X-Men-1The X-Men franchise is one that has been plagued by a great deal of misfortune since the first installment way back when in the year 2000. A lot of the issues it has experienced largely comes down to Fox Studio’s caring very little for franchise continuity, amounting in a franchise which looked to have lost its way through convoluted spin-off’s, rushed sequels, and poor character judgement. Much of the blame is put upon the third film of the franchise, the Brett Ratner directed The Last Stand. Butchering a beloved comic-book arc, the film seemed to signal a downturn in the franchise, leading to filmmakers taking very little consideration and care for the characters and comics they were adapting, something Bryan Singer was very careful with respecting in X-Men and the franchise high-point that was (and still remains) X-2. Yet, something seems to be changing in this franchise. The arrival of X-Men: First Class brought with it a new cast of engaging stars, a new sense of direction, and most importantly, a sense of fun. With Singer back in the fold taking on the reins for Days of Future Past, combining key components from his first two movies and First Class, it looked like we had an X-Men film to get excited about once again. And not only does it succeed in re-stalling our hopes, it has created what could be an incredibly bright new future for the franchise. And we only had to trudge through two Wolverine spin-offs to get there.

The future is a hostile environment. The Earth has been ravaged by a War led by robotic beings known as the Sentinels. Designed to exterminate mutants, the machines evolved to destroy any human capable of reproducing children with the mutant gene, leading to an apocalyptic wasteland as both sides fight for survival against the unstoppable machines. Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), in a last attempt at ridding the world of the Sentinels, devises a plan to use Kitty Pride’s (Ellen Page) abilities to send Wolverine’s (Hugh Jackman) conscious back in time to 1973, where in the body of his younger self, Wolverine can attempt reunite the young Charles (James McAvoy) and young Erik/Magneto (Michael Fassbender) at a time when they couldn’t be further apart in order to put a stop to an event that will in turn end the war before it ever begins.X-Men-2

From very early on in Days of Future Past, you become aware that you are watching an X-Men film that genuinely FEELS like an X-Men film, a certain vibe that Singer only seems to be able to generate in this world, a sense that we are about to experience a film more akin to the first two installments. This is aided by a huge wave of nostalgia that comes from hearing John Ottman’s theme returning to the franchise for the first time since X-2,  as well as the presence of the original cast. The opening sequence kicks things off with aplomb, until getting bogged down in the important, but heavy-going, expositionary set-up to Wolverine’s time-travel escapades. But once we hit the 70’s, boy, do things get groovy.

The most successful aspect of Singer’s return to the X-fold is the tonality; this film is ridiculous, silly, and a hell of a lot of fun. Much of this comes to light once we hit the 70’s, with Singer clearly enjoying the opportunity to craft an effective period setting as well as evoking time-travel classics (namely The Terminator), whilst also reveling at the chance to work with the newer cast members of the First Class clan. Not only that, he also clearly enjoys establishing new characters, as the scenes involving Evan Peters’ Quicksilver prove to be the highlight of the film, through both visual creativity and the boundless energy generated through Peters fun performance. Where the film perhaps struggles is in generating a palpable sense of tension and threat to the characters we have an emotional stake in.

Days of Future Past ultimately acts as a reset button for the X-Men franchise, and as a result the film has a tendency to feel like simply a necessary step in the correction of the X-Men franchise, without actually having much conflict within itself. The film struggles to X-Men-3establish a clear antagonist, namely through Peter Dinklage’s Trask, the mind behind the Sentinels, who is given little in the way of motivation and characterization for him to appear all that villainous. Most of the villain duties seem to come down to Magneto yet again, but even he isn’t treated as all that villainous, his motivations are justified, all he does is act like a bit of prick for most of the run-time. This is somewhat of a distraction, and ultimately proves to be one of the film’s downfalls. Perhaps if more time had been devoted to the dystopian future, this would not have been too much of a problem, as within that time-line our heroes are fighting the threat of the Sentinels, who prove to be very intimidating but are only given a chance to display their destructive glory at the bookends of the film. It begs one to wonder, should a film have been made depicting the War before rushing in to a feature that aims to prevent it? The time-travel aspect of the movie does provide it with an ambitious spirit, but there is the sense that we could have been better eased in to it.

The film is also a very crowded affair, leading to a lot of performances from very talented actors getting lost in the shuffle, given very little to do in the proceedings.  Ultimately, the reason why certain characters are left on the side-lines is because they do not serve the story, leading to a more focused and stream-lined affair, and not a sprawling mess as some may have initially feared.. While the likes of Jennifer Lawrence look somewhat bored in a more physical than emotionally demanding role as Mystique, James McAvoy proves himself worthy of a role also inhabited by Patrick Stewart, by providing much of the pathos in the proceedings as a younger, darker Xavier. Jackman is very comfortable as Wolverine now that the role is practicallyX-Men-4 second nature to him, leaving McAvoy as the sole cast member who seems to be truly delving into a keen sense of the conflicts that wage inside the mind of Xavier, leading to some stand out scenes of dramatic outbursts.

Perhaps what is most impressive about this movie is its pacing. Rarely does the film slacken across its 130 minute time-line, efficiently building to a taut climax that wonderfully cuts back and forth from past to future. But the film’s greatest success has to be the confidence that it has restored in the X-Men franchise. At a time when many of us may have been suspecting that there wasn’t much gas left in the tank of the Uncanny Marvel Mutants, Days of Future Past has managed to open new doors for further stories and adventures for this franchises’ future, as well as firmly closing ones behind it. It may be a cluttered affair, but this is the best X-Men movie since the second, taking what worked well in First Class and combining it with the qualities of the first two to present an X-movie that feels fresh, fun, and exciting once again.

4/5– Crowded, yet also ambitious, fun, and exciting; Days of Future Past pulls the X-Men franchise out from its pit of despair and sets it back on the path as a superhero franchise to beat.

 

 

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