Hollywood is currently addicted to superhero films: to date the 3 highest grossing films of 2014 have all featured characters from Marvel comics. So it’s striking to remember that when the first film in the X-Men franchise was released in 2014, it was the only superhero film of any note released that year.
It was the film that began the present avalanche of caped crusaders. It’s true that studios only got truly hooked on them after seeing the massive profits they made on the Dark Knight and Spiderman trilogies but the way was cleared for them by X-Men’s success. It demonstrated that not every film in this genre had to be a disaster like Batman and Robin, and in so doing convinced studios to bet on them again.
The result is that we have now had a decade and a half of films bearing X-Men’s DNA. So it is very striking that despite all these imitators that 14 years after its release another film in the franchise with the same director, many of the same characters and actors, and similar themes should feel as fresh as X-Men: Days of Future Past does.
This is felt most strongly in the action sequences. Director Bryan Singer makes full use of the fact that unusual abilities of his characters to depart from the conventional formula of such scenes. There’s been a lot of well deserved praise for the hugely entertaining moment – shot in slow motion – where Quicksilver uses his superspeed to break Magneto out of a prison in the Pentagon. But Singer’s real triumph is avoiding the kind of overlong and overblown finales which have become de rigueur for superhero films. Instead he delivers something which while still spectacular is more in proportion to the rest of the film and doesn’t allow the loud noises to totally drown out character development.
A cast including Patrick Stewart, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Ian McKellan, Peter Dinklage and Hugh Jackman is as good as it sounds. While I was that underwhelmed by James McAvoy’s version of Professor Xavier in First Class – I felt he lacked the gravitas to convince anyone that he would grow up to be Patrick Stewart – he seemed much better suited to playing the troubled and burnt out version of the character we see in Days of Future Past. Despite the film’s long stretches in a gloomy dystopian future the actors manage to inject a lot of levity into the scenes set in the 1970s, so the film as a whole doesn’t become gloomy.
The only real blot is the a contrived and hole ridden plot but the film is a sufficiently engrossing experience that I only really noticed these in hindsight.
Verdict: 8/10 – smarter than the average franchise