Unintended consequences, evolution, inevitability and fate – X-Men: Days Of Future Past opens with the question ‘is the future truly set?’. This elaborate narration and its spoofy nostalgic sci-fi overtones are an inspired way to open this futuristic re-write of history.

Days Of Future Past is a dual sequel. That is, it’s a both a sequel to the final movie of the original trilogy X-Men: The Last Stand and a sequel to that trilogy’s prequel X-Men: First Class. There are clear links to the Wolverine spin-offs too. How does one movie accomplish all of this? Through time travel of course.

© 2013 - Marvel and Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved

© 2013 – Marvel and Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved

It’s hard to think of a more alienating premise for the uninitiated X-Men viewer. Yet Days Of Future Past is coherent enough, if you can make it through the first 15 minutes that is. In these opening moments audiences are are whisked into the centre of a high energy battle sequence whose lack of exposition is likely to equal zero jeopardy and total mystification to all but X-Men devotees.

What follows this bland action sequence is a barrage of information. Humans are now waging war with mutants. Their invincible weapon? Giant robotic Sentinels created in the 1970s through a scientific programme that exploited mutants as test subjects. Seeking revenge, shapeshifter Raven, aka Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), kills the proponent of the Sentinel programme, Dr Trask (Peter Dinklage). Her actions have unintended consequences – increased funding for the Sentinel programme and the use of her shapeshifting DNA in their development. Heading back in time to stop Raven killing Trask is Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and so we pick up the action in 1973 a decade after First Class. Got it?

“It’s hard to think of a more alienating premise for the uninitiated”

This onslaught of information from X-Men long-timers Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen) will likely be the source of auditory indigestion across the globe. Fortunately everything calms down when we arrive in 1973 and an atmosphere starts to build. X-Men’s original director, Bryan Singer, returns and revels in his nostalgic setting. Singer subtly inserts clues that place us firmly in the seventies, from Nixon clicking his tape machine to charming seventies camera footage.

Of course this version of the seventies is also a tad contradictory. Human’s have developed complex robots but have only just mastered how to record three VHS tapes at once. But Days Of Future Past is largely endearing in its inescapable missteps, retaining a whisper of humour that fuses everything together. There’s a wonderful – and quite beautiful – slow motion sequence in the Pentagon kitchen and a self-referencing shower of disgusting mutant skills.

Singer has an eye for neat, interesting shots too. Metal wielding mutant, Erik (Michael Fassbender), is caught in an askew silhouette as his powers escalate. Later, Trask walks into a room through a huge portrait of victory and slaughter.

With Singer’s track record of X-Men successes it’s unsurprising that the franchise continues to attract a high calibre cast. This time it unites the original trilogy’s Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan with James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence. There’s a lot of charisma at work here and the cast’s combined magnetism synchronises like their mutant powers to distract from Days Of Future Past’s drawn out run time and tendency towards assumed knowledge.

Likewise, Dinklage brings a measure of convincing warmth to his villain and, in his capable hands, we are able to understand the human fears about mutant growth. His is not a checklist baddy but a window in to Days Of Future Past’s bigger issues. Trask acknowledges the very real dangers of human extinction.

© 2013 - Marvel and Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved

© 2013 – Marvel and Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved

Time and unintended consequences are the real enemies in Days Of Future Past – its character’s intentions never quite turn out as planned. At its best the X-Men franchise has always been about the challenging questions – acceptance, prejudice and resistance to change. Here we see the franchise turn its attention to the biggest questions of our universe, going beyond evolution to address fate and destiny. X-Men is an intelligent comic-book franchise and here it even manages to delve in to quantum physics.

It’s disappointing then that the finale encompasses some odd shifts in the story and a flimsy, rushed return to the future. Time travel is a slippy concept and Days Of Future Past doesn’t always get it right. How much these revised events change what we already know about the X-Men cannon will keep fans busy for days. For devotees this double whammy of sequels offers detail, raises questions and provides some nice surprises about X-Men’s future.

Though it is, perhaps, inevitable that the more profuse the X-Men franchise gets, the more mystifying it is to the beginner. It’s a danger that plagues Marvel’s expanding universe from Iron Man to Captain America as it nears the end of its indomitable phase two. X-Men: Days Of Future Past tries not to become a baffling and impenetrable domain of inner fandom, but the self-referencing that results from its success and longevity breeds X-Men’s own unintended consequence. Inaccessibility.
 

VERDICT:   ✭ ✭ ✭    3/5

 

Images: © 2013 – Marvel and Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved

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