Game changer: X-Men: Days of the Future Past

XMEN

 

“X-Men is possibly the simplest and yet the best concept in comics – especially when it is done right.” – Luke ‘Dr Batman’ Halsall.

I came out of the cinema after watching Bryan Singer’s comeback to the X-Men franchise thinking about Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. It is hard to underestimate the impact that Nolan’s epic had on popular culture; although we were knee deep into the comic book cinema generation at the time of its release, The Dark Knight gave comic book films more credibility. Its subject matter and plot felt substantial, its more fantastical elements felt all too real and the tone matched the mood of western society at the time.

I remember the day I watched The Dark Knight, I came out of the cinema feeling stunned – and that was the exact same feeling I felt after watching X-Men: Days of the Future Past. I don’t understand how this film isn’t a mess. Somehow, and I don’t know how, Bryan Singer has made possibly the best comic book film I have ever seen.

Days of the Future past has two primarily plots: In the present (or future, whichever way you want to look at it) mutants are under attack by machines called the sentinels (basically terminators). Now these machines can adapt to any power that a mutant has, which means that they are pretty much unstoppable. The sentinels are so effective that they have managed to kill or imprison mutants and their human supporters. The mutants’ last hope rests with the A-Team of mutants… the X-Men. Specifically, everything hangs on The girl from Juno, Hard Candy and Inception using her powers to send Wolverine’s (Hugh Jackman) mind into his younger body to warn others of the future.

Just with this one plot thread there is so much heavy material for audiences to chew on. If you’re black or Jewish (or just a decent person for that matter) it doesn’t take a lot for you to get emotionally attached to the themes presented here. The spectre of the Civil Rights Movement and the Holocaust hangs all over this piece and it gives it a gravitas and a bleakness which adds to the emotional impact of everything that happens in the film.

The second plot strand takes place in the mid-70s where Wolverine has to convince the younger versions of Professor X (James McAvoy) and Magnito (Michael Fassbender) to stop Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from assassinating the Imp from Game of Thrones… known in the film as Dr Trask (Peter Dinklage of the house Lannister). To make matters worse, there is a lot of bad blood between Professor X, Magnito and Mystique which, again, adds emotional weight to the events that take place. It is at this point that I have to applaud the writers Jane Goldman (Jonathan Ross’ wife!!!), Matthew Vaughn (the director of First Class) and Simon Kinberg (???) – it would have been easier and possibly smarter to dumb a lot of this film down. Instead they have a film which keeps its audience on their toes from start to finish and the film is better for it.

[Editor] A previous version of this piece attributed the X-Men film ‘The Last Stand’ to Matthew Vaughn. We’d like to unreservedly apologise to Mr Vaughn for this embarrassing error.

Also, amazingly, the 70s in this film is just as dark as the apocalyptic future. You have main characters suffering from loss, depression, alcoholism and drug addiction. My jaw dropped when the film made allusions to a main character having a hard drug problem.

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Despite the gloom, there are plenty of  laugh out loud moments. The introduction of the Quicksilver character almost steals the show and, once again, High Jackman is note perfect as Wolverine. They both handle the majority of the light relief work on here.

In fact, the whole cast is amazing in this ensemble piece. A lot of superhero films have tried to accommodate a huge cast of characters and have failed to do so (I’m looking at you The Watchmen and Spider-Man 3 … and you too The Amazing Spider-Man 2) – but not here. A lot of credit has to go to Michael Fassbender, who is much better here than he was in First Class, Hugh Jackman, who anchors the whole film and finally James McAvoy who is simply flawless. What McAvoy does in this film should not be underestimated–  he is the heart of the movie. He has to play a man that is absolutely broken mentally and emotionally and he has to drag that character to a place where the audience believes he is Patrick Stewart’s Professor X.

It’s the villain, Dr Trask, where I have the biggest problem. My issues with Trask isn’t the fault of  Peter Dinklage who I think plays the villain the best he can, I just think that his character is the only misstep made by the writers. The threat he poses is very real and very potent, but he is never quite menacing enough or compelling as a villain.  I think the problem with Trask in this movie is that he is not a mutant – he’s human. Trask reacts to mutants in a way that echos many atrocities that have happened in human history – with fear and murderous ignorance. Also, all of his dirty work is done by machines, we never see him get his hands dirty – what I am trying to say is hat he never feels as threatening as his creations.  But if Trask is the weak-link in the movie, then that says a lot about the overall quality of Days of the Future Past.

I don’t think Days of the Future past will get the credit it deserves – it won’t certainly have the same cultural impact that The Dark Knight did, and I am fine with that. Already critics and comic book fans are complaining about the continuity problems this film has created for other films in the franchise and … I just don’t care enough about that.

I could also gripe about the classic Hollywood ending, but I wont, cause ultimately those things do not ruin this fantastic film for me. Days of the Future Past is why I love films and why I love going to the cinema, because for almost two and a half hours I was 13 again and my imagination was running wild. I loved it.

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