Reviews and entertainment articles by Dave Simpson
I’m a big X-Men fan. I love the characters, I love the world. So, without a doubt, Days of Future Past was my most anticipated cinematic release of 2014. It’s been 3 years since First Class and a staggering 8 years since the original cast last appeared together, meaning my anticipation for this entry was high. And thankfully it most certainly did not disappoint. The X-Men are officially back on the big screen, bigger and better than ever.
Bryan Singer has crafted a movie that pays tribute to its source material while at the same time offering something fresh and original. If this is meant as an apology for his not directing The Last Stand, then I accept it.
Things get off to an exciting start with a narration by Patrick Stewart that segues into an opening title sequence in the style of the original trilogy, complete with X-Men 2′s epic theme tune. It brings a great sense of familiarity and nostalgia to proceedings, taking us back to the franchise’s cinematic golden days and making us feel like this is going to be something special.
No time is wasted jumping into the first big action set piece. Immediately after the opening titles we join up with some new and familiar faces battling against the greatest threat mutantkind has yet faced. The entire sequence is visually spectacular and gets the movie off to a great start, setting a steady pace that is maintained throughout the feature’s 131 minute run time.
The action continues to up its own ante as the plot progresses. This culminates in an explosive final act which sees Magneto outdo any demonstration of his power that we’ve seen onscreen to date, including moving the Golden Gate Bridge and raising a submarine from the ocean.
The final act splices the climactic sequence of the movie’s past with that of its future, successfully combining two pulse-pounding set pieces that will leave you on the edge of your seat as they unfold. It also allows characters past and present to be involved in the pivotal moments leading up to the story’s ultimate climax. While the future sequences occupy a more sci-fi setting, it doesn’t mean that what’s going on in the past is any less visually impressive as things come to a head in Washington D.C. and classic X-Men antagonists, the Sentinels, are involved in both eras. At times the action is surprisingly violent too, which works well in maintaining a very real sense of threat.
Fox’s monumental budget was certainly put to good use and Singer succeeds in sustaining the tension so that the action avoids becoming mindless. This film is much more than a soulless visual effects fest, it has genuine dramatic tension and emotion that is at times even gut-wrenching. It succeeds in adding high stakes to the action by getting you wholeheartedly invested in its various participants. There’s a feeling that no one is safe here, not even the major players, which made this one of the most tense and suspenseful movies I’ve seen in a long time.
Anyone who feared that it wouldn’t do justice to its immense ensemble may rest assured that the majority are balanced fairly well. While inevitably not every character receives an equal distribution of screen time, almost all of them do get their moment to shine with solid performances throughout.
Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine once again leads the cast. Jackman actually seems to improve in the role and embody Wolverine more and more as he gets older. I can’t say a bad word about him. While this is very much the same Logan we’ve come to know and love over the past 14 years, Jackman does get to play with a new dynamic for the character. Wolverine begrudgingly finds himself in a role not dissimilar to that of Charles Xavier in the first X-Men movie, a role that he is clearly uncomfortable with. It puts a new spin on the character which is very entertaining. And while Wolverine may facilitate the plot, he is not the focus of it.
The true star of this movie is James McAvoy, whose portrayal of a younger Charles Xavier is definitely the most impressive performance of the piece. McAvoy delivers lines that are at times laugh out loud funny, but, more importantly, he flawlessly conveys a character struggling with great inner turmoil. Days of Future Past adds new dimensions to Xavier, exploring aspects of his personality that we’ve never seen before and McAvoy excels in the role.
Patrick Stewart on the other hand is the same wise and compassionate father figure we know from the original trilogy. He adds nothing particularly new to his portrayal of Xavier but that’s okay. He really doesn’t need to because his version was spot on in the first place.
Michael Fassbender does an admirable job of channeling Ian McKellen’s performance as Magento in the original trilogy. We definitely see a greater shift in the younger Eric Lehnsherr towards what we saw him become in his later life. As a younger version of McKellen, Fassbender is perfect and entirely believable.
McKellen himself portrays a much more enlightened and humbled individual than when last we saw him waging war on Alcatraz. The Magneto of the future has grown to realise the error of his ways and McKellen makes this growth seem like a natural extension of his character’s arc.
Current Hollywood favourite, Jennifer Lawrence, returns as Mystique and, similar to Fassbender’s Magneto, she has definitely drifted further in the direction of her older counterpart’s villainous persona. Mystique’s role is integral to the plot and Lawrence does well portraying her as young woman who has become cold and calculating, but who is still conflicted by memories of a happier life before First Class.
Nicholas Hoult portrays Hank McCoy as a likable, mild mannered young genius who also harbours a more animalistic side. He still doesn’t feel as perfectly cast as Beast as Kelsey Grammar did, but he does nothing to warrant criticism. Hoult is actually at his best in action sequences, when Beast often manages to steal the spotlight.
Other returning established X-Men include Shawn Ashmore’s Iceman, Ellen Page’s Kitty Pryde and Daniel Cudmore’s Colossus. Of the three, Iceman gets the most impressive scenes. Witnessing Ashmore as Bobby Drake fully iced up and gliding around on ice slides is a real treat and something I’ve been waiting for since the first X-Men movie. Unfortunately Ellen Page is constrained by the nature of her role and doesn’t get to do much, but it’s good to have her back and she does fulfill a critical function. Cudmore gets even less to do as Colossus though, basically only serving as muscle in battles, but he is another welcome familiar face.
Unfortunately Storm ends up being the most under-utilised of the returning characters. As one of the main heroes of the original trilogy, one might expect her to be at the centre of the future action. However, while she does get to exercise her powers, Halle Berry spends most of her screen time just standing around. This can probably be forgiven though for the fact that she was pregnant while filming.
Evan Peters makes a scene stealing franchise debut as Quicksilver in a sequence that is both visually outstanding and ridiculously entertaining. But by far the most impressive new addition to the cast is Fan Bingbing’s Clarice “Blink” Ferguson. Blink’s powers allow for some of the most unique and amazing action sequences I’ve ever witnessed in a comic book movie. Fan Bingbing reportedly signed a five picture deal with Fox and I for one hope we’ll be seeing a lot more of her character in future installments.
The most disappointing new character is perhaps Peter Dinklage’s Bolivar Trask. While he’s touted as the villain of the proceedings, Trask essentially acts as nothing more than a plot device. We aren’t given much insight into his motivations other than the fact that he views mutants as a threat. Thankfully there’s enough going on that this isn’t detrimental to the movie in any significant way.
Other new characters such as Warpath and Sunspot aren’t given much to do other than make up numbers in the future. Omar Sy’s Bishop does have a bigger role than some of the other future mutants but something tells me they’re waiting for a sequel to unleash his true potential in the X-Men movie-verse. Although his introduction did serve as a nice nod to his role in the X-Men source material.
Also, just as an FYI, once the credits roll make sure you don’t leave. There is a scene at the very end relevant to the already announced 2016 sequel.
As a whole then, X-Men: Days of Future Past is a huge success. There really is very little major criticism I can offer. It’s like Bryan Singer’s love letter to fans of the original trilogy and cast, while progressing what Matthew Vaughn began with First Class.
Days of Future Past reminds us of why we loved this universe and its characters in the first place. It is a fast paced, action packed, special effects laden spectacle crammed full of heart and emotion that will make you want to laugh and cry along with the characters it showcases. It is arguably the definitive X-Men movie to date.
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