There is a whiff of destiny about X-Men: Days Of Future Past and not just in the plot of the film. For while Marvel are assembling their Avengers for a second round and DC scrabble to justify a Justice League Of America movie so Bryan Singer is returning to his mutant gang, the original movie superhero collective. For it was Singer’s 2000 original X-Men movie that arguably helped launch the superhero genre firmly into the box-office behemoth it has now become.
But while the superhero genre has gone from strength to super-powered strength Singer’s career has never been as admired as when he was looking after Wolverine et al. Indeed, besides Matthew Vaughn’s barnstorming X-Men: First Class, the X-Men have almost become a footnote compared to Iron Man’s gang and Batman’s buddies. So does X-Men: Days Of Future Past put the mutants back on the map where they belong?
Future Past sets its stall out early on with a near future earth decimated by the Sentinels; robots engineered to seek out and destroy all mutants and the humans who aid them. It’s a bleak world, an apocalyptic holocaust as mutant bodies are piled high. And the last remaining X-Men, led by Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) – seemingly resurrected after the events of The Last Stand – are desperate to bring an end to the war. In order to do this they will use Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) to transport Wolverine’s (Hugh Jackman) consciousness back in time to his younger body to prevent a deeper shade of blue Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from killing the scientist responsible for the Sentinels, Dr. Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage).
So far so Terminator meets Back To The Future. But where most of the action lies is in re-uniting a young, now drug fuelled, Xavier (James McAvoy) with the incarcerated Magneto (Michael Fassbender). At first the two bristle, then implode before finally putting their differences to one side only for things to go darker than either could have expected. Their destinations may be forever entwined but they may not always take the same route to get there.
Singer and screenwriter Simon Kinberg waste no time in letting you know there’s lots of back-story to catch-up on here but most of it is covered in a Basil Exposition moment from the dulcet tones of Patrick Stewart. Would it help to have seen all of the X-Men film up to this point? Yes. Is it essential? Probably not, it just means you’ll miss out on sly nods, cheeky winks and outright homage to past events.
But, like X-Men: First Class, where Days Of Future Past excels is, unlike so many big budget films of this ilk, in giving you something emotional to hang your heart on. The action is thrilling, the set pieces genuinely spectacular – Quicksilver’s (Evan Peters) prison break to release Magneto is a particular highlight – but more than anything multiple characters have multiple story arcs. And at no point do you feel like any of them are slipping through the cracks.
Kinberg and Singer clearly saw that on their roster they had a wealth of acting talent, the likes of which most movies, let alone superhero movies, can only dream of. Now an Oscar winning actress Jennifer Lawrence excels as the ever-morphing, literally and figuratively, Mystique; her slinky, sexy ways being put to wonderful use while always remaining a conflicted agent of chaos. It’s fair to say the ‘70s period costumes, after American Hustle and now this, suit her to a T. Jackman is formidable as Wolverine, being allowed to play the elder statesmen to the young upstarts of characters he’s previously been beholden to. It’s in his less jovial moments, when reaching out to the young Xavier in particular, that Jackman demonstrates some real gravity to Wolverine, a maturity normally ignored in favour of glib sarcasm. Fassbender is typically brooding and is the only main character you feel is slightly under-used. In the future Stewart and McKellan share some charming and warm moments while there are enough cameos of former, current and future X-Men to have you dancing a mutant jig. All the while James McAvoy provides the pounding heart to Days Of Future Past. His Xavier is a broken man, a shell of his future and former self. It is through his journey that you are able to invest so much into a film that has all the bells and whistles of a summer blockbuster while never letting you sit comfortably that everything will be alright on the night.
So far this summer we’ve had a lounging lizard and a sulky Spiderman, Days Of Future Past is a breath of fresh air; a thrilling, bone-claw gnawing ride that manages to dazzle with its spectacle while giving you enough character, charm and mystery to have you longing for the inevitable sequel.