Cinema Review: X-Men: Days of Future Past

2014, X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST

DIR: Bryan Singer • WRISimon Kinberg PRO: Simon Kinberg, Hutch Parker, Lauren Shuler Donner, Bryan Singer • DOP: Newton Thomas Sigel • ED: John Ottman • MUS: John Ottman • DES: John Myhre • CAST: Hugh Jackman, Jennifer Lawrence, Patrick Stewart, Michael Fassbender

The aesthetic that was begun with the decision to opt for black leather as opposed to the colourful skin-tights of comic-book illustration in Bryan Singer’s low-key (at least by today’s standards) X-Men (2000) saw triumph in the likes of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. But, ultimately, it stumbled and failed to a global audience in the clunky third acts of The Dark Knight Rises and Man of Steel. The Nolan-verse, though well thought out, gritty and relatable, left too much of a chasm between the onscreen worlds depicted and the fantasy settings that drew in the materials’ initial fan-base. Indeed, if the gargantuan success of the Marvel movies, whose Avengers Assemble climaxed a clean 200 million North of Nolan’s last outing in Gotham, spelt out nothing else to audiences and studio heads alike it became clear that any amount of salt could be pinched in watching, provided the audience was having fun.

Essentially, the aesthetic of the criminally underrated Blade, triumphant with Spiderman 2 and del Toro’s Hellboy films – fumbled with the likes of Daredevil and The Fantastic Four – has been perfected by them boys at Marvel to at last allow filmmakers read from the playbook of superhero storytelling that allowed for their massive popularity in the first instance and use the sources themselves as story-boards wherever possible in order to best emulate/adapt the look, mood and story-structures to a cinematic context –  a feat already gleefully achieved this year by Marc Webb on The Amazing Spiderman 2.

Our first glimpse of Stan Lee’s mutant “evolutionaries” in this colour-palate came with the messy but fun X-Men: First Class and since the announcement that Singer would return to the series with an adaptation that would unite both casts, old and new, anticipation has been building to see whether Marvel’s greatest property might step forth from the darkness successfully and enjoy the sun as it shines forth from Avengers‘ producer Kevin Feige’s arse. Well let’s have a look then…

The film opens in a future not ten clicks from the “real” world of The Matrix franchise. Evidently gigantic robots (coincidentally also called sentinels) have ravaged the world for want of ridding it of mutants for good. A last band, including everyone you want, plus a couple of bonus mutants, gather at the great wall of China and opt to fling Wolverine’s conscience back to his pre-adamantium days in the 1970s that he might get the boys (young Xavier and Magneto and friends) together again in order to thwart the efforts of Jennifer Lawrence’s shape-shifting Mystique to assassinate one Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) – an event which set off the chain-reaction leading to the dystopia of the film’s opening. This sets us up to globe-trot the world of 1970s Marvel-lore with none other than Hugh Jackman’s cool-as-hell Logan. Make no mistake; this is Fox’s answer to Marvel.

The film’s set-pieces are truly the meat here, and at a count of seven and a half in a matter of 131 minutes they would truly want to be, with the highlight undoubtedly the breakout of Magneto (at this point an X-troupe) from his plastic prison beneath The Pentagon, featuring series newbie Quiksilver, as played with anarchic frenzy by Evan Peters. Singer shoots action well enough as is, but here his wide array of characters allows him girth to upscale each kerfuffle to its almost maximum potential. Almost every action sequence allots him a new notch for his CV’s bedpost: Blink’s utilisation of portals (like the video-game, yes) during fights is complex yet impressively compact in shots; a fight in a fountain in Paris cut between Super-8 crowd-footage and Hi-def is a delight; Hugh Jackman looks cooler than Michael Fassbender (neckerchief, really?). How then will this measure up to the excellent Avengers Assemble, a comparison I feel will prove appropriate and inevitable in discussion of this film.

This verdict harkens back to this review’s lengthy introductory paragraph and asks the viewer what they want from a comic-book film. On all counts Avengers is a superior film. Every character has a seeming drive and a fair amount of screen-time. In Days of Future Past the only arc is James McAvoy’s Xavier and it is a flimsy one at that. The bold move this film makes (that some will call lazy) is the love for its characters on behalf of cinema-goers that it takes for granted.

Essentially, this is a comic-book story as told on paper, in that every second of plot is incidental as the end of every thread must return us to the status quo before the credits roll. There is fine acting on show here (a special shout-out here to McAvoy and Fassbender who share a sizzling chemistry when onscreen together) but it is only as 3-dimensional as it needs to be, as are the characters. Any scorn heaped upon this film on account of plot-holes (of which there are a handful) and character development (almost none) are justified but if you enter this film with the same entertainment bar set as when you flick open a Marvel comic you will genuinely not leave disappointed. I had an absolute blast.

Donnchadh Tiernan

12A (See IFCO for details)
130 mins

X-Men: Days of Future Past is released on 22nd May 2014

X-Men: Days of Future Past – Official Website

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