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X-Men: Days of Future Past (dir. Bryan Singer, cert. 12A) seems to have got most critics to say this seventh film in the franchise is the best. You can just about get away with knowing little about its six predecessors and the principal characters.
In X-Men: First Class (2011) younger versions of X-Men founder Professor Xavier and super-villain Magneto were introduced – in the new film we get both. Professor X is played by Patrick Stewart (old) and James McAvoy (young), and Magneto by Ian McKellen (old) and Michael Fassbender (young).
The basic plot is that in the 1970s scientist Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) develops mechanical “Sentinels” to eradicate the mutants who are mostly peacefully integrated with humans. Trask is assassinated by Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) but that merely prompts world leaders to promote the Sentinel programme.
Fifty years on, the Sentinels are close to achieving their purpose, so Professor X and Magneto unite to send Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back in time to thwart Mystique’s plan. So when Wolverine finds the young Professor X, and X asks “Who sent you?” the answer is “You did”.
There are plenty of interesting sidelines, not least when Wolverine first lands back in the 70s, in bed with a young woman – a water bed – so you just know that water beds and retractable claws don’t mix well. We even get a new insight into the Kennedy assassination and the bendy bullet.
Mystique’s shape-shifting gets well-used – she even transforms into Richard Nixon – but perhaps the best scene is a brilliant slow-motion set-up that illustrates how Quicksilver (Evan Peters) moves faster than a speeding bullet, all to Jim Croce’s song Time in a Bottle. There are of course lots of fights – between X-Men, and X-Men against Sentinels, and maybe they get a bit repetitive, especially once you know about each character’s superpower.
That will not dent the box office, for a franchise already over two billion dollars of ticket sales worldwide. If you sit through the credits, there’s what presumably is a bit of a trailer for X-Men: Apocalypse, due in 2016.
There’s not much to explain the source of the different approaches of Professor X and Magneto (based on Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X respectively) or their histories (Magneto a Jewish child of the ghetto and a survivor of Auschwitz, X from an academic New York family and then drafted into the US Army in Korea). It doesn’t matter much – this is a simply a film strong on plot, plus impressive effects and a real emotional pull.
It becomes a race against time as different battles play out in parallel 50 years apart. Magneto’s lifting and moving Washington’s RFK Stadium to surround the White House is not a bad prelude to the dramatic climax.