The future, it is a dark desolate place, a dystopian nightmare where the world is ruled by soulless robots, a land where if you’re different you’re rounded up and dealt with, no it’s not a UKIP party political broadcast it’s the intro to the new X-Men movie. This one, Days of Future Past, is about number 75 in the series and is adapted from one of the better known classic X-Men stories (probably due to the fondly remembered animated series of the 90’s). Throwing us in at the deep end, we find the last surviving X-Men teleporting across the globe dressed like they’re in an 80’s rock video, as they attempt to shake the unstoppable right wing robo-cocks (or Sentinels) programmed to wipe out the remaining mutants, all against the backdrop of cool futuristic purple neon lighting. It’s a predicament that leaves our heroes with only one choice, to use time travel to put right what once went wrong and leap back to the 70’s before the leather clad cast can begin a chorus of Don’t Stop Believin!
After some complicated timey-whimey paradox-shamadox gubbins Wolverine wakes up in the 1970’s, back in his younger body, accompanied with his original bone claws and enough plot holes to fill the Albert Hall. As both timelines (future and 70’s) progress and the tension ratchets up we’re introduced to characters both old and new in versions both young and old. Nicholas Hoult is back as Beast, with a more prominent role than X-Men: First Class, looking a bit better in his prosthetics and less like a homeless member of the Blue Man Group.
Tyrion Lannister from Game of Thrones (Peter Dinklage) turns up as the movies great porno-moustached baddy and Storm and Rogue appear briefly but for such short amounts of screen time that they could easily be classified as extras. Out of the new recruits the main stand out is the super-fast Quicksilver, a character whose inclusion sparked fear in the cholesterol-filled hearts of sweaty fan boys across the internet due to the fact that Aaron Taylor Johnson will also play an incarnation of the character in the next Avengers movie and because the first images of the Quicksilver outfit looked fairly cheesy. But as the X-Men of the future (AKA Duran Duran in the Wild Boys video) have proven, the outfits aren’t everything and Quicksilver turns out to be one the freshest and funniest new characters to join the franchise. A precocious self-centred teenager (aren’t they all) with added super speed which means he’s constantly impatient with the world not being able to keep up with him, oh and all the other mutants hate him which adds an amusing dynamic to the group.
With so many timelines and so many new characters it’s a miracle that any of the film makes sense at all, so it’s Magneto helmets off to script writer Simon Kinberg who makes it all clear (yet complex) enough for new audiences (and old comic book fans like me) to enjoy. Even when it does get confusing (as time travel movies always do) or there are big gaping plot holes to dodge it’s all fun enough and the characters likeable enough that you’ll decide to stick with it.
The main focus (as with most of the X-Men movies) is with the ongoing bromance between Magneto and Professor X, in the 1970’s played by Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy and in the future by Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart. Both sets of characters exude wonderful chemistry together on screen which I feel echoes their true friendships as actors off camera, making them really feel like old friends reunited. The film is in essence a continuation of their origin story which started in X-Men: First Class, as we follow the two characters and the decisions they make which will lead to Professor X becoming a leader and Magneto becoming a villain. The catalyst for all this is Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) who is expected to commit the assassination that will result in the aforementioned dark dystopian future, and so the battle for Mystique’s soul begins, meaning Jennifer Lawrence is given a crucial role in the film (perhaps due to Jennifer Lawrence’s enduring appeal with audiences) and isn’t just bouncing along in her blue birthday suit (as, literally, a bit of blue for the dads) but is actually the key to the World’s future.
The 1970’s: A History Lesson
In case you didn’t know much of the political and social landscape of life in the 70’s, Days of Future Past handily offers us some subtle story signposts to help. Including:
– A dodgy Richard Nixon look-alike doing his outstretched ‘I’m not a crook’ gesture.
– A fight scene that’s set in Vietnam towards the end of the war.
– References to JFK’s assassination (apparently it was a conspiracy and JFK was in fact a mutant)
-Professor Xavier looking like a washed up Jim Morrison, hiding away in his mansion hooked on mutant super skag. (Actually this whole list sounds like some sort of drugged up wet dream from the mind of Oliver Stone)
There are other 70’s filmic styles evident in the action too, there’s a great heist scene featuring Quicksilver breaking into the Pentagon, some suspenseful paranoia scenes at Trask Industries and a number of twists on classic ideas (a shoot out where the bullets chase after their victim) all well paced and exciting action sequences which make the first half of the film fly by. The second half however begins to settle down slightly as we get into the more melodramatic and emotional scenes representing Mystique’s moral battle, a section which to be honest could have done with another action sequence to keep the momentum up. The melodrama however is accompanied at all times by a real sense of threat, these characters are literally fighting for their future, it’s a threat that makes this X-Men film feel bigger, more expansive and more important than ever before. As the tension builds to a nail biting climax it becomes clear that director Bryan Singer is cleverly using time travel to reboot his own franchise (having directed the first two X-Men movies), in a similar way to how JJ Abrams did with the reinvention of the Star Trek franchise. The end result feels almost like Singer sticking the middle finger up at Brett Ratner’s awful X-Men: The Last Stand which not only killed off main characters but also nearly the franchise.
Using time travel to link up both threads of the franchise is a brilliant move and the skill in juggling so many characters, arcs and timelines is as mind boggling as the time travel concept itself, but in the end it all just comes down to being a great excuse for you to see all your favourate mutants (and some new ones) team up, in one place, giving us the audience, the best of both worlds. I for one left the cinema with a satisfied feeling and a smile on my face. As a committed comic book geek I was especially happy to see this great story line done properly, full of inventive ideas and a good sense of humour (one particular gag which comes to mind is Wolverine going through a metal detector without the reaction you’d expect).
X-men: Days of Future Past is a great summer blockbuster with a bit of brains and some hefty acting (and 70’s mutton) chops. In relation to the other 75 X-Men movies it’s a bit better than First Class, way better than The Last Stand and nearly as good as X2 (which is the best of the X-movies in my opinion) meaning it honourably teleports up the podium to pick up the franchise’s (Quick)silver medal.
Rating: Best blockbuster of the summer (so far!).
5 bone claws out of 6
Question: Is time travel this years vampires/zombies/erupting volcano/apocalyptic asteroid/film theme that’s coincidentally released at a similar time? What with X-Men being followed by Edge of Tomorrow and the forthcoming Welcome To Yesterday its hard to know if you’re coming or going, or going and coming!
Oh yeah and altogether now…….. WILD BOYS!
The animated series: