By Alistair Ryder
Although I’ve enjoyed the X-men films in the past, I’ve never felt any particular attachment to the franchise. Thankfully, Days of Future Past is the best instalment to date, and one that renders every other film in the franchise (with the exception of “First Class”) obsolete. It’s the cinematic equivalent of ripping out all the pages in the book and starting again, and if the future instalments are as downright entertaining as this, that’s no bad thing. As with all time travel stories, it’s best to leave your brain at the door when it comes to checking for plot holes- especially considering the only flaw in the narrative worth paying attention to is the first sympathetic portrayal of Richard Nixon in history, by an actor who looks and sounds nothing like Nixon himself.
In the future, sentinels (machines designed for the purpose of destroying mutants) have seemingly obliterated and oppressed the entire planet. To stop them, a plan is hatched by Xavier, Magneto, Wolverine and Storm to send Wolverine back to the 70’s (a decade after the events of First Class) to stop the assassination of the Sentinel’s creator by Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence, in an unusually bland performance) whose powers upon imprisonment would otherwise be used to create the destructive sentinels of the future. Once in the 70’s, Wolverine has to acquire help from both a washed up Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) who is imprisoned 100 floors underneath the Pentagon for allegedly causing the assassination of JFK.
In a film with so many mutants, it’s understandable that many will get lost in the mix, but luckily this works as an advantage. With many of the bland “modern day” cast (Halle Berry’s Storm for example) stranded from the central narrative, it lets the film play it’s cards right and place the most interesting characters front and centre (the only one of the “modern day” cast being Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, a performance that still isn’t boring 14 years after the first instalment) and plays directly to their strengths. By ignoring the “modern day” storyline for the majority of the running time, it succeeds in sidestepping the same “too many plotlines” criticism that has seen the downfall in quality of several recent superhero movies, the execrable Amazing Spiderman sequel for example.
For my money, the film is stolen by Quicksilver, played here by Evan Peters (whose “Kick-Ass” co-star Aaron Taylor-Johnson will play Quicksilver in next year’s Avengers sequel). In the fifteen minutes of screen time he gets, he manages to be both cockier than Wolverine (cockiness is an underrated strength of superheroes) and gets the best sequence in the film, a slow motion account of him taking down government employees sound tracked by Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle”, a song I imagine will rocket up the charts after its appearance here. It’s one of my favourite movie scenes of the year so far, standing alongside the Quaalude overdose in “The Wolf of Wall Street” and the final, kinetic kitchen fight scene in “The Raid 2”.
I’ve never really been a fan of director Bryan Singer; with the exception of “The Usual Suspects”, I’ve always felt he was a hack director, whose films were cynical commercial propositions designed solely to make money. Even the supposedly subversive subtext of mutants being a representation of outsiders (and in particular, LGBT people) in his first X-Men sequel felt patronizing, despite being an interesting thematic element on paper. By stripping away all that and going back to basics, he’s made both the best X-men film and his best film in 19 years.