Starring: Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender
Genre: Action/ Fantasy
In 2023 sentinels (powerful robots designed initially to destroy mutants only) have now wiped out a vast majority of the global population and only a small group of mutants remain. Their only hope for survival and that of the entire population is for Logan (Jackman) and his current conscience to travel back into time into the body of his 1973 self and stop this war from ever happening. Problem is, that won’t be so easy, as it means persuading a young Charles Xavier (McAvoy) who has lost all hope and freeing an imprisoned Magneto (Fassbender), then persuading these enemies to join forces once again to stop Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from committing the assassination that will inevitably destroy mutant and mankind in the future.
Sounds a bit complicated doesn’t it? Well it is, and what in my view has made it more complicated is for the film version of one of the best known x-men stories they have changed it quite a bit (well, the one I knew as a kid anyway). The DOFP story I knew involved Wolverine going from the future to the present to stop an assassination by Gambit (a character the films have well and truly messed up, and my favourite character too, yes I am still bitter!). It was also a time machine, because it is the future, so anything is possible. Of course, after the success of X-Men: First Class, then any x-film was inevitably going to have the big names from that film in it. That makes perfect marketing and business sense, but it sure makes the cinematic version of DOFP far more complicated, and certainly presents plenty of continuity errors and plot holes at first that are certainly best ignored; thinking about them too much may well scramble your brain! Thankfully, despite being a bit of a mess in terms of narrative and having a huge amount of characters in it, Bryan Singer’s return to the franchise is very enjoyable and has enough heart and soul to prove the x-franchise still can compete with the abundance of big screen comic book franchises out there at the moment.
I know I am not the first to say this, but DOFP is certainly not for the uninitiated to the franchise; screenwriter Simon Kinberg takes advantage of the fact that we have had seven preceding films in total for character development, and just throws us into the plot. For me, at around 136 minutes and 142 minutes respectively, Captain America 2 and Spider-Man 2 could have certainly been shortened by 20 minutes, but at 131 minutes, there is never a lull in the pace of DOFP. However, with such a complicated plot and a plethora of characters played by big name actors then that should be the case really, shouldn’t it? Despite this, we still get the occasional moments of painstakingly clunky exposition dialogue, with a few things over explained that spoon feed us. Not to mention the fact that by the end, it seems Kinberg has confused himself with all complex changes that the events of DOFP both include and cause. There are some historical explanations that seem ill judged, such as the ‘truth’ behind the assassination of Kennedy.
What for me makes DOFP a more engaging and involving superhero blockbuster is that despite, quite frankly being ridiculous at times, it still has plenty of heart with characters to truly care about. As I said before, having previous films helps with the character development, but it would have been easy for this film to focus solely on the time hopping plot and just have the characters along for the ride. However, there is a continuation of the arcs of the four surviving younger generation from First Class. Well, maybe Nicholas Hoult’s Beast not so much, but the characters of Magneto, Xavier and Mystique certainly feel well developed as their characters embark further on the emotional journey their characters started in First Class.
The performances too capture perfectly each character’s unique journey; McAvoy demonstrates flawlessly the troubled mind of a tortured genius, Fassbender (thankfully with no voice going oirish this time) gives a commanding performance as a cruel and hateful Magneto, and Jennifer Lawrence gives in my view her best performance since Winter’s Bone capturing the determined but ultimately vulnerable Mystique, often simply through the look in her eyes. The complex triangular relationship of all three gives for me the real emotional backbone of the narrative of DOFP. Meanwhile, as the seeming main x-man of the films (though I always remember Cyclops being the leader), Hugh Jackman does what he always does, and very well, but maybe gets a little too naked! Though he only makes a brief appearance, Evan Peters’ Quicksilver is an excellent and very memorable addition too. Though Patrick Stewart gets his usual fair helping of reassuring dialogue delivered perfectly with his dulcet tones, the rest are there simply to keep continuity, though new additions such as Bishop (Omar Sy) are very welcome. The simple fact is, DOFP is first and foremost a sequel to First Class and so is ultimately a compromise.
Bryan Singer’s return to the franchise has been hailed to the high heavens, and it ultimately raises the question in my mind: how much is actually down to the director? Surely the screenwriter and the actors, as well as the editor and DOP play their part? Either way, DOFP does have some great action set pieces amongst all the complex plotting to make sure it is ultimately a very enjoyable popcorn blockbuster. Quicksilver’s break-in to the pentagon certainly being the most fun set piece delivered with the most visual panache, but when the complex plotting threatens to take over, there is always a great set piece (either in the past or future settings) not too far away to up the pace, interest and test the limits of the budget.
Ultimately DOFP feels like a compromise: taking one of the most loved x-men stories, but changing it into essentially a sequel to First Class. It certainly has plot holes, continuity errors and underused characters as a result of this. However, with great performances, great action sequences and genuine emotive investment, it is a very entertaining blockbuster proving that the x-franchise still has its mojo.