Film Review – “X-Men: Days Of Future Past” (Director: Bryan Singer)

X-Men: Days of Future Past

 

This is the third film in as many months from the Marvel Comics stable, albeit produced through 20 the Century Fox, and I’m going to say right from the outset that I was disappointed with the results.

Initially set in the year 2023, this sequel (or “inbetweenquel”) sees Mutants and their non-powered human allies imprisoned in a version of Earth policed by The Sentinels, Mutant hunting robots initially developed by Bolivar Trask.

The only people able to stand in the Sentinels way are an alternate version of the X-Men, led by Professor Charles Xavier and his former adversary Eric Lensherr, also known as Magneto.

Knowing that this is the last role of the dice, Xavier and Lensherr decide that they only have one option – change the past and prevent the assassination of Trask by Xavier’s former ally and friend Raven Darkholme, aka Mystique, in 1973 by sending Wolverine’s consciousness back 50 years into a younger body.  The only problem is that Xavier is now a recluse damaged by his experiences in ” X-Men: First Class” and his hope for Human/Mutant cohabitation shattered by the events of the Vietnam conflict, whilst Lensherr is imprisoned in the most secure facility in the United States.

As this story was based on a Chris Claremont “X-Men” comic series, this should have been cinematic gold, especially with director Bryan Singer back at the helm.  So why didn’t it work?  The reasons are various.

Firstly, after the fresh take on the “X-Men Universe” in “First Class”, I was really hoping for a second helping of the revived franchise.  It was able to deliver the same storytelling that the original trilogy (or at least the first two films) did by the using Mutants as an analogy for what was happening in the 1960’s with racial prejudice.  It also had the trump card of having Matthew Vaughn’s dynamic direction that drove an action film with wit and charm, but maintained the human angle and conflicts of Xavier’s and Lensherr’s respective points of view.  Unfortunately, with this film, the humour and energy has been reduced significantly to its predecessor.  Not only does this make the film have a lack of attack to it, the lack of humour makes the characters more one dimensional, reducing the humanity that should be keystone to this franchise.

The narrative also has problems, mainly due to the story being set in two time zones.  Whilst it starts quite logically with the reasons for Wolverine’s consciousness being transported back to 1973 being made clear in his mission to stop Raven killing Trask, the film loses its direction once the assassination is prevented with the audience being bounced between set pieces in the 1973 and alternate 2023 time zones.  It feels like an executive at Fox said, “We have to justify these salaries of actors who we’ve brought in, so let a cram as much screen time in as we can”.

Granted, the ending does do a good job in tying the original trilogy with its “Wolverine” side projects and “First Class”, but there is definitely a whiff of cop out when the final scenes are played out.

Given the size of the cast, it must have been difficult for the production team to balance out screen time.  This, and the lack of humour in the film, has an effect on the way the performances come across on screen.

Patrick Stewart gives the film his calming influence in the role of the older Xavier and you can see why James McAvoy was picked as a reaction against Stewart as the younger Charles to show the character’s journey from playboy scientist to leader.  However, I missed McAvoy’s more playful side as the optimism at the end of “First Class” gives way to a more embittered portrayal for reasons that become clear.  You also detect that there is an unrequited love by Xavier for Raven, especially in the scene where he challenges Eric for taking her away from him and I wish the film had been a bit braver in this to make it more overt.

Ian McKellen and Michael Fassbender are equally balanced in the role of Eric/Magneto.  The youngest Eric is blinded to the opinions of those around him due to his quest to protect his Mutant brethren, whilst the older Magneto regrets the time lost due to battles past.  Again, however, the humanity of Fassbinder’s performance is muted due to the storyline making the character less humane and less relatable.

Hugh Jackman has been the only constant throughout the “X-Men” franchise and you can see that the character has mellowed, becoming the voice of reason that has evolved through the franchise and the on-ground leader for the X-Men – certainly in comparison to the version we see in the original film or “First Class” where he is determined to be the outsider.  In fact, it’s Jackman who has the hardest gig in this film as he is, in essence, the lead character keeping the time travel plates spinning, especially in a key scene in the middle of the film where the mission is put on jeopardy due to the complications of the character’s timeline having Jackman alternate between the younger and older versions of the role.

Jennifer Lawrence doesn’t come out as well in this film as she did in “First Class”.  I have to go on record from the outset and say that I love Jennifer Lawrence as an actress.  I am a big fan of her performances in “Winter’s Bone”, ” The Silver Linings Playbook”, “The Hunger Games” franchise and “First Class”.  The character of Raven is in a very dark place in this film, one which sees her if not cross the line then standing on the line between idealist and murderer.  Unfortunately, we don’t see how she arrives at this point making the character’s change in between the two films too jarring.  This colder portrayal of the character reduces the impact of Ms Lawrence’s performance which, alongside being painted blue body make up for most of the film, makes her little more than eye candy in this particular film.  Should Jennifer Lawrence return to the “X-Men” franchise after this film, please give her a suitable depth of performance that matches her talent.

Peter Dinklage portrays the role of Bolivar Trask and I have to admit that he’s another actor whose role appears to have wasted his talents.  When selecting antagonists for these films, the production team have been careful to back up the casting with a carefully drawn character which explains the motives for antagonist – Magneto  wishes to protect the Mutants, Stryker wishes to protect humans from Mutants and Sebastian Shaw simply wants to elevate Mutants as the dominant form of life thanks to the threat of nuclear war.  Trask doesn’t have the opportunity of depth as previous adversaries.  His motivation is that he is driven by a fear of Mutants that doesn’t get explained beyond a piece of dialogue from “First Class”. To make Trask more of a credible force, it would have been useful to see why Trask is afraid of Mutants rather than seeing the product of his actions.

Other notable “X-Men” cast members including Halle Berry, Nicholas Hoult, Ellen Page, Shawn Ashmore and, especially, Anna Paquin have their moments of film time, but they are relegated to bit parts or non-speaking cameos.

Newly introduced character Pietro Maximoff, portrayed in Evan Peters, provides humour in his portion of the film – especially during Magneto’s prison break.  Peters has supposedly been signed up to be in the next “X-Men” film, which is problematic when Aaron Taylor-Johnson takes on exactly the same role in “Avengers: Age Of Ultron”.

For me, this film falls down in comparison to its predecessor for having too many elements shoe horned into the film’s running time and the lack of humour and warmth reacts against  the humanity previously exhibited in this series.  Hopefully, lessons will be learned with a linear plot and humour is reintroduced.  For me, Matthew Vaughn needs to return behind the camera to give the franchise a lift with his visual style and flair (which I hope will be demonstrated again with his forthcoming film “Kingsman: The Secret Service” released later in 2014).

For me, “Days Of Future Past” is not the best film going, but then again it’s not a stinker.

Rating: Wait a while

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