The X-Men films are not good. I say this because there’s a new one out, if you didn’t know, called X-Men: Days of Future Past, and it marks Brian Singer’s return to the franchise. The thing is, his first two films weren’t good. The significant role the franchise played in the mainstreaming of superhero films distorted many a fanboy’s opinion. The films have good scenes, sure, but as a whole the franchise exists somewhere on the scale between half-decent and terrible. The best film was probably X-Men: First Class (followed closely by The Wolverine). Singer wasn’t involved in The Wolverine, but did have a story credit on First Class (and was a producer). Interesting that the weakest parts of First Class are core script problems… That being said, his triumphant (this is a joke because everything he’s done post-X-Men has been despised) return to the series sees him taking hold of the torch and making the third decent X-Men movie in a row.
Actually let’s talk about Singer for a second. You quite possibly know he’s been recently accused of rape. This is not good. We all went to see Days of Future Past because “Hey, nothing’s been proven yet,” but I feel it’s worth saying something about it now. Yes, right now nothing has even remotely been proven. Singer’s barely made a statement about it. Now I’m a big fan of separating the art from the audience. Hell, I even defended Orson Scott Card back when that was a thing people were talking about. There’s a big difference, however, between saying some ignorant thing deeply rooted to your religious beliefs and abusing someone. If Singer’s guilt is ever firmly established, I’d like to think we’d all leave that next film alone. I guess time will tell. And while every critic under the sun attempts to draw clumsy parallels between these accusations and Singer’s film (“I bet the idea of changing the past appeals to Singer now.” [sigh]), I’d rather like to leave the topic alone for now.
Digression over. Let’s talk about the movie.
This movie stands above your average X-film by virtue of a few things. One of the biggies is that the scenes actually fit together to form a cohesive story. I told you the others weren’t very good. Actually, as with all of these movies, the story is pretty jumbled and messy, it just manages to hang together slightly better than the others. This one goes a long way because of the cast. Singer inherits the First Class cast and gets to throw Hugh Jackman into the mix. The cast, by the way, consists mainly of James McAvoy (my love of McAvoy has been well documented) and Michael Fassbender. They’re an incredible pair with great chemistry, and throwing Jackman into the mix is an absolute joy. Also there is Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique. People seem to love her dearly. I have yet to see any of her Oscar-y performances. I am also not immediately enchanted by how bad she is at being a celebrity. People do, however, seemingly relate to her because she’s bad at walking in heels and stuff. And people love her acting. If she’s your cup of tea, you’ll probably enjoy her movie, even if her defining characteristic might as well be nudity.
Sir Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian McKellen have glorified cameos, along with a group of future X-Men we never learn to care about. And yet we spend lots of the climatic action beat cutting to them. This feels largely unearned but isn’t too distracting. Peter Dinklage has a minor role, but he’s pretty good at it. The cast definitely elevates the schlocky script. Also inherited from First Class – the aesthetic. This is good because superhero films have outgrown the look of Singer’s X-films. The seventies setting, cast, and ridiculous plot do bring a nice element of fun to the whole proceedings.
But holy mother of god that plot. The plot is not good.
I was ragging on Jennifer Lawrence earlier, but truthfully Mystique is a non-character. At best her motivations are vague, at worst she comes across as completely fucking stupid. Seriously, two people she trusts (who would never normally work together) join forces to tell her that killing Peter Dinklage is a bad idea. One of them is so convinced of this he tried to kill her. The other comes to her separately afterwards and begs her to stop what she’s going to do. But she’s been away from Magneto for a couple of years and, in that time, has become militant. She wants to free mutants from human oppressors, but not at the expense of human life, but she also wants to kill Dinklage and also ends up saving the mutants by accident? Like, she somehow doesn’t realize that sacrificing herself and then revealing what she did would make mutants look good.
Magneto doesn’t fare much better. The entire plot is predicated on the idea that they have to prevent the Sentinel program from ever getting funding. The Sentinels eventually become a world-wide threat to all mutants, and the project initially gets funding in response to Mystique’s assassination of Dinklage. Magneto seems to be under the impression that dropping a baseball stadium around the Whitehouse and threatening the most powerful men in the world on live TV will somehow not make governments across the world plan to hunt down mutants. He even seems willing to shoot Richard Nixon in the head on live TV and he somehow doesn’t think this might hurt the mutants public image in the future. If Magneto got his way, the whole race would be exterminated in a matter of years not decades. He does all this after going to ridiculous measures to gain control of the Sentinels, which would’ve afforded him the perfect means to discredit the program.
Charles Xavier essentially gets to be a toned down drug-addled McAvoy a la Filth. He actually has a decent arc. He’s shut-off and drugged up because – Mystique. He cleans himself up because – Mystique. It’s something.
I absolutely need to talk about how this film seems to think massive spinal trauma is a super power. Please, someone explain to me what I missed here. Beast develops a mutant-power blocking serum. Charles shoots up with it. Then he can somehow walk again, but at the expense of his telepathic abilities? One of these things was initially a side effect and not the goal. So I would maybe buy this if Charles’s legs hadn’t worked since birth and the serum somehow restored him to factory settings. Just “default human” formula. Too bad First Class ends with him BEING SHOT IN THE SPINE. Also if Beast can cure massive damage to the spinal column with a fucking injection, he should probably get that shit manufactured. He could either be a Nobel Prize winning humanitarian just curing every injury ever or filthy bloody rich. Especially if the side effects are only applicable to mutants and not normal people. Either way dude, there are options.
I feel like at some point during the process someone should’ve explained how spines work to this creative team, is my point.
Another good thing about this film? Quicksilver. I was fully prepared to hate Quicksilver based on the designs alone, but he was legitimately fun. His big set-piece was really cool, despite the fact that super-speed is the least possible super-power ever. Watching him run around and rearrange bullets and make people punch themselves was a blast. DC should take note for the inevitable large-screen appearance of Flash.
X-Men: Days of Future Past may not be a great film, but its better than most of the series. It’s pretty fun as long as you ignore the stupid plot and focus on the cast. It does just completely give up on the idea of using the X-Men to represent any marginalized part of our culture, which kind of misses the point, but let’s be honest – the filmmakers probably would’ve mucked that up if they’d tried. The movie might be pretty stupid at heart, but it’s at least consistently stupid. It’s a fine harmless blockbuster, but it seems to be weirdly over-hyped. I’d like to think we could’ve hoped for something better.
Some smart people liked Days of Future Past more than me. Click here to read what Sequart’s own Julian Darius had to say about it.