The X-Men fight a war for the survival of the species across two time periods, joining forces with their younger selves from the past in order to change a major historical event and fight an epic battle that could save our future.
‘What have we got that can compete with Avenger’s Assemble?’ I imagine they asked at Fox HQ.
‘Well we have Fantastic 4,’ an executive would reply. ‘We’ve only done two of those…’
‘Erm…anything else?’ the studio boss would say.
‘We could do another Wolverine. The world needs another Wolverine!’
‘Would Hugh be available for it?’
‘Come on! This is Hugh we are talking about.’
‘How about the X-Men? How about ALL of the X-Men?’ the boss would posit.
‘All of the X-Men?! But we’ve already done the prequel and they play the same characters and, of course, they are all in different times…’
‘So it’s sort of an X-Men Assemble?’
‘Well, if you want to put it like that. I suppo___’
‘I LOVE IT’.
And so X-Men: Days of Future Past was born. And, quite frankly, what film with a megacast that includes Sir Ian McKellen, Sir Patrick Stewart, Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry, Ellen Page, Peter Dinklage and – in a surprising turn of events – Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, shouldn’t be made? And despite all the reasons this shouldn’t work – the character duplication, the time differential, THE LOGIC – it does work. It works very well.
Through all the X-Men films, the prevailing storyline has been around the co-existence of humans and mutants (with some pseudo-evolutionary theory and politics around the ‘other’ thrown in). There has always been the anticipation of an impending, unpreventable war of species, and in Days Of Future Past, they are right in the midst of it. The X-Men (Stewart and McKellen versions) are fighting ‘Sentinels’ – large robot-like soldiers that can adapt against any mutant superpower and counter it. They can’t be beaten, they can only really be slowed down. In the war between humans and X-Men, the mutants are quickly becoming extinct. The only way to stop this course is to change the past and, fortunately, they have a ready made set of younger selves already established with the audience. Phew. So, Wolverine is sent back through the telepathic powers of Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) to a time where he still has bones for blades (he no longer has a problem with metal detectors), lava lamps, water beds and ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’ playing on the radio and some – but not enough – nice cinematic hat tips to the revisited time. Here, he must bring Professor X (McAvoy) and Magneto (Fassbender) together and united at a time where they could hardly be farther apart (both figuratively and literally) to stop Raven/Mystique (Lawrence) from killing scientist Dr. Bolivar Trask (Dinklage) and subsequently stopping the knock-on impact his death had in starting the Sentinel programme.
Sure, you can think of a thousand other ways to save the world with a lot less hassle and drama but who cares about logic in a film like this? Typically the action is free-flowing and often CGI fight focused but it never enters the Transformers realm of the ultimately heartless not-knowing-what-is-fighting-what sequences. In these parts – maybe because there are actual living, breathing, functioning humans (if a little super) involved rather than emotionless pieces of metal and emotionless pieces of Shia Lebouef – you’re much more invested in the battle. And it’s a lot of fun.
Predictably the film takes us across the majority of continents – it is expected to be successful in each of the major territories after all – so we are in Washington, Moscow, Saigon, China, Paris and more. Though – Edward Snowden’s precedent aside – it is difficult to see why, of all places, the X-Men would choose Russia and China as their safe havens. I would hazard a guess that Putin would hardly be an X-people sympathizer. In fact, he’d probably hire rogue paramilitary Sentinels and deny they were anything to do with the official ones, or possibly fund another government to enable them to commit the most heinous acts of genocide. But who’s to say? I think what is clear is that Putin would basically hate them and want them dead.
Bryan Singer is back at the directorial helm and his input brings nice tie-ins and consistency with previous films: the ongoing game of chess between Magneto and Professor X, and the return of characters and subplots you thought you’d perhaps seen the last of. Also some lessons have been learnt. In previous films, it could be argued there were too many mutants to showcase, and too many powers to introduce in a feature-length film. In Days of Future Past, there is a clearer focus; Jackman, McAvoy, Fassbender, Lawrence, Hoult and Dinklage are very much the foreground players in this ensemble piece. Of course, Jackman is now playing this role for the seventh time and by this point, of course, he actually is Wolverine so plays the role very naturally. Hoult is not terribly convincing as a young Kelsey Grammer but more so when in the guise of his alter-ego, a young Beast. In her first appearance as Raven, Lawrence had just been nominated for an Oscar and, on the release of this film, not only has she won one, she nearly won another and her rising star has been rewarded with due prominence. McAvoy and Fassbender are as engaging screen presences as their esteemed older counterparts. And that’s a compliment of the highest order.
Back at Fox Headquarters, as the studio boss stuffs their wads of money into their deep, bulging pockets, they ponder openly to the room ‘What next?’
‘A sequel?’ someone will shout from the back of the room.
‘I LOVE IT,’ they’ll say.
They did say.