I have had a very shaky relationship with the X-Men franchise. We all have really, but I in particular have been highly critical of even some of the more lauded installments (especially X2). Don’t get me wrong, I love these characters and this story, but aside from the excellent X Men: First Class, I’ve never felt that these films have truly lived up to their potential. This makes me even more excited to say what I’m about to say. After 14 years, 7 films, and more than a few slip-ups along the way, director Bryan Singer and company have finally delivered the X-Men film that comic book fans have been dreaming of for decades.
…and let me tell you, it’s a damn beautiful thing.
We pick up the story in the distant future, and find the world in complete desolation.Mutants are being hunted down and killed by ruthless, highly adaptable machines called Sentinels. It is clear to all involved, especially Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (Ian McKellen) that merely fighting this war is futile. As such, they devise a plan to use Kitty Pryde’s (Ellen Page) ability to send people through time to whisk the recently re-instated Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back to 1974 to prevent this conflict from even arising. He must enlist the help of the younger Charles and Erik (James MacAvoy and Michael Fassbender) to prevent Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from assassinating Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) , the creator of the sentinels, therein starting an anti-mutant frenzy that will ultimately result in the desolation of the current timeline.
It all sounds incredibly convoluted, but one of the many brilliances of this film is how screenwriter Simon Kinberg and Director Bryan Singer weave these stories together. They keep everything very precise and clear, move at a lightning fast pace even at a hefty two hours and fifteen minutes, jam pack it with action, and somehow, in a movie that has about one thousand characters, some of whom are doubles of others, give absolutely everyone from the most ancillary, D-list heroes, to their star players their moment to shine. There is not a wasted moment of screen time here, everything feels important, and there’s not a lull to be found.
I could write an entire article about all of the great performances here. Between the original cast, and the First Class cast, 20th Century Fox has assembled an ensemble so fantastic that it stomps on the casts of even the most powerhouse prestige pictures. There is not a single week link here. First and foremost among the absolute highlights must be James McAvoy, and Michael Fassbender. Fallowing in the footsteps of Stewart and McKellen is a monumental task, especially when they are right here in this movie for comparison, but these two have not only succeeded, but in my eyes, have managed to vastly improve these characters.
This is especially true of McAvoy, who just as he did in First Class, conveys just how far age has taken Charles Xavier. His Charles is broken, dependent, and disheveled, and throughout the course of the movie we get to see him re-discover his hope and empathy. McAvoy takes this transformation to eleven with some moments that are so shatteringly emotive, it has me thinking that he deserves a best supporting actor nomination. Jackman gives us the most fully formed Wolverine we’ve seen yet, obviously feeling re-invigorated after his very solid solo outing last summer. Jennifer Lawrence, who I felt was a week link in First Class, really comes into her own both physically and theatrically as Mystique, and Peter Dinklage is both deliciously evil and wonderfully empathetic as Trask.
I also must mention Evan Peters, who in his fifteen minutes of screen time completely steels the show as Quicksilver. He brings such a wit, and eccentricity to this character, who’s brain and body move at one hundred thousand miles a minute. Aaron Taylor Johnson and Joss Whedon should be very, very concerned right now.
I have not been a huge fan of Bryan Singer’s direction over the years. Yes, The Usual Suspects was fantastic, but even that was much more of a writer’s movie then a director’s. I have found his style to be fairly flat, particularly in X2 and Superman Returns. However, I have to say, he has completely turned me around here. This is by far Singer’s most confident work behind the camera. Not only is he clearly comfortable with his actors bringing out spectacular performances in the intimate moments, but also delivers some of the most spectacular action I’ve ever seen in a comic book film. He has such a playfulness in everything from the camera movement, to the choreography. This particularly comes out in a sequence with Quicksilver, about which all I’ll say is that it is perhaps the funniest, and most inventive action sequence I’ve seen in half a decade.
I’m really hard pressed to find problems with this, but I have two very minor gripes. The first, is that while ultimately, the events in the future timeline pay off gloriously, we don’t get quite enough time with the original cast. Some of them, particularly Storm (Halle Berry) only have a couple lines, and are only really there for a couple admittedly spectacular action beats. The second, is that I’m not a huge fan of the Sentinels themselves. Singer has some fun with their adaptive powers in the future segments, but in the past, they never really feel threatening and don’t ultimately play a huge role in the climax all things considered.
Overall, this film brings a sense of excitement and joy to the X-Men franchise which was only recently sparked, and is now completely illuminated. It’s not only a great comic book movie, but a rich sci-fi story full of moral ambiguity and social commentary.
On top of all that, Singer makes a move at the end that essentially fixes all of the mistakes of the entire franchise. It’s essentially a big bear hug for everyone who’s stuck through the franchise this long.
I said this with The Winter Solider, and I’m glad to say it again here. This is one of the greatest comic book films of all time.