Heavy on X-Position
In today’s comic book film replete world it might be difficult to remember a time in which a Marvel or DC movie wasn’t occupying cinemas every second weekend. Back in 2000, Bryan Singer’s X-Men essentially spawned the modern era of comic book film adaptations. Admittedly films based on comic books had existed for decades and had found success, both commercially and critically. But the meteoric rise of the Computer Generated Image in cinema meant that a genuine visual realisation of a super power was acutely possible. Singer’s X-Men was perhaps the first superhero film to marry this new technology with reasonably proficient filmmaking, leading to the enormous influx of comic book adaptation that have somehow developed into routine.
Since the original X-Men film was released the series has evolved through the hands of a diverse mix of filmmakers, resulting in a variety of quality and a certain degree of disorientation regarding continuity and ongoing narrative. Singer has returned to the franchise for X-Men: Days of Future Past, a film that attempts to reconcile plot and character differences and reinstate stability to series. In this regard the film succeeds admirably. Days of Future Past not only manages to accommodate the original Singer timeline with Matthew Vaughn’s First Class timeline cleverly, it also connects crucial details that the series has investigated over the course of its fourteen year history.
The future is bleak. A war raged against Mutantkind has left the world ravaged and desolate. Mutants and their human supporters have been all but annihilated by an almost unstoppable force – a fleet of robots called Sentinels capable of absorbing and recycling any mutant power used against them. A small band of survivors rally together to send Wolverine (Hugh Jackman in his seventh appearance as the character) back in time to stop an assassination that was crucial in forming the series of events that led to war. His future consciousness transported to his younger body, Wolverine must convince former allies Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) to resolve their differences and unite against a common enemy.
Between connecting films and timelines and establishing a narrative of its own, Days of Future Past hinders itself with the need to convey an immense amount of information. The filmmakers struggle to express plot points without it all sounding like forced exposition. So much of the material is painfully laboured, particularly the heavy-handed relationship between Magneto and Xavier, that one gets the distinct impression that fun has been sacrificed for clarity. There’s such an effort to align the plot to parallel real world occurrences, like the assassination of John F. Kennedy or the Vietnam War, but this feels like a restriction rather than an assistance.
There’s far more allowance for creative freedom during the brief scenes set in the future, in which Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart and a number of X-Men alumni return in small but crucial roles. There’s a sense of urgency to the future scenes, and a far greater degree of visual creativity, which are missed whenever the film returns to the 1970s. These moments set in the future also benefit from the series’ long, albeit patchy, history. We’re already privy to the nature of most of these characters. Sentiment carries over from previous films, adding weight to the events that transpire.
After so many years, so many driving forces and number missteps, a truly great X-Men film may not be achievable within Singer’s world. Unfortunately, the franchise just doesn’t have the singularity of vision that held Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy or even Marvel’s Avengers films together. X-Men: Days of Future Past is a reasonably entertaining blockbuster and a commendable attempt to bring cohesion to disarray. In many ways the film succeeds, but there’s a sense that chaos rules the creative drive of this X-Men series.