Eschewing the swinging sixties espionage vibe of Matthew Vaughn’s predecessor, returning director Bryan Singer has crafted an altogether darker, dystopian and decidedly more adult vision, complete with scenes of intravenous drug-taking, (almost) full-frontal nudity and a well-placed f-bomb that would turn Mystique blue. And whilst X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) is a solid effort all round, it falls a little short of First Class (2011), namely due to the filmmaker struggling to cater to the sheer volume of characters on screen. Opening in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, the earth seemingly levelled by giant mutant-stalking robots (‘Sentinels’), the battle-scarred X-Men are seeking refuge high above the ruins.
In a last-ditch attempt to save mankind, it’s decided that Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), under the spell of Kitty Pryde’s (Ellen Page) mutant powers, will travel back into the past to change the fate of Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), who unwittingly provides scientist Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) with the means of achieving his nefarious aims. Returning several decades back, Wolverine awakens in the early seventies and discovers it ain’t as ‘groovy’ as the decade before. His closest ally, Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), is now living as a burnt-out recluse, suppressing his powers in the crumbling mansion with his very own Alfred – in the form of Nicolas Holt’s Beast. He’s not keen on breaking his comrade-turned-adversary, Magneto (Michael Fassbender), out of prison, but soon realises it is a necessity.
There’s much to juggle here for Singer and for the most part, he rises to the challenge. The mangled, decaying future world is wonderfully realised, and the director can’t help but plant some visual and thematic nods to the first two Terminator entries (don’t forget, this is a guy who made feature-length homage with 2006’s Superman Returns). He also brings a deft touch to the decade in question – the 8mm, Zapruder-like footage capturing mutant action being a particularly nice visual accoutrement. Unfortunately, when it comes to ensuring all the cast members are given breathing space, this proves to be a little more problematic. There’s the nagging feeling that Fassbender is a little reined in here, and isn’t given enough to work with. It’s McAvoy who’s the damaged one this time around, getting the lion’s share of the dramatically meaty scenes (he’s essentially a junkie when we first meet him).
Now an Oscar-winning megastar, Lawrence, quite rightly, sees her role amplified as the moral centrepiece to the film, but it’s sometimes difficult for her to shine amongst that heavy body make-up and the acrobatic stunt inserts. Jackman, once again, proves to be the glue that binds, and he effortlessly slips into that growling baritone and striking, sinewy figure. It’s heartening to see that he’s vital to the plot and not just a cynical tag-on. Impressive for the most part without being awe-inspiring, the film’s two timelines converge in a much more satisfying and thrilling ways towards the end, where the emotional stakes are considerably upped. Despite these shortcomings, Singer has succeeded in bringing a satisfying end to this weighty chapter in the X-Men cinematic universe. It’s to both the credit of Days of Future Past’s creative team and cast that after 14 years, there’s still some life left in the mutated franchise.
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