Sunday, 25 May 2014

Film Review: X-Men - Days of Future Past

Director: Bryan Singer
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Charles McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan, Evan Peters, Nicholas Hoult
Runtime: 131 minutes

X-Men: Days of Future Past is the seventh film in the X-Men series and the third directed by Bryan Singer - starring pretty much everybody you can think of, this ambitious entry into the superhero franchise is bigger, ballsier and better than ever before. 

Sunspot, Kitty Pryde, Iceman and Colossus in 2023
You can't fault Bryan Singer on his ambition - after disembarking the X-Men franchise in 2003, he's been a mere bystander to the series' various trials and tribulations since. Now, more than a decade on from his much-acclaimed X2: X-Men United, Singer has returned to the directors chair to helm X-Men: Days of Future Past, a film with enough scope to swallow a school for gifted youngsters.

Set across two timelines, Days of Future Past combines the cast of both the original X-Men trilogy and Matthew Vaughan's 2011 prequel First Class. With the original bunch of X-Men now nearing extinction in a dystopic future ravaged by war, Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellan) decide that the only way to defeat their enemy (the highly-adaptable Sentinels) is to travel into the past and prevent the war from ever happening.

They use Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) to send Logan (Hugh Jackman) back into his 1973 self, and task him with stopping Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from triggering the creation of the Sentinels by assassinating Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage). After recruiting the younger versions of Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender), Logan is in a race against time to find Mystique, and prevent the extinction of mutant-kind forever.

If that sounds convoluted, then try not to panic. Whilst it is true that Days of Future Past has a lot going on, it actually balances this complex set-up really well. The film is split 70/30, with the majority taking place in the past. It's a real plus then, that the cast of First Class comes into their own.

I thought that one of the stand-out performances came from Jennifer Lawrence as the shifty shape-shifter Mystique. Her character, along with Xavier, undergo a well-written arc throughout the film, proving that this is a story less about time-travel and more about the characters themselves. Singer ensures that the central characters undergo essential character development, rather than trying to cram everyone's five minutes of fame onto the screen. Likewise, Michael Fassbender is awesome as a driven and dastardly Magneto. Magento is, unsurprisingly, the real villain of the film and Fassbender does a great job in the role. Nicholas Hoult was also good as Hank McCoy - he didn't have too much to do in First Class, but he has a much larger role this time around which is cool.

Michael Fassbender as Magneto
The two who really stole the show however were James McAvoy and Evan Peters. McAvoy was fantastic as a damaged and broken Xavier. The film hinges on him rediscovering hope and helping Logan, and his character is written really well. Not just that, but McAvoy owns the role this time around, stepping out of the shadow Fassbender cast in First Class. Like I said, the central premise of the film is more about Charles and developing his complex relationship with Mystique/Raven and Magneto/Erik.

Meanwhile, Evan Peters proves to be a true scene-stealer as Quicksilver. He may only be in the film very briefly, but he sticks in the memory long after the credits have rolled. With super-speed being his power, Peters works as some light comic-relief during the films prison break sequence, as everything around him becomes super slo-mo. Things gives Singer the chance to really revel in the hilarious possibilities, and there are really great sight gags here. I'd say the film is pretty funny overall, much like the original two films - Logan gets some great quips, as do Charles, Quicksilver and Magneto.

Naturally, with a cast so vast, there are going to be characters who fall by the wayside - Halle Berry as Storm for example, is present more because she has to be than because she has much to do. Likewise, Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) and Colossus (Daniel Cudmore) New additions to the cast such as Bishop (Omar Sy) and Blink (Fan Bingbing) add a flurry of cool new powers and colours, but don't expect any kind of character background for them. Possibly the weakest character was Peter Dinklage as Bolivar Trask - through no fault of his own, Dinklage just didn't feel like a very memorable or menacing villain. He's written very thinly, and we're given little context for his hatred of mutants.

One thing that did strike me about Days of Future Past was that it works better as a sequel to First Class than it does as a sequel to The Last Stand. There are some narrative strands left dangling from the original trilogy that Singer doesn't really tie up. Fans will no doubt struggle to join the dots, leaving casual viewers all at sea. The extra annoying aspect is that some of these could have been resolved, and with a running time of just 130 minutes, it did feel as though there could have been more to add in some areas, especially the future section of the film.

Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique
I understand that Singer possibly sacrificed some this clunky exposition/resolution in favour of streamlining the film, but it leaves the audience to either a) dream up/source their own conclusion or b) lose interest. It's this aspect that will push casual viewers away. Whilst I really liked the ending, it is fairly open-ended and again, this will frustrate some viewers who like their films tied up with big red bows.

Towards the end of the film, Singer juggles the action by wonderfully cutting back and forth between the past and the future. It creates a great sense of urgency, and things feel like they could go anywhere. Seriously though, the best aspect of Days of Future Past is that I couldn't pick where it was going to end. It felt as though the final battle could go in any direction, making it an enthralling crescendo spread across both timelines. This isn't the kind of film you can pick the ending of - you'll be left guessing and second-guessing right until the end, which isn't something that can be said for a lot of superhero films, even great ones like The Avengers. I also liked that the film didn't culminate in a city being levelled, and the action was effective and not overblown. The fights between characters was loaded with emotional context, owing to the superb development and writing throughout the film.

Like any great time-travel film, viewers who don't overthink it will get the most out of it. Trying to pick apart the various time-travel aspects and paradoxes will just fry your brain and draw you out of the film. Just sit back, and enjoy the ride. It might not make a lot of sense, and believe me, a lot of it isn't explained half as well as I'd of expected, but it's kind of hard to care when the film excels on every other level. Another great aspect was the soundtrack - fans will cherish the inclusion of the original X2 theme during the opening credits.

In terms of direction, Singer does a really great job, showing us what made the first films so influential in revitalising the superhero genre. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that he's pulled the same trick twice, breathing fresh air into a genre that often feels weighted down by repetitive reboots (Spider-man, Fantastic Four) and overly dark and brooding origin stories (Man of Steel). Singer deserves all the plaudits he gets, as Days of Future Past is instantly a defining film of the genre, a lesson in how to do things right.

The Verdict: 9/10

Days of Future Past is simply awesome, pipping X2 and First Class as the best X-Men film yet. Singer wonderfully juggles the complex narrative and dozens of characters, breathing new life into the franchise he originally started. McAvoy, Fassbender, Lawrence and Jackman make for a stellar lead foursome. Where the story goes from here, who knows - but I can't wait to find out. 


  1. This is my first time on your blog. Really like what you've been doing here. I really loved the film and felt it was as good as X-Men First Class, if not any better than it. I have been asking this question to many who've watched the film but would you be knowing how can Quicksilver, son of Magneto, save the younger version of his own father. Would like to hear your thoughts. Have bookmarked your blog :)

    Here's my review

    1. Thanks for all the kind words Haricharan :) Be sure to keep checking back for regular reviews and features!

      I think they only alluded to the fact that Quicksilver may have been Magento's son rather than straight-up reveal it - I think it may have been just an Easter egg for fans of the comics to enjoy, rather than an actual fact in the movie universe. Fassbender does seen much too young to have Peters as a son ;)

      Thanks for commenting :)

  2. Nice review. Definitely agree that this is a movie more about the characters than the time travel, and I think that's really what makes this one work so well, especially compared to the other X-Men films, is how, like The Avengers, just how well balanced the entire cast is here. :)

    1. Yeah, they did a really great job of not trying to cram everyone on and just focus on those that counted. Can you imagine if everyone from Storm to Iceman and Toad had had their own arc in this film? It would've been very messy.

  3. Awesome review! I'm stoked you loved Evan Peters! If you haven't seen American Horror Story, you are missing out on much more of his awesomeness.

    1. Thanks for commenting Tanner :) I haven't seen it, but I might give it a look after this :)

  4. Nice review. This is what all X-Men fans have been waiting for since they left the theater in 2003 from X2.

    1. My thoughts exactly! :) Bringing Singer back on-board certainly paid-off - thanks for commenting Dan :)



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