On paper, the combination of the old X-Men (that were in established way back in Bryan Singer’s 2000 film) and the new (the cast of the Matthew Vaughn directed prequel X-Men: First Class) is an enticing prospect. The thought of two different generations of X-Men and, in some cases, renditions of both the older and younger versions of the same character in one movie, is a fanboy’s dream.
It may come as a significant disappointment to many then, that this is actually not quite the case come the end result in Days of Future Past. Although a large number of cast members from each timeline do return, they never really get to interact in any meaningful way. The ‘future’ X-Men send Wolverine back to the past to warn their younger selves of the approaching Sentinel threat in a last ditch attempt to prevent it from ever happening (much like in Terminator 2). Time travel logic headaches aside, Wolverine is the only character to actually meet both sides of the time divide, apart from one brief scene in which the younger Charles Xavier (James MacCovoy) manages to communicate with his older self (Patrick Stewart). This is not really the epic crossover we were led to believe.
Despite the large cast of mutants, a great many are relegated to just glorified cameos that are only glimpsed in a handful of scenes. Or worse yet, other characters that should be present are rather unceremoniously revealed as having being ‘murdered’ since the events of the last film. As a result, Days of Future Past strangely feels more like First Class Part 2 but with many of the lesser characters stripped away.
An additional issue lies with the emotional centre of the film. The focus is too often split between Wolverine’s journey through time, the on/off bromance between Xavier and Magneto and a rogue Mystique hell bent on pursuing her own cause. Much of these individual stories lack an emotional punch (there is no such moment as First Class’ superb radar dish turning scene) and it often just feels like checking off a series of plot points - one that often struggles under the weight of attempting to align with or retcon the events of all the films that come before and after it.
That being said, the 70’s set majority of the story is largely well presented and benefits from having a bigger budget - the warm glow of the retro colour palette contrasting with the dark and desolate future in which everyone is required to wear leather combat gear. The use of grainy old school camera footage in capturing some of the 70’s moments really helps cement the sense of existing in that particular time, although attempts to tie the story in with actual historical events garners mixed results. The prospect of mutants being enlisted to fight in Vietnam is an interesting one, and yet the overly simplistic ‘Kennedy = good, Nixon = bad’ seems lazy.
Peter Dinklage’s Bolivar Trask makes for an interesting pseudo villain, but his motivation isn’t fleshed out nearly enough. The fact that he is a dwarf (and perhaps how this may tie into his character’s obsession with the Sentinel Programme) is never addressed, unfortunately making it seem more like a case of stunt casting (Dinklage being hot off the success of Game of Thrones), as the part has been previously played by Bill Duke in X-Men: The Last Stand.
The Sentinels themselves are well realised - we get treated to both the sleek silver future versions (their super adaptability makes them a genuine threat to mutants despite their powers), as well as the clunkier purple robot versions in the 70s. It’s a shame then that the CG is very hit and miss in regards to these, as they tend to feature heavily in the better action scenes of the movie.
Fans of the franchise will enjoy the little nods, winks and call-backs to previous films, but will equally be disappointed at the somewhat anti-climactic final showdown and lack of answers that the shoe-horned continuity repeatedly throws up. For example: how is Professor X still alive after X3? Why is the scene-stealing Quicksilver forgotten about for the rest of the film, despite proving just how useful his powers really are during a (somewhat unnecessary) retread of X2’s prison break? Why do Xavier and Mystique not know each other in X1? Will the events of time travel in this movie negate what happens in the other X-Men and Wolverine movies… and so on.
All said and done, Days of Future Past seems burdened by its own ambition and shackled by its need to fit in with the other films in the franchise. It’s an interesting idea that’s not fully realised in its execution and one cant help but feel that the fresh start that was First Class should have stayed as just a reboot (as it was initially conceived) instead of being retroactively moulded into part of a larger narrative.
As an X-Men film, or even a superhero film, it’s not all that bad – it’s just not the momentous cinematic event that the weight of its expectation purports it to be.
24th May 2014