This smart time travelling installment more than makes up for the weaker entries in the X-Men Franchise
The X-Men franchise started way back at the turn of the millennium with 2000’s X-Men. Now Brian Singer is back on directing duties for the 7th film in the series, Days of Future Past (DOFP). The story is based on a comic series released back in 1981, which involved the mutant Kity Pryde (here substituted for franchise figurehead Wolverine as played by Hugh Jackman) travelling back in time to change the course of history to stop the robotic sentinels annihilating the mutant race. The writers at the time joked that since sales of comics always spiked when a character died, what would happen if all the characters died? Through the use of time travel and changing the future by going in to the past, they could do just this. The comic series has gone on to become a firm fan favorite, and so it was really just a matter of time before this story line got the silver screen treatment and unlike recent X-Men flops (Origins Wolverine comes to mind), this film is a return to form for the long running series.
Beginning in a Dystopian future in which mutants and their human sympathizers are rounded up and systematically destroyed by shape shifting robots called Sentinels, the film quickly brings together the “old generation” of mutants – Storm, Colossus, Kitty, Iceman Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart’s incarnation) and Magneto (Ian Mckellen), along with some new additions including Bishop, Blink, Warpath and Sunspot to a safe place where they hope to send someone back in time to stop the mutant war before it even begins. Conveniently due to his healing abilities, Wolverine is the only one deemed suitable for time travel, and so begins the adventure. His consciousness transferred to his younger body, Wolverine “wakes up” in 1973, and is tasked with bringing together younger Magneto and Xavier (Fassbender and McAvoy) together to help him stop an assassination which sparks the war.
Along the way they meet mutants both new and old, including Quicksilver (Evan Peters), a mutant with super speed who is able to essentially walk around while others seem frozen in time. This power leads to some spectacular special effects sequences, and a scene in the Pentagon is both hilarious and mesmerizing to watch. It is a bit of a shame that Quicksilver seems under-used, but with Peters reportedly having signed a 6 film deal with fox, it seems likely that we will be seeing much more of this mutant. As the film progresses we flip between future, where the mutant refugees are under constant threat of attack by the sentinels, and past where we see how films main antagonist Boliver Trask (Peter Dinklage) uses acts of mutant aggression to convince the government to fund his Sentinel program in order to wipe out the “mutant threat”. These two narratives dovetail excellently, and the third act of the film features an incredible action sequence in the future, along with a satisfying (aside from a few strange continuity issues) conclusion to the past. The action sequences are well choreographed and feature excellent special effects, and the final fight in the future showing the mutants fighting together against overwhelming odds is both tragic and tremendous.
One of the best things about most of the X-Men films is that at its heart it is a story about acceptance regardless of who you are, or what you can do. This message has carried across well through most films in the franchise and has lead to many people stating that the films are actually about the Gay Rights movement in America, and accepting that mutation (a stand in for homosexuality) is something genetic and not something you chose. While this film does feature a similar sentiment, and in conversations between young Magneto and Xavier these arguments are fought for valiantly by both sides it seems that these messages have been somehow sidelined to make way for the mind bending time travel, and for all those mutants (and there are a lot!). Despite that, the heart is definitely still there and the mutants struggle to be accepted, and those mutants who don’t want to be accepted is still incredible to watch on screen. Magneto’s status as hero/villain is left as ambivalent as ever – a character who evidently cares for the mutant race and its survival is clearly a hero, but the methods he uses to do imply a villain, and Fassbender plays these nuances of character conflict brilliantly.
The film is not without its flaws though, namely the continually shocking continuity across the series. The main shocker in this one is the age of the young William Stryker (Josh Helman) – here shown to be in his mid to late twenties, despite the fact that in Origins: Wolverine (set in the late 70’s, only a few years after DOFP) he is shown to be 50. Similarly, the reappearance of mutants thought dead at the end of the film is confusing and not fully explained (see the film yourself to see who). It seems strange that Fox can’t seem to manage continuity, while films from Marvel Studio’s are usually spot on with theirs. Although on the whole the CGI is virtually flawless in DOFP, a few sequences seemed rather dated, especially a panning shot showing the inside of the robotic sentinenls body which seemed more like it would fit in to the original X-Men 14 years ago than a film released today. The pacing and structure of the film was mostly consistent and engaging throughout, however between the second and third acts there is a little too much talking and planning before you get to the spectacular conclusion of the film.
Despite these small issues, the film itself feels like a brilliant return to form for the series. Well paced and acted with great actions sequences and a few one liners thrown in for good measure, this film continues the X-Men legacy for both past and future generations of the actors. Using the time travelling idea it seems they’ve set themselves up new way of creating stories including both old gen and new gen mutants without things getting any more complicated. Speaking of setting things up … as always it pays to stay till the end of the credits in Marvel films as they always include easter eggs for upcoming films. This time it is a brief teaser for the next X-Men film, Apocalypse. This teaser short and sweet, and introduces a few new characters for the next film. To say more than that would be to give things away. So go and see the film yourself, and see what you make of it.
X-Men: Days of Future Past is in cinema’s worldwide now.