FILM REVIEW: X-MEN- Days of Future Past
Stars: Ian Mckellan, Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence Halle Berry, James McAvoy, Peter Dinkage & Ellen Page.
I’m not going to lie, time travel usually turns my brain cells into a squiggly wiggly, curly wurly mush, but I’m happy to say X-Men: Days of Future Past didn’t have this effect on me. From the moment the film powerfully opens with an explosive battle sequence between giant robots that seem impossibly invincible, even against our favourite mutants-some faces familiar some new- you can tell the engine is only beginning to be revved up for a special effects motion spectacular.
The countless robots that reign destruction on Kitty Pryde (power=phrase through solid objects and time travel, well kind of), Bobby Drake/ Iceman (power=what it says on the tin), Storm, Professor-X, Magneto, Wolverine and new faces Colossus (power=superhuman strength, stamina and durability from being able to transform his body into organic steel), Blink (power=create nifty portals to teleport through), Sunspot (power=ability to create flames and solar powered superhuman strength giving him near invulnerability), Warpath (power=superhuman senses, near invulnerability, super speed and agility), and Bishop (power=can redirect energy and fire it out in telekinetic blasts), turn out to be Sentinels, in a case of Terminator meets Iron Man, which, in this grim dystopian future that echos Terminator: Salvation, have been engineered to slaughter mutants and humans with the genes to have mutant offspring. There’s just one problem: they can adapt to mutant abilities and squash them like ants.
Writers Simon Kinberg, Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman exploit the time travel plot in their favour, opening with the gripping and quite frankly, utterly terrifying massacre of our beloved mutants, instilling so much panic into the audience from the word go, that you hardly dare breathe. (In fact, the scene leaves you gasping for almost as much breath as you were when you read that second paragraph!) By showing such a disastrous defeat in the future first, the writers skilfully embed suspense through out the film, as Kitty sends Wolverine’s mind back to 1973 to stop Mystique killing the Sentinels’ creator Dr Trask and unwittingly setting off a chain of events that result in the dismal future the first scene depicts. This works well in keeping you on the edge of your seat, biting your nails (or whatever works for you) eagerly anticipating whether anti-hero Wolverine succeeds, when the circular narrative returns back to the future.
Another reason why the time travel doesn’t muddle your mind too much is the story line is fairly straight forward, Wolverine has gone back in time to occupy his younger body and, with the help of the younger Magneto and a slightly lost and disheveled Charles Xavier, stop a stubborn Mystique making the assassination and save the world. It also helps that Days of Future Past was made after X-Men: First Class, so you are already familiar with the main protagonists’ younger selves. Plus, there is no confusing to-ing and fro-ing between time periods with it only being once when Xavier uses his mental abilities to channel his older self into the body of Wolverine in the past to give his younger self a good talking to and not to give up hope, after he abuses a drug loyal Hank McCoy has engineered that suppresses his mind powers but allows him to walk again.
While the film has all the great hallmarks of what make X-Men awesome, from impressive battle sequences- including the scenes set in Paris, in which Wolverine, Xavier and Beast try to reason with Mystique not to kill Trask, while a rouge Magneto tries to kill Mystique to prevent her DNA being exploited by Trask in the future to make the Sentinels adaptable, resulting in the Mutants causing public panic and military shooting at them amongst the devastation- to a well-polished script and humour- especially evident when Peter Maximoff uses his super-speed when helping the young Magneto to escape his high security prison to zip around and comically outwit guards, hilariously stopping to taste a drop of stray soup as he whizzes by- it paradoxically lacks character exploration.
I say paradoxically as, although Xavier’s character is explored in depth, as older Professor X warns Wolverine ‘we were very different men back then,’ and the audience see the impact the closure of his School for the Gifted and the departure of his adopted sister Raven aka Mystique has on him, we don’t learn much about our villain. With Trask being a dwarf you’d think he’d empathize with mutants for having to live with being different, instead he is hell bent on destroying them, meaning Trask isn’t much of a focal point as a baddie.
Overall though, nods to other films in the series, such as a thoughtful Trask asking a young William Stryker about his ill-fated mutant son are appreciated and it was amazing to see all the different characters unite against one cause, even if some, like Jean Grey and Cyclops only made cameo appearances. In fact, the inclusion of so many much loved characters only adds to the escapism that this golden gem of entertainment provides.