X-Men: Days of Future Past – Bryan Singer goes back to the future with the X-Men

The X-Men film series has had many ups and downs over the years. Two amazing first films (X-Men (2000) and X2 (2003)) were followed by a disappointing third sequel (X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)) and a Wolverine origins tale (X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)) that pushed the franchise to breaking point. The saving grace came in the form of a reboot helmed by director Matthew Vaughn – X-Men: First Class (2011). New cast, new origins (this time Magneto and Professor Xavier), and a new time period (the 60’s) gave a fresh, exciting look and feel to the film that turned out to be a mature action thriller with brains, plenty of laughs and great characters. A sequel was inevitable. X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) saw the loss of Matthew Vaughn as director (he stepped down to focus on other projects), but it was lucky enough to acquire someone who knew more than a bit about the series – the original director of the first two X-Men films, Bryan Singer. Many hoped that the Midas touch Singer brought to the series all those years ago would return. However with a much more in-depth tale, Days of Future Past is a very different beast, not only to Singer’s first films that began the franchise, but also to any previous X-Men film seen before.

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) – Charles (James McAvoy), Beast (Nicholas Hoult) and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) unlock Cerebro

While First Class focused solely on the origins of Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lehnsherr aka. Magneto (Michael Fassbender), as well as a few other key X-Men characters (mainly Raven/Mystique played by Jennifer Lawrence), Days of Future Past takes a different approach. Merging both that timeline from First Class and a future timeline (featuring many characters from the other X-Men films), we see how certain actions in the X-Men’s past have affected the future of mutantkind, a terrifying dystopia in which the mutants are in danger from weaponised robots called Sentinels that are designed to target and destroy them. Their only solution is to send someone back to the past (now the 70’s) to stop the Sentinels before they become too powerful, something which Mystique unwittingly did when she assassinated their creator, Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage). Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is sent back to try and convince Charles and Erik to unite and stop Mystique before it is too late and events are set in motion that will bring about an all-out war on mutants.

With a tricky time travel idea and a multi-stranded plot like this, X-Men: Days of Future Past might have been in danger of being too complex: too many characters, too much going on – simply too many cooks spoiling the (X-Men) broth. Yet writer Simon Kinberg creates a clear narrative in his script (which was based on a story written by himself, Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn, which in itself was an idea that came from an original comic in the X-Men series). Kinberg prevents it from becoming convoluted by focusing on the relationship between the younger Charles and Erik, as well as other key characters such as Raven and her past connection to Charles. By focusing on these aspects he gives the story drive and keeps the audience hooked without it becoming a mess. Sure, some parts might be a little confusing to those not familiar with the previous X-Men films (namely the first three and First Class) but there is still plenty of fun to be had here and even without fully knowing the previous X-Men plots, it could work by itself as an entertaining stand-alone film.

Blink (Bingbing Fan) and Warpath (Booboo Stewart), ready for action...

Bryan Singer’s solid direction also ensures that proceedings don’t become too mired in confusing time travel. He reliably handles all elements with his usual self-confidence, keeping the pace fast and fraught so as to keep the audience interested. Singer also has fun with the scope and vision that the two differing timelines give him. While the future is dark, dingy and tense, the 70’s is colourful and bright, and more importantly very funny at times. That acerbic humour that has been present in many of the other X-Men films, especially for scenes involving the snarky Wolverine, is a big reason why X-Men: Days of Future Past works so well. Another reason is the sheer spectacle. Bryan Singer expertly directs the many set-pieces with ease and has fun using a few spectacular moments to introduce some of the new characters, such as a great scene with a portal creator called Blink (Bingbing Fan) and another with a speedy mutant called Quicksilver (Evan Peters) who also gets one of the funniest scenes in the film.

However Future Past isn’t without its incredibly dark moments as well and Singer never loses sight of the human (or should that be mutant) element to this story. Singer knows when to step back and let the drama flow, in particular for moments between the younger Charles and Erik (a relationship that is brought to life by the partnership of the brilliant James McAvoy and the equally amazing Michael Fassbender) whose friendship has become even more strained. An introductory scene with McAvoy as the washed-up Xavier is truly heartbreaking to watch, as is a scene in which Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence – again incredible) discovers the ‘research’ Trask has been using to design the Sentinels, a moment that also serves as a terrifying and a poignant reminder that behind the X-Men series (and indeed any fantasy/sci-fi series) there are many truths and real-life horrors.

Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) confronts Erik/Magneto (Michael Fassbender)

It is this mix, the high drama with the action and the humour, which has always been a winning formula with the X-Men films – the rooting of the fantastical in the very, very real. It is also a blueprint that Bryan Singer knows well and which he executes with precision and care to create a great sequel that entertains, moves and informs in equal measure. Personally, I am a huge X-Men fan (I used to obsessively watch the cartoon TV series), and I believe that X-Men: Days of Future Past is one of the best films of the franchise so far. Not only is it one of the funniest X-Men films, it’s also great to see the introduction of new, interesting characters (and not just new mutant ones – Peter Dinklage is particularly great as the villainous Trask), as well as the return of characters from First Class and even some from the original series (it is a particular joy to see Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen on-screen again playing the older Charles and Erik, as well as Hugh Jackman who is finally back in a sequel worth his weighty presence as the well-loved Wolverine). With a clever, engaging plot and an exciting ending that not only rights many series wrongs, but which has the potential to change the entire X-Men world as a whole (and which left me with a tear in my eye), this is also an incredibly exciting sequel to witness. Yes, Bryan Singer is back. And it’s excellent news to hear that he’ll be sticking around as director for the following sequel, X-Men: Apocalypse (2016).

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~ by square-eyed-geek on September 13, 2014.

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