The saying is that truth should never get in the way of a good story, but for time travel, not even possible as a scientific theory, perhaps the saying should be amended to say that plausibility should never be allowed to get in the way of debates over what the effect on causality of such a journey would be. Much like the chicken and egg scenario, there are countless theories as to what would happen and whether any trip would cause irrevocable change regardless of the care taken to avoid stepping on butterflies.
Donald Darko, Marty McFly, Bill S Preston and Ted “Theodore” Logan all demonstrated how timelines can be fractured, but does that imply a single new tangential reality or multiple divergent timelines, and if the future is changed so that the traveller would never have been able to go back in the first place, would a paradox occur, a superposition of two states, changed and unchanged, alive and dead in the manner of Schrödinger’s cat? And what does all this deeply hypothetical musing have to do with the immediate danger to the formerly deceased Professor Charles Xavier and the graduates of his School for Gifted Youngsters?
Due to the content and themes it deals with, X-Men has always been more of a high-brow adventure series than some of the other offerings of the Marvel universe, right from the opening scene of the first film in 2000 of young Erik Lehnsherr’s incarceration in a concentration camp, the Holocaust lending themes of alienation and segregation that permeated the film and its sequels.
It could even be argued that the enlightenment and peaceful conflict resolution approach of Professor Xavier is akin to Martin Luther King Jr as opposed to Magneto’s Malcolm X approach, willing to do whatever is required to reach his goal of securing a future for his people by any means necessary.
With films based on comic books now released almost on a monthly basis, it is this mix of more sophisticated themes alongside the humour and action synonymous with all iconic heroes which attracts and satisfies an audience, the political manoeuvring and espionage flavoured plot which raised The Winter Soldier far beyond the by-the-numbers origin tale of Captain America: The First Avenger standing testament to that.
With Bryan Singer, director of the first two X-Men films though not the justly maligned X-Men: The Last Stand back at the helm, he brings the two generations of X-Men past and dystopian future together to deal with the threat of extinction. With all mutants and their human sympathisers herded into concentration camps, even those with genetic precursors which indicate the possibility of mutated offspring, the few remaining free mutants are fugitives hunted by the Sentinels designed by Bolivar Trask (Game of Thrones’ Peter Dinklage), fearsome machines almost impervious to attack and able to adapt to combat any mutant powers.
Whilst Blink (Fan Bingbing, soon to be seen as the captive mermaid Sherzad in The Moon and the Sun) and Iceman (The Following’s Shawn Ashmore) try to stem the tide of the attack, Shadowcat (Inception’s Ellen Page) has developed the ability to transfer someone’s consciousness back into their own past, sending Bishop (Omar Sy, currently filming Jurassic World) a few days back to warn of the impending attacks.
Reaching the rendezvous point in remote China, they join Wolverine, Storm, Magneto and Professor Xavier (Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Patrick Stewart all returning to the roles they created in the first film) preparing to make their last stand. Convinced that it was the actions of Mystique (American Hustle’s Jennifer Lawrence) which led directly to the Sentinels evolving into the ultimate killing machines they have become, Professor X surmises that if Shadowcat can send one of them back far enough into the past, they can change the course of history.
Near immortal and able to recover from the impact of the transit, it is Wolverine who must go back to bring together the younger Xavier and Magneto (James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender resuming their First Class rivalry) and with their help find and stop Mystique, diverting the course of history before the Sentinels find them and destroy them in the present, time passing at the same rate in both periods.
Switching timelines to 1973, eleven years after the Cuban missile crisis with which Sebastian Shaw tried to start a war, Magneto is held in a maximum security facility underneath the Pentagon while a devastated and broken Xavier manages the pain of his damaged spine with a serum developed by Beast (Warm Bodies’ Nicholas Hoult), the side effect being the total suppression of his psychic powers.
This is far more than just another Wolverine movie, however, a criticism frequently aimed at previous X-Men movies; in an age before he has received his adamantium skeleton and claws his presence is as an instigator, and it is a challenge to even get Xavier and Beast to accept him and enlisting the help of Quicksilver (American Horror Story’s Evan Peters) before they run the gauntlet of the rescue mission, further exacerbating human/mutant tensions and adding fuel to the fire of anti-mutant sentiment which Trask is stoking.
Driving the film is the dynamic between Erik and Charles as they struggle to overcome their entrenched differences and resentments to recover their friendship in order that they may overcome a greater foe which is central to the plot, further complicated by the affection they carry for Mystique who has abandoned them both to chart her own course. With much more going on than emotional pleas for to consider the other point of vie
w and change their methods, other than one painfully cumbersome exposition scene early on the pace of the film never flags, and the 131 minutes flies past breathlessly.
A standout scene where Quicksilver demonstrates his powers (for those fast enough to catch them) helps break up the atmosphere impending doom, and it is disappointing that while Evans will be reprising the role for X-Men: Apocalypse, under the deal struck between Fox and Disney agreeing to share the Marvel properties which precludes crossovers the character will be played by Godzilla’s Aaron Taylor-Johnson in The Avengers: Age of Ultron, his interpretation first having been seen in the post-credit scene of Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
With Jackman serving almost as the hired muscle rather than the hero it is McAvoy, Fassbender and Lawrence who carry Days of Future Past and make it so enjoyable, and elder statesmen Stewart and Mckellen should have no qualms passing the mantle over to such entirely capable and dependable successors, among the most talented and highly regarded actors of the current generation, each of them genuine stars capable of carrying a film yet effortlessly fitting into the extended ensemble without pride or ego.
There are a lot of elements that avid fans will argue differs from comic lore, and casual cinema goers not familiar with the universe may be advised to start with something less driven by previous character development and shared history, but for followers of the genre and the series this is an excellent addition and certainly builds on the strong roster of Marvel films in 2014. On a par with Matthew Vaughn’s superlative X-Men: First Class, it is also more cohesive than either of Singer’s previous offerings.
Scripted by Simon Kinberg from a story he developed with Vaughn and Jane Goldman based on the 1981 comic by Chris Claremont and John Byrne, they have juggled almost all the elements convincingly, certain continuity glitches are apparent, some of which could easily have been avoided or addressed. William Stryker is here played by Josh Helman, an actor in his late twenties, though only six years later during the Three Mile Island incident of 1979 depicted in X-Men Origins: Wolverine as played by Danny Huston he will be closer to fifty, but a more glaring omission is the issue of Professor X’s resurrection, a question specifically raised in the post-credit scene of The Wolverine but with no attempt made to answer it here.
Conversely, possibly the greatest reason for celebration that much if not all of what was seen in The Last Stand are obviated by the events depicted here, the egregious incompetence of Brett Ratner expunged from the record. Xavier may regard history as a river, fearing that despite whatever ripples are made it is impossible to change its course, but the river has been diverted from that disaster and for that alone Singer should be praised, and with a post-credit teaser confirming the direction of the next release from the world of the X-Men, the future is looking very busy – and dangerous – indeed.
X-Men: Days of Future Past is now on general release in 2D and 3D