What to Expect?
The biggest factor that boosted the initial rise of X-Men and its characters was – as stated in this writer’s review of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 – the innate human element that bound the characters in the universe to what they ended up doing. What should only have gone on a progressive rise, however, instead took a steep fall with Ratner coming in to direct The Last Stand. Despite the film’s evolutionary storyline, of course, the movie faltered highly due to it’s one-note direction. The studios then (must have) decided on damage control when they ended up with their first Wolverine spin-off immediately after. It’s quite obvious the apparently strategical move turned out to be less damage control and more damage induction. When Singer then decided to step back in the X-Men universe with X-Men: First Class barely being in its planning stages, this writer was overjoyed for reasons more than one. Of course, while Singer still remained involved, he eventually stepped down for Matthew Vaughn to effectively drive the stunningly written content of the said film to success.
Somewhere around the line, the writer of this article secretly pined for the characters of the original series to make a comeback in any way possible. And post The Wolverine’s major hint driven after-credits set-up, it was clear that the origin was back to retrace its steps to screen after the lost glory of the first trilogy with its end. And despite that, the expectations of this instalment of X-Men skyrocketed to a completely different high altogether. Here’s why:
- Bryan Singer returns as the master-and-commander of the franchise, (hopefully) reclaiming the title’s previously lost glory;
- This movie, excitingly enough, serves as a sequel to both X-Men: First Class and X-Men: The Last Stand. This move, in many ways, could hopefully reconstruct the shattered fragments of the latter, whilst also moving the fairly interesting story of the former forward; and
- Considering Singer’s track record with this franchise, the viewers can be assured that there will definitely be a certain intimacy to his direction of emotion and goals of the characters.
What’s it About?
Of course, for there to be emotion, the presence of humanity is a fair pre-requisite. But the humans are dying as quickly as the mutants in the dystopian future that 2023 has become. Over the course of fifty years, the Sentinels – robots with highly advanced mutation capabilities – have managed to destroy most of the mutants but some, who manage to somehow stay afloat. Of the remaining survivors, Charles ‘Professor X’ Xavier (Patrick Stewart; Star Trek: The Next Generation) needs Logan (Hugh Jackman; Prisoners) to go back in time to convince his younger, bruised self (James McAvoy; Atonement) to battle his demons in order to reverse the chain of events that would ultimately affect the present. The problem? Logan will need to bring Xavier and Erik ‘Magneto’ Lehnsherr (now Ian McKellen,The Hobbit; then Michael Fassbender, Hunger) together, and find and stop the only person who can roll the dice to life or destruction – Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence; Silver Linings Playbook).
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
One of the best things about Singer as a director of this franchise was his earnestness to direct a movie on outcasts and the different emotions surrounding them. Be it the flawless interpretations of Jean Grey and Logan, or even Rogue, the director seemed to have gotten everything quite right. With his return to the franchise with this film, the very human core of the X-Men universe comes right back – and guess what? It works, even now. Singer has turned the espionage-thriller-styled X-Men: First Class to form a highly convincing aftermath that shows Xavier to be at possibly the darkest phase of his life. The strong writing by Vaughn, Simon Kinberg (Sherlock Holmes; also screenwriter) and Jane Goldman (The Debt) take forward the known set of characters and compellingly define their defence mechanisms post the after-effects of the 2011 instalment. What deserves mention is the fairly interesting character arc of Mystique, who goes rogue and inadvertently forms what is to be the McGuffin of the whole film. What this movie majorly achieves through Singer is the successful fusion of tonalities of X-Men and X2 universe with X-Men: First Class. He majorly achieves the otherwise uncanny blending of hope with destruction, cause with effect, growth with failure, surety with trust issues and life with death through the various scenarios he presents the movie’s characters to us with.
Looking at the technical prowess of the film, one can see that despite the ups and downs, the franchise has come a long way in visual filmmaking. Heralded by highly competent direction of moving photography by Newton Thomas Sigel, who makes a returns to the franchise with Singer post X2, the movie gets its uniquely textured visuals back. Right from the lighting to the framing, everything is picture-perfect. It quite helps that in some of the (necessary) action set pieces, there is a heavy handed usage of high-speed recording. The scenes need to be watched to be believed. In comparison to the previous films he has directed in this franchise, Singer’s importantly managed to notch way up are the action set pieces. They’re fluid, fast paced and brilliantly visualised and choreographed. Production design links the old, the new and the futuristic together to form a very multidimensional space throughout the film. The film boasts of a very calmly paced edit by John Ottman (X2). Even with action set-pieces, the edit doesn’t go on a chopping overdrive. The action is savoured pretty well instead. Visual effects provide a spectacular help to the whole set of things. Set pieces featuring the Sentinels are spectacularly composited and look larger-than-life on the big screen. What also additionally helps is the emotionally devastating score by the film’s editor Ottman (quite a versatile chap, eh?).
One of the major problems the viewers would have with Singer directing this film would be the expectation of a full-blown return of the struggles of the rebels and outcasts of this world as thematic elements. What he instead focusses on – while blending in the classic themes of the films into this one – are core human relationships in super-humans and “the good in all of us.” This might definitely be a bummer for a whole set of loyal viewers, but – the base having been set – this turned out to be a breath of fresh air. Sure, the team of storytellers could have milked the theme dry and given the viewers what they wanted. That, however, wouldn’t match up to the elemental difference of core human conflict and vulnerability that this film actually so beautifully manages to display.
To Perform or Not to Perform
It’s amazing how Singer so confidently manages to bring in so many characters together and transports them safely to shore via the bundle of amazing performers wholeheartedly pitching in. Of all of them, Hugh Jackman stands out in his effective portrayal of the Wolverine. Keeping aside his wit he continues to exhibit here too, Jackman is able to pull off the slightly softened side of the flawed superhero that no X-Men movie may ever have seen before. James McAvoy comes a close second with his superb portrayal of the younger Charles Xavier. The dynamic range of emotions he pulls of in the runtime are noteworthy. Michael Fassbender is as awesome as always. His inputs toward Lehnsherr’s passive aggressive anger with the ‘normals’ of the world continues to vibrantly paint the character’s progressively built up shades. Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique is the best thing to have happened to the character this far. While Romjin-Stamos may be missed by some, what Lawrence provides beneath Raven’s steely exterior is the portrayal of her conflicted, vulnerable side – and this is good. Peter Dinklage performs quite well as Bolivar Trask, although for the kind of performance he gave by the end, the writers should definitely have taken a tip or two from X2’s older Stryker, by adding heavier justification to his obsession with the mutants. Nicholas Hoult (Warm Bodies) is quite the performer and continues to give Beast his own, wider performance range. Evan Peters as Quicksilver is not there for much, but steals the show through and through. You’ll know what that means when you see it. Josh Helman (Jack Reacher) as young William Stryker does well enough. Stewart, McKellen, Halle Berry (Things We Lost in the Fire), Page, Shawn Ashmore and the rest from the previous trilogy return for a slightly shorter while and give the movie their all. Of them all, however, it is only Stewart, McKellen and Page who drive the timeline’s emotional currents and keep the story afloat. Watch out for McKellen in the final moments of the movie. You’ll be devastated, almost!
Of the varied set of superhero films we’ve all witnessed over the years, the X-Men franchise has been famed for starting it all by allowing the viewer to relate with the larger than life characters seen in its films on an uncannily human level. With Singer’s return to the franchise, not only does the film bring its thematic elements back, it also creatively builds up on them so as to mend the sore parts of the franchise (particularly The Last Stand), thereby giving the viewers of the original some much needed emotional closure. With a solidly written script, stunningly shot and composited set pieces and intimately performed characters, Days of Future Past is definitely the most well-made movie in the franchise, and also one of the best superhero movies to come by in recent times.
Definitely worth a watch (and possibly some more).
Star Rating: 4.5 / 5