27 May 2014

X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST- Review

This review may contain minor spoilers. If you know me, you know I'm not an egregiously spoil-y writer, but this film is bloody packed with plot before it even gets going. If you'd prefer to go in knowing nothing, come back and read this after you've seen the movie.

Wouldn't it be wild if Sony took the lukewarm reception of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 as a sign that they should get Sam Raimi back, with all of his iteration's cast and continuity? Or if we finally got Dredd 2, but with Danny Cannon showing us how Sylvester Stallone's Dredd is in canon with the reboot? Because Fox has basically done just that with X-Men: Days Of Future Past.

Pouring the ensemble of the early X-Men movies in with the younger cast of 2011's soft reboot First Class, this is a densely plotted sequel/prequel/reboot, loosely based on the acclaimed comic arc of the same unwieldy name. The not-so-distant future is looking bleak for mutant-kind as invincible Sentinels hunt down the last of the X-Men. With the help of Kitty Pryde, Professor X and Magneto devise a plan to quantum leap Wolverine's mind back in time, circa 1973, to bring together Charles and Erik's younger selves, then bitter enemies, and change history for the better.

There's a lot more to it than that, because if nothing else, Days Of Future Past succeeds in being big. In terms of scale alone, it makes The Avengers look like a film made in somebody's garage. Admittedly, it's Marvel's success with continuity which seems to have been the main motivator behind this biggest instalment to date. When Fox spends this kind of money on a film these days, you would expect it to have Avatar in the title. But strangely, this is the least accessible of all the movies, looking for all the world like a comic book event story writ large, in all but those little caption boxes that would tell you which previous instalment established a crucial plot point.

Because some things never change, it's The Wolverine Show, because his healing factor gives them ample justification for making the sixth out of seven films where Hugh Jackman's hairy face and man-tits are front and centre. It's also, at this point, the most interesting thing you could do with the character in a team movie- he's nobody's first choice of diplomat and aside from last summer's spin-off, he was last seen telling our younger heroes to go fuck themselves. Tipping him back into the conflict established in First Class often makes for an interesting use of a well-worn character.

But if I had a quibble with First Class, it was that Fox never quite cut the apron strings from the previous instalments and now they've immediately followed it with a film where original director Bryan Singer has picked up as though nothing has happened since 2003's X-Men 2. A wise move in terms of retconning X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which ran the series into a brick wall, but there are points during the deluge of retroactive continuity and nonsensical exposition that you wish they'd just made a straight sequel to First Class.

The most blatant disregard comes in the fact that aside from Xavier, Magneto, Beast and Mystique, almost every other character from First Class has been killed off screen. This has hollowed out the hip young version of Charles Xavier from the previous instalment, which allows James McAvoy to easily hog any and all allotted time for character development amidst a cast which, much like a tweet, has about 140 characters. Likewise, there's a bigger role for the exponentially more famous Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique, but there's a certain amount of man-splaining from other characters involved in her part, just about every time she's on-screen.

The cast are routinely great and there's not a duff performance amongst them, but there is a weird premature nostalgia for Singer's own earlier films, which altogether unbalances the film. Most of the film takes place in 1973, but we do keep cutting back to the inevitably less interesting adventures of the original X-Men in the future. It's certainly cool to see the darkest timeline play out once in a mind-blowingly bleak opening action scene, but the timey wimey mechanic means that there's less jeopardy in what would otherwise look like the last X-Men story ever told, than there is in the concurrent events of the past.

This is mostly because Michael Fassbender steals the show once again as Magneto- although he has less character development than on the last run-around, he's the character who feels most consistent with what was achieved before this one. When he's told that the events of the next few days could lead to global extinction, he doesn't put aside his stance and bow to Wolverine's future wisdom. Instead, he's manipulating the situation to try and achieve his own goals of mutant supremacy as well as averting their extinction, just as he has done in the past.

This also makes him the only real antagonist. Peter Dinklage does sterling work as anti-mutant inventor Bolivar Trask, but he's utterly undeveloped, spouting the usual rhetoric about how mutants are dangerous. There'd be a danger of boiling all of the series' themes of conflict down to giant robot fights, were it not for Erik. His tendency towards sudden yet inevitable betrayal gives the film an edge that it desperately needs over the course of its 130 minutes, especially when the drab Matrix-esque future is inhabited by amazing actors such as Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen and Ellen Page just sitting around and watching Wolverine sleep.

There's probably a 5-star movie in here somewhere, buried deep in the more po-faced and convoluted plot. The action scenes are utterly superb, from that opening dust-up between the Sentinels and hopelessly outclassed X-Men like Colossus and Iceman, through to an amazing showdown at the Paris peace accords, which is the closest Singer comes to the Cuban missile crisis scenes from the prequel. But there are so many recycled bits (from X-Men 2 in particular) and new mutant characters that we don't really care about (Quicksilver is destined to be the most overrated character in any movie this year) that it never quite moves with the nimble pace demonstrated in its best moments.

Finally, for such an epic film, X-Men: Days Of Future Past is awfully backward in moving forward. The overall effect is utterly exhausting, leaving you straining to remember the really good bits. The highlights include the performances, particularly McAvoy and Lawrence, and some of the best action scenes we've seen in the series. It opens up a whole world of possibilities for the films that will follow, (which so far include 2016's X-Men: Apocalypse and another Wolverine movie the year after) but it takes an awful lot of exposition, repetition and continuity bumph to make the biggest superhero movie ever made feel so old-hat.

X-Men: Days Of Future Past is now showing, in 2D and 3D, at cinemas nationwide.
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If you've seen Days Of Future Past, why not share your comments below? Even if I have complaints about other aspects, that kick-ass theme tune is the best returning feature of the original Singer era.

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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