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.
You’re totally right that the movie ignores how spines work. And there’s truth to what you say about Mystique — I also found myself questioning her refusal to believe anyone until the end.
As for Magneto, you’re not wrong. I don’t think he’s trying to get humans to like mutants, but he’s of the mentality that he can scare them — or even maybe impose a new world order of some sort, with the president dead. It doesn’t seem very thought-through on his part. He seems to have a knee-jerk “let’s make the most brutal show of force” response to situations. And that’s convenient for these movies, of course. But that’s true throughout the films — and sometimes in the comics. At least here, it’s the 1970s, he’s not lashing out yet again (at least from his POV). For me, that helps me pardon yet another Magneto attack. But him doing this in the 2000s, after he’s failed multiple times before, does makes no sense to me. He should be smarter than that. But then, that’s true in the comics too. And if I were writing these things, they’d be very different movies.
I still thought the movie was really fun, and its plot holes weren’t worse than most super-hero movies. The spine point is particularly egregious, and it bothered me, but I didn’t get that sense of being hammered by inanity here that I felt with, for example, the Thor movies. Yeah, I want smarter super-hero movies too, but I was surprised by how much this one pushes the right buttons and has a zillion things going on without getting clogged the way most movies do by simple A-plots and B-plots. But anyway…
Good read, Harry! Thanks for writing it. And thanks for the shout-out!
Of course Julian! I enjoyed the movie a lot in the moment, that’s for sure. That’s normally how I watch movies though – I analyze after the fact. The stupid didn’t break the movie for me, but everyone seemed slightly hyperbolic about this movie, something I only noticed after writing my review. It’s not the Avengers you know, it’s not THAT fun. And it’s not like the Winter Soldier which proved you can be fun and smart; in a way that just about no other superhero movie had done as well. I just wasn’t overjoyed like so many were. And I really believe there should be more great superhero movies (Antman will be missed, but I have hopes for Gaurdians), so I erred on the side of negativity.
Thanks for your response, Harry!
The expectations game is so key. I think a lot of people went to see this after hearing how great it was… only to think “it’s good, but not that good.” We’ve all had similar experiences. Fortunately, I didn’t pay attention to the reviews and saw it early. But I’ve been in the same position myself.
The reverse is also true. There are so many perfectly fine movies I would have felt were “eh” in the theater but that play well on TV, when they’re free and lacking in all the box-office pomp and circumstance.
Personally, I’d cite The Dark Knight as the example of a smart super-hero movie. There are a few others, but not many.
Yeah, The Dark Knight is still plainly a cut above. I only hesitated to mention it because of the strange backlash it seems to be suffering lately.
I haven’t heard of that backlash.
Yeah, a lot of critics I read, anyway, seem to be leaping at chances to make snide critical comments about the Dark Knight.
It’s got flaws. But a good critic knows the difference between plot holes that are crippling and plot holes that worth noting but past of something majestic and greater than the sum of its parts. There are super-hero movies before Dark Knight and super-hero movies after.
Stuff like the spine serum and the nebulous way in which Kitty’s powers work might not break a movie like this, which I still found quite enjoyable, but it does separate what I’d consider “good superhero movies” (something like this or Iron Man, for example), to what I’d consider flat out good movies that happen to have superheroes in them (stuff like Dark Knight or Winter Soldier). Despite what feels like a golden age of superhero movies, there are still too few films in the second category, unfortunately.
BTW, I think the Thor films are fun, but oh so dumb!
And I want more good movies that happen to be about superhero movies! My only crime was loving the genre too much! …Also theft. But let’s not discuss that.
And I find the Thor films barely watchable. There are movie out there that are still fun and stupid but aren’t that boringly average I’d rather spend my time watching.
I love this idea of good superhero movies and good movies that happen to have superheros in them. Love it.
Strangely enough I read this before going to see DoFP. The spine thing was a bit too convenient yet even knowing that didn’t break the film for me, much as the conception of evolution and mutation is essentially a deus ex machina within X-Men as a whole.
Rereading this article I totally agree with the other flaws but I found it such a romp that at no point was my suspension of disbelief broken. I like how it resolved a few issues from the prior films retconning them whilst also serving as a soft reboot.
However, fully agree on the Quicksilver point. Take note DC, take note.
Suspension of disbelief is a tricky one for me, I create this really conscious disconnect between my attempts at analyzation and my enjoyment. So for DoFP I watched the movie in a totally passive way, and then thought about it when the credits rolled. Star Trek Into Darkness went the same way. “That’s fun. Wait, that’s moronic.” DoFP is fun, but as a rule we’re too willing to forgive dumb superhero movies because we love the genre. When I love something I want it to be the best it can be. So I treated it like any other blockbuster. Fun and dumb. I just wanted to point out the dumb, I felt it was my reviewer-ly duty.
Oh absolutely. Perhaps what I wrote came off as though I was agreeing with you on some points purely to justified a self indulgent disagreement. I apologise if that was the case.
In light of this and a few other articles recently published here I am rewatching the prior X-Movies with a slightly keener critical eye. I’m sure if I were to go see DoFP again I would be less swept away by the initial grandness of it and start contemplating its components. Hopefully to a similar degree as yourself and a few others.