The “X-Men” franchise (there are now six of them, including the Wolverine bunch) is clearly becoming one of those ‘movie events’ where established and wannabe movie stars must be haranguing their agents to get them a part in. It’s the sure-fire route to A-list status. This new version, “Days of Future Past” is a galaxy of glittering stars: the oldies Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Anna Paquin, Ellen Page along with, relative newbies, Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, and even, fresh from King’s Landing, Peter Dinklage. How soon before we see John Travolta, in search of another come-back, Benedict Cumberbatch, who, by law, has to appear in anything important and popular, and Felicity Jones, who is too beautiful to be left out?
Since we’ve done the pre-quels already with “First Class” and the Wolverines, “Days of Future Past” is director Brian Singer’s clever pre-pre-quel, married to both this present and a present in a parallel universe. Be ye not confused grasshopper, it’s all quite simple: Wolverine (Hugh looking earnest and buff) has to go back in time via the incredible skills of Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) who helps channel his brain waves into his past (don’t ask) to stop Raven (a fightingly fit Jennifer Lawrence en route to morphing into Mystique) from killing sinister Dr. Bolivar Trask (the effortlessly engaging Peter Dinklage). Trask has developed warrior-killing machines, the Sentinels, intent on wiping out not only the mutants, but everyone else.
The story (sort of) traces the arc of the relationship between Charles Xavier and Magneto (from mutual distrust and hatred to a sense of a shared mission). Seems that the enmity began over a woman: Lawrence’s Raven, loved by both men. And entirely understandable that is too.
It is Wolverine’s less than admirable task of convincing the earlier versions of Xavier and Magneto that he’s been sent from the future by their future selves to convince them to join forces to defeat the evil Bolivar Trask by not killing him. A Herculean task if ever there was one. En route to the final – wonderfully visualized -denouement, we’re treated to an increasingly menacing Magneto (Fassbender) lift an entire football stadium off from its moorings and plonk it down around an embattled White House, in which a sleazy Nixon is bunkered.
We also zip through rips in the time/space continuum, marvel at the speed of Quicksilver – so quick that he can outrun bullets – and, pulled along by a series of set-piece fights, dazzling effects and the charisma of the principals, we’re allowed to ignore the impossible complexities of the plot so as to simply sit back and enjoy the ride.
X-Men takes itself very seriously; and this works. There’s no irony, no inner joke coyness, no attempt at self-mockery. As a result, the audience, for the two hours of its existence on screen, are asked also to take it seriously too. It’s a delicate task; and Brian Singer (the original director of the franchise) pulls it off marvelously.
So far it hasn’t been a bad year of blockbusters: Captain America’s Winter Soldier was better than expected. Spider-Man’s second iteration in this second iteration was engaging and exciting; and now X-Men’s seventh go-around is a fun way to spend some time in the cinema.