Despite carrying some heavy credentials during it’s rocky legacy, it wouldn’t be utterly without merit to claim that Twentieth Century Fox’s X-Men franchise is ranked comfortably below the MCU. Despite the original building on the box office success of Blade to help superhero movie conquer the world and despite the fact that X-Men 2 is comfortably one of the best comic book movies ever made; the cumulation of Marvel Studios cash inhaling first phase meant that the Children of the Atom were decidedly second place (or third, or even fourth depending on your views on Spider-Man and the DC gang) in the pantheon of super powered franchises. No matter how good their movie may sometimes be, they never had that “Avengers moment” that would have launched the series into the stratosphere. And then Bryan Singer came back….
Instead of being the not so distant future – it’s the fairly, but not quite distant future and earth is a scorched, Terminator-esque battle ground due to the emergence of the Sentinels; power swapping, mutant hunting robots that have been doing an exceptional job in stamping out powered people and any humans who have aided them. Keeping barely one step ahead of them is a small sub-group of X-Men led by Kitty Pryde who can use her phasing powers to slip someone’s consciousness back in time whenever they’re discovered so they’ll know to avoid that location before it happens. Tracked down by the remnants of the X-Men proper, Professor X has a plan that could change thus shit-hole future into something less Holocaust-y by using Kitty’s powers to send Wolverine’s future consciousness back to 1973 to inspire a broken Charles Xavier to pull his shattered life back together and sort things out before they start. However, upon arriving in the 70’s, Wolverine finds the mutants he needs in rather dire circumstances; Charles is hopelessly addicted to a serum that temporarily fixes his busted spine at the cost of his psychic powers, Magneto is imprisoned at the Pentagon for supposedly assassinating JFK (The curving bullet! Back, and to the left, people!) and Charles’ shapeshifting childhood friend Mystique has been radicalised by their magnetic, mutual friend and is zipping around the globe, freeing any mutants currently under the human’s thumb. As Wolverine, Charles and Hank McCoy (aka. the fuzzy blue Beast) work to free Magneto from his plastic prison, inventor Boliviar Trask discovers that that the missing ingredient to his new defence project may be Mystique’s DNA – the project’s name? The Sentinel Programme of course.
So a literal race against time is on with mutants in two different time streams desperately trying to salvage their very future as it unfolds; but the future X-Men manage to hold off a relentless Sentinel attack long enough for their 70’s comrades to make everything right – even when a young Magneto just can’t help himself and gets up to his old human hating tricks?
Singer’s return to the franchise he started appears to have recharged his batteries and blown out some of the cobwebs since jumping ship in 2006 to focus on making the relentlessly beige Superman Returns. Make no mistake, thanks to the period piece gauntlet thrown down by Matthew Vaughn’s awesomely groovy X-Men: First Class, Days Of Future Past may be the closest the X-Men movies ever got to what the MCU pulled of with the Avengers. Seeing the merging of four different franchises into one giant super-movie and raising them by cramming almost all the main characters from the original and soft reboot/prequel installments into a single time travel movie turns out to be an act of undiluted, fucking genius. Add onto that the seamless merging of fact and fantasy as the whip-smart script goes full James Ellroy and fuses our characters directly into historical events by having them directly impact world events – fuck, it even does Richard Nixon as a supporting character far better than Zack Snyder’s Watchmen even did.
While the film does it’s best to blur history, it also does some great shit with it’s characters, giving us versions of these guys we’ve never seen before; the magnificent duo of James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender are stunningly good as they utilize their actual mutant powers of great fucking acting to portray their former bromance as something that’s horribly soured. McAvoy has the normally chaste Xavier as a basically a bitter, bottom-feeding drug addict, abandoned by Magneto and Mystique and immensely broken inside thanks to the attempted healing that’s gone on outside as Nicolas Holt’s Hank scurries around after him like a blue, feral enabler while Fassbender plays the scheming Magneto as a far more emboldened version of his earlier, Bond-like Nazi hunter.
If the sheer size and quality of the cast (not to mention the complexity of the plot) are impressive, then the requisite superhero action scenes more than rise to meet the challenge and takes Singer’s talent at visualizing powers that warp reality (see Nightcrawler’s peerless teleporting attack on the White House in X2) and runs with it like Quicksilver on a deadline. The opening scene, which not only sees the Sentinels reimagined into plasma gobbing, dreadnaughts that can alter their abilities faster than a Katy Perry costume change tear through a team of mutants like a thumb through wet toilet paper, but also features a stunning arsenal of extraordinary talents. Iceman finally gets to use his ice slide and the scene makes great use of Blink, a mutant who can fling portals everywhere – but DOFP saves it’s trump card for the aforementioned Quicksilver in possibly one of the finest superpowered moments in cinema history. Watch agog as Evan Peters’ zippy klepto moves faster than time to disable a group of guards at the Pentagon (and the bullets they’ve already fired) while still having time to taste some soup as the somber strains of Jim Croce’s Time In A Bottle play over the soundtrack. It’s one of those kinds of scenes that’s so good it make me want to cry and it’s a testiment to any action scene that has to follow it that they’re not utterly eclipsed, although it’s admittedly hard to write off the sight of Fassbender in full Magneto colours (Days Of Fuchsia Past?) floating through the air as he drops an entire stadium spectacularly onto the White House lawn – what is it with mutants and trashing 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?
While they’re admittedly some niggles about the film – such as why is Kitty Pryde relegated to an extended cameo when the character is so vital to the original story – this is still the closest the X-Men saga has got to that elusive “Avenger moment” and stands out as a major high point in a notoriously uneven series.
Much like any time travel movie, try not to focus too hard on the timeline and you’ll be fine (especially seeing as the X-Men timeline is as squiggly as a drunk driver trying to walk in a straight line), but aside from that X-M:DOFP stands proudly next to the second movie as clearly one of the best outings of the modern superhero genre.
This Bamf to the future is an uncanny triumph.