Richard Nixon.

Meanwhile in the future, the post-Last Stand world has decayed into a bleak apocalyptic landscape as a result of amazingly advanced mutant-killing robots, which have decimated the population by being too effective – not only do they kill mutants, but they kill those who recessively carry mutant genes and could give birth to mutants in the future.

Naturally, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) must go back in time to the ‘70s and stop these robots from being developed and mass-produced, ironically by preventing the assassination of their inventor, Bolivar Trask, as it was his death that made the US government see mutants as a credible threat and commission the robots. The delightfully sinister and manipulative Trask is played by Game of Thrones’ excellent Peter Dinklage.

Indeed, the cast as a whole is excellent, even if it is large. I never saw First Class, so ‘my’ X-Men remain that classic cast of thespians including Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, et al. Happily, they’re all back after so many years, which is great to see, even if they are only given limited screen time. The exception is Hugh Jackman, who inexplicably remains the closest thing to a leading man despite having two spin-offs of his own. Of course, Wolverine’s effortlessly cool, and he’s our temporal fish out of water, so who really cares anyway?

In the past, Wolverine runs into younger versions of all his comrades and nemeses, rounding out the ensemble to include Professor X (James McAvoy), Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence). The lines between friend and foe become blurred as Wolverine works hard to redeem the latter two whilst forcing the young Professor X to confront his demons.

Of note is the first appearance in the X-Men saga of the supersonic Quicksilver (Even Peters) who provides one of the most high-octane, humorous and entertaining sequences of the entire film, a super-fast prison break witnessed in slow motion. It’s a shame his character disappears shortly afterwards; probably because his presence would make everything else far too easy for the protagonists. 

The mutant saga is skilfully interwoven with mid-20th Century US history, including the Kennedy assassination and the Vietnam War. This sets the scene for a retro globetrotting adventure from Vietnam, to the Peace Conference in Paris, to a final showdown in Washington, D.C. All in all it’s an entertaining thrill ride, which (as its main raison d’ĂȘtre is storyline reconciliation) may alienate newcomers to the saga. However, as I said, I haven’t seen an X-Men film since The Last Stand and I still enjoyed it. It certainly makes me want to watch both First Class and the original trilogy once again. Maybe even the Wolverine spin-offs. Maybe.

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