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After the debacle of X-Men: The Last Stand and the horror show that was X-Men Origins: Wolverine, 2011’s X-Men: First Class was a welcome fresh start for the franchise – remembering, as the other two did not, that a sense of plot and purpose can do a lot more for a film than incessant fight scenes. But despite First Class‘s success, the overriding feeling prior to the release of Days of Future Past was that it had bitten off more than it could feasibly chew. First Class director Matthew Vaughn left the project in production, and was replaced by original X-Men director Bryan Singer (11 years since he last directed an X-Men movie). Furthermore, the announcement of the plot left many with rather serious questions. Duel time frame? Two casts? What about the fact (spoiler alert) that Professor X died in The Last Stand and Magneto lost his powers? How will they explain that?!
Well, the latter query isn’t answered here whatsoever (although there was a post-credits sequence at the end of The Last Stand which does address it somewhat) but the first two problems are answered definitively. The plot is necessarily convoluted but does make sense, whilst the cast is thinly-spread but effective. Sure, some characters are underused (Halle Berry’s Storm in particular is given almost nothing to do), but those who feature prominently are once again superb. The dichotomy of morality between James Mcavoy’s pacifist Charles Xavier and Michael Fassbender’s Machiavellian Magneto is what really drives the plot, and whilst Magneto isn’t really the true villain here (at least from a motivation viewpoint) he certainly does provide much of the antagonism in his quest for superiority. Elsewhere, Jennifer Lawrence’s vengeful Mystique has gone from a supporting character to one of the main stars – her emotional quandary really gives the film its heart, whilst also driving yet another wedge between her fellow mutants. As with First Class, the performances are just that, and wring out every possible drop of emotion.
There are fun moments too, of course – this isn’t DC, after all. The opening scene, mutants vs. Sentinels, is every bit as breathless and exhilarating as Nightcrawler’s assault on the White House in X2, whilst Mystique’s early infiltration of a military facility is brilliant. Oh, and Evan Peters’ speedy turn as Quicksilver may just be the best X-Men scene ever. Regardless of everything else, these kind of comic-book adaptations live or die by their set-pieces, and Days of Future Past doesn’t disappoint on that score.
Of course, it isn’t perfect. There are too many unexplained contrivances that are integral to the plot, and Magneto’s listing of all the mutants that have died seems shoehorned in to explain where several of First Class‘s cast have disappeared to. Peter Dinklage’s chief antagonist Bolivar Trask is not an evocative enough villain, lacking the necessarily repulsiveness or moral bankruptcy to make him effective – a huge step down from Kevin Bacon’s hideous Sebastian Shaw last time round. It’s also fairly predictable and formulaic, but that’s probably to be expected. But overall, it’s probably just about a better film than First Class, thanks to more creative set pieces and the fact they don’t have to waste any time introducing the characters. X-Men: Apocalypse comes out in 2016, and the intriguing post-credits teaser suggests it’ll be a lot different to anything we’ve seen before. As for this? It’s the best X-Men since X2, and the best Marvel film since The Avengers.