X-Men: Days of Future Past

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There’s a small chance you might not have noticed there’s a new X-Men film, Days of Future Past, in the cinemas – perhaps if you haven’t watched TV, been online or, say, left your house for the last month. The posters have been plastered on every bus, the trailers on every YouTube video, the stars on every chat show. There’s even a countdown clock in Leicester Square tube station. It’s been a Godzilla of a marketing campaign. Which is ironic, considering the Godzilla marketing campaign.

It seems everything has been thrown at the X-Men’s 6th outing. Bryan Singer, who helmed X-Men and X2, is back for directing duties, while Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn, who scripted First Class, had a finger in the storyline pie – though the eventual scriptwriting job went to Simon Kinberg. Being filmed in 3D is by now an expected component of superhero films, and in this film at least – this coming from a 3D cynic – the effect is impressive. But does this all add up to a satisfying summer blockbuster?

First; the plot. An acquaintance with the previous films does not guarantee that you’ll be au fait with the X-Men universe’s tendency to swallow its own tail. The comic books are immensely complicated, with parallel universes and alternate time frames, and the films are beginning to follow suit. You could try and unpick each twist but there’s really no need (unless you’re massive Marvel fan, of course). Just sit back and enjoy the show.

Days of Future Past is set in 2023, a time when giant weaponised robots called Sentinels have all but wiped out mutants. These machines have been created to mimic their prey’s superhuman abilities, making them almost impossible to defeat. One group of mutant survivors includes Storm (Halle Berry), Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) and Bobby (Shawn Ashmore), who stay ahead of the Sentinels by using Kitty’s power – she can send a person’s consciousness back in time to warn the group of the impending attack.

Magneto, Wolverine and Professor Xavier pay a visit to this small band of brothers with a grand plan; to use Kitty’s power to go back to 1973 and stop the key event that triggered the Sentinels’ release and the start of the war. Wolverine is the only one who can survive the trip (convenient plot point alert!), so it’s up to him to return to the seventies and convince Magneto and Xavier – who, after the events of First Class, are not on best of terms – to team up and save the world.

Hugh Jackman and the cast do as solid a job as ever. Half the fun of an X-Men film is watching old greats Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart ham it up, and now young greats Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy can join in the scenery-chewing with gusto. Jennifer Lawrence continues to be the darling of the screen, and particular kudos to her ridiculously lithe stunt-double.

After the Logan-light First Class, it’s good to have Wolverine back, even if the adjusted timeline means that he’s adamantium-free. It’s odd to see him with those comparatively puny bone claws – a little like a lion shorn of its mane. Magneto and Xavier’s relationship is always one of the most interesting parts of the story, and it’s great to see more of how they took their different paths.

The same frustrations with any X-Men film are the same here. There’s just not enough time to do all the characters justice, though it does manage to be less scattergun with its approach than First Class. I could have happily spent longer exploring the possibilities of Quicksilver’s phenomenal speed, so I do hope we’ll see more of him in future films. Speaking of, there were brief glimpses of some old and familiar faces that imply a series reboot, perhaps separate to the current Gambit Origins in development.

As ever with X-Men, subtlety is not the strong point. The themes of great power bringing great responsibility are the same; only the set pieces change – and some of those smack of self-indulgence. But hey, what’s a summer blockbuster without a bit of “my budget’s bigger than yours”? The action speeds along at a great pace, with enough tension to make you worry whether your favourites will make it, and that ridiculous budget has been spent well. If you doubt that cinematic effects has come on leaps and bounds in the last decade, go back and watch X2 or The Last Stand.

It’s impressive that the franchise has managed to keep the cast over so many films – the first X-Men was released 14 years ago. The quality of the sequels has been variable (the less said about The Wolverine the better) but this is a return to form. Basically, Days of Future Past is what you’ve come to expect of an X-Men film, only better. You can’t complain about that.

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