X-Men: Days of Future Past, dir. Bryan Singer, scr. Simon Kinberg, based on Days of Future Past by Chris Claremont and John Byrne, st. Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Ellen Page, Nicholas Hoult, Peter Dinklage, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen
Anyone who's read my blog knows that I tend to bang on about real drama needing some kind of conflict or tension in order to be fully realised. Traditionally, superheroes are the worst culprit of what I recently saw described as the Dexter Syndrome (I prefer the Bauer Conundrum, but whatever): basically, you know the protagonist will nearly always win, no matter the seemingly impossible odds stacked against them. Often, source material has already pinpointed when (if ever) its characters will die, and keen movie-news pulse-fingerers will have flagged up an actor's involvement (or not) in a sequel. (Kiefer Sutherland appearing in a ninth series of 24 pretty much negates any peril Jack's ever been in for the previous one hundred and ninety-two episodes.) Of course the big disclaimer here is, "yes of course, but it's the ride that's the blast!" Which is true in a way, but a damp squib'd ending will always feel a bit bitter on the walk back to the car. The good news is that X-Men: Days of Future Past (a title that reminds me of struggling with Latin tenses - Days of Passive Pluperfect anyone?) pits our favourite genetic mutants against aggressors who are set up to be undefeatable - the Sentinels who govern 2023's grim future have already won. The only way to defeat them is to undo their very existence.
And so, holed up in a Chinese monastery, Xavier and Magneto (once more played by Stewart and McKellen with dependable gravitas) oversee Kitty Pryde attempting to send Wolverine's consciousness back in time and into his 70s self in order to stop Mystique from killing military scientist Bolivar Trask, an action that will ultimately enable his nascent Sentinel government initiative to gain traction. Although billed as a meeting of X-Men guards old and new, the different casts pretty much keep to themselves (necessitated by the parallel running timelines), but Jackman, back once more as the wonderfully stoic and brick-shithouse-built Wolverine, proves a reliably engaging conduit, our link between the movie's timelines. The X-Men franchise's mutant/human conflict has always proved a credible and emotionally resonant allegory for the dangers of intolerance and fear of the unknown, and so it is here. The 'future' mutants' terrifying hunting down by the Sentinels is shocking and frighteningly brutal, its effect all the more alarming when juxtaposed by their birth being signed off on by bureaucrats back in the past. Like Marvel's The Winter Soldier released a few months back, Future Past similarly dispenses with wit in lieu of a more weighty tone, but this is a good thing. It reminds us that behind the mutants' smoke and mirrors abilities (including a mind-bending and gloriously balletic opening sequence) there's an immensely serious struggle by good people to stop humanity becoming the very worst it can be by falling prey to its own nightmares.