Bryan Singer’s directorial juggling act with X-Men: Days of Future Past features dozens of mutants plucked from five previous iterations of the franchise (seven if you include the woeful Wolverine spin-offs), all interacting across multiple timelines. Yet it feels nimble, single minded, as slight of foot as one of its super-powered heroes.
Barring a bleak, Terminator 2-esque rumination on whether or not the future is pre-determined, Singer wastes little time with exposition – by this stage there’s an assumption you’ve already made at least a rudimentary investment in the X-Men universe. And in at least one possible future of that universe, things haven’t turned out very well. There’s been a holocaust of sorts, with anyone harbouring a mutant gene enslaved and/or exterminated by giant killer robots called Sentinels. Mutants are all but extinct and humanity doesn’t seem to be in a great state either.
Old enemies Magneto and Charles Xavier – played by Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart, two splendid old thesps who sometimes seem a little too aware of the absurdity of the roles they inhabit – have teamed up for one last effort to change the course of history, sending Wolverine back to the 1970s to stop the assassination that triggers the Sentinel programme.
This paves the way for some intense, period set pieces, including one memorable scene involving the lightning-fast Quicksilver zipping around walls, diverting bullets and knocking off policemen’s hats, all to the tune of John Croce’s Time in a Bottle.
Some of the chintzy 70s details are a little ham-fisted, consisting largely of flares and lava lamps, but there is fun to be had piecing together the X-universe versions of real-life historical events such as the shooting of JFK and the 1973 Paris Peace Accord at the White House.
But Singer’s film is more than just surface detail. James McAvoy is on top form as the tortured, drug-abusing Professor X, who froths and spits and swears with an emotional intensity rare in comic book land. His screen-time with Fassbender’s young Magneto is electric (magnetic, even), and they’re complemented by great supporting turns from the brilliant Peter Dinklage as the sinister Trask and Nicholas Hoult as the furry, blue Beast.
Days of Future Past is smart and ambitious, dense and visually arresting – a real super-powered summer blockbuster.
First published in City A.M.