Director: Bryan Singer
Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen
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What is X-Men: Days of Future Past? A sequel? A prequel? In case you haven’t guessed from the title, it’s a bit of both. Or, perhaps more accurately, neither.
It begins with a spectacular set piece that brings together a host of familiar mutant faces, plus another – Blink – who can create teleporting windows at will. Intricately designed and wittily choreographed, she sends characters under, over and back on themselves, building up momentum before they dispatch a killer blow to an army of giant robots. It’s like watching someone play Portal.
That sensation never really lets up over the ensuing two hours – a Möbius strip of ideas that doesn’t so much play with the chronology of the X-Men franchise as make origami flapping birds out of it.
The premise is absurdly simple.
In 1973, Mystique bumps off Bolivar Trask (Dinklage), a scientist lobbying to create the afore-mentioned robots. That murder lights the fuse under the US military and they green light the idea, leading – decades later – to the X-Men’s ultimate demise. Unless, that is, they can go back in time and convince her to spare his life.
The execution is preposterously complex.
Drawing together the two strands of X-Men old and new, this spectacular blockbuster is one giant piece of fan service – and unapologetically exclusive in its appeal. The setup gives the audience the chance to spend more time with each of their favourite incarnations, be it Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen’s affectionate, weary veterans or James McAvoy’s idealistic, peaceful Professor X and Michael Fassbender’s idealistic, angry Magneto.
With several movies under the senior cast members’ belts, it’s no surprise that Simon Kinberg’s script spends most of the two hours with the younger couple. Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine is front and centre as the only one who can withstand the physical and mental ordeal of time travel. Jackman gives his plot device a typically gruff gravitas, but McAvoy brings the meat to the table: the story is, at its heart, about Charles’ evolution into his more mature mutant self. And McAvoy nails it, thanks to his own superhuman power: tear ducts the size of a small elephant.
There are other constants, such as Peter Dinklage’s Trask, but the actor isn’t given enough screen time to make an impression. Instead, the threat of his Sentinels comes from the terrifyingly-designed cyborgs – and the familiarity we have with their victims. Similarly short thrift is given to Jennifer Lawrence, who, like Logan, works hard to bring substance to her narrative function. (The same, sadly, is even more true of Ellen Page’s returning Kitty Pryde.)
The climax, then, isn’t as emotionally neat as in X-Men’s previous films, with one floating CGI stunt feeling as irrelevant as most of X-Men 3. But every time you suspect the movie may have reached a dead end, Days of Future Past whips out another hole to dive through.
One of them introduces Quicksilver, whose power is being able to move very, very quickly (and making our camera move very, very slowly). Played with hilarious cheek by Kick-Ass’ Evan Peters, he delivers the best sequence of the film. He sadly disappears through another crack, though, and is barely mentioned again – a decision that jars with the film’s continued reliance upon slow-mo.
Nonetheless, there is unabashed enjoyment to be found in witnessing the endless cycle of ret-cons, foreshadows and corrections. Throughout, Magneto and Professor X (Magnessor?) boast extraordinary chemistry, giving their decade-spanning friendship a weight that pulls you through each wormhole, despite any continuity niggles.
Upon hearing the premise, the initial joke was that the mutants would go back in time to stop Brett Ratner’s movie (the now even-more-erroneously-named The Last Stand) from happening. In a way, that’s actually what the film has done; the timeline-hopping, year-jumping, logic-defying doorways take all the existing loose ends and somehow tie them up, washing away the taste of Ratner’s mess.
The pay-off is enormously satisfying.
What is X-Men: Days of Future Past? It’s a sequel to a series that sort of never happened. Or a prequel to a franchise that doesn’t exist yet. Intricately designed and wittily choreographed, it sends X-Men under, over and back on itself, building up momentum before dispatching a killer blow to former mistakes. It’s like watching someone play Portal. But if you’re an X-fan, this is exactly the video game you’ve been waiting for.
X-Men: Days of Future Past is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.
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