Film review: X-Men - Days Of Future Past

IF THERE’S something we love more than superheroes it’s killer robots, so props to X-Men’s director Bryan Singer for kicking off this film in a dystopian future where both humans and mutants are being wiped out by a robot race called the Sentinels who fly, shapeshift and blast flame like Alex Ferguson-powered hairdryers.

James McAvoy, left, and Patrick Stewart in X-Men: Days of Future Past. Picture: AP

X-Men: Days Of Future Past (12A)

Director: Bryan Singer

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Running time: 131 minutes

James McAvoy, left, and Patrick Stewart in X-Men: Days of Future Past. Picture: AP

Star rating: * * *

Only such dire circumstances could unite old frenemies Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen) into sending series favourite Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back in time to 1973 so he can reset the past, get his parents to kiss before midnight and play Chuck Berry at the prom.

No, sorry: different movie, but sometimes X-Men: Days Of Future Past feels like you’ve just woken up in a cinema after eating a wheel of Stilton. There’s little hope of comprehension if you are new to the franchise, but if you have been a little inattentive during the other six movies, you may also experience some difficulties.

Why is Xavier fighting robots in a dystopian second-cousin-of-Terminator future when he exploded into bits in X-Men: The Last Stand? Or has that been cancelled by some timey-wimey Doctor Who loophole? When did Storm (Halle Berry) ditch her white bob in favour of something that would’ve been more suitable if her name was Old Stiff Breeze? And why is Anna Paquin so high up the cast billing when she has only a few seconds of dialogue?

In the absence of Xavier beaming explanations via a telepathic link, it’s best to just focus on Wolverine, in the same way that you might lock onto a horizon when you’re on a North Sea ferry. The first part of his mission is to find and detox the 1970s edition of Xavier (James McAvoy), an angry whisky-medicating recluse, albeit with a full head of hair and working set of pins. Together with Beast (Nicholas Hoult), they must then jailbreak Magneto (Michael Fassbender) from a vault under the Pentagon so they can prevent blueskinned shapeshifting Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from being captured by a brilliant inventor (Game Of Thrones’ Peter Dinklage). If they fail, her DNA will be added to his new Sentinel robots, with catastrophic consequences in the future.

There’s much to enjoy here, including Magneto chatting to Richard Nixon about who killed JFK, but the plot makes the Byzantine novels look like Topsy and Tim. Still, I like that X-Men eschews the hipster cynicism of other superhero movies, and that Singer encourages the cast to give their performances Shakespearian vigour: the Magnetos and Xaviers in particular imbue their lines with richly timbred deliveries that could shake crockery off shelves. There’s also a showstopping demonstration of the powers of arrogant mutant Quicksilver (Evan Peters), who reconfigures a shootout to the ballad Time In A Bottle.

However, after seven films the parable of self-acceptance is surely well and truly explored. Is it possible that the X-Men could move on to other ideas, rather than plucking obsessively on this one string? If you check out Charles Xavier’s Wikipedia entry, it turns out he has a much richer hinterland in the graphic novels, with numerous love affairs all over the world, and in other galaxies. Xavier the sex god? It’s time to put the X back into X-Men. n

Twitter @SiobhanSynnot

Blended (12A)

Star rating: * *

EVERY year, as predictable as the midgie season, Adam Sandler makes a comedy. For him, it must be like a spa break, since his films usually take place in congenial locations where he can hang out with old pals.

In Blended, Sandler plays a widower who has a disastrous blind date with Drew Barrymore. They take a near-instant dislike to each other, chiefly because she objects to having dinner at the sports-and-jiggle chain Hooters.

A series of contrived setups allow them to bump into each other a few more times, confirming that they are both harassed single parents, and both still dislike each other, before sending the families to South Africa to share a suite at a five-star holiday resort.

How do we know an Adam Sandler movie went on a jolly to Africa? Check out the safari footage, with copulating rhinos in the corner of one scene. Blended ranks above queasy Sandler fare such as Jack And Jill or That’s My Boy, chiefly because Barrymore has sparky charisma even when Sandler is urinating outside her tent in the veldt. Other Sandler mates, including retired basketball star Shaquille O’Neal, Kevin Nealon and Steve Buscemi’s brother, are more like excess baggage.

Sandler’s film bravely pitches at a new audience: one with an appetite for Brady Bunch homilies about fractured families reconfiguring into new family units, yet also finds a masturbating teen or a small child saying “vagina” to be hilarious. That’s a remarkable blend in itself.

Aatsinki: The Story Of Arctic

Cowboys (18)

Star rating: * * * *

Documentarian Jessica Oreck spends a year with Finnish reindeer herders Aarne and Lasse, observing an ancient tradition modernised to include snowmobiles and two-person helicopters. Shorn of a narrator, and only sometimes subtitled,

it’s an unsentimental show-not-tell portrait of the process of animal husbandry. In winter, the reindeer are on show pulling Santa sleighs in front of ecotourists; the rest of the year is a cycle of herding, bonding, branding but also slaughtering and butchering. Not for the squeamish, yet also with moments of zen beauty.

Selected release: Glasgow Film Theatre, Wednesday and Thursday

Beyond The Edge 3D (PG)

Star rating: * * * *

Imaginative retelling of the conquest of Everest in 1953 by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, using a blend of

archive and recreated scenes.

The 3D images are stunning, but it’s the tapestry of voices, including Hillary, his son Peter, expedition colleagues George Lowe and John Hunt, as well as modern mountaineers, that give this film its ice-axe grip on your attention.

Now showing at Eden Court, Inverness; Filmhouse, Edinburgh; and the Belmont, Aberdeen. Also Cameo Edinburgh from Friday

Venus In Fur (15)

Star rating: * *

A play read through by a theatre director (Mathieu Amalric) and an unknown actress (Emmanuelle Seigner, right) spirals into an exercise on sex and power play in Roman Polanski’s stagey adaptation of the David Ives play. Identities keep changing in this psychosexual pas de deux, but Seigner seems reluctant to move away from impersonating Kim Cattrall in Sex And The City mode, leaving her ill-equipped for the hairpin turns into comedy, sensuality and sadomasochism. Hardly 50 Shades Of Play, but not as transgressive as it presumes to be either – wasn’t Polanski wearing women’s clothes as far back as The Tenant? By the overwrought finale, there’s a strong sense that Venus In Fur is all fur and no kickers.

Selected release from Friday