I really don’t know where to start this review, I am just out of one of a midnight screening of 20th Century Fox’s X-Men Days of Future Past and I’ve got this second wind of energy; I mean I’ve a days work behind me and I’ve another days work ahead of me. I should be tired, asleep and dreaming of having super powers but I’m sat here trying to put my thoughts together, to try and reign my emotions back in and hopefully keep my critic’s hat on long enough to control my inner fan!
The campaign, hype and spin has been a whirlwind for the movie, we’ve been teased, we’ve speculated, we’ve argued and we’ve even judged it all before we’d even seen it. It’s fair to say that Days of Future Past is one of the biggest Marvel/X-Men stories and when you tackle something that big, when you rework it suit a modern audience who are comic book movie fans you are walking on very thin ice with comic book fans. We’re protective of the stories, of the characters and our experiences and when it was revealed that the film/script would change who was sent back into the past from Shadowcat to Wolverine, there were groans (and I made my fair share of them) and criticisms but I am getting ahead of myself at this point.
X-Men Days of Future Past is the follow on to First Class, it ties in the original X-Men trilogy and Wolverine Origins – the ice is officially wafer thin! The future is bleak, society as we know it is in ruins, mutants and their human sympathisers are hunted and murdered en masse and their is no rest for the survivors who are chased constantly by terrifying Sentinels, weapons designed with the sole purpose of capturing and eradicating all mutants.
Professor X (James McAvoy / Sir Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender / Sir Ian McKellen) have joined forces and with a band of former students and allies they make a final stand, utilising Kitty Pryde’s (Ellen Page) new ability to phase through time they send Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back into their past, to the moment that the fate of the world was changed. His mind is transported back to the 1970s, Xavier and his school have shut themselves away from the world and Erick is incarcerated for treason. The events in Cuba (First Class) has put mutants and their place in this world to the forefront of the US Government and in the plans of one man in particular, Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage). Trask has developed technology that would protect humanity from mutant kind but when he learns of the mutant Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) and the power locked in her DNA he seeks her out to turn her gifts on the people she is struggling to keep safe unaware she is looking for him as well. Before Wolverine can stop Trask he must first deal with a broken Xavier, repair the damage and unite him with the man he once called friend and now calls enemy.
That’s the bones of the movie, some essential parts taken from the original story knitted together with the history of six movies, some good, some great, some loved and some hated. Somehow Days of Future Past manages to keep itself together, time travel is a delicate method of story telling, couple that with the events, faces and names from across the series and what could have felt like a pop quiz in X-Men movies is instead a wonderfully scripted and sewn together experience.
The film is sold on it’s cast, in the characters and the people playing them. For the first time in a long time and if I’m honest not since 13 year old me sat in the old cinema in Tralee and watched the first movie, X-Men have I felt that these are the people, the mutants that I know. I have nothing to fault, I have no criticisms, I have walked away from Days of Future Past completely mesmerised. From Fassbender to McAvoy, Jackman to Lawrence and Dinklage, the core of the cast are superb and the humanity behind the mutants, behind the powers and the special effects has finally broken through.
McAvoy’s Xavier is no leader and he knows it, he has retreated into the darkest recesses of his mind and for the first time we see him as a man broken and lost, unsure of himself and his abilities. Jennifer Lawrence depicts the Mystique we’ve all known, a woman driven by her cause, determined and unrelenting that is until she’s forced to look at herself, her choices and her actions, face to face with the person she is becoming, Lawrence delivers a Mystique that is both powerful and vulnerable.
Fassbender’s Magneto is for the first time in the character’s cinematic presence, an absolute terrifying force, a man who has shed his humanity for the purpose of establishing mutant-kind no longer as the equal of man but their superior. Dinklage not only matches Fassbender’s menacing presence but at times surpasses it, his Trask is brilliant and ruthless, Dinklage turns Trask into more than just a man with an idea, he becomes the embodiment of humanity’s fear and hatred, everything we want to pretend we’re not, Dinklage uses.
The biggest worry for many fans of both the comics and comic book movies was that this would be just another Wolverine and pals adventure, slapped together with shots of Jackman scowling at the camera and tipping his hat to the odd reference only fans would get. That is not the case!
Jackman’s presence in Days of Future Past is not only Jackman’s best performance as the adamantium (or not so admantium) warrior to date, he as instructed by the survivors in the future to act as a guide, a hand to encourage and direct the real players in this story – Xavier, Erick, Raven and Boliver. I’m not saying he doesn’t get plenty of screentime, he’s there, he’s there a lot but he isn’t the focus and it’s clear that Jackman knows it and gives it his best to make sure this comes across.
The supporting cast from Shawn Ashmore, Halle Berry, Fan Bingbing, Sir Stewart and Sir McKellan should not go without mention and while the rush of adrenalin you get watching them buy time for their allies in the past courses through you, the visuals of Storm cracking lightning from hands, Blink twisting her opponents through portals and Iceman‘s frost armour are astounding and inspiring but like the other performers, the real joy is in the sense of hope that rises up from within you. That hope, that need to believe that no matter how bad things are for these X-Men they’ve survived and they’ll continue to fight despite the cost even when we see a tired looking Storm step down from the Blackbird, a terrified Shadowcat lay her hands on Wolverine, the supporting cast certainly shouldn’t be overlooked and the film isn’t certainly all doom and gloom. There are the hat tips to insider jokes and references and Peter Maximoff / Quicksilver (Evan Peters) certainly does his best to add something lighter to the film and I’ll keep the surprise but admit I was wrong about Peters and his presence on screen isn’t so much needed but wanted and I actually wanted to see just a little more.
Director Bryan Singer blends visuals, performances and script into one of the best pieces of cinema I’ve ever experienced. X-Men Days of Future Past is from beginning to end, a superb piece of cinema and whether you’re looking for this film to right the wrongs of previous instalments, something to breathe life into the super hero genre or just something to enjoy then you’ve got it here. To date this is the darkest of movie in the franchise, the extermination and experimentation on mutants isn’t just mentioned it’s put in your face constantly from former team members to the deaths of old favourites, the depths of Xavier’s depression and the feeling of hopelessness really weigh heavy on the film and it’s a pretty emotional film throughout. The action and fight scenes don’t stop either though, from a defiant stand against a legion of Sentinels, the elegance of Mystique’s fight choreography or the sheer scale of power and force exhibited by Magneto, if you want action then it’s here in abundance. As are the special effects which I mentioned earlier, the film isn’t short of them and it’s a wonderful demonstration of the creativity of VFX teams.
Without hesitation or exaggeration I can safely say this is not only the best X-Men to date it’s one of the best pieces of cinema I’ve seen in a long time. The film puts itself out there and allows you take from it what you will; this can be just another comic book movie, action movie with glorious special fx or it can be something more. I found my childhood mornings glued to the classic cartoons, my teenage years drawing similarities to the plight of the young mutants and my life of loving and appreciating the characters and the stories.
We have all found the X-Men film we’ve always wanted!
Editor-in-Chief, part-time super villain and hoarder of cats. If you can’t find me writing, I’m probably in the kitchen!