Man, I wanted to hate this movie so much. The first trailer was shoddy, and it has too many characters, and Quicksilver- oops, I mean Peter Maximoff, sorry Marvel- had a terrible costume. Fortunately for me, I have never been so wrong.
Warning: minor spoilers ahead
The movie opens on a stunning vista of New York in the not-so-distant future, the comic’s Days of Future Past world realised perfectly on screen. Before long, we move to Moscow, where in a secret underground base, a team of mutants battles Sentinels. Oh, and if you’ve kept away from the majority of the movie’s marketing- as I have- you’ll be surprised to see that these aren’t your grandaddy’s Sentinels. They’re made of an intelligent alloy, able to shift and adapt to different power sets. They are scary machines. The mutants make their escape by sending one of their number- Bishop- into the past to warn them of the Sentinels- that way, they were simply never there in the first place. This catches the interest of Professor X and Magneto, now working together as leaders of the last mutants. They decide to send Wolverine back to 1973 to stop the whole Sentinel thing from kicking off by stopping Mytique from murdering Bolivar Trask, designer of the Sentinels. Off he goes, and the movie gets off to a flying start.
From here on out, X-Men: Days of Future Past follows its namesake storyline, substituting Senator Kelley for Bolivar Trask, and adding a young William Stryker as a supporting bad guy. Professor X is a washed-up, powerless weirdo, and Wolverine has to bring him into line; Magneto is imprisoned in the Pentagon, and it takes the help of Peter Maximoff to get him out. Around the halfway mark, the plot deviates quite significantly from Days of Future Past, so I’ll leave that in hopes that I don’t spoil anything too significant.
As you might be able to tell by now- if Empire’s string of variant covers didn’t ram it home to you- the film is full to the rafters with characters. What might surprise you is that this is no bad thing. Comparing it to any other comicbook movie with too many characters- say, The Amazing Spider-Man 2– is revealing, as it shows that in some cases, having this many characters can create a different feel for the film, as long as you use them correctly. Here, Bryan Singer is working with characters who have been in comics for decades, and who have been on screen (in some cases) for 14 years. We know these characters through and through, so he doesn’t hang about in pretending to develop them: he chucks them at the screen whenever he thinks it’s appropriate. Because of this, some characters get pretty short shrift- Rogue (Anna Paquin) originally played a pivotal role, but only appears once during the final cut; Bishop is played by Omar Sy, a relatively significant actor in the Francophone world, who gets very little to do and is barely on screen. Even the ‘original’ X-Men play second fiddle to the First Class gang, appearing in what could largely be called a frame story. However overall this is a positive move for the film; having so many characters appearing, some only briefly, makes the film feel fleshed-out and fully populated. This gives it an epic feeling hard to capture otherwise.
It’s been a while since Singer made an X-Men movie, but he returns to the game with great aplomb, showing particular talent with choreographing mutant fights. This is a talent many filmmakers struggle to get right: usually the last half hour of a superhero movie is two fleshy bricks punching each other into buildings. With Singer at the helm, every fight or even use of power is interesting. He thinks through the angles to how fights with those powers would work, and applies them on-screen in visually inventive ways. The core team of mutants protecting Logan as he travels back in time includes Blink (Fan Bingbing); her power is to create portals between spaces. In one scene, she throws a portal in front of a Sentinel about to attack her friend; he stumbles through it and reappears in the background, as she throws another portal down to take her and the friend away. She makes a portal on the ground and one in the sky; Colossus jumps into the bottom one, speeds up while falling from the sky one to the ground one, then she shoots him out of another portal. Good work Blink and Singer- now you’re fighting with portals. There is also an absolutely stunning sequence showing off Quicksilver’s powers, which is on a par with the Nightcrawler-led opening to X2 in terms in ingenuity and sheer filmmaking chutzpah. Keep an eye out for it. Overall, Singer’s directing is strong, particularly in the powers sequences, and has a fun, poppy sensibility to it.
What about the acting, or the story? Well, what about it? It’s workmanlike sometimes, and can drag slightly as they speak exposition at each other. But it’s par for the course for an X-Men movie, and the leads- Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender– know when they need to ham it up. Jackman is, as ever, an absolute delight, balancing comedy and drama on a very fine line. I’m not entirely convinced by McAvoy in his solo scenes, but when he’s with other actors he plays well and he’s more than capable of a commanding, Patrick Stewart-style speech. Jennifer Lawrence deserves special mention as playing quite a complex role, as Mystique spends much of the film in a transition from anti-hero to the villain we know and love; there’s a few scenes of her almost killing someone, trying to bring herself to do it while staring them in the eyes. It’s not easy to do that on screen and still come across as sympathetic, but she definitely manages it.
Ultimately, you don’t go and see this movie for the acting skill, the subtlety of the dialogue, or the complexity of the story. I mean, it’s all there, about of much as it as you need- but that’s not why you go to see the movie. With this one, it’s as much about seeing people beat the stuffing out of giant robots, a guy lift up a football stadium with his mind, and a blue lady dupe the US Army. At the midnight screening I attended, at least three instances caused people to yell ‘Oh s**t! No they didn’t!’ Now that’s what I call a positive fan reaction. X-Men: Days of Future Past is clearly made by people who loved the franchise, for people who love the franchise, and who show it by having as much awesome stuff as possible happen on screen. I suppose what I’m trying to say is that on some level, the movie is big, stupid fun, and I loved it with all my heart.
What did you think of X-Men: Days of Future Past? Too many characters or not enough? A good balance of past and future? Sound off in the comments below or send us your thoughts on Twitter!