When done well, a film using time travel as a major plot tool can create an engaging narrative, albeit at the risk of continuity confusion. But what about when a film’s continuity is already a jumbled mess thanks to careless handling of a franchise? Then time travel can be used as a surgical strike against a cancer of confusion and heal the damaged property.
FOX’s X-Men franchise has just underwent time travel surgery and has made a miraculous recovery.
(Now would be a good time to warn you of SPOILERS!)
X-Men Days of Future Past, directed by Bryan Singer draws inspiration from the 1980’s X-Men two-part story of the same name (and honors said source material pretty well…better than any of the previous 6 X-films have, I’d say).
The story is simple. The future sucks. Giant robots (Sentinels) are laying waste to mutants and most of the human population, so a plan is devised to send Wolverine’s consciousness back in time into his younger body circa 1973 to stop Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from assassinating the creator of the Sentinels, Boliver Trask (Peter Dinklage), which will ironically kick off the series of events that leads to said sucktastic future. In order to find and convince Mystique not to go through with her plan, Wolverine must rely on a young Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) putting aside their differences long enough stop Mystique. Needless to say hilarity ensues and things don’t work out so smoothly…
The film does a good job weaving aspects of the original X-Men trilogy with the more recent First Class prequel (despite countless continuity blunders created by the franchise), the narrative moves fairly effortlessly between future and past, and characters are finally written with a level of complexity that focuses more on their being human, rather than superhuman.
The funny thing is that I cannot believe the film pulled it all off.
I went into seeing X-Men Days of Future Past with “Giant-Size” trepidation, but found myself more than just pleasantly surprised; I was hopeful for the future by the film’s end. Days of Future Past works as a prequel/reboot hybrid that creates a brand new continuity–a fresh start–that hopefully Fox will build upon with the same sort of careful cohesion that Marvel Studios has done with their franchise. I know that’s what Fox wants, and I think Days of Future Past is a good indication that they very well could deliver what Marvel Studios has with its own property. Just like future Charles Xavier and Magneto had to learn from their past mistakes in the film, hopefully FOX will learn from there’s.
Now I want to touch on the three biggest fears I had going into the film and how each was squashed:
1) I am TIRED of seeing SO much Wolverine.
I understand that he’s the franchise’s cash cow, but I believe that if they just put the energy and care into writing better characters he wouldn’t have to carry a movie. And low and behold that’s exactly what they did here! The film really is driven forward by the young Xavier/Magneto/Mystique triangle, both in the writing of these characters and the actors’ performances.
Wolverine is more peripheral than anything else. Sure he’s there when he needs to be, but there’s a good balance. I particularly appreciated how he’s not even around for the film’s climax, again maintaining the audience’s focus on the real stars of this movie: Xavier, Magneto, and Mystique. Even in the future, where the cooler action scenes happen, he’s not even in the fight because his body is asleep while his consciousness is in his younger body. Brilliant! We finally get to see other mutants using their powers without Wolverine hacking and slashing through everything, stealing their screen time! Thank you, FOX.
2) When the first trailer dropped I was like, “Damn…that’s a lot of characters all in one film. This is going to suck.” History has proved (Batman & Robin, X-Men Last Stand, Spider-Man 3, Amazing Spider-Man 2) that when there’s that many characters in a comic book movie the whole plot suffers because no real character development can happen with so many of them running around punching each other. Days of Future Past was advertised as having SO many mutants (two timelines worth!!!), but really every character’s involvement was cleverly done. From the mutants in the future fighting the Sentinels to a brief appearance of Havok, everything was handled with purpose. I especially liked the use of the future X-Men at the start of the film, and very much appreciated their deaths within the first and last few minutes of the story. They’re fighting and “multiple” deaths set the tone and urgency of the story. Even characters new to the franchise, that we didn’t have time to familiarize ourselves with, the horrific means by which they die, cannot help but make us feel for them and their sacrifice.
3) Quicksilver. The character’s involvement in the film just seemed to be one based on studio rivalry (the same character/different actor is appearing in Avengers Age of Ultron due to licensing loop holes) rather than any necessity to the film’s plot. Honestly, it still feels that way a little; however, his presence in Days of Future Past was immensely enjoyable. Evan Peters portrayed an arguably unlikeable character (he’s such a dick in the comics!) with aplomb. The character’s look is still questionable (and I still hate the Carl’s Jr. ads),
but his place in the story was fun and handled well. So much fun actually that when his character exits from the plot, the audience can’t help but want to stick around. But it was a smart choice on Singer’s part–‘always leave the audience wanting more.’ Word is that he’ll be back for X-Men Apocalypse and I actually couldn’t be more thrilled.
Above all else X-Men Days of Future Past captures what no other X-Men movie has to date, what has always made the comics so powerful–the heart of their struggle to hope beyond hope that actions can change an almost promised dark future. Numerous story lines in X-Men comics depict terrible futures for the characters; they learn this but push on, and continue to hope that what they do and what they stand for will make a difference.
Sure, there are a few things that still don’t work in the film or raise a question or two. I mean, it would have been great if they explained how Kitty, who has the power to phase through objects, acquired the extra power of transporting one’s consciousness into the past. In the original comic book story it is Kitty who’s consciousness is sent back into her younger body to warn the X-Men, but clearly they couldn’t do this because her character wasn’t alive in the 1970’s. So giving her this power seemed to be a nice nod to the character’s importance to the original plot, but still…give us something to chew on. And exactly how is Professor Xavier, who died in X-Men Last Stand, alive again? Sure, that film’s post credits scene showed us he miraculously cheated death, but I know everyone wants to know the how. I think this is just one continuity glitch that’s just going to have to now be accepted as never even happening since X-Men Last Stand has basically been eradicated from the films’ canon thanks to Days of Future Past. Thank God.
My biggest beef with the film comes in the third act though. Obviously we have to have the big confrontation between Xavier, Magneto, and Mystique; however how Magneto gets to the point where he decides to show such a monstrous display of force against the humans who see mutants as threat, despite knowing how the future could very well turn out, seemed almost arbitrary to me.
I say this because for most of the movie young Magneto still walks a fine as anti-hero and has not yet shown himself as a true villain. Just like Mystique has a scene where she sees autopsy photos of her teammates, the audience could do well to see what sets Magneto off…perhaps a 30 second flashback (the film makes use of many quick flashback sequences so this wouldn’t be a stretch) to the concentration camps of WWII (it would also be a nice callback to the future concentration camps that we see in the opening shot of the film)? Yes, we know Magneto is an emotional, reactionary character but I think something should still have been done to “show” what Magneto was feeling. So much of the film’s writing was handled well that this little jump in narrative logic stuck out to me.
But these are all must minor nitpicks to an otherwise fine film, a film I’ve already seen twice and certainly has replay value.
X-Men Days of Future Past at its core is a story about righting past mistakes. I’m not only talking about for the characters in the film, but for a studio that seems to have learned from a history of poor choices. There is a scene in the film where future Xavier confronts his younger self and says, “we need you to hope again.” I can’t help but feel this is also the franchise asking us to have hope in it again, promising the future is going to be brighter…
…that is until Apocalypse comes and threatens it.
I cannot wait to see Apocalypse on the big screen and the glimpse we saw of him (and his horsemen) in the post credits scene only fuels the hope that they’re going to do him, and the threat he poses to the X-Men, justice. Let’s just hope he doesn’t have a giant “A” for a belt buckle.
What did you think of X-Men Days of Future Past? Leave a comment below and let us know! Agree? Disagree? Have a favorite mutant you want to see show up in X-Men Apocalypse? We’re all ears here at Geektastic Podcast.