To be able to pull off an ensemble film without compromising story or leaving character arcs incomplete is a huge talent. It’s a delicate balancing act of carefully selecting scenes and choreographing story beats so that everything works smoothly and economically without resorting to rambling exposition. Just as Joss Whedon pulled the trick off with aplomb in Avengers Assemble, so has Bryan Singer absolutely nailed it in X Men: Days of Future Past.
The time spanning sequel to the much lauded X Men: First Class, shows us a dystopian future, filled with mutant vs sentinel warfare. These robotic murder machines were created by Dr Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) in the 70s to target and wipe out any and all mutants, and they are winning. As a last ditch attempt to save themselves the future X Men send Wolverine’s consciousness back through time to his body in the 70s, to locate the younger X Men (in particular Charles Xavier) and band them together to stop the sentinel programme ever being given the green light.
Thankfully the whole time travel concept is dealt with very quickly by some fairly blatant, but well thought out exposition, which explains how the process works and thereby eradicates the need for further rambling scenes later on. This is a great device because it means after the first few minutes are done we focus wholly on the story, which has it’s own myriad complications.
Charles Xavier in the 70s is a lost soul. Treating his spinal injury with a serum devised by Hank McCoy (aka Beast) means he can walk, but has lost his powers. Concurrently the young Magneto (Michael Fassbender) is locked in a concrete prison, 100 metres beneath the Pentagon. Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) is on a mission of vengeance to kill Bolivar Trask (which will eventually lead to the Sentinal programme being given the go ahead), and it’s up to Logan to solve the whole mess.
It’s hard to begin pinpointing the film’s highlights because there are so many of them. In terms of structure alone, Singer and writer Simon Kinberg know what makes an action film work. The set pieces occur frequently and create just the right amount of escalation to allow the following action beats to raise the bar that bit higher. Particularly effective is Magneto’s escape, which utilises new character Quicksilver (a man so fast he seems to slow down time) in a scene that sees him take out a room full of guards by running around the walls, redirecting their bullets and moving their hands so that when time speeds back up again they knock themselves out. It’s a great bit of mischief that ought to have utilised the line “stop hitting yourself”, but works wonderfully nonetheless.
The dramatic scenes are equally well constructed and in particular the great chemistry between Fassbender and James McAvoy again pops from the screen in spectacular fashion. There is a war of words between the two on a private jet that serves to almost bring the plane down; such is Fassbender’s raw emotional rage.
Where the film falters for me is purely on an aesthetic level. The look of the future feels a bit dated; like Singer hasn’t quite stepped out of the black, neo-gothic, fetishistic hero costumes of the 90s. Whilst this is understandable in creating consistency with his previous X-Men stories, it does create a very obvious divide between the very authentic look of Matthew Vaughan’s First Class past and Singer’s leather clad future. Saying that the action that takes place in the future is insane in its choreography. Reminiscent of the opening White House attack in X2 when Nightcrawler used teleportation to take down the entire secret service, here we have new mutants who use portals (in the same way the game Portal works) to take on a legion of robots in stunning fashion.
Aesthetic tastes aside this is a truly great movie. It stands as not just the best X-Men movie, but one of the great comic book movies. And like all the best films, I can’t wait to give it another watch, and then another, and another.