X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (M)
Directed by Bryan Singer
X Men:First Class (2011) was easily one of the very best examples of the superhero genre yet made.
As a film for the fans who know and love the comic book characters, as a wickedly clever updating of some of the much re-written origin mythology that crops up anew with every changing of the guard at the publishers, and as a stonkingly good mega-budget action extravaganza for those of us who just like to see these things done well, First Class was everything the title promised.
The film introduced a couple of seriously good actors - in Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy - to the series, and then justified their inclusion by actually giving them some genuine emotional heavy-lifting to test their talents.
Most commentators (and I've been guilty of this myself) make the mistake of thinking that the actors in special effects driven blockbusters aren't really doing much in the way of performing, and that it's the technicians and designers who are keeping the film's heart beating. But I've come to realise, via a long conversation with a mate who spent three years buried under latex as one of Peter Jackson's dwarves, that maybe the opposite is true. He says that any actor who can hold your attention and communicate their motives when they are in the midst of a maelstrom of CGI is doing brilliant work.
That conversation gave me a new appreciation of what Martin Freeman is achieving in The Hobbit trilogy, and it also made me appreciate just why it is that these massive films actually need the charisma of Fassbender, McAvoy, Ian McKellen, Jennifer Lawrence, Ellen Page, Peter Dinklage, Anna Paquin and Hugh Jackman: They might look the part, but a lesser actor would just get lost in the confusion.
X-Men: Days of Future Past picks up the action several decades in the future, where a disparate group of mutant survivors are fighting a guerilla action against ferocious hunter-killer robots. A plan is hatched to send Wolverine - or at least, his consciousness - back to 1973, to prevent the actions that led to the robots ever being made.
The script negotiates both timelines in a satisfactory manner, and so manages to function as a sequel to both X-Men: First Class, and the X-Men trilogy (2000- 2006) that preceded it. It is at times a ravishingly clever piece of writing, which I'd probably have to rewatch all of the previous movies to fully appreciate. And even then it would be worth my while to have another look at Gavin Hood's much compromised Origins: Wolverine, just to appreciate how neatly the end of this film nestles into the beginnings of that one.
So, there is pretty smart plotting, engaging performances, a few flashes of genuine humour, and some terrifically impressive special effects. A sequence in a commercial kitchen, featuring the superfast Quicksilver, set to that appalling 1973 Jim Croce dirge Time in a Bottle, is just about my favourite scene from any film of the year so far.
The only thing that lets Days of Future Past down is the comparison to the jaw-dropping ambition of First Class.
Where that film co-opted the Warsaw Ghetto and the Cuban Missile Crisis, Days of Future Past rather lamely makes do with some over-familiar revisioning of the Vietnam War and a couple of queasy references to the Kennedy assassination.
Add to that an opening sequence that is too-obviously animated, a few problematic lapses in logic, and a scene in the final reel that darn near goes the full Bobby Ewing, and X-Men:Days of Future Past eventually succumbs to a dose of the part-two-'flu.
This film is the bridge from a wonderful set up to a still-in-the-future conclusion. It does what it does very well, but there is better behind it, and probably even better to come.
- The Dominion Post