Just over 11 years ago, almost to the day, Bryan Singer and 20th Century Fox gave X-Men fans around the world something worthy of the beloved comic book characters on-screen, X2: X-Men United. The second installment in the franchise turned out to be the rarest of the rare in Hollywood, a sequel that surpassed the original and that it did. X2 became the benchmark that all other X-Men movies had to live up to.
Director: Bryan Singer
Staring: Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry, Ellen Page, Nicholas Hoult, Peter Dinklage, Ian McKellen & Patrick Stewart
Run Time: 131 minutes
Exhibition: 2D (Available in 3D)
Release Date: Out Now
So X3: The Last Stand was released, everyone had high hopes (despite Bryan Singer ditching the franchise to make a mediocre Superman movie), the movie disappointed. With the X-Men franchise in tatters, 20th Century Fox turned to their strongest mutant for a spin-off movie to save the day, that movie disappointed fans and critics alike, the franchise went quiet.
Then came Matthew Vaughn, a director and writer with a passion for X-Men and a comic book adaptation success story under his belt, Kick Ass (and he is British, a great thing these days in Hollywood, thanks Christopher Nolan). With Bryan Singer on as a producer, Vaughn took on the most ambitious X-Men task there was, the origin story, the Professor X/Magneto story, X-Men: First Class.
First Class didn’t disappoint, it received great reviews from critics and was welcomed by fans, if not completely convincing every fan-boy. The movie was seen as a reboot of the main series, with a younger cast, taking a different route from the previous movies and this is what we expected from any sequels that would follow. Then Bryan Singer returned to the directors chair.
Based on the comic series of the same name, X-Men: Days of Future Past gave Singer the perfect excuse he needed to bring back his cast, the cast he originally assembled, and yet continue as a direct sequel to First Class.
The story begins in the future, a future ravaged by a war between mutants and mutant-killing robots, the sentinels. We learn in Patrick Stewart’s voice-over introduction that Mystique is responsible for the sentinels ability to adapt to fight any mutant, making them almost impossible to defeat. On the brink of extinction the last surviving mutants, including Professor X, Magneto, Storm, Ice Man and Wolverine, come up with a desperate plan to end the war, by making sure it never happens. To do this they must send Wolverine’s consciousness back in time to 1973 to unite the younger Charles and Eric in an effort to change the past and stop Mystique from unintentionally helping create the advanced sentinels.
Two time-frames, two casts, at it’s most basic level it’s what Abrams did with Spock and 2009’s Star Trek reboot.
Now despite the synopsis, this movie isn’t just another excuse to put Wolverine front and centre and hope for good box-office takings, this is a character piece with temporal shenanigans and big action sequences thrown in. What I mean by this is that this is a film about redemption and rebuilding relationships more than just a straight forward sci-fi flick, it has heart.
The young Professor is a broken man, not the positive ray of hope for mutants we left at the end of First Class, but a man who has given up having lost everything he holds dear. In a twist on their relationship from the very first X-Men movie, it is Logan’s job to give Xavier purpose and meaning and ultimately make him into the leader he is destined to be and over the course of the movie we begin to see a real bond developing between these two characters.
Sadly for Logan, fixing an emotionally damaged Xavier isn’t the hardest thing on his to do list. Good old Magneto has gone and got himself locked up in the Pentagon and our time-travelling hero must break him out to reunite the two friends turned foes. Or as Sir Ian puts it so eloquently, “Side by side at a time when we couldn’t be further apart“.
With Charles almost entirely powerless thanks to treatment for his paralysis, Logan enlists the help of a mutant many comic book fans have been eager to see (As he’s also getting a Marvel Studio’s incarnation for Avengers 2), Quicksilver.
For those not in the know, the comic book lore states that Quicksilver is the son of Magneto and there is a “blink and you’ll miss it” reference in the movie, a nice nod to the fan-boys that is left unnoticed by the masses. His true origin left for another day, Quicksilver is to this movie what Falcon is to Captain American: The Winter Soldier, that secondary character that outshines expectations and concerns and steals some great action scenes for himself.
The character brings some fun back to the franchise, not the hero-type but as a rebel without a clue. The slow-motion action sequences in which we see the lightning fast mutant save the day could easily be known as “Bullet-Time v2.0”, there’s something very X2, Nightcrawler opening sequence about it. This adds gravitas to a new character who deserved more screen-time had the plot allowed for it. The one and only downside is that we never get to know Quicksilver or learn anything about him besides his fondness for breaking the law and in a movie centered around the theme of relationships and character development, the character to too easily thrown away once the prison break is complete.
With Eric now part of the motley crew, tensions rise as the events from First Class come back to haunt Charles, the accident that left him in a wheelchair and his adopted sister Raven, now Mystique, leaving him to fight against the government, both being Eric’s fault. What begins as nothing more than a shouting match turns into a mirror image of the relationship we see between the two through McKellen and Stewart’s portrayals, two enemies who genuinely care about each other because of their past friendship. Both McAvoy and Fassbender play the parts so well you really believe they are the younger versions of the two old rivals from the future.
As Mystique’s role plays an important part in the overall plot, Jennifer Lawrence, now a much more experienced actress thanks to the success of the Hunger Games franchise, is given a lot more screen-time compared to her first outing as the blue shape-shifter. Her performance justifies this focus with an emotional diversity that brings new depth to, let’s be honest, quite a shallow character portrayal in the original three X-Men movies. Her character is split between her loyalties to Magneto’s cause and the family she left behind with Charles, feeling betrayed by both she opts to make a stand herself and take down the sentinals creator Dr. Bolivar Trask, played by Peter Dinklage (Game Of Thrones).
Though predictable, the climax for the movie doesn’t take the traditional, “throw as much action in there as possible” approach that we’ve seen in other X-Men movies. As I’ve said throughout, this is a sci-fi with heart and despite Magneto’s exploits with a football stadium, the film sticks to it’s guns and puts the focus on Charles and Mystique, the moral decisions each must make and the consequences they will have on the future.
Despite this movie being a promising return to form for the X-Men franchise, it’s not perfect. One of the more significant drawbacks is the portrayal of Beast (Nicholas Hoult). A character who was such a significant part of First Class seems to have been relegated to a throwaway character in this movie, mainly because the plot doesn’t allow the time to focus on his character.
The other big down-fall concerns continuity issues. The major one being that the movie expects the viewer to not only accept that the other X-Men movies are part of the history (through so X2 and X3 flashbacks) but also accept that despite the on-going threat from sentinels through the established history of X-Men and the 5 movies which fall into that time-line (First Class is set earlier), we as the audience have never heard anything about them until now. That’s a big ask for many with an attention to detail but for the general cinema-goer not a major problem.
With that said this is still a fantastic addition to the franchise and, in my opinion at least, the best X-Men film to date. The only thing that could have made this movie better would be more screen-time devoted to the older cast members.
The story is interesting, fun and yet has an emotional depth we’ve not seen before in an X-Men movie. This movie ascends it’s sci-fi roots to be more than just another popcorn summer blockbuster. Taking a page from Marvel Studio’s book, the post-credits scene is mouth-wateringly exciting too.