In Cinemas Now- X-Men Days of Future Past: Review by William McClean

X-Men: Days of Future Past (****)

Certificate 12A

Runtime: 132 min

Directed by Bryan Singer

Starring- Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult Patrick Stewart, Ian Mckellen, Ellen Page and Peter Dinklage.

(Movie House Cityside Preview screening 21/05/2014)

BRYAN Singer jumped ship on the X-Men series 11 years ago in favour of his ill-fated Superman Returns project, but now he returns to tackle the most ambitious instalment within the franchise to date. Singer has the unenviable task of bringing Chris Claremont’s classic graphic-novel Days of Future Past to the big screen, a feature that serves as a sequel to both Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class and Brett Ratner’s underwhelming X-Men: The Last Stand.

Whereas First Class played out like an old school Cold War thriller, Days of Future Past feels much more like a good old-fashioned science-fiction time-traveling yarn, with clear nods to the Terminator franchise and even J.J. Abram’s recent Star Trek reboot. Its complex time-bending plot brings together two generations of X-Men onscreen with very little time for exposition and setup. New mutants such as Blink, Bishop and Warpath appear alongside older familiar faces with very little in the way of an introduction as the film romps through its runtime.

Patrick Stewart’s opening narration sets up the film’s basic premise, with mutant’s facing near certain extinction in a bleak dystopian future as they battle the infamous mutant hunting sentinels. In a last-ditch attempt to safe-guard their very existence Stewart’s Professor Xavier and Ian McKellen’s Magneto hatch an adieus scheme to send Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back in time to save their future.

Jackman’s character cast in a similar role to that of Michael Biehn’s Kyle Reece in the first Terminator movie is sent back into the consciousness of his younger self during the 1970s and tasked with the responsibility of seeking out the younger Xavier and Magneto, played by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender respectively. He must convince them to begrudgingly work together and stop Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique from assassinating Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), an event that sets off an unstoppable chain of events that ultimately leads to the outbreak of the apocalyptic war in the future.

While the feature retains the core ethos of its source material Simon Kinberg’s screenplay differs greatly from Claremont’s graphic-novel, but fans shouldn’t fear as this is no hatchet job like that seen with the Dark Phoenix saga in Ratner’s The Last Stand. In the original version of DOFP Ellen Page’s character Kitty Pryde had a considerably larger role, but it’s an understandable decision to focus the narrative more heavily on Jackman’s Wolverine considering his character’s popularity within the series. Creating a clever narrative device that flips the dynamics of the relationship between Xavier and Logan from the first movie on its head.

Much like Vaughan’s First Class the film wraps itself round an important historical event as an attempt to add an underlying subtext to its own narrative. America’s humiliating withdrawal from the Vietnam War and the Paris Peace Accord of 1973 form the backdrop to the unfolding drama with Dinklage’s scheming antagonist trying to manipulate the situation for his own gain. His plan to convince the US government into backing his controversial sentinel program, promising them they would never again face such an embarrassing defeat if they support it, warning them: “There is a new enemy out there: mutants. You need a new weapon for this war.”

There’s a real sense of a massive narrative gap existing within both respective timelines, as if the film’s screenwriters have skipped through quite a bit to get to this point in the series. The post-credits sequence in James Mangold’s The Wolverine albeit loosely setup this film, but there’s a noticeable gap from where that film left off and where DOFP begins. Within the 1970’s timeline the decision to implicate Fassbender’s Magneto so heavily with the Kennedy assassination felt a little underdeveloped and unnecessary, surprisingly considering it featured so prominently within the film’s viral marketing campaign.

The film does throw up a few continuity issues in relation to other instalments within the series, particularly concerning the relationship between Logan and William Stryker, played in this film by Josh Helman. Since these issues only arise because of Gavin Hood’s poorly received 2009 Wolverine feature which dealt with the character’s origins it’s not surprising to see the writers overlook these issues.

Taking aside those minor niggles I have to admit to being rather impressed with Singer’s feature, the cast give strong central performances, the visuals are lush and it boasts some truly fantastic set-pieces. An elaborate prison-break sequence from the Pentagon that would’ve made Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt proud, a great Parisian mutant on mutant brawl and a stunning finale in Washington are just some of the film’s stand-out sequences.

The decision to shoot the film in 3D seems a tad misguided, bar the last Wolverine feature this is the first time it’s been done within the series and it never really sits right. The effects add very little to the overall viewing experience and unlike recent features like Godzilla and Gravity that have used the technology so well, the effects seem to cheapen the film’s visuals and overall look.

The film’s tone is somewhat darker than earlier entries within the series, but it’s still filled considerable humour. Evan Peters’ character Pietro Maximoff (Don’t call him Quicksilver) brings much of the comic relief but just like in Joss Whedon’s Avengers movie there’s considerable humour from the clash of the character’s egos onscreen , particularly between the film’s central trio of Jackman, Fassbender and McAvoy.

As expected Jackman is in his element throughout the feature, much like Sean Connery in his latter performances as 007, he’s made the role his own and stamped his personality all over the character. This is the seventh time now the Australian actor has played Logan onscreen and it’s hard to think of anyone else taking over the role anytime soon.

It’s great to see Stewart and Mckellen reprising their roles once again for what may well be their swansong appearances within the series. Singer struck gold with the casting of the duo in the original X-Men movies, they have a great onscreen chemistry and Singer’s first two films really showcased the complex nature of their relationship. While it would have been nice to have seen both actors getting a little more screen time, particularly Mckellen but the baton has now been firmly passed onto McAvoy and Fassbender. Their performances recapture the same magic as their predecessors and once again showcase the complexity of their character’s relationship that runs such a fine line between friendship and hatred.

The film does lack a strong central villain, Dinklage’s character is given very little to do and the CGI sentinels don’t play that big a role, but the void is filled by Jennifer Lawrence’s shape-shifting femme fatale, Mystique. Much like in First Class the character’s role has been greatly expanded from what had only been a minor one within the first three films, where Rebecca Romijn’s version of the character was little more than Magneto’s sidekick. The Oscar-winning actress puts in a strong performance throughout the feature as the narrative shifts its focus onto the battle for her character’s soul.

After Singer’s attempted Superman reboot received such a lukewarm reception by critics and viewers alike the American had seemingly lost his reputation as a director that was the toast of many comic-book fan boys, but as Professor Xavier himself says within this feature: “Just because someone stumbles and loses their path, doesn’t mean they can’t be saved.” Singer’s return to the X-Men franchise might not reach the dizzy heights of his first two instalments, but nevertheless it’s still a hugely enjoyable and satisfying feature and leaves the series in an intriguing position for the future.

Review by William McClean

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