Bryan Singer’s return to the franchise he helped launch 13 years ago makes for an ambitious spectacle.
The X-Men movies, like the comics from which they harvest inspiration, have long contained elements that have stood as parallels for social issues. The well-trodden party line is that the series’ two core figures, Charles “Professor X” Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr (aka Magneto) stand in for Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, with both pairs sharing concerns but deviating when it comes to how one ought solve said concerns. The opening of Days Of Future Past immediately draws parallels towards the first moments of the first X-Men movie, in which a young Lehnsherr is discovered in a concentration camp, with the dystopian future of the primary temporal location of Days Of Future Past a vision of hefty persecution. It’s an impressively realised rendering of a dark future, with humans and mutants alike herded by looming Sentinels, the robotic police force that stand guard over the populace, and the creation of which serves as the core plot-line of the film.
While it’s the grandstanding vision that greets the viewer, its the emotional backbone which runs deepest. One might posit that Days Of Future Past is the first nostalgically-driven feature of the current wave of Superhero movies, acting almost as a tribute to its own franchise, with Singer returning to thematic territory previously occupied by his Superman Returns, a film which elevated a passion for that series’ 1970s legacy above all else. While his Superman film was arguably crippled by an affection for the movies which had gone before it, Days Of Future Past is steered with far greater precision, never stooping too low as to be overtly reverential. Instead it feels like a valuable addition to a complex franchise, and in many ways, an addendum.
Amongst the dramatic set pieces, all of which are competent, and many of which are brilliant (the much-lauded Quicksilver heist scene is already being spoken of as landmark fare in some quarters) it’s the quieter moments that have the greatest effect, echoing Charles Xavier’s ultimate stance on the films own internal debate (does one fight with might, ala Erik’s headiness, or take the diplomatic approach?). It’s in Xavier that the film’s most emotionally affecting through-line runs, with the dysfunctional young incarnation of the character at odds with the stance adopted by his later self, and growing increasingly bitter with his place, his relationships, and his gift. A moment in which the two minds meet acts as the centrepiece of the movie, and perhaps the franchise itself.
As with many pictures of this ilk, there are script issues, while instances of CGI sees a drop in quality, but these are fleeting incidents, as opposed to experience ruining affairs. The X-Men franchise is patchy at best, with the series reaching its height over a decade ago with X-Men 2, with a number of subpar outings distracting and waylaying proceedings, as well as throwing in a number of plot strands and incidents that prove at odds with one another, lending a contradictory air to much of the series. For the most part Singer rights the wrongs made in his absence impressively, with problematic continuity issues from Brett Ratner’s X-Men 3: The Last Stand and Gavin Hood’s Wolverine: Origins tidied up thanks to the time travel angle of Days Of Future Past, with the director applying a logic not dissimilar to his Superman treatise, which saw his take on Clark Kent and Lois Lane adhere only to the Richard Donner-directed movies, bypassing the events of the left-field third and fourth iterations of that franchise’s more tumultuous years. He gets around those problems in a much more creative way here though, adapting the pre-existing plots to the rules of the new game proposed by the time travel elements introduced in this latest film. Due to the nature in which he not only removes any trace of those lesser pictures, but how he also hinges a number of emotional beats on occurrences from those films one might accuse Singer of having his cake and eating it, but when it’s so satisfying a conclusion at the user end, it’s difficult to be too critical.
Ultimately the long and winding saga of the X-Men cinematic universe highlights the importance of there being a singular voice such as Bryan Singer involved for the long haul with a major franchise like this. While it’s a lesson learned harshly, with missteps and deviations along the way, there’s a real feeling of resolve as the credits of Days Of Future Past begin to roll, with the future of the franchise (appropriately enough, given the subject matter) finally on course.