The X-Men universe has become complicated, we have older and younger versions of key characters and the last offering “X-Men First Class” effectively rebooted the series into the 1960’s
There is also the danger of too many characters interacting on the screen, leaving no time for a story to emerge or any one actor to make a mark. “The Avengers” showed what could be achieved and was handsomely rewarded at the box office, can Marvel studios pull it off again?
The studio took the sensible precaution of hiring director Bryan Singer who created the on-screen creative look and feel of the X-Men universe, so early indications were good. To put comic book fans mind at rest, in summary the franchise has another solid episode and similar to “Star Trek”, is free to pursue whatever new path it chooses for future films.
The movie starts in a dark near future where mutants and those that help them, have not had a good time. Shape shifting, ever adapting “Sentinels” have been created to find and kill mutants together with anyone connected to them. “Sentinels” are very bad, think Terminator T1000 with a fire app.
The mutants are fighting a rear guard action against the “Sentinels”, keeping one step ahead using their powers but the end is near and inevitable. Magneto (McKellen) and Professor Xavier (Stewart) working together, hatch a plan to send Wolverine/Logan (Jackman) back in time to correct the earlier actions of Mystique/Raven (Lawrence). An event that reverberated over the years to profound effect, a classic “butterfly effect”. Who better to send back to the 1970’s, to fit in and use his diplomatic persuasion skills than Wolverine?
Kitty (Page) helps to send him back, actually he is the only choice as his is the only body/mind to survive the time travel, of course. Arriving back in pitch perfect 70’s milieu, he is immediately in bed with a woman but within seconds is finding a use for his claws. If he is to save his species he will have to act fast, he has a “long to do” list.
Persuade young Xavier (Mcavoy) who is not the man he was, to help a man sent from the future to team up with his nemesis and re-awaken the pain Raven caused him. Even with the help of the young “Beast/Hank” (Hoult), Xavier is not in a good space. Long hair, bit of a dependency issue and an affinity for the hard stuff. Certainly he is not best placed to spring Erik or young “Magneto” (Fassbender), out of the highest security prison in the land, located rather inconveniently under the Pentagon.
Remember this is a comic book so anything is and will be possible but the film is not so much what is done but how and with what style. We get to meet too many characters to mention in detail but the screenplay allows most favourites to have a good look in, “Rogue” (Paquin) not withstanding, who only gets a late blink and miss her screen appearance.
Spring boarding from his Game of Thrones success, Peter Dinklater gets a key role as Dr Trask, the man responsible for “saving” humanity from the mutant scourge. There are all sorts of real world current and historical parallels if you choose to look but these are not explored here.
As ever, crowd favourite Wolverine gets centre stage, along with Mystique whose role grows in line with Lawrence’s increased star quotient. The older guard adds the required gravitas but it is Macvoy who really impresses here, arguably acting shabby and vaguely disgusting better than anyone at present. Fassbender continues to impress, he could easily hold centre stage by himself if ever required to do so in yet another spin off. Ironically for a character with magnetic powers, here is a perfect actor with just that magnetic screen personality to portray him.
The story is unapologetically adult and demands attention, time travel movies always have their work cut out and no doubt someone will find flaws. Whilst there are many action sequences, a notable ultra-slowdown section involving “Peter/Quicksilver” (Evan Peters) perhaps the best but none feel like an on-screen video game without a joystick. The film also has time for slow scenes including one across the generations for the younger/older Xavier.
Whilst we are inundated with comic book franchises, spin-offs, sequels, prequels, reboots and so on, as long as the films are good and treat their audience with some respect, this can continue to work. Here is a film that dares to matter and say something and is all the better for making that stand, lets hope it continues.
If nothing else, this highlights that the number of directors that can pull off these multi-strand, expensive and effects laden films, whilst making them work for audiences and critics alike, are few and far between. Singer is clearly one of them.
The film manages to tread a fine line with enough violence to show cause and effect but there is nothing gratuitous that should trouble a movie de-sensitised youngster, one F-Bomb withstanding.
A solid entry in the X-Men universe, managing to tie complicated strands together with some fine performances, state of the art effects and action sequences, yet managing to have something to say.
Recommended and augers well for “X-Men: Apocalypse” due in 2016