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X-Men: Days Of Future Past Review

Something old, something new, some Bolivar, something blue...

rating:4

How do you solve a problem like the X-Men continuum? If you're Bryan Singer, charged with marrying two casts and two timelines in a converging comic book epic, you just sort of don't. Rather than wasting time attempting to atone for the plot-holes and errors created by the franchise's careless time-keeping, Singer instead challenges the audience just to accept the film as a by-product of its source material. After all, nobody cares in the comics when details are retconned and origins changed in the same timeline, so why should they when it is translated to screen? Had Singer got lost in that particularly hopeless quagmire, we would not have got to see this hugely intriguing, highly entertaining affair that trades off some of the socio-cultural tension of First Class to embrace a Godzilla like nuclear age allegory, even with a direct nod to Oppenheimer himself. Though exposition is initially the over-riding aspect of the first act, that isn't to the detriment of the film's pace or more appropriately its ability to captivate the audience, and as the two timelines work on establishing the important story steps, we leap through entertaining set-pieces at a pace. But it never feels like Singer wants to justify his twin casts by trotting out action moments that show off their mutant skills: after all, the characters are all familiar now, and this is not The Expendables. Singer clearly cares a lot about his characters, including those who he's taken control of from Matthew Vaughn, and though the cast is unprecedented and the requirements to satisfyingly share focus likewise, none of the main characters feel like diluted versions of what we've seen so far. Some of the acting is a little uneven - predominantly from the perpetually frowny Jennifer Lawrence - but the sombre tone is lifted nicely by some smart gags (mostly from unlikely clown prince Wolverine, and the surprisingly excellent Quicksilver). In some ways, Days Of Future Past feels like the Forest Gump of X-Men movies, bouncing through characters and showcasing their abilities and historical events in a similar sort of knowing way, and though there was infinite potential to over-stuff the plot with mutants who just aren't necessary (the reason Nightcrawler was apparently left out), the result is well balanced. And for all the strong set-piece moments and the successful gags, it is the balance in the end that deserves the most praise: yes, the X-Men timeline is now further confused, and attempting to keep track of it is a quick way to a migraine, but there is clearly a diligent desire to give both casts the right amount of focus. At times it does feel like Magneto and Mystique have their own spin-offs within the film, while Professor X and Hank McCoy enjoy a sort of quasi-Withnail And I odd couple relationship, but the way the central plot pulls everything together is an impressive feat. That central premise, of averting a war to end mutant and human kind by going back in time to wipe out the trigger assassination of Peter Dinklage's Frankenstein-like scientist Bolivar Trask by Mystique (whose DNA is stolen to create the new super-Sentinels) is brilliantly engaging, even if the script is full of head-slapping idiot moves at times. But that's sort of the point, as the older mutants wistfully say from their apocalyptic perch - "we were young/foolish/impulsive" - so you can just about forgive Magneto's self-serving motivation hops, and Mystique's blinkered determination. And besides, thinking too much about anything isn't really to be encouraged. Admittedly some of the lesser characters have been compromised on slightly: Colossus is a muscle-bound mute, Sunspot doesn't really matter and Rogue's cut leaves a plot hole that Singer attempts to address by changing the power capabilities of another mutant so nobody notices. It doesn't work. But that was somewhat inevitable, and just as some of the X-Men have had to make sacrifices to the survival of their species, so too have some of the actors. The new actors range from living furniture (like the younger mutants of the future mostly) to scene-stealing excellence (Peter Dinklage, of course), and though there wasn't a great deal of room in the already swollen cast, the new Bolivar Trask cuts a fine Oppenheimer-like villain with his enforcer Stryker in tow. It might be muddled and confusing to follow unless you know your X-Men lore, but Singer has achieved something that shouldn't have been possible in meshing the two timelines together, and while it's very obvious that some things (like all of The Last Stand, apparently) have been jettisoned the end result is something that feels both connected and stand-alone simultaneously. And though it's not at all probable, the film also opens the possibility that both timelines could now continue in future sequels simultaneously without more accusations of timeline fudging. It is perhaps best to leave with the idea of Days Of Future Past as the storm that was needed to clear the skies: the First Class timeline didn't need it, but has been enriched by the added depth in Xavier's character and can continue on from the short teasing post-credits scene, but it crucially allowed Singer to mend the errors of Last Stand and give his own cast a fitting, fan-baiting farewell. X-Men: Days Of Future Past is out now.
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