Review: X Men: Days of Future Past

Now this is what a comic book movie should be. It gets pretty much everything right.

I am a comic book reader, but I was never an X-Men reader. My entry point was Bryan Singer’s original X-Men film. I’ve seen enough comic book movies made by people who clearly never read, much less loved, comics. They inevitably condescend (Hulk) or overcompensate with pseudo-intellectualisation at the expense of character development or just plain logic (Nolan’s entire Batman run). At best, they’re light, hardly indelible, fun (Whedon’s Avengers), and very, very rarely impressive (the Russo Brothers Captain America films).

X-Men: Days Of Future Past just hits so many right notes. From its opening moments of concentration camp-evocative imagery, the tone is immediately oppressive, dark, sinister, frightening. From there it doesn’t let up: emotional performances, complicated motivations (particularly Fassbender‘s Magneto), epic setpieces (again: Magneto), and stakes that are simultaneously grand and intimate. In movies about grand-scale conflict, I often find it forced when the focus zooms in on a few individual characters to solicit our emotional investment; here, in X-Men: DOFP, the breathless zooming in and out is handled so deftly, from conflicts interpersonal to international, and it’s dizzying in the best possible way. The final crescendo of the two parallel conflicts is genuinely edge-of-your-seat frightening – the stakes have been so carefully established, raised and raised again, so the grandiosity of the final setpieces is more than well-earned.

DOFP functions more like classic science fiction than comic book movie – and, as I understand it, the X-Men comics have always been allegorical for socio-political issues of their time. While watching the first time, I have to admit I didn’t read its allegory as being any more than any marginalised, discriminated-against group in society – and on that level alone it’s more than satisfying. But it is interesting to note that a storyline that was a response to the time it was original written, the civil rights / counter-culture movement in America, feels timely nearly four decades later.

The re-writing of history, the changing of the timeline, involving actors from both the original and the reboot, I thought was a genius and seamless way to reboot the series properly (and on a whole other level above the relatively forgettable X-Men: First Class). It’s an Olympic relay baton-pass that makes me want to follow the adventures of the newer, younger cast – and not feel like I have to ignore or forget the original X-Men movies that I so enjoyed (the first two at least). I wish the movie had ended before Wolverine wakes up in the future, where we see everybody alive and well and friends and together. Because now there are no stakes in the subsequent younger-cast movies – we know they’ll all be fine. Which, in a way, now undoes all the hard-won investment in the younger players – because now, if the sequels anything happens to contradict this ending, then we’ll feel cheated one way or the other. Or, if they had to show Wolverine waking up in the future, perhaps only show Professor X saying “We have a lot of catching up to do” and then cut to black.

I realise it’s not fair to have devoted so much of this review to the very ending of an otherwise epic, satisfying, rich comic book movie that not only doesn’t condescend to its audience, it delivers the goods on so many levels – or at least, on more levels than comic book movies typically do. So I’mma quickly talk some highlights:

DOFP is filled with breathtaking setpieces – and I love that director Bryan Singer treats so many scenes as opportunities to create potentially iconic cinematic sequences. Quicksilver disarming the security personnel in the White House is balletic, hilarious, and a scene that most films would be happy to have as the climax – this film breezes past it in its first act (the Matrix-style shot of the cops mid-air as he dashes through them with Magneto is a work of art on its own). And James McAvoy‘s face-off with Patrick Stewart is the moment you not only wish you could see but assumed could never happen, it’s earned – and it’s beautiful.