Somewhere, in an alternate MARVEL universe, the fate of mankind rests in the hands of Patrick Stewart (the bald one from Star Trek) and Ian McKellan (the not so bald one from Lord of the Rings.) Unless they can prevent Jennifer Lawrence (here reprising her role as a very large smurf) from killing that nice little bloke from Game of Thrones, then the world will end as we know it – if the world you know involves kick-assing smurfs and mutant dudes that is. If this sounds like your psychedelic cup of tea (and it’s now mine), then go watch X Men Days of Future Past (or X Men Back to the Future, as I like to call it) NOW, and if you’ve already seen it, go see it again NOW. Where else, except in your wildest, nerdiest dreams, can you get to see your heroes from four major film/TV franchises in one place – Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Comic book fans may have just died and gone to nerdy heaven.
Following on from its predecessor (X Men First Class), this movie maintains the nostalgia theme by revisiting the 1970s (1973 to be exact), and what a feast of psychedelia it is – there’s nothing more hallucinatory than seeing the X Men and President Nixon share the same screen. Bryan Singer continues the ‘spaced out’ theme by using a lava lamp – yes, a lava lamp (in what may be a cinematic first) – as a segue from the future into the past (it worked for me.)
We begin with Patrick Stewart (Xavier) setting the scene, as that commanding, baritone voice informs us that the X Men’s future is one filled with dread, as they fight their nemesis the Sentinels. This future is a predominantly dark and hopeless place, where various new (and old) X Men jump in and out of time warping holes to escape the giant, robotic, shape-shifting Sentinels. It’s a relief therefore when we ourselves time-warp back to the decade that gave us long hair, flared trousers, and men in flowery shirts to find (as in X Men First Class)that Patrick Stewart has morphed into James McAvoy, and Ian McKellan has morphed into Michael Fassbender – I don’t think we could ask for anything more.
Hugh Jackman’s saturnine Wolverine is tasked with going back to the 70s (with the help of Kitty Pryde) to find the younger versions of Xavier and Magneto (then sworn enemies), and attempt to bring them together so they can stop Raven (aka Mystique) from killing Bolivar Trask, the inventor of the Sentinels – are you following me so far? Trask has been performing dastardly, Nazi-type experiments on mutants, in order to create his Sentinels, and this knowledge motivates Raven’s desire to kill him. However, his assassination will set off a chain of events which will lead to the final days of the X Men.
Meanwhile, back in 1973, Professor Xavier is an alcoholic, drug addled, long haired recluse, whose dreams of an X Men school have been shattered by the onset of the Vietnam war, as most of his students have been called up. He has also lost Raven, the most important person in his life, and harbours a hatred for his erstwhile chum Magneto. Magneto is also down on his luck, very far down actually, being secured in a concrete pit deep beneath the Pentagon (accused of killing JFK apparently – the bullet curved!) – just go with it, it’s as good as any other conspiracy theory.
Wolverine’s first task is to get Xavier off the booze and then free Magneto from his impenetrable cell. This makes way for the showcase segment in the film, at the same time introducing us to Quicksilver (a scene stealing performance from Evan Peters.) Quicksilver is a little known X Man, with the ability to move at what looks like the speed of light. Quicksilver’s vanishing tricks enable our X Men to get past Pentagon security to whisk Magneto from the building, but not before a scene of special effects awesomeness take place, in which Quicksilver runs rings (literally) around everyone in a Pentagon kitchen. It has become a cinematic trope to juxtapose scenes of intense action with emotionally poignant and lyrical music, and Bryan Singer gives us a surprising and very effective example of this, as Quicksilver plays out his Slo-Mo antics to Jim Croce’s Time in a Bottle – a lesson in how music choice can completely change the resonance of a scene.
Anyway, this psychedelic cornucopia of a movie brims over with special effects coolness, thanks to the wonderful talents in the VFX world, and also brims over with acting talent, with a prestigious cast rarely brought together on the same screen. James McAvoy never disappoints. Patrick Stewart and Ian Mckellan bring Shakespearean gravitas to the fantastical Marvel world, while Jennifer Lawrence provides effective eye candy for teenage boys (and probably a few grown men.) That’s not to diminish her role in this film – the dream-like airport sequence, where Xavier talks to Raven remotely, using various waiting passengers , is another highlight.
If you’re new to the X Men movie franchise (as this reviewer was) then worry not. This film stands alone as an enjoyable, rollercoaster ride, with no prior knowledge of characters, or their back story, required.
Let’s not forget the gifted Peter Dinklage in the role of Trask. The irony was not lost on this viewer that, whilst Trask is out to kill all mutants, he himself is also ‘different’, and also in possession of extraordinary talents. And I think that’s the message we can take away from the X Men universe. We’re all different to some degree, and how we choose to live with those differences is what defines us, for good or bad. Our differences are what make us unique, and the cast and crew on this film more than succeeded in making this movie-going experience, for this movie-goer, unique.