Monday, May 26, 2014

On X-Men: Days of Future Past

In all honesty, I'm daunted by this post, as conversations with friends about this movie have shown, there is no end to what I have to say about it, but being the internet, I'll try to accommodate those of my audience who are goldfish.  

The first X-Men film was released July 14, 2000, so I was nine years old. I've seen every one of the movies since then. I've regretted that decision several times. The point I'm trying to make is that I grew up on these movies. Before the movies, I grew up on the cartoons. For many reasons, these characters have made a lasting impact and hold a very dear place in my heart. According to James McAvoy, director Bryan Singer, "treats the world incredibly seriously, and I think he treats it with a lot of integrity and passion. I think he feels very protective over the universe, partly because he loves it, but also partly because he owes a debt to it as well." 

So here we are, fourteen years later, and I'm still nerdgasming all over the franchise, but damn, what a ride, and one of the few times (sans knowledge of the upcoming X-Men: Apocalypse) that I've walked away from any of these movies with such a solid and resounding sense of resolution. 

So, in the words of the ever-lovable Bilbo Baggins, I must ask myself, "Where to begin?"

Most Idiotic Review

The film squanders both of its casts, reeling from one fumbled set-piece to the next. It seems to have been constructed in a stupor, and you watch in a daze of future past. 

It's not hard to find people who disagree with you on the internet, and it's not hard to find people you disagree with so vehemently that you feel the desire to ninja-kick their scrotum through the top of their skull. I'll really delve deeper into these areas further down the page, but in as non-spoiler way as I can, I'm going to tackle what Ol' Robbie had to say. 

I study theatre. I am a third year acting major, and while I am still learning every day from an amazing set of professors and fellow students, (not to mention the skilled men and women of USF across the street) and these actors were not squandered. Time and again, numerous members of the cast (especially the delightful James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender) find themselves in emotional situations and you can feel the actors chewing on their lines. There is a real relish to many goosebump inducing scenes. 

If anything, Bryan Singer manages to balance several movies in one, the dystopian future and the period 70s, on top of being a superhero movie. Neither of these two worlds ever feels dull, as the characters race forward with very clearly defined motivations. There was some complaint that the film lacked a definitive villain, to which I'll respond with a quote from a writer quoting a writer. Marc Webb (of the Spider-Man reboot fame) said, “Tom Stoppard was on Charlie Rose’s show once and he said what makes great drama is competing ideas of what is good.” I don't think any comic-book superhero movie has nailed that so successfully as Days of Future Past. 

In regards to Robbie's second sentence, I think it's a breathtakingly stupid statement, but it does show that critics still love their darling little witticisms. You can practically hear him guffawing as he pours another glass of champagne and pats himself on the shoulder. An unprecedented amount of effort went into the creation of this movie (and a shitload of money—pardon my French). You can clearly see the devotion the people involved had in crafting this movie. Then again, Robbie Collin's aesthetics and the philosophy of film, so what the fuck do I know?
Most Accurate Review

"Wow! DAYS OF FUTURE PAST is the greatest, most complete and staggeringly entertaining #xmen movie to date. Incredible. Movie of the summer!" 
— Sean O'Connell, (@Sean_OConnell) 

As generic as this is, I really can't disagree with it, but to fully explain my feelings, we're about to enter the Spoiler Zone. 

* * *

Without delving too deeply into the plot (Wikipedia has a whole section devoted to that), here's the gist. In 2023 shit has gotten real. Robots called Sentinels have nearly wiped out all of mutant-kind and their human supporters, leaving only a handful of our beloved X-Men (from the original trilogy amidst some new faces) to band together to fight for survival. They intend to use Kitty Pryde's phasing ability to travel into the past to ensure that this future never occurs. Being the poster-boy for the franchise as a whole, Wolverine is selected for this job (in the original comic, Shadowcat is the time-travelers). He is sent back to 1973, reuniting with the cast from 2011's X-Men: First Class, where they must track down Mystique before she kills Bolivar Trask, the man originally behind the development of the Sentinels, who's death solidifies the worlds' belief that they need protection from the mutants. 


Now that's out of the way I can jump into some really juicy stuff that mixes plot and character, because it's damn hard to separate the two when they're well done. The movie is character driven, plain and simple in a way that even the Avengers couldn't hope to match. While Avengers was a fantastically fun romp, it suffered because, as I put it, it was the movie it needed to be. It needed to bring the characters together. It needed to have internal strife among the team. It needed etc yadda-yadda-yadda. Days of Future past really doesn't. Right from the get-go the characters are on board (or within a few scenes). The strife between characters grows naturally from, you might have guessed, Erik and Xavier's differing world views leading them to believe fully in their own courses of action. But, and this is fantastic, Mystique is the key to all of this. The entire plot hinges around a woman, but her choices, and not the two men trying to dominate her life. I'd say there was some powerful storytelling going on there.

Also, you might have noticed, I managed to get through most of the plot and climactic moments without referencing how Wolverine saves the day. He doesn't. He is an integral part, fights his damnedest, but the franchise has progressed past having conflicts that can be resolved by stabbing things. Wolverine is, dare-I-say-it, a team-player in the film in ways he hasn't been in the past, and Hugh Jackman shines in a way as a fully integrated member of the ensemble. 

Lastly, because of the nature of the time-travel (the two timelines are in sync, so there is a one-to-one progression in both the past and the future), the tension only continues to ramp up as both timelines approach their climax simultaneously. That said, the filmmakers were not afraid to use the time travel (or more importantly, the driving hope of changing the past) to depict the future as a absolutely terrifying place. There was a fearlessness in the future scenes are characters you know and love, and have seen on the big screen for 14 years massacred and brutally murdered. I found two consistent thoughts going through the more detached parts of my brain that weren't screaming. 

1) "They went there?!" 

2) "Wait, this is PG-13?!"

Since this is the Spoilery section of this post, I'm not afraid to say that during the climactic moment when the sentinals have finally broken in, killed ... pretty much everyone, and the timeline resets? You could hear my entire row exhale a shuddering sigh of relief. The tension was unbelievable. The last time I had a moment like that was during Toy Story 3 during the furnace scene. /shudder/

In Days of Future Past we get to see, actually a lot of character development, in the past the primary focus is on Xavier and Mystique, who the writers managed to take at pivotal moments in their lives, and entwine them with saving the world—Xavier no longer calls himself the professor (being a drug addled shut-in trying to block out the pain and loss he's suffered since the events of First Class) and has to learn how to hope again, and Mystique is on her way to becoming the stone-cold-blooded assassin we saw in the original trilogy, and while Wolverine's journey into the past kickstarts these, he by no means plays much of a direct hand in shaping them. Magneto, like the rock that he is, remains fairly unchanged, but in no sense of the word do I mind (the inclusion of Magneto's involvement in the JFK assassination was splendid). Michael Fassbender is rapidly becoming one of my favorite actors of all time, and while the physical resemblance is somewhat lacking, he carries such gravitas in his roll that it is hard not to see some of Sir Ian McKellen in his portrayal, and the same goes for McAvoy's young Xavier. The scene where Patrick Stewart has a "Glimpse into the past," and both Xavier's talk to one another left me with chills.

Oh, and I'd be remiss if I didn't applaud the portrayal of Quicksilver, who steals most of the scenes he's in, which, considering the actors he's sharing screen-time with is no small feat. A true pleasure, and while it's a shame we didn't see more of him, it kept the characters inclusion short, sweet, and to-the-point.

The link between the two timelines, Wolverine, is an older, more nuanced character than we've seen before and Hugh relishes in several scenes that show a softer side of Logan. The one in particular that left me with chills was this exchange between Jackman and McAvoy ... 

"Whatever happens today, I need you to promise me something. You've looked into my mind and you've seen a lot of bad, but you've seen the good too, the X-Men. Promise me you'll find us. Use your power, bring us together, guide us, lead us. Storm, Scott ... Jean. Remember those names. There's so many of us and we will need you ... Professor."

"I'll do my best." 

"Your best is enough, trust me," delivered with complete earnestness by Jackman. 

In the future, although we don't get to see any (not really) of Anna Paquin's Rogue (I can't even nerdrage at Rogue mistreatment anymore, it's more like a nerd-sigh), and most of the mutants we see don't have a line of dialogue between them, we get to see the reunion of the Professor and Magneto, and one of the major overarching feelings you get, even as survival becomes less and less likely, simple regret that their friendship was so wasted, and like their younger acting-counterparts, McKellen and Stewart are magic onscreen together.

It's the secondary characters present in the Future who have the best of the mutant battle scenes, and the filmmakers really outdid previous films by showcasing the X-Men who really know how to aid one another in battle. I'd have never really expected to see Blink's teleportation and Collususs organic metal form being a surefire tagteam combo, but the movie makes it work in a visually fun and interesting way. Although ... no fault of his own, but I wish they had replaced Warpath with a fully powered Rogue. Alas, though, yet again ... grrrr, moving on.

Days of Future Past carries with it the same thematics that we've seen for many of the films, prejudices and fear and loathing (and not the fun kind), but includes a bigger emphasis on faith in people. Since the climax of the film had less to do with the knockout drag-out fight than an emotional turning point for a set of characters, there is more weight on having faith in people, not just the titular characters, but in humanity as a whole, and, echoing Xavier's sentiment, the future doesn't have to happen, "Not if we show them a better path." 

To wrap up, the film is a dazzling spectacle. The 70s setting does at times feel restrained, but to a degree, this helps keep the existence of the Sentinels less fantastical by keeping the world they exist in more grounded, a trick that Bryan Singer has repeatedly shown he has a knack for. On the flip side, while we see very little of it, the future is as dark and atmospheric as the best of the Terminator Franchise's depictions of after Judgment Day. 

There is a fantastic moment, midway through the film, when we return to Cerebro, and the iconic blue hallways. In interviews McAvoy stated that between that set and being with Hugh Jackman, he really felt like he was in an X-Men movie. 

I can say more, but for anyone who's stuck around this long, I'll say thank you kindly, hope you enjoyed my thoughts, and go have some fun at the theater. 


  1. Nice stuff you wrote here. You brought up Toy Story 3 and the whole collective sigh of relief. I remember that night. It wasn't a sigh of relief so much as a cheer of hope, but the tension was certainly there, as it was in X-Men.

    En Sabah Nur!

  2. Thanks for the kind words. There was so much more I wanted to go into in this article, but it was already so long.