Movie Review: X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
“X-Men: Days of Future Past” has a slight problem.
Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) needs to go back in time to January 1973 to stop a minor, hush-hush incident from occurring at the Paris Peace Accords. From this incident, see, a fear of mutants will lead to a program, the Sentinel program, which will lead to the destruction of all mutants in the near, monochromatic future. Fine. Here’s the problem. The movie is a summer blockbuster—not to mention a movie. It needs a big, showy climax. So even though Wolverine and friends stop the minor, hush-hush incident—the assassination of a military scientist, Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) by Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence)—the following happens:
- Mutants, specifically Mystique, Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and Beast (Nicholas Hoult), are outed at the Paris Peace Accords and filmed on 8mm cameras by people in the streets. So everyone knows now.
- To calm the fears that the appearance of super-powered beings have understandably engendered, Pres. Nixon (Mark Camacho) announces the launching of the Sentinel program at a live press conference on the White House lawn. However ...
- Magneto rips apart RFK Stadium, drops it like a ring around the White House, and turns the Sentinels on their makers. When Pres. Nixon, the Joint Chiefs and the Secret Service flee to the bunker beneath the White House, he pulls it out, rips it open, and trains all of their guns back on them. He’s about to kill them all on live television. His power is immense. Except ...
- Mystique stops him from killing Pres. Nixon. Then Professor X (James McAvoy) keeps her from killing Bolivar Trask. She puts down the gun.
This last action is what alters the future. Apparently the display of last-minute mercy by two good mutants overcomes the massive destruction and fear caused by the bad one. The U.S. government, and all governments, apparently decide: Well, as long as there are good ones ...
In other words, a minor incident in the original timeline leads to a massive program to protect the human race. A major, earth-shattering incident in the new timeline, in which the White House lies in ruins, leads to a shrug and a “live and let live” attitude.
That’s a more optimistic view of humanity than I have. Or a more optimistic view of outing.
“Days of Future Past” has other problems as well. I’ll get to them by and by.
It’s a pretty good superhero movie, by the way, and finally reunites the X-Men with their long-lost mentor.
No, not Prof. X, killed off by Brett Ratner in the abysmal “X-Men: The Last Stand” in 2006, and resurrected here without explanation. I’m talking Bryan Singer, the writer-director who helped create the first two “X-Men” movies. You could argue that what’s being corrected, what’s being wiped out, is less the Sentinel program than “X-Men: The Last Stand.” And for that: applause.
But are the first two “X-Men” movies wiped out as well? And the two “Wolverine” movies? Does Wolverine have an adamantine skeleton or is he going snkkt! with his all-too-breakable bones?
Questions for the sequel.
The movie opens in a dystopian future—monochromatic, as all dystopian futures are. We see what New York has become, and get shivers of 9/11, as the elder Prof. X (Patrick Stewart), intones about the future (“a dark, desolate world”), and wonders whether it can be changed.
The action picks up in Moscow, where some of our heroes are holed up: Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page), Iceman (Shawn Ashmore), Colossus (Daniel Cudmore), Blink (Bingbing Fan), and Sunspot (Adan Canto). Then they’re discovered by the Sentinels, who fly in and wipe them out fairly quickly. All but Kitty Pryde and Warpath (Booboo Stewart). He’s lying down, she’s holding onto his temples, and just as the Sentinels are about to kill them, they disappear. “Too late, assholes,” she says. Poof.
Cut to: China. There, more mutants are waiting, including the originals, Wolverine, Prof. X, Magneto (Ian McKellen), and Storm (Halle Berry). Wait, isn’t Bobby/Iceman there, too? And Colossus? But didn’t we see them get crushed in the first act?
Turns out when Kitty Pryde said, “Too late, assholes,” she wasn’t teleporting herself to another location. No, she’d been teleporting the other dude back in time a few days. So he could warn everyone. So the first incident never occurred.
When Kitty Pryde mentions this, Prof. X suggests the obvious: Dude, why not just go back to 1973 and prevent the assassination of Trask, and the capture and study of Mystique and her DNA which will lead to the Sentinel program? Kitty Pryde says, no. She can send someone back into their earlier consciousness a few days, a month maybe. But decades? The mind would snap. Which leads Wolverine to state the obvious: What if that mind could repair itself continuously?
And that’s the plan. Wolverine will return to his 1973 body, knowing all he knows now, and stop Mystique from killing Trask at the Paris Peace Accords. Simple.
Except that’s not the plan.
This is the plan. Keep in mind that the length of time Wolverine spends in the past is the same amount of time they need to stay alive in the future. Time is of the essence.
Instead of heading to Paris and convincing Mystique to abandon the assassination (or simply stopping her), Wolverine first goes to Prof. X (in upstate NY) and then Magneto (in D.C.), and only then do the three of them (plus Beast) go to Paris and stop Mystique.
I know. Singer and company need to bring in the principle characters. Time is of the essence within the story but the opposite in creating the story. Otherwise we’d have a very short story.
Worse, Prof. X in 1973 is hardly ready for battle. Hank McCoy/Beast has him hopped up on drugs. Kind of. He’s created a serum that allows Charles to walk again but stymies his mutant powers, and he keeps shooting him up with this stuff. He’s a major enabler here. Meanwhile, the Xavier School for Gifted Students has become dilapidated. Something about 1967 and the draft and losing students. This backstory is a bit weak, to be honest. Not to mention glossed over. But eventually Wolverine convinces Charles to, you know, make a stand by returning to his wheelchair.
Magneto’s situation in 1973 is even more problematic: imprisoned in a concrete bunker beneath the Pentagon. His crime? The assassination of John F. Kennedy. You know the magic bullet theory? How it supposedly bent in mid-air? Well ....
“So wait,” I kept thinking. “Magneto killed JFK? That’s pretty awful for a summer blockbuster.”
Except he didn’t. He tells Charles that he was trying to save JFK.
Because? Charles asks.
Because he was one of us, Magneto says.
“So wait,” I thought. “JFK ... was a mutant? What were his powers? Chick magnet?”
But that’s all we get on that. The story rolls on.
The three of them spring Magneto from the Pentagon, by the way, with the best addition to the X-Men since ... ever. In the comics, at least when I collected (mid-1970s), Quicksilver was the lamest of mutants. He was part of Black Bolt’s Inhumans, brother to the Scarlet Witch, silver-haired, perpetually frowning, and a drag, a well-known drag. Didn’t he also steal the Human Torch’s girlfriend? His power was the Flash’s power—he could run fast—but that power doesn’t lend itself well to the storyboards of comic books. But here? With CGI? Wow. They make Quicksilver (Evan Peters) seem like the most powerful mutant of all: the one who can beat you before you even think about taking him on. Plus he gets a personality upgrade. He’s young, playful, insouciant, and often bored by the excruciating slowness of the world. He’s just trying to keep himself amused, man.
Hey, why didn’t Wolverine just get him to help stop Mystique? Zip across the ocean. Easy peasy. But no. They needed to bring Prof. X back to the side of hope, so he could bring Mystique back to the side of peace, so we could get our reductive lesson about hope and peace. Rather than Magneto’s lesson of vindictiveness and destruction. Which is what we paid to see.
Eventually our quartet (Wolverine, Prof. X, Beast and Magneto) get to Paris in time to prevent the killing. But then betrayal from Magneto. He reasons that if Mystique killing Trask leads to the death of all mutants, then she must die. Except it’s not just Mystique killing Trask, is it? It’s Mystique captured and analyzed for years until the secret of her DNA is revealed. The fear of mutants would be there whether she killed Trask or not. And because Magneto simply wounds her, the X-Men get the worst of both worlds: Trask lives, while the blood Mystique leaves behind offers up the secrets of her DNA to Trask.
And this sets up our grand finale on the White House lawn.
What’s the deal with the ring around the White House, by the way? Is it a grand gesture from Magneto (this is my power: don’t fuck with me) or from Bryan Singer (something about ... marriage equality?)?
Singer has always brought a homosexual aesthetic to the X-Men (“Have you tried not being a mutant?” – X2), but the primary metaphor for mutants is still the civil rights movement: Martin (Prof. X) and Malcolm (Magneto); non-violent resistance and integration vs. segregation, contempt and revenge. And in this struggle, Mystique has always been the key. She was with Charles, even loved him a bit, but she was won over to Magneto’s side at the end of the last movie. Here, Charles wins her back. She puts down the gun. And then? Pres. Nixon stops the Sentinel program. (Right.) And Trask? Trask is arrested for selling military secrets. (Did I miss that scene?) All of which sets up our brighter, non-Sentinel future, where even Jean Gray and Scott Summers get to live. Good seeing you again, Famke. (Call me.)
And Brett Ratner? You’ve been retconned, asshole.
So why didn’t I like this movie more? Were my hopes too high? Am I just a sourpuss? Have I realized that even the best superhero movies are just superhero movies? Do I have franchise fatigue? Genre fatigue?
Because “X-Men: Days of Future Past” is a well-made, pretty smart movie. We get some good lines and some decent history; and there’s a greater verisimilitude with the time period than in “X-Men: First Class”: fashions, language, Roberta Flack and Jim Croce. My favorite bit was probably the wichikoo Isaac Hayes funk beat as Wolverine walks the streets of 1973. Damn right.
Coincidentally, 1973 was also the year I began collecting comic books seriously. I bought Spider-Man #123 that summer, then Hulk #168; then I was off to the races. I was 10. I did this for five years. Then I put away childish things.