By Simon Miraudo
May 20, 2014
X-Men movies: always promising, never fulfilling. Days of Future Past – the seventh, for those marking time by this franchise’s release schedule – reunites the cast of Bryan Singer‘s original instalment with the ‘X-Men Babies’ introduced in First Class. It’s probably an exciting prospect for those who were equally tickled by Patrick Stewart and James McAvoy‘s individual turns as Professor Xavier. Just don’t go in expecting everyone to share the stage at once, or, for that matter, to spend more than a minute with most.
It’s not that the talent is wasted. Point the camera at stars like McAvoy, Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Ellen Page, Ian McKellen and series newcomer Peter Dinklage long enough, you’ll at least accidentally make something worth watching; something halfway decent. And that’s precisely what Bryan Singer, back at the helm for the first time since X2, has pulled off. X-Men: Days of Future Past is indeed decent. But only halfway. (The true hero of this particular superhero saga might actually be Anna Paquin‘s agent, who gets his client eighth billing – above Dinklage and Page! – for just three seconds of screen time… and literally one word of dialogue.)
Despite the Marvelverse training filmgoers to study up on their cinematic mythologies, I wouldn’t recommend the same for the time-skipping Days of Future Past, which plays pretty fast and loose with the already-shaky X-canon established thus far. It opens in the 2020s, where most mutants – and much of humanity – has been wiped out by adaptable robotic assassins known as Sentinels. Kitty Pryde (Page), under the instruction of a newly-united Professor X (Stewart) and Magneto (McKellen), sends Wolverine (Jackman) back in time to 1973, with a mission to keep a rogue Mystique (Lawrence) from killing the Sentinels’ inventor Boliver Trask (Dinklage). His murder would eventually inspire President Nixon to fund the development of the controversial mutant-hunting Sentinels, dooming everyone. Even in alternate timelines, Nixon remains a handy public figure to blame everything on.
Jackman’s Wolverine has the unenviable task (in any time travel flick) of convincing young Xavier (McAvoy), young Magneto (Fassbender), and young Beast (Nicholas Hoult) that he’s actually from the future, although in a universe where telepathy, the ability to control magnetic fields, and looking like a man-toad is par for the course, they all take to Logan’s time-bending task rather well. 2013’s The Wolverine isolated Jackman’s breakout character from his countless mutant brethren, and the result was a stirring Samurai picture, uncommonly obsessed with themes like disgrace, suicide, and mortality. Whenever the whole gang gets together in these ensemble X-Men efforts, the main thematic takeaway seems to be ‘scheduling’. “Ooh, look at how well the production was scheduled,” we’ll whisper to one another, feeling nothing else at all.
The main problem with X-Men features – beside the countless character threads proving to be too plentiful for three-time franchise screenwriter Simon Kinberg to satisfactorily disentangle – is that they lack the flavour of their contemporaries. It’s worth noting that Singer has only made three entries; Matthew Vaughn, Gavin Hood, James Mangold, and Brett Ratner responsible for one a piece. Watch each without the director credit, and try to match the film to its filmmaker. It’s nearly impossible. This can only be considered a compliment to Ratner, and barely.
The success of X-Men in 2000 may have kicked off this decade-and-a-half long obsession with big-screen superheroes, but it was considered a risky venture, made for less than $100 million and lacking in action set pieces because of it. Days of Future Past boasts one of the biggest budgets in history, and it still feels somewhat shoddily made and haphazardly slapped together. Not all the money and sophisticated visual effects in the world can magic a director into knowing where to put the camera, or how to concoct an indelible image, or how to craft a story (especially if beholden to fan-servicing cameos).
Regardless, X-Men: Days of Future Past has its moments. A slow-motion dance of devastation from one-scene wonder Quicksilver (Evan Peters) is particularly amusing, recalling Nightcrawler’s brilliant opening salvo in X2. The stage-setting battle against Sentinels in the future dystopia is also mighty impressive, and one of the few set pieces to not look as if it was filmed before a green screen. And the cast does fine, funny work, especially the always-on-form Jackman and the long-haired, foul-mouthed, drug-addled McAvoy. Dinklage, meanwhile, is sadly never called upon to deliver an Earth-shattering monologue, while almost too much is asked of Lawrence, donning uncomfortably-form-fitting blue body paint. She’s a wildly talented, supremely confident, exceptionally beautiful, highly celebrated and certainly very wealthy young actress. Here though, wildly objectified and burdened with the silliest sequences and some awful dialogue, I just feel bad for her.
X-Men: Days of Future Past arrives in Australian cinemas May 22, 2014.