Film review: X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST, from Built For Speed

The film adaptations of Marvel’s X-Men Comics, which feature super-powered mutants or X-Men led by Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) battling super-villain Magneto (Ian McKellan) and fearful, prejudiced “normal” humans, began in startling fashion in 2000.  With 2006’s disappointing X-Men: The Last Stand and 2009’s clunky spin-off X-Men Origins: Wolverine, though, the franchise seemed to be in very poor shape, at least artistically.  Remarkably, in 2011, the series was given a 50,000 volt bolt of energy with the terrific X-Men: First Class, a prequel set in 1962 which focused on young Professor Xavier (James McAvoy) and Eric Lehnsherr aka Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and the formation of the X-Men.  With Matthew Vaughan replacing Bryan Singer as director, First Class cleverly balanced pulse-pounding action, eye-popping effects, Austen Powers-style 60’s retro fun and the more serious themes of discrimination and intolerance that had characterised the first two films.  X-Men: First Class arguably stands alongside Spiderman 2 as the best Marvel Comics film adaptation.  The only problem was that, having set First Class in 1962, the franchise had effectively split in two with a completely different set of actors in each time frame.  X-Men: Days of Future Past attempts to unite both worlds in what is effectively a sequel to both First Class and The Last Stand. 

In a storyline suspiciously reminiscent of The Terminator, the film begins in a nightmarish future where giant killer robots, which can mimic mutant powers, have laid waste to the earth and hunted down most of the X-Men.  The only way for the remaining X-Men avoid to their doom is for one of them to go back in time to 1973 and prevent deranged scientist Dr Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) from creating the mutant-hunting robots.  The only mutant capable of surviving time travel is the indestructible yet amusingly grumpy Wolverine (Hugh Jackman).  Not only must Wolverine battle Trask’s robots and a Hawkish Nixon administration he has to reconcile the warring Xavier and Magneto and deal with a vengeful and murderous Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence).

The reason people watch the X-Men films is to see mutants with cool powers destroying stuff and there’s no shortage of that here.  Days of Future Past has the X-Men unleashing their astonishing talents – some of which are familiar some of which are new – in remarkable set piece battles and action sequences.    The CGI is at times a little clumsy and overly cartoonish but for the most part this film makes it look as if we are watching people with genuine super-powers.  Future Past also contains one of the most amazing scenes in any X-Men film as a mutant, who can move at supersonic speed, fights and plays with adversaries who seem frozen in time, all to the strains of Jim Croce’s Time in a Bottle, the scene is lyrical and comical at the same time.

Future Past is not just a CGI action-fest, as it connects us emotionally with the characters.   The film picks up many of the intriguing threads established in the earlier films such as Xavier’s pining for the shape-shifting Mystique and Wolverine’s traumatic flashbacks to his experiences as an experimental subject for the sinister Major Stryker (Josh Hellman).

Still, the human story could have been even stronger.  The film suffers from an overly ambitious script that darts about between too many characters and consequently deprives the film of a strong centre.   As the time-traveller, Wolverine should have been that centre but too often he’s on the periphery of the action.  While not quite given the material his character needed, Jackman is still highly enjoyable as the cynical, cigar-chomping Wolverine.  McAvoy, Fassbender and Lawrence receive the lion’s share of screen time and one again produce the wonderful well-rounded characters we saw in First Class.  Peter Dinklage is also excellent making professor Trask both sinister and likeable.  Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian must have been leafing furiously through the script to find their parts as they have only a smattering of dialogue.  Ellen Page as the Shadow Cat plays a character oddly similar to the one she played in Chris Nolan’s Inception as she guides characters through a psychic journey.

While not as thrilling or seamlessly constructed as First Class, X-Men: Days of Future Past is still an inventive, exciting and visually stunning piece of popcorn filmmaking.

Nick’s rating: ***1/2.

Genre: Action/ fantasy/ science fiction.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Bryan Singer.

Release date: 21st May 2014

Running time: 131 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. 

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