Amer­i­can his­tory X

The mu­tants go back to the ’70s in a su­perb time-bend­ing fan­tasy, writes Tara Brady

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - REVIEWS -


Di­rected by Bryan Singer. Star­ring Hugh Jack­man, James McAvoy, Michael Fass­ben­der, Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry, Anna Paquin, Ellen Page, Ni­cholas Hoult, Peter Din­klage, Ian McKellen, Patrick Ste­wart 12A cert, gen­eral re­lease, 130 min

It’s 2023 and the tit­u­lar mu­tants are be­ing hunted to the brink of extinction by a fleet of ma­raud­ing ro­bots known as the Sen­tinels. Sur­viv­ing A-lis­ter X-Men – Pro­fes­sor X (Patrick Ste­wart), Mag­neto (Ian McKellen), Wolver­ine (Hugh Jack­man) and Storm (Halle Berry) – take refuge in Mon­go­lia, where Shad­ow­cat (Ellen Page) does some hoodoo to send Wolver­ine back to 1973.

Wolver­ine’s mis­sion: stop Raven/ Mys­tique (Jennifer Lawrence) from killing Trask (Peter Din­klage, only fab­u­lous), the para­noid mind be­hind the Sen­tinel pro­gramme, an act that his­tor­i­cally turned hu­mankind against mu­tant-kind. Can Wolver­ine rally the de­pressed younger Xavier (James McAvoy) and the im­pris­oned younger Mag­neto (Michael Fass­ben­der) to get be­hind the cause?

Among the faith­ful, the X-Men fran­chise is the pony to beat. Never mind Iron Man, they say, Bryan Singer’s 2000 film – the first of seven X-Men pic­tures – was the real gamechanger, a spring­board for the cur­rent fren­zied comic book cy­cle from which there is no respite.

The Xtrem­ists make a good case: The Dark Knight merely had to sac­ri­fice his true love; Wolver­ine had to juli­enne his. The Avengers are sel­dom seen with­out their pals from the US Army, Navy and Coast Guard in tow; the X-Men aren’t down with the mil­i­tary-in­dus­trial com­plex. Young Adult pic­tures such as Di­ver­gent in­vari­ably pivot around themes dif­fer­ence and prej­u­dice: the X-Teens did it first.

Even so, the pre­vi­ous two films in the se­ries lacked the in­no­va­tion and ef­fi­ciency of their pre­de­ces­sors. X-Men: First Class had great ideas and a su­perb cast, but it was hin­dered by too many lame­wad char­ac­ters and an un­even screen­play. Wolver­ine 2 was not un­like watch­ing some­body’s hol­i­day footage.

Hap­pily, X-Men: Days of Fu­ture Past is not just a re­turn to form; it’s a new gold stan­dard for the fran­chise. Work­ing from the 1981 cy­cle of the same name – a comic-book se­quence re­garded by many as one of the best of all time – Days of Fu­ture Past si­mul­ta­ne­ously al­lows for an X-Men in­ter-gen­er­a­tional mash-up, a po­ten­tial re­set to zero and, should you care to sit through the fi­nal cred­its, the ter­ri­fy­ing fu­ture of X-Men: Apoca­lypse.

It helps that Singer is back at the helm to do fun things with bul­let time: a se­quence fea­tur­ing Evan Peters’s Quick­sil­ver run­ning rings around baf­fled author­ity fig­ures is a joy to be­hold. Lawrence, with some as­sis­tance from wires and CGI, kicks many asses be­tween as­sum­ing the de­fault crouch po­si­tion: you know the one: fight, land, crouch, hold fist to ground, look up an­grily.

Even with dig­i­tal en­hance­ments, Singer never loses con­trol of these bal­letic beat-’em-up set-pieces: the cuts are never too fast or too fu­ri­ous.

The tone, also, is just right. Cap­tain Amer­ica: The Win­ter Sol­dier flirted with the iconog­ra­phy of the 1970s po­lit­i­cal thriller; X7 al­lows it­self one minute of I’m Gonna Git You Sucka pe­riod fun, be­fore it pro­duces Richard Nixon. This movie con­spir­acy goes all the way to the top.

Geekier fans may de­rive plea­sure from the no­tion that X-Men have yet again forged ahead to­ward Earth-818 in the Marvel mul­ti­verse while the Avengers are still lan­guish­ing on Earth-616. Non-geekier fans should ig­nore the last sen­tence and take note: X-Men: Days of Fu­ture Past is the best of this year’s su­per­hero films by a long, long way.

Don’t bang your tail on the way out, Godzilla.

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