by Nur Hussein, contributing writer
When Bryan Singer took the helm of the very first X-Men film in 2000, he brought a breath of fresh air to a genre that had become cheesy and un-bankable: the superhero movie. At the time, no one had ever done a successful big-budget Marvel superhero film. Also, the big two of DC Comics superheroes, Superman and Batman, had their franchises run into the ground by a series of progressively worse sequels that culminated in the big budget flop, Batman and Robin.
The first X-Men film incorporated themes of prejudice and bigotry, a social message wrapped in a big-budget slam-bang fest of super-powered people duking it out on the big screen. It was a huge hit and in this reviewer’s opinion, responsible for the launch of many more excellent superhero films in the 21st century. The X-Men films became their own franchise, each film having varying degrees of success commercially and critically. The first two X-Men films were huge hits, but successive films turned out mostly mediocre with the exception of Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class. Bryan Singer directed the first two hit X-Men movies and returns once again to the director’s chair with the latest in the film series, X-Men: Days Of Future Past. This review will touch upon a few plot points, so if you don’t want to read any further, I can say this was a thoroughly entertaining X-Men movie and well worth it if you’re a fan of the mutant series. It is very good, but I feel it stops short of being great because of how well-worn the the mutant discrimination theme has been after so many X-Men movies.
It’s interesting to note that the X-Men films have more or less maintained continuity since the series started in 2000. While some elements of these films contradict each other, the series has more or less been consistent and Hugh Jackman’s nearly-immortal Wolverine is a character who appears in every single one of them, portrayed by the same actor. In this new film, it is fitting that he is the bridge between the past and future as we are taken on a time-travelling adventure with the X-Men. As we see the characters in both the past (played by the younger cast of X-Men: First Class) and the future (played by the older actors from the other movies), this film has an enormous ensemble cast. However, the action takes place primarily in the past, with the future X-Men being a framing device for the story.
In an unspecified future, we see the Earth becoming a post-apocalyptic wasteland controlled by robots, a bit like the post-Skynet world in Terminator. The robots here are biomechanical machines called Sentinels, with the ability to mimic the powers of mutants. The Sentinels’ purpose is to exterminate mutants and any humans who help mutants, or humans who could potentially have mutant offspring. The Sentinels were programmed with mutant-detection abilities in the ’70s by their creator, a short-statured man named Bolivar Trask (played by Peter Dinklage). This leads to the post-acolapytic future that we see. The mutants have all banded together, or at least what remains of them: Professor X (Patrick Stewart), Magneto (Ian McKellen), and some of their mutant followers including Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Kitty Pryde/Shadowcat (Ellen Page), Storm (Halle Berry), Colossus (Daniel Cudmore), Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) and a few we haven’t see before on screen like Blink (Fan Bingbing), Bishop (Omar Sy) and Sunspot (Adan Canto).
In a last-ditch attempt to save themselves, they devise a plan where Shadowcat sends Wolverine’s consciousness back in time into his younger body to prevent the Sentinels from taking over the world. If you’ve read the original comic on which this movie is based, you’ll know that Shadowcat herself does the time-traveling. Honestly I’d love to have seen Ellen Page be the protagonist this time ’round; I guess they felt Wolverine was the more popular character so they wrote him into the role instead. His healing powers made him the only person who could survive the stress of the trip. Wolverine wakes up in the ’70s with instructions to find the younger versions of Professor X (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) so they can help him stop the terrible future from ever happening. Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) is a central character in this chain of events, and Wolverine has to race against time to fix everything so their future can be saved.
The movie plays out like Quantum Leap meets Terminator meets Marvel mutants (and I mean that in a good way). It’s a good cinematic take on a popular comic, which discards most of the more outlandish elements of the comic. The special effects are excellent and so are the production values, from the believably nightmarish dystopian future to the analog-tech ’70s, the film is neatly polished. The acting is great from all the lead actors, but the most enjoyable performance was from Evan Peters as Quicksilver, a very laid-back speedy mutant who has some hilarious scenes. It’s a pity he doesn’t hang around for much of the movie, but with an ensemble cast like this it’s hard to give screen time to everyone. The bulk of the story takes place in the past, and while the future mutants have some awesome action scenes, they don’t really get any development. I guess they plan on making more sequels set in the past, as James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender seem to be signed on for another one, so it makes sense to downplay the role of the older actors, but I do wish we got more Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen showing off their awesome movie personas and on-screen camaraderie.
In conclusion, this is a very solid X-Men movie, but the themes have been played out many times over in the franchise, and while the time-travel angle does bring in a new element, I started getting weary of it. However, the epic ensemble cast and great performances do make up for it, but I don’t know if they can keep it up for any more installments of the franchise. I give the film three and a half stars out of five.
Nur is a tinkerer of programmable things, an apprentice in an ancient order of technomages. He enjoys fantasy, sci-fi, comic books, and Lego in his spare time. His favourite authors are Asimov and Tolkien. He also loves Celtic and American folk music. You can follow him on twitter: @nurhussein