One Action. Decades Of Devestation.
In an unspecified future decade, mankind rules over mutants (and anyone who may give birth to mutants) with an iron fist. The world is scorched and barren from years of ceaseless, merciless combat. Those that had survived are constantly at war with autonomous adaptable machines called Sentinels, which are programmed to hunt and destroy all mutant life. Seeing their opportunity to change the course of history, Professor Xavier [Patrick Stewart] and Magneto [Ian McKellen] reveal that the Sentinels were the brainchild of scientist Bolivar Trask [Peter Dinklage], who was executed in the 1970’s by Mystique [Lawrence]. If they can go back and prevent Mystique from killing Trask, the Sentinels may never come to being and they certainly wouldn’t be programmed with Mystique’s shifting abilities. For his super-healing and near agelessness, Wolverine [Jackman] is tasked to send his consciousness back in time and convince the young Xavier [McAvoy] and Magneto [Fassbender] to join forces and prevent this future from occurring. Needless to say, this task proves immensely difficult as Erik is imprisoned beneath the Pentagon and Charles, disenfranchised by the Vietnam War and the subsequent drafting of his students, has traded in his powers for an addictive serum that allows him to walk.
The latest instalment in the fourteen year franchise suffers from a fair amount of continuity issues, which I can easily overlook because a.) they’re not nearly as absurd as Origins: Wolverine and b.) I overlooked them in X-Men: First Class. And yet there are so many unanswered questions, almost all of which relate to the dystopian future part of the story. When did Wolverine get his adamantium claws back, are we to believe that twin Xavier crap in the post-credits scene of X-Men: The Last Stand, when did Kitty Pride’s ability to project back through time come about, what was Bishop’s power exactly? Granted I can actually answer a few of these thanks to comic lore but the majority of the audience won’t have a clue. Yet these plot-holes and brow furrowing moments were an odd mix for me. At times Days Of Future Pastis spectacular, with a lavish cast, great visual effects and intriguing narrative. But the remainder of the time, it’s bloated and surprisingly dull. Considering I rated First Class so highly, I can only think to blame the new/returning factor: Bryan Singer’s direction. The problem with bringing back Singer is that he seems to have picked up exactly where he left off. Now I would normally argue this is a positive point but from the uniformed title sequence, the dismissively used returning cast and the sporadic action scenes, I can’t help but wonder if new blood would have been better suited to this pseudo-prequel/sequel/thing. I’m not bemoaning drama superseding action in a superhero movie, if anything I think it strengthens it tenfold (Captain America: The Winter Soldier I’m looking at you) but while the struggle between Charles and Erik is just as riveting as ever, the adventures of a frankly bored looking time-travelling Wolverine meant that the entire second act meandered around a fair bit before clumsily finding itself at the finale. Which is especially strange as Wolverine’s mission is obviously one of explicit urgency yet he’s quite happy to sit in the background and wait for Charles and Erik to hash things out.
Admittedly, the production design is great. The futuristic setting is all industrial and overtly Terminator influenced, so not much to work with there, but the seventies elements are teeming with life, vibrancy and colour – not to mention the unease in the United States after the Vietnam War and Kennedy assassination. The slight improvements made to both Beast and Mystique’s make-up add to their character’s authenticity and delivery – although Beast fans will still be irritated with how he looks. On top of the physical production value, the CGI elements were also distinctly impressive. Fans have been waiting for Sentinels as long as there have been X-Men movies and their appearances (both past and future) were far from disappointing. I wouldn’t say they felt like the unstoppable Terminator-esque forces that they are supposed to be but they definitely represent a very real and powerful threat. Musically speaking, I literally couldn’t tell you anything about the score. Michael Kamen’s thematic sting is repeated happily but the rest is a bit obscure, a fusion of period appropriate funk and forgettable brass/string stings. Thanks a lot Ottman; even John Powell’s X-Men: Last Stand had some really interesting themes, what’s your excuse?
Despite this movie being an utter cameo fest of talent, most of the actors are really under-utilised. McAvoy and Fassbender once again prove that they are more than up to the task of filling the shoes of two acting powerhouses but both Jennifer Lawrence and Nicholas Hoult aren’t allowed to really deviate much outside of the standard parameters for their character, leaving us disinterested. Then there are all the ‘old guard’ X-Men like Ice-Man, Storm, Colossus, Kitty Pryde, etc. who aren’t given a great deal to do in the future scenes, outside of standing around looking pensive. Bolivar Trask is also a bit of a quandary. Like most of the viewing world, I love Peter Dinklage but this role is a bit stale. I understand that he’s meant to be the scheming weapons merchant but compared to Bruce Davison as Senator Kelly in X-Men or Brian Cox’s Col. Stryker in X2, he’s not really that menacing. If anything, some of his speeches make sense. And that’s one of this movie’s biggest problems. There’s no clear villain. One could say that Magneto always is and was the villain but considering the actual reason for his incarceration and the very fact that he is a victim of persecution make him a somewhat sympathetic individual. I’m not saying villains can’t be complex or that they should be dumbed down but for this kind of story but if an individual is sent through time to stop a specific event from taking place, only to somehow make it worse despite the fact that there’s no clear villain, one could infer that therefore no clear objective – which probably explains the bowing middle of the story arc.
Much like Godzilla, I rather enjoyed Days Of Future Past and yet, as a critic, I was left cold and indifferent to seventy percent of the on-screen drama. No, scratch that. Let’s make it a little more relevant to Bryan Singer. Much like Superman Returns, I enjoyed the film but I simply felt it could have been handled so much better. On paper, all the key elements are in place but the final release is less than inspiring. What really astonishes me is the critical praise being afforded to a competent but far from revolutionary superhero film. Maybe it’s just like American Hustle: everyone loves Jennifer Lawrence in the seventies.. except me.
23rd May 2014
The Scene To Look Out For:
While the action set pieces are great, the real soul of the film is the emotional core (as it was with First Class). Nowhere does this seem more prevalent than during Magneto’s confrontation with Charles on the plane. Charles, furious with Erik for taking Raven/Mystique from him and abandoning the group, is quickly slapped down by an equally upset Erik, who blames Charles for trying to control those he loved, for abandoning the cause, for lacking the courage and strength to protect his friends and for surrendering his gifts for common mobility.
Weirdly enough, the most controversial character turned out to be one of the most entertaining. In the run-up to promoting this film Quicksilver’s look was slated by everyone. But when you finally see him zipping around with his cocky affable nature and sense of mischievousness, he quickly becomes one of the strongest elements. And then they get rid of him! It’s astonishing. I mean, I know the reason why, it’s the same problem as the Flash; any time there’s a problem, the Flash can literally fix almost anything due to super speed. But still, to remove the most promising element of your feature is a bit of a misstep.
“You know I think I do remember you now. We came to you when we needed help and now I’m going to say to you the two words you said to me: fuck off”
In A Few Words:
“Despite all the right foundation elements, X-Men: Days Of Future Past is an acceptable film but not nearly as grandiose and enthralling as it could have been”