Bryan Singer returns to the franchise he established for the best X-Men film yet.
Days of Future Past marks the moment Fox’s flagging X-Men franchise became truly great cinema (not that X2 or First Class didn’t work a treat). Taking Matthew Vaughn’s spirit of fun and family relationships – very much core comic book trademarks – controversial director Bryan Singer has finally delivered an entry that both movie fans and Marvel readers can love. There’s still liberties taken, continuities fudged, and certain characters frustratingly under-used, but you won’t care as Singer takes us on a timeline-hopping odyssey with real-world stakes and set-pieces that hold thematic weight. Just like the real X-Men. Is it too much to say they finally got it right?
If you’ve read the iconic 80’s run of the same name by Chris Claremont or even seen the 90’s animated series adaptation, you’ll be familiar with the overall structure of Days of Future Past. In the near future, the world has been ravaged by robotic “Sentinels,” machines created by industrialist Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) to hunt down mutants. However, they inevitably turned on their masters, and the robots began targeting humans who would pass on the X-gene. Subsequently, the globe has become a sun-quenched black hole straight out of The Matrix. This is where we open and Singer makes his ballsy intentions known, with an entire team of X-Men – including Iceman (Shawn Ashmore), Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page), and the under-utilised Blink (Fan Bingbing) – being savagely murdered by those metal bastards. (And that’s not a spoiler, you’ll see it happen more than once.) It’s a gut-punching opener for a “kid’s” movie, to be sure.
Naturally, the mutant survivors want to avert this future crisis. Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Lensherr/Magneto (Ian McKellen) concoct a plan with Kitty’s help to send the consciousness of Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back to 1973 to warn their younger selves. Since Logan never ages and can heal instantly, he wakes up in his earlier body without much of a hitch. But just as Marty McFly informed us, “correcting” the timeline isn’t going to be easy. This involves convincing a druggy, bedraggled Xavier (James McAvoy) to get the band back together, busting Magneto (Michael Fassbender) out of the Pentagon, and stopping the vengeful Mystique (a brilliant Jennifer Lawrence) from assassinating Trask and ensuring a future apocalypse.
Right off the bat, Singer announces his superior skill in helming this series. The franchise has lacked his overall technical panache since the second, and now he has comic book-reading screenwriters in the shape of Vaughn, Jane Goldman and Simon Kinberg, there’s simply no stopping him. This is a bold return to form for the filmmaker who tragically lost his way with the uber-pretentious Superman Returns and the miscalculated Jack the Giant Slayer. This is a hugely competent film with his returning cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel making every last frame look spectacular, whilst composer John Ottman’s signature and iconic themes return to appreciative effect. It’s all summed-up in the scene where newcomer Quicksilver (Evan Peters) aids in the exodus of Magneto, which manages to be a visual effects showreel, a moment of levity, and a sly wink at 70’s music all at the same time. (While we’re on the subject of tunes, Wolverine’s “wake-up” song is hilarious, but the presence of a Walkman is shockingly anachronistic.)
The memorable scenes come thick and fast and it’s once again a testament to Singer that the multiple personalities, timelines, and plots never lose their coherence. It would have been far too easy for this time-travel malarkey to become utterly confusing, and while I’m not entirely sold on the mechanics of it, the cast sell it with utmost conviction. Though the action is thrilling, you’re really coming to Future Past to see this gargantuan ensemble interact, and the stars don’t disappoint. Stewart and McKellen’s limited presence gives the enterprise a sense of credibility once again, and McAvoy and Fassbender, as their younger selves, continue to excel in these roles. It’s fascinating to see a Xavier who has given up his powers to walk again, and McAvoy is utterly compelling as we watch him slowly get his mojo back. Also, Fassbender remains faintly terrifying as the youthful Eric, culminating in a stadium-raising showstopper that displays the full extent of Magneto’s powers on a level Brett Ratner’s Golden Gate fiasco could only dream of.
Speaking of the god-awful Last Stand, Future Past rightfully resets the balance and provides a freeing road map for the franchise to pursue. There’s some real surprises in store for the faithful, making me impatiently await the next chapter in this reinvigorated series. Are there faults? Well, anoraks will nitpick certain things as they always do, and the lack of focus on the likes of Bishop (Omar Sy) and familiar faces such as Storm (Halle Berry) is a bit perplexing. But these feel like churlish complaints in the grand scheme of things. Singer has re-delivered scope, intelligence and grandeur to a saga that would have died if not for his self-produced First Class. This is his wheelhouse and everyone else was merely spinning in it.
Oh, and make sure you stay until after the credits have rolled for a surprise hardcore fans just won’t want to miss…