Having rewatched all the X-Men films, I was surprised how much they seemed to have aged. I am mostly referring to the first two directed by Bryan Singer, which at the time were considered the pinnacle of comic book films. They’re still far from being bad films, in fact X2 is nearly great (along with First Class, which came out years later), but considering how far the genre has come, they don’t hold up as well as previously thought. There seems to be a mishandled sense of scope, action scenes felt poorly choreographed, certain characters felt underutilized and wasted, the blue, black, grey color palette was ugly, cheesy lines kept taking me out and the film’s comic book roots seemed to be at odds with Bryan Singer’s attempt at grounding the story. There is another problem I have with the franchise, but I will get to that later. In terms of the franchise, it almost felt like there’s no way it could recover after X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, despite the best efforts of Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class and James Mangold’s The Wolverine. So, here we have Bryan Singer returning to the franchise with Wolverine 6, err, I mean X-Men: Days of Future Past , loosely based on the Chris Claremont and John Byrne storyline of the same name.
To be fair, XMDOFP actually feels more closely like an ensemble piece than the previous films as opposed to being a Wolverine vehicle. That’s not to say Wolverine plays a small part, but the other characters having more shining moments. Anyway, in a dystopian future, robots known as Sentinels are rounding up mutants and mutant-supporting humans. A remaining group of mutants survive with the help of Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page), who has the ability to send a person’s consciousness back in time in order to deliver warnings. The group meets with Magneto (Sir Ian McKellen) and Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) to come up with a plan to prevent this all from happening, which is to send someone back in time to stop Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from murdering Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), the man behind the Sentinels, whose assassination led the government to create the Sentinels using Mystique’s DNA to create a more invulnerable type of Sentinel that ends up being more aggressive than they believed. Turns out the only one who can get sent back in time is Wolverine (Hugh Jackman).
Honestly, I’m not as impressed as most are, but I am happy to say that the film is really good overall. First, I’ll bring up the negatives. Like the previous Bryan Singer films, the production/costume design is incredibly bland and uninspired. One thing that puzzled me when watching the first X-Men film is why are they wearing uniforms? What’s the point? At least when Nolan grounded Batman on a more realistic level (though I didn’t care for the costume) I did understand why Batman wore the armor heavy suit. The generic black costumes just don’t do anything for me, and there is just more of that in this film, but thankfully they are in the future segments (which makes no sense why they even bother with costumes, but whatever). Quicksilver’s costume is still atrocious. His character is fine, he bordered on annoyance at a couple moments, but he’s only there briefly for no real reason. Although the use of Jim Croce’s Time in a Bottle during an action scene was cute, even if the action scene itself was something that I’ve seen before.
The script is full of plot conveniences and contrivances. The reason Wolverine is the only one to be sent back in time is because Kitty Pryde said that sending someone that far back would rip their mind apart, so since Wolverine has a healing power, he can survive. What? Does she mean it would literally rip apart someone’s mind? How does that work, and how would Wolverine survive anyway? Does his mind heal? Does that mean he can go insane and then get better? Also, where did Kitty Pryde’s power come from? Time travel has never been established with her character in these films at all. There were many other moments that felt like they were there just because the plot required it. Also, there a handful of moments that had a complete lack of awareness in terms of location and time. And a small complaint I have is that some of the humor in the film didn’t work for me, but it never got annoying or anything, they were generally quick and painless. Again, many characters felt wasted (in some cases literally) and mostly in the film just for fan service. This aspect I had a big issue with. In the beginning of the film, we’re thrown right into the action (in the future segment, by the way) where we see three familiar faces, Kitty Pryde, Ice Man and Colossus (was he ever referred to as “Colossus” in these films?), but there are four others with them and they play just as much of a role as the three ones I mentioned before. They are Bishop, Blink, Sunspot and Warpath. I only know this because I’ve read the comics, and if you’re someone who hasn’t, then the film won’t do anything to help you with that since we are never told their names. This wouldn’t be a problem if they are just there for an opening scene and are gone for the rest of the film, but nope. They remain until the ending and they are given very few lines along the way, so it came off as absurd when something bad happened, and suddenly sad music starts playing and it goes into slow motion. Why should I feel bad for these people if the film didn’t find it important enough to tell me their names? I’m not going to automatically feel bad for a character just because they are good guys and they are getting hurt while sad music plays. Sorry, but that is bad writing.
The biggest problem I have is not necessarily for this film in particular, but for this franchise as a whole. All the X-Men films are about the exact same thing. They are all about the “mutant problem,” the gay metaphor and the general themes revolving around these subjects. Not than X-Men films shouldn’t deal with it, in fact, X-Men comics have had a gay subtext to them for a really long time, but they are only occasionally the main focus and mostly kept in the background. However, the problem with the films is that they deal with the exact same themes without a sense of progression or deeper exploration, they are surface level at best, and they ignore some of the more interesting and creative storylines that the X-Men comics have delved into over the years. It would be like if every episode of Star Trek the Original Series explored the exact same theme and moral dilemma, but with different aliens and locations. After a while, it can get kind of tiring seeing Xavier and Magneto having the same philosophical argument film after film.
Now for the positives aspects of the film. Bryan Singer actually managed to film well-choreographed action scenes. The only action scene I have a problem with the one with Mystique in Vietnam. If you saw The Amazing Spider-Man 2, you may have seen this during the credits. It shows Mystique helping other mutants escaping from being taken to Trask Industries experimentation. The whole scene consists of Mystique beat up a couple soldiers, while each mutant takes turn taking out other soldiers who patiently wait their turn so the mutants can show off their power for us. Other than that, the action scenes were well done, they were exciting and felt closer to the kind of action you would see in an X-Men comic. The pacing is much better, despite how much plot occurs in this film (and it is a lot by the way), there are enough genuinely fantastic character moments to keep you invested in the story on an emotional level. This is mostly due in part by the great acting in the film. The X-Men films always had one actor who doesn’t quite work as well as everyone else, but in this film, everyone is great. James McAvoy is a standout in particular. The effects are great, the 70’s period details are very well done, and Bryan Singer brings in his stylistic gravitas in a way that doesn’t clash with the comic book heritage of the story and characters like it seemed to with his other films, even though it still isn’t a perfect representation of the X-Men in the comics. Oh, and John Ottman makes a welcome return as the composer (as well as editor); it was good hearing the same theme from X2 during the opening credits.
X-Men: Days of Future Past is not as fun as First Class, and may not have the depth of X2, but it stands somewhere in the middle. It may not be the best comic book movie, or even the best X-Men movie, but it is one of, if not the, most ambitious comic book film to date. Not only does it connect two large casts from films with different styles through a time travel plotline, but it manages to correct many of the mistakes made by previous films and setting a new status quo (even if it still leaves you with some questions regarding what is in canon and what is not as soon as it’s over). So, once everything is all said and done, the fact that Bryan Singer, writer Simon Kinberg and producer Lauren Shuler Donner managed to pull this off without falling completely flat is nothing short of a miracle and they deserve credit for that, even if they did stumble a bit along the way. It does a good job of resetting the franchise at a stable point where (hopefully) they can explore some more interesting ideas, storylines and characters in future films.
Side Note: Be sure to stay during the credits, there is a little scene to set up X-Men: Apocalypse, which will have Bryan Singer returning as director; with him, Simon Kinberg, Dan Harris and Michael Dougherty working on the script, and it’s set for a 2016 release. There is also another Wolverine film (shock!) set for a 2017 release and an X-Force film coming as well. There’s also a Deadpool film that has been stuck in developmental hell since 2004, so the odds of that actually coming to fruition are low. Since Fox seems to be interested in creating proper in-universe continuity with their X-Men franchise like what Marvel has done, Days of Future Past seems like the logical way to take almost all the good aspects of Bryan Singer’s films and Matthew Vaughn’s First Class in order to create a stepping stone to tell newer stories. This film is definitely the closest we’ve come to a pure X-Men adaptation since First Class, and I hope they continue to embrace the insanity of the X-Men comics in their future projects. Oh, by the way, where the hell was Nightcrawler!?