A review on the latest instalment of the X-Men franchise
“What a refreshingly good superhero movie.”
This was my first thought once the credits started to roll on X-Men: Days of Future Past. Critics who complain about theatres over-saturated with superheroes and comic book adaptations (of which there are plenty) may be satisfied with Bryan Singer’s directorial return to the X-Men franchise.
Featuring a cast oozing with talent from both the original X-Men trilogy and 2009’s First Class — Michael Fassbender, Ian McKellan, James McAvoy, Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Peter Dinklage — Days of Future Past lives up to its potential.
The plot is a bit of a mess: set in the near-future, a company named Trask Industries develops mutant hunting robots called Sentinels, and the world degenerates into a dystopian landscape riddled with concentration camps for mutants as well as their human supporters.
The last of the X-Men are still a guerilla resistance group, but their numbers are rapidly dwindling. They make a final effort to stop the development of the Sentinels, using Kitty Pryde’s (Ellen Page) ability to send Wolverine’s consciousness back through time to his body in 1973. His mission is to bring together the young versions of Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) to stop Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from assassinating Bolivar Trask, the designer of the Sentinels, whose death would trigger their creation. Sound confusing? It is, and that’s just the bare bones of the plot.
But cutting back and forth in time also has its advantages. The viewers get to see the events and characters influence each other from two points in history, which is conducive to the character-driven narrative, not to mention the added advantage of nullifying some previous missteps in the series (*cough* X-Men 3: The Last Stand *cough*).
Most critics are gushing about the appearance of Quicksilver (Evan Peters), a mutant who can move at super speeds. One of his scenes delivers so well that the rest of the movie is dull in comparison; it’s nothing groundbreaking, we’ve seen these same special effects before, but the way Bryan Singer directs it, and the music choice elevates it beyond what it could have been. (Aaron-Taylor Johnson will have a difficult time living up to Peters’ performance when he plays the same character in next year’s Avengers: Age of Ultron.)
There are more than enough action scenes and mutant powers to keep viewers entertained throughout the film. Days of Future Past moves along at a fine pace, briskly taking the audience from country to country, with nary a dull moment.
The only major flaw in the whole endeavour is the focus on themes of discrimination and fear of the mutants — the heavy-handed metaphor for the same fear of the Other in our world. While it may be important, it’s the fifth X-Men movie to focus on it, and it’s getting tiring.
Days of Future Past shines when it’s not so much about changing the future as it is about changing the self. The suspense is not about whether or not Logan can save the X-Men in the future dystopia, but whether or not he can save the younger versions of Charles, Erik, and Raven. Redemption and reconciliation are at the heart of the movie. It is a world much like ours, full of broken people, disenfranchised and alone.
It’s rare for a superhero movie to realize these themes so fully and consistently. But it’s what the genre should be trying to do; in the midst of genetically modified supersoldiers, mutants, gods, and aliens, these movies still take place in a fallen world and revolve around the struggle of the human spirit in the midst of adversity.
Photo (CC) courtesy of adwooddesigns.