There is never a doubt the Sentinels of the dark future will defeat the remnant X-Men, so forgone is that conclusion given the killing machines' evolved power set. Instead, the tension rests heavily and ably on how much time the mutants can buy for themselves. How much longer they can hold out before they're taken down. It's a well staged match, even though it's far off balance.
The scenes may be short, but the moments they spend showing how well these mutants work together in battle mode, and how they've levelled up, is a mark of confidence in their skills. We don't get just hints of what these mutants can do, we get the full and glorious display. A nice contrast as the future's plight plays off of the past as it revels in the philosophical and human traits of being a mutant.
Ultimately, X-Men: Days of Future Past is the struggle men have over controlling their women. In this case, it's one woman between two men as Charles Xavier/Professor X (James McAvoy and Patrick Stewart) and Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (Michael Fassbender and Ian McKellen) deal with Mystique/Raven (Jennifer Lawrence). Since Mystique is a shape-shifter, it's effectively a dozen women at any one time and none at the same time all the time. Beneath the scaly surface Mystique is very much two different people to these two different people that their struggle is trying to reconcile their knowledge with reality as it unfolds and evolves before them.
After all, the message seems, if you're a hot headed woman, you're going to make paths that chase populations underground, into fear and death. Where every male around you is scrambling to keep their head on and a spire out of their chest as you charge ahead and rain down the darkness extrapolated and experimented from your DNA. Never mind the fact that you're the only one kicking butt and handling a covert rescue mission to save some of your own from being further poked and prodded. You are the problem and the solution in one.
Between the divides of reason and force we're left to watch as regrets of the future desperately creep through into the past, history finding its true course one way or another, but not necessarily the one true that you think it will bend. Mistakes afford the chance to reflect, learn and teach ourselves a better way forward.
Everyone in the seventies is so broken, shattered by suspicion and fear that when hope arrives, when time gives them a glimpse of what they can become or do, it's a visible, albeit reluctant, transformation. Full of emotional resonance as fires start up again and show that the passage of future's history isn't a set course. Destiny can be rewritten. Hope can be realised.
A lot is underplayed, crafting a heavy tone of tension as the room gasps in breaths. None more so than with Peter Dinklage as Bolivar Trask. Such a cold, calculating and unrelenting figure in his reasoning and presentation as a spark that delivers a devastating future landscape. It's a Lawrence that brings home the hurt and determination as she tasks herself with taking Trask down.
And it could be all grim and gutted, but moments of levity and humour drop casually as events unfold, allowing for the beats to land and characters to exist with personalities as full, rounded beings. Quicksilver (Evan Peters) is arrogance as befits his charm, and his time on screen is playful and beautifully orchestrated.
With another outing it's hard to see anyone but Hugh Jackman as Logan/Wolverine. There's a comfortable air in the skin and his chemistry works well with the others that forms so much of the family nature of the X-Men. His time with Nicholas Hoult's Hank McCoy/Beast is a brotherly jostling, kind hearted rivals for the space between them.
In the end it's a fast and loose rewriting of how time affects us all. How crushing the wings of a butterfly in one decade echoes across, bringing on a storm of pain and torsos rent asunder. Or the complete opposite. What matters is the beacon of hope through a cloud, finding guidance and compassion. Finding the truth of what it is to be cast into shadows, and still fighting for those who would hate and speak against you.
It's a cruel hopeless world we start with and their mission to save it from that dire fate is a nervous, hopeful journey.
Reviewed on Tuesday, 3 June 2014