Superhero movies are such big business today that it can be easy to forget just how ground-breaking Bryan Singer’s X-Men was in 2000. The genre was a dying beast in the 90s, buried under the disappointment of 1996’s Batman and Robin and its pointy plastic nipples. Then Singer came along with a breath-taking mix of blockbuster thrills and real world issues, paving the way for Marvel and Christopher Nolan’s Batman to dominate the box office for over a decade.
Yet, while other franchises flourished, the X-Men floundered with the substandard The Last Stand and two equally lacklustre Wolverine spin-offs to the point it required a face-lift of its own with First Class, a reboot that gave the series fresh impetus by tackling the well-known characters in their younger days. It’s fitting then, for a franchise that has brought back and been brought back from the brink, that its best film yet should be all about the power of redemption.
Using Chris Clairemont’s popular comic as a template, Days acts as a sequel to both The Last Stand and First Class, uniting the casts of both films by splitting the plot into two timelines.
In a near future that looks like a cross between The Terminator and Tron with its dark desolation, destructive robots and neon lighting, the X-Men we all know and love from the first three movies – including Halle Berry’s Storm, Ellen Page’s Kitty Pryde and Patrick Stewart’s Professor X – are all but wiped out under the threat of the Sentinels, shape-shifting robots built to eradicate mutants from the world.
Their only hope of survival is to zap Wolverine’s (Jackman) consciousness into his younger self in 1973 to reunite Charles Xavier and Magneto (Fassbender) at a time when they “couldn’t be further apart” in order to stop Mystique from executing the assassination that triggers the disasters of the future.
As with First Class, the plot of Days is structured around key historical moments, such as the assassination of JFK and the end of the Vietnam war, using the latter as the driving force behind the Sentinel programme as its creator Bolivar Trask plays on the fear that America will once again underestimate its enemy after the mutants’ existence becomes public knowledge.
With two timelines and a heap of characters to juggle, it would be easy for Singer to get bogged down in what McAvoy’s Xavier dubs “future shite”. He avoids this by keeping the pace light and lively, switching between timelines and continents as the X-Men’s mission takes them across the globe.
Singer is also mightily ambitious with his action, seemingly aiming to outdo anything seen in previous movies. This leads to many exhilarating and inventive set-pieces with Quicksilver’s (Evan Peters) super-speedy raid on the Pentagon and Magneto landing a baseball arena on the White House lawn notable highlights.
The risk of the plot becoming convoluted is further downplayed by Singer focusing the action on the key quartet of Fassbender, McAvoy, Jackman and Lawrence.
McAvoy’s Xavier is a very different beast to the charming playboy of First Class, now consumed with pain following his abandonment by Magneto and Mystique, losing his cognitive power and by extension his ability to see the good in others in the process.
Xavier is not the only one on a dark path as Days finds Lawrence’s Mystique on the turning point of becoming the ruthless assassin of X-Men 2. As such, Days is really a story of redemption for Xavier and Mystique, as well as mutant kind, as it seeks to prove the future is not immutable and that people can be returned to the right path.
Days of Future Past may not make the most of its massive cast, Peter Dinklage in particular is wasted as Trask with his motive for hating the mutants left unexplained, but it makes up for it with an affecting story of redemption that nicely compliments the bombastic spectacle of a returning Bryan Singer.
Runtime: 131 Mintues Genre: Superhero/Action Released: 22 May 2014
Director: Bryan Singer Writers: Simon Kinberg, Jane Goldman
Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Hugh Jackman, Jennifer Lawrence
Click here to watch a trailer for X-Men: Days of Future Past