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Maximalist Hollywood filmmaking at its best

Nicholas Hoult (left), Hugh Jackman and James McAvoy in X-Men.
By Dana Stevens
Slate (*)

Days of Future Past sweep you up in mythic grandeur

The glamour of the most recent incarnation of the X-Men franchise, Bryan Singer’s X-Men: Days of Future Past, is difficult to separate from the luxuriant excess of its cast. Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Peter Dinklage — the credits overflow with an almost comical abundance of bona fide movie stars, hugely charismatic performers currently riding waves of critical and popular acclaim. And everywhere you look, even in small parts, there’s an A-list actor flexing her superpowers: Halle Berry as the weather-controlling Storm, Ellen Page as the consciousness-altering Kitty Pryde, Anna Paquin as the appearing-only-in-a-cameo Rogue.

Days of Future Past lays on the abundance visually and technologically as well. Shot in deep, crisp 3-D, with loads of super slow motion battles and shape-shifting transformations, it’s maximalist Hollywood filmmaking at its best, the kind of extravagant production that, like a Wagner opera, can sweep you up in a sense of mythic grandeur even as you struggle to follow what’s going on.

Adapted by Simon Kinberg from a 1981 comic series of the same title (with a story by Kinberg, Jane Goldman, and Matthew Vaughn: X-Men: First Class), Days of Future Past tells a story in two timeframes that run simultaneously throughout the film. In an unspecified but not too distant future, Earth will have been laid waste by wars waged against the stigmatized mutant population. Putting their heads together, mutant elder statesmen Charles Xavier, aka Professor X (Patrick Stewart), and Erik Lehnsherr, aka Magneto (Ian McKellen), put their heads together and contrive a plan to send their colleague Logan, aka Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), back in time to 1973.

There he must find a way to stop the Nixon administration from successfully developing the Sentinel program, a high-tech anti-mutant initiative involving gigantic robots that can target and destroy mutants from the air.

Once back in the ‘70s, Wolverine sets out to locate and mobilize the past versions of Magneto and Professor X, played, respectively, by Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy. These two once-dear friends have fallen out for a variety of reasons, including their shared love for Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) — who when she turns blue and scaly and fierce is known as Mystique, a master shape-shifter who can assume any face or voice instantly. Together with the werewolf-like Beast (Nicholas Hoult), the three men team up to stop Mystique from carrying out her plan to kill Dr. Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), the anti-mutant scientist behind the Sentinel programme.

A lot of the praise for this unusual degree of complexity goes to the cast, all of whom — especially Jackman, McAvoy and Fassbender — throw themselves into their occasionally absurd roles without a hint of smirking or slumming, yet somehow also without the somber self-seriousness of, say, Christopher Nolan heroes. But some of the credit must go to Singer, too. He’s created a big swirling mess of a movie that nonetheless makes sense where it matters — in its relationships, its characters, and its heart.

@thehighsign

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