Time travel in films – especially blockbusters – is usually bad news. Primarily because it doesn’t make a lick of sense when scrutinised, so the mission for filmmakers who want to weave time travel concepts into their narratives must try extra hard to divert our attention and get us invested in what’s happening on the screen and between the characters. The key to this and most films in general, is clarity. And what the X-men franchise has always lacked is clarity. If we consider
a film like Looper, that flat out told us not to worry about the time travel and instead focus on all the human stuff, it works a lot better (Looper was by no means perfect but still). No doubt, there are trillions upon trillions of X-Men characters and side-characters, and that an X-Men film is mainly appealing to X-Men comic book fans it is understandable that they want to give a little bit of fan service. The films often cram as many side characters in as possible and as a result, the films often feel bloated.
X-Men: First Class, as enjoyable as it was, suffered very heavily from this problem. For the story it wanted to tell, it simply was too long and had too many characters, but when it shined, it really shined. When first watching the trailer of DOFP (what a cumbersome acronym) I felt that it would be more of the same X-Men and blockbuster fare and I was, more or less, correct. As a film it is more consistent in its enjoyment than its prequels and Singer does just enough to gloss over the narrative complications. In so doing, Singer has created possibly the best entry into the X-Men franchise; it’s a close tie between this and X2.
From the ground up X-Men: DOFP has been designed to be big, it has got a seemingly endless cast of A-List stars: Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, James McAvoy, Huge Actman (Hugh Jackman for the uninitiated) et cetera, et cetera. It does struggle to juggle all these quality actors, McKellen in particular is woefully underused, though I imagine that he had a much larger role but was edited out due to time constraints. But when you have Fassbender, McAvoy and Jackman duking out with good old meat and potatoes acting, can I really complain? The main characters, it must be said, are McAvoy’s Xavier and Fassbender’s Magneto, and again they provide excellent foils for each other as they did in First Class. Their future counterparts (or is it an alternate present?), Stewart and McKellen, are side-lined in favour of the actors who can run, jump, punch for longer. Lawrence’s Mystique is the thematic centre of the film, yet with all the side characters, the film just doesn’t have enough time to show more of her. Which is a shame because Jennifer Lawrence is great yet again. It is nice to see all these actors in the same film, but I just feel they should’ve been utilised a little more. I haven’t even mentioned the terrific (maybe even the best performance in the film) Peter Dinklage, playing all round bad dude Bolivar Trask. The element I enjoyed most about his role was that despite Dinklage being a little person, at no point is that made reference to in the script; it is part of something that he is. In fact, it even goes as far as to adding a significant edge to his character: he is hunting mutants because they are different, yet he is different himself.
It boasts incredible and seamless special effects that accurately and effectively portray the mutant’s powers in a really realistic way; a huge step up from the awful ones in Origins. The action comes thick and fast, and unlike some its contemporary blockbusters it is easy and interesting to follow. The film’s beginning is definitely reminiscent of James Cameron’s The Terminator with the desolate and bleak landscape (helped by cutting edge special effects) and sombre voice over. It does a good job of not overloading us with vital plot information, for example there is a scene early on where we are shown that Sentinels absorb mutant powers, rather than it being told to us in an exposition dump. Although, the beginning of the film is a little exposition heavy and Ellen Page’s character might as well turn to the audience to tell us not to worry about all the technical implications of time travel. Singer does play with time travel in an interesting way though, I particularly liked was initially seeing one scene play out and then seeing a mirror of it later and it turning out differently. Additionally, the fatalistic idea of time that is momentarily presented to us is intriguing and gives us a sense of how our heroes must feel: that what they are trying to prevent is inevitable.
Ultimately however, despite the whiz-bang razzle dazzle, it is still bogged down by way too many side characters and as such, the narrative focus is somewhat hazy. For the questions raised about this film aren’t the logistics of time travel or its place in(or displacement of) of the X-Men film canon, it’s really whether or not it strikes at the heart At times DOFP tries too hard to please its fanboys and girls and loses focus. It is less than the sum of its starry parts but it is still very satisfying and well worth your time and money. If you’re an X-men fan that is, otherwise it’s all Greek.