Bryan Singer clearly enjoys a challenge. X-Men: Days of Future Past employs not only a time-travel narrative with resultant logical paradoxes, troche but also features a legion of characters, unhealthy some of whom are played by two different actors. It truly is a testament to Singer’s skills that this makes any sense at all, drug let alone that it turned out to be such good fun! Rarely do we see the seventh episode of a franchise turn out to be arguably the best.
We begin with a desolate future vision of a wasted city. Mutants are being wiped out by the unstoppable sentinels (robots that adapt to any assault), as shown in a breathtaking prologue that neatly explains the time-travel device. In an attempt to avert this destruction, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) has his consciousness sent back to 1973, where he must find the young Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender). Together they attempt to stop Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), whose vengeful quest to assassinate sentinel-inventor Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) would result in humanity uniting against mutants.
Credit must go to writer/producer Simon Kinberg for turning a potential narrative minefield into a cohesive story. There are always sticky issues to resolve when dealing with time-travel, especially in terms of clumsy exposition. We are subjected to a certain amount of such explanation but, while rushed and a little forced, the plot smartly does not dwell on mechanics and instead we are flung swiftly into the 1970s within the first fifteen minutes. The vast array of characters is both a blessing and a curse: we witness a wide range of powers and some awesome spectacle, but there are a number of mutants who get introduced without good reason (future X-man Bishop), or brought back for what is essentially a cameo (Halle Berry’s Storm). Even Mystique, the crux of the story, is not given much time for character development, at times feeling more like plot device than person.
That said, there are no complaints about the acting whatsoever. While this is ostensibly another Wolverine-led story, the largest emotional journey is undertaken my McAvoy’s Xavier. Bitter and depressed, Xavier is essentially a drug addict, allowing for a neat reversal of his relationship with Wolverine in the first two X-films, and McAvoy gives the role a great deal of weight and heart. Gone is the cocksure young genius of First Class, while we are certainly a long way away from the genial professor of the future. Jackman still embodies Wolverine with gusto, though the plot doesn’t allow him to be as berserk as we might have liked. Fassbender has a somewhat easier part to play, though one powerful scene on a plane is testament to his acting skill and dangerous charisma. Dinklage’s Trask does not have much on-screen time, but impacts when there. Petty and scared, there are dimensions to his villain not seen since X2’s William Stryker.
There is a lot of plot to get through but, when the action kicks in, it is incredibly well put together. There is a contrast between the bleak battle for survival in the future and the much more fun 70’s combat that works well to highlight to merits of each. Focussed primarily on the past, the glimpses we get of the sentinel battles are vicious and scary, pushing the 12A rating to its very limits. Mutant powers are realised better than ever before, especially Fan Bingbing’s Blink, whose dimension ripping portals look utterly beautiful. Quicksilver, played by Evan Peters, who is quick and has silver hair, may well be the best character in the film, though was interestingly one about which the fans were most pessimistic. Able to move speedily enough that time virtually stops, at one point we witness how he regards life in an extraordinary scene in a kitchen, which is both funny and thrilling.
In a brave move, Days of Future Past significantly alters events so that much of what we saw in previous instalments must be massively altered. Giving the franchise something of a clean slate may eradicate some of the less loved elements, but also cheapens to some degree the stories that were well regarded. It will be fascinating to see where this will lead in future episodes, though it is possible that leaving events as they have will lead to headaches as to how to get things rolling smoothly again. A disappointing post-credits sting alludes to the next in the series, but isn’t necessarily worth a ten minute wait.
A clever exercise in connecting timelines, Days of Future Past is all that a summer blockbuster should be. Exciting and heartfelt, with a delicate balance of light and shade, there are mostly criticisms for what isn’t there, rather than what is. A true shot in the arm for a slightly flagging franchise.