X-Men: Days Of Future Past

Let’s get this straight: there are too many superhero movies around. It seems that big title film-makers are losing their capacity to tell big, high concept, blockbuster stories in something resembling the real world. That doesn’t mean that individual films aren’t fun or entertaining or stimulating, but people cannot live on superheroes alone. That said, this new X-Men movie is the most heralded since Avengers. 

There’s a few reasons for this. One is this film’s much-trumpeted story-telling ambitions, of which more shortly. Another, to be frank, is that the series really hasn’t been up to much since the second film in 2003. So when it emerged that the director of the first 2 films, Bryan Singer, was returning to the helm for this one, expectations rose. He’s clever, exciting film-maker. Anyone who announced his talent with a film as clever, inventive, rewarding and memorable as The Usual Suspects is going to bring something worth seeing to his films.

This latest film doesn’t make many concessions to a viewer who hasn’t seen previous installments in the series; which doesn’t seem to be hitting the film’s profits too much, but perhaps should be a warning to the casual watcher. We start at a point in the future where intelligent robot-types (Sentinels) have been developed to hunt and fight mutants; Professor Xavier and his followers are fighting a losing battle which is tearing the planet apart. So a solution is hit upon; send Wolverine back in time to solve the problem (think Terminator) before it occurs. So we’re now in the 1970s; it’s time, you’d think for all sorts of people-out-of-time gags, but this is a film with a serious tone. It’s not entirely straight-faced, but it’s not played for laughs. The inherent contradictions of time-travel are greeted with all but a wink at the camera in moments of exposition, but other than that the film embraces inherent absurdity with enthusiasm.

Largely it works well; where it doesn’t it’s because there are just too many characters for us to engage properly with the ones we really need to. I’m also still a bit unconvinced by Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. I know I’m in the minority here, but all he seems to do is get angry and glower and punch. What’s good about the film is a wit and inventiveness that’s largely been missing for the past few films; there’s a light touch to a couple of action scenes, including one taking an unashamed cue from The Matrix that’s so good you laugh with it and want to applaud at the end. It’s also, for the first time in several films, really about something bigger than itself. It’s embracing the definitive X-Men themes of how people deal with difference; add to that a key thread of the story that touches on how, if at all, we can seek healing for hurt and trauma, and we’re in territory some of the previous films didn’t dare to touch. That the film carries this off, whilst not stinting on spectacle and entertainment reminds us just what a skilful director Singer can be and how much the series has missed him having his hands on the steering wheel.

Days Of Future Past is not the giant leap forward some anticipated, but it is a big step in the right direction for a series that had been meandering and taking an audience for granted for far too long. Lesson: keep giving big films to proper directors.

I saw this film in 3d.

I rated this film 7/10 on imdb.com and 3.5/5 on rottentomatoes.com

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