After kick-starting the modern superhero movie craze back in 2000, the X-Men franchise has given us a trilogy of films, two Wolverine-based spin-off movies, and a brilliant prequel, bringing varying levels of success or failure along the way. Now, 14 years after the release of the first film, original director Bryan Singer has stepped behind the camera once more, and given us an X-Men film that’s every bit as good as his original two offerings, and more.
Taking on the difficult task of uniting the X-Men trilogy (of which Singer directed the first two films) and the Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass) directed prequel X-Men: First Class (which we described as “the best X-Men film so far”), Singer’s third X-Men film (X-Men: Days of Future Past) brings together both the original and new cast, for a movie which is essentially a time-traveling superhero flick with a plot strongly resembling that of The Terminator.
Beginning in a post-apocalyptic world set some time after the events of The Last Stand (and looking like a carbon copy of James Cameron’s post-apocalyptic, future-war, Terminator landscape; complete with general blackness, a ground littered with the skulls of fallen warriors, and giant robots roaming around looking to kill everyone), we find the few remaining X-Men battling a race of super-robots (known as sentinels) that are basically looking to wipe them out, before they quickly come up with a one-last-shot plan to win the war; sending Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back in time, to 1973, in order to meet up with Professor Xavier (played by Patrick Stewart in the future scenes, and James McAvoy in the past) and Magneto (Ian McKellen in the future, Michael Fassbender in the past), and convincing them to stop Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from killing the creator of the sentinels (Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones), and starting the chain of events that would lead to their eventual takeover, thus stopping the war before it even began (essentially killing John Connor in the womb; if we’re to stick with the Terminator analogy).
What follows is a brilliant alternate version of history, which just like Quantum Leap throws in some wonderful brushes with history (alluding to the Watergate scandal, and even providing the “real” explanation behind the JFK assassination), and re-introduces us to the key players in the world (reuniting Professor X and Magneto, after the parting of ways in First Class), as the trio, along with Beast (Nicholas Hoult), attempt to catch-up with a now rather determined, bitter, and angry, Mystique (who’s become a lot like Magneto), while Trask (Dinklage) attempts to secure funding for his sentinel program, Xavier once more tries to find a way for the mutants to co-exist with the humans, and Magneto once again gets in a bit of a mood and decides to wipe out everyone he needs to (believing the humans will never accept his kind).
And, being a big summer blockbuster, there are plenty of large and impressive set pieces along the road to victory; including breaking Magento out of a prison cell underneath the Pentagon (which includes a wonderful appearance by Kick-Ass star Evan Peters, as uber-fast mutant Quicksilver; and a fantastic slow-mo sequence, with bullets flying, around a kitchen), a scuffle in a Saigon conference room, and a battle on the lawn of the White House (not to mention seeing a football stadium getting picked up); all of which feature stunning effects, are well placed, well paced, perfectly fit the plot (nothing ever feels overly showy here) and are infinitely watchable.
Each of the principle cast members are now used to their roles, and do a good job of reprising them; Hugh Jackman has had so much experience playing the Wolverine (across all six X-Men movies) that he’s got the gruff demeanour down to a tee, James McAvoy brings a real humanistic quality to Charles Xavier (effectively portraying the tortured soul, and wannabe hero, with an exceedingly strong moral compass), and Michael Fassbender is once again strong, intimidating, intense, and brilliant, as the unyielding Magneto; and it’s the clear chemistry and friends-yet-enemies relationship between Charles and Erik (Magneto), two men struggling along different paths towards the same goal, that really makes Days of Future Past worth watching.
Jennifer Lawrence also does a far better job of playing Mystique than she did in First Class (growing closer to the portrayal delivered originally by Rebecca Romijn), appearing much more devious, devilish, determined, and dangerous, in this iteration. And with supporting roles picked up by Peter Dinklage (a consistently good actor, capitalising on his Game of Thrones fame), Evan Peters (who’s quirky portrayal of Quicksilver is both excellent, funny, and a little unnerving), alongside returning stars Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry, Shawn Ashmore, and Ellen Page, the casting for Days of Future Past was not only spot-on, but brilliantly realised, and ensured that there’s not a weak-link among the chain (even if the plot does ensure that the actors based solely in the future have little to do except look worried once in a while).
Plot-wise it’s solid throughout, consistently building to an impressive finish (despite suffering from one or two continuity errors where the other films are concerned, and having the potential to annoy fans who were heavily invested in the story-arc so far), musically the score and soundtrack are both excellent, and while the post-apocalyptic future sets up a dark vision for the future (especially in rather ropey future-fashion terms), and clearly rips-off some Terminator trademarks (even borrowing, shot-for-shot the “show him” scene from T2), it’s got its fair share of comedy throughout; actually managing to be laugh-out-loud funny in places, as well as packing an emotional punch when needs be (the scene where Wolverine first meets the young Xavier being a prime example of both).
We all knew that Bryan Singer was well placed to craft the next piece of the X-Men universe, and being written by First-Class writers Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman (with The Last Stand’s Simon Kinberg polishing off the screenplay) all the talent was in place to deliver a solid new X-Men film; something which has definitely been achieved, even it does have the faintest taste of a TV show filler episode, used mainly to set up the next chapter in the series (X-Men: Apocalypse, due to be released in 2016).
It’d have been easy to go too big, too cheesy, or fall into the traps of simply having effects-laden set-pieces try to prop-up a lacklustre superhero film, but thankfully Singer hasn’t done that (it’s a testament to the director that he’s actually trimmed the cast down, and removed a bunch of previously seen mutants from the picture; even allowing their deaths to fuel the actions of this film, rather than simply throwing a bunch of new mutants and powers in, hoping that’d win the audience over), what he has done, is let old and new combine for a brilliantly fun, emotionally charged, picture, where it’s the characters that are the most important thing.
This is a film that will stay with you, one that you’ll want to rewatch, one that deserves to be seen on the big screen. It’s a welcome return for Singer, and while it may or may not be quite up to the standard of First Class, this certainly isn’t X-Men: Second Class; if X-Men: Days Of Future Past isn’t the best X-Men movie so far, it’s certainly a close second, and one you’ll be glad you took the trip to the cinema to see.