X Men: Days of Future Past

At cinemas now
Directed by Bryan Singer
Screenplay by Simon Kinberg, Jane Goldman
Starring Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, James McEvoy, Michael Fassbender, Ian McKellan, Jennifer Lawrence + whooooosh Quicksilver….

A decade ago, X2 re-wrote the rules on blockbuster films showing how it was possible to have spills, thrills and a decent narrative however big a franchise you were. Unfortunately these rules have got lost along the way with an increasing trend in big fantasy and superhero films over the last three or four years for more spectacle but less individuality. Most of these films have started to seem the same with smart wisecracks acclaimed as proof of `character` and unexpected twists making up the `story`. The X Men franchise has always sought higher ground but has never quite scaled the heights of that second film- until now. Taking on the potentially risky time travel option, Days of Future Past is welcome respite from recent trends and emerges as a film with a heart, soul and, yes, characters! 

Uh-oh Spoilers past here...

We open in a grim un-dated apocalyptic future where both humans and mutants are at risk of extinction after a bitter war in which shape changing robots called Sentinels have the upper hand. Turns out these machines’ dangerous origins can be traced back to an incident in 1973 when Raven aka Mystique’s attempts to assassinate their creator businessman Bolivar Trask led to her capture. This in turn gave him the wherewithal to tweak his robots with her shape shifting genes. Holed up in a
visually appealing Chinese temple the surviving mutants find a way to send Wolverine’s mind back to the 70s with a mission to unite the young Xavier and Magneto to stop Mystique. Meanwhile the others have to hold off an approaching army of Sentinels.
The appeal of this scenario is clear and well realised by Bryan Singer. If the future scenes are a little serious by necessity there is much more fun to be had in the 1970s. A fish out of water at the best of
times Wolverine is suitably befuddled by the era in which he finds himself – not least because he doesn’t have his adamantium claws, just some normal ones. You should see his expression when he realises this! Hugh Jackman plays this with poker faced bemusement. The real surprise though is the bitter, couldn’t care less Xavier he encounters.
James McAvoy gives a very strong performance as the jaded leader who has lost his way and lives only to blot out his own pain. He is walking but only because the drugs he uses to supress his powers allow him that luxury so his internal battle is between what he wants and what he has to do. The former seems to be winning unless Wolverine, never the chattiest of people, can dissuade him. Maters are helped by the presence of Hank who has taken what is effectively the opposite path;
suppressing his rage except when necessary. We’re not talking Woody Allen here, but for a film of this nature the resulting conversations and very human drama are refreshing inclusions when the standard blockbuster way of changing someone’s mind is one scene.
When Xavier does finally get on board and a plan is sprung to spring Erik from incarceration the film plays its second trump card in the shape of Quicksilver, a young mutant able to move at the speed of light. Played devilishly by Evan Peters, this character is essentially an extension of a fidgety teenager sporting his own clearly home- made costume. When the unlikely quartet set out for the Pentagon, you sort of wish they had the whole film to themselves as the resulting operation is bags of fun culminating in a remarkable sequence in which to save them all being shot, Quicksilver leaps into action. We see his perspective with everyone else moving imperceptibly slowly while he strolls around, pushing bullets to one side, knocking caps off and in one case making one of the guards punch himself! Reminiscent of but a lot cheekier than The Matrix’s signature bullet time effect the scene is also extremely funny, probably the biggest laugh out loud moment this franchise has ever had. Other blockbusters just can’t seem to do this kind of thing!

"Hello, I'm Michael Fassbender" "Not as fast as me, mate"
 The only downside is that, because his powers are so good, the plot can’t really have him go with the others on their main mission (later someone should say “Why don’t we call Quicksilver - he can be here in 10 seconds!”) so he’s left at home though he will be back for the next film Apocalypse. X Men fanatics know of course that fictionally he is Magneto’s son, something acknowledged in a throwaway line and presumably destined to be a big part of the next film; the chance to see Michael Fassbender and Evan Peters play this out is something to look forward to.
As for the young Magneto, Michael Fassbender again inhabits a character with such completion you have to marvel. Its only five months since I saw him convincingly repulse us all in Twelve Years A Slave, now here he is giving it steely resolve aplenty as freed Magneto proves as unlikely to stick to the agreed plan as you’d expect. The script writes him tremendously well, always justifying his actions and remaining true to the character’s oft stated aims.
Action wise, Bryan Singer is on the button with several momentous sequences including a blistering opening that could almost be a climax to another movie. Then there’s the wonderfully chaotic chaos at the conference where Mystique is attempting to kill Trask which Singer captures in a variety of ways mixing in camcorder and news footage to give an urgent dynamic. The giant slab spaceships in which the Sentinels travel are terrific as are the robots themselves and there’s so much shape shifting going on in their attacks at either end of the film that the effect is dazzling. Yet the director is equally at home in the smaller no less important scenes; when the plot finds a way for both young and old Xavier to meet it is given suitable tension, a close up of the two facing each other daring you to believe it is the same man and thanks to the actors (who don’t look particularly alike) you do. 
As he did before, Singer seems able to find space for actors to deliver even if their role is relatively small. As mentioned Evan Peters makes quite an impact in a handful of scenes as Quicksilver who is cheeky, funny and punctures any pomposity that may surface amongst the others. Jennifer Lawrence somehow manages to put across Mystique’s hurt and confusion despite all the blue make up; she is grappling with the same dilemma as the others but takes a more direct approach. Nicholas Hoult makes the most of what is essentially a sidekick role as Hank. Peter Dinklage’s Trask eschews any cackling (or even a lair!) to present an astute businessman with atuned political sensibilities. When it becomes clear that there is a threat, he is a sleeky salesman in the presence of the President. 

"Aren't you the bloke from Star Wars?" "Very funny, number one. Take that silly wig off"

It’s not a totally perfect film with a nagging plot issue of Mystique simply continuing with her mission whatever she is told about its ramifications. The pace becomes less even as it progresses and it is
hugely unlikely in any universe that Richard Nixon would be as bold as he is depicted at the climax. Also a sequence where Magneto picks up a stadium (oh yes!) seems superfluous as if taken from another kind of movie altogether and rather pointless as it turns out.
Indeed the ending is the only point where you lose track of things, the final scenes suggesting that much of the post X2 world we have already seen now no longer happened. Perhaps we’d all like to forget The Last Stand but the trouble with time travel plots is the mess you leave behind is sometimes more awkward than the one you cleared up.
Days of Future Past is hugely accomplished, fun and exciting proving again that the X Men franchise is the most identifiable, flexible and credible movie franchise around. Best big film of the year so far!!


  1. Good review John. Bleak, yet Bryan Singer makes it always engaging and entertaining.