Sunday, 25 May 2014

X-Men: Days of Future Past (ST)

Mutant Marvel

Some concepts are best left in the comic-fuelled cauldrons of the geek imagination. Despite the tantalising prospect of the X-Men juniors teaming up with their older counterparts, Days of Future Past represents a potential nerd paradise which lacks the chutzpah to go the full hog.

Bryan Singer’s return to the series which he originally kick-started is too restrained to have the impact geeks were drooling over. Aside from a helplessly brief glimmer of dialogue, that showdown between the new and the old cast never really happens.

Marvel’s most critically admired series still continues to have life in its seventh feature film without the action ever really exploding with a ‘cool’ factor. The magic which once convinced this critic that Magneto intended to rip all the blood from his youthful body seems to be ebbing away.

A sober introduction is the hallmark of Singer’s superhero stories and his latest is no different. In a horrendously dystopian future, mutants are hunted by merciless legions of cyber-assassin sentinels. From the outset, Ellen Page’s band of partisan survivors is attacked by these robotic phantoms in a strangely depressing action sequence. The parallel with drone technology is obvious to anyone with even the lightest grasp of contemporary events.

From this war-torn world, the elderly Magneto (Ian McKellen) and Professor X (Patrick Stewart) send Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back in time to prevent a series of events leading up to the future Mutant extermination. But the younger Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) circa 1973 is not the hero Logan thought he knew.

Even with a dense plot of ‘timey-wimey stuff’, fun sequences frequently fill the screen, though none offer an emotional substance worth comparing to Singer’s first two efforts with the franchise. Simply put, there are too many characters and not enough time for them. With so many popular roles, the script does not achieve a successful share of screen time between big names like Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence and Hugh Jackman.

Without a definitive lead protagonist, in the end everyone is simply a poster-filling support character. As always, Magneto gets the best action sequences whilst Wolverine and others are disappointingly not let off their leash.

Yet even Fassbender’s brooding turn cannot match the best sequences in First Class, where his vengeful Holocaust survivor was a breath of fresh air to the series. His highlight this time around is a brilliantly tense action set-piece outside the Paris Peace Conference. Sadly, Singer cannot retain that pace for the full duration because of the boundless story permutations being ignited by the time-travelling ploy/curse.

Quicksilver, as one of the few heroes making his debut, has a memorable cameo but is then abandoned without explanation. Also, whilst Ellen Page exploits her modest presence to full advantage, in comparison Professor X is nowhere near as engaging without his preppy arrogance from McAvoy’s last appearance.

Even so, Days of Future Past is still an above-average superhero movie.  Most fans will be satisfied with its quality but it had the ingredients to be a whole lot grander.


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