X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST: There Is a New Enemy Out There

X-Men DOFP Poster

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) – Directed by Bryan Singer – Starring Everybody Ever.

Spoilers lie ahead. Consider this your warning.

I’m happy to say that my deepest fears about X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST were misplaced.

None of the trailers worked for me. None of the 836 different covers of Empire magazine really worked for me. The insanely stupid Carls Jr. ads (for insanely good food – I love you, Carls Jr.) didn’t work for me.

And most importantly, Bryan Singer didn’t work for me. Given the choice between Matthew Vaughn (director of X-Men: First Class) and Singer (director of X-Men and X2), I’ll take Vaughn all day every day. It’s not that X-MEN or X2 are bad, because they are both very good films (especially X2), but FIRST CLASS (along with the first 3/4 of THE WOLVERINE) is the best X-Men film of the lot, and Vaughn has a much better ability to world build, which is important when your film is set in both a dystopian future and in 1973.

It also didn’t help that one of the trailers that played before DOFP was for Vaughn’s next film, Kingsman: The Secret Service, which looks exceedingly cool.

But like I said, I’m happy to say that my fears were not given form by DAYS OF FUTURE PAST, a not-quite-sprawling, not-quite-epic, not-quite-as-good-as-First-Class-or-The-Wolverine-or-X2, but very enjoyable piece of filmmaking as long as you don’t think too hard about it. My fears revolved mostly around the 836 characters that we were promised, but Singer handles the use of the main characters and the cameos highly effectively. It’s only the secondary characters that get misused. DOFP is much like last year’s Star Trek Into Darkness, in that it’s a highly enjoyable film if you simply sit and watch it, but kinda daft if you give it some thought.

Because if you give it some thought, DAYS OF FUTURE PAST is a shipping story about two old men who are willing to wipe out all life on the planet just so they can extend their bromance by a few decades.

There are multiple problems with DOFP, but they lie largely at the edges of what this movie concentrates on, which is Hugh Jackman, Jennifer Lawrence, James McAvoy, and Michael Fassbender. The story of Sent Back In Time Mind of Wolverine, 1970s Mystique, Charles Xavier, and Erik Lehnsherr is a strong one, and the characters carry the day even when the script lets them down.

Nicholas Hoult as Beast and Halle Berry as Storm in X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST

Nicholas Hoult as Beast and Halle Berry as Storm in X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST

I say, “what this movie concentrates on,” because if you’re going to see DOFP for anyone but those four actors, you’re likely to be disappointed. There’s not nearly enough Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, or anyone else. I don’t know if there’s every been as many neat-but-unnecessary cameos in a film as there are in DOFP. Almost anyone and everyone who’s been in an X-Men film shows up (either in character or in actor), and while that works well enough for the people who show up at the end (because it serves as a wonderful narrative cherry on top of the film), it doesn’t work so well for the people in the beginning. We’re introduced (or re-introduced) to a whole team of relatively new X-Men right at the start: Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page), Bishop (Omar Sy), Iceman (Shawn Ashmore), Colossus (Daniel Cudmore), Warpath (Booboo Stewart), Sunspot (Adan Canto), and Blink (Bingbing Fan). We see them fight Sentinels. We see them largely die at the hands (and faceplate) of said Sentinels, and then when we see them again, they’re still just costumes, and that’s where they remain for the rest of the film.

The film opens in a near dystopian future where Sentinels have overrun the planet. Mutants have been all-but exterminated. Helpers of mutants have been all but exterminated. The Sentinels possess the power to change their programming to be the perfect counter to every mutant’s power: when they face Iceman, they fight him with fire; when they face Sunspot, the Sentinels use ice. Xavier (Stewart), Magneto (McKellen), Storm (Halle Berry – I’m going to write 1,000 words in this reaction just listing everyone’s name), and Wolverine (Jackman) meet up with the All-New, All-Different New Mutants in China and hatch a plan to send Wolverine’s consciousness back in time to 1973 to purchase a first printing of Houses of the Holy to pay for repairs to the basketball court.

Also, to stop Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from killing Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), the creator of the Sentinel program. SirPatStew Xavier has figured out that Mystique’s assassination of Trask is the moment that creates the dystopian mess they’re currently in and that if they can go back and stop her, then their world won’t look like the bottom of a Celestial’s ashtray.

Sending Logan’s consciousness back in time works, and then the film largely stays in 1973, relegating the dystopian crew to mostly meaningless roles. All that matters in the movie is Logan’s mission to get Xavier and Magneto to play nice with one another and subsequently to stop Mystique; the X-Dystopians just have to bide enough time to allow Logan to be successful.

Which …

Yes.

You were thinking, “There’s a lot of dumb things in those last two paragraphs,” and yes, you are right. There are a lot of dumb things in those paragraphs. Let’s take them one at a time.

First, I totally get sending Logan’s mind into the past. What I do not get is why he has to go stop Xavier (McAvoy) from playing Sulk Monster and why they then have to go break Magneto (Fassbender) out of his super secret prison beneath the Pentagon. You’re Wolverine. The Wolverine. You’re the best there is at what you do and what you do isn’t pretty, bub. You know where Mystique is going to assassinate Trask, but instead of just, you know, showing up and stopping her, you have to play nursemaid to a power-neutralized Xavier, and Prince Charming to the damsel-in-distressing Magneto.

Why? Logan and everyone else know that Xavier eventually stops shooting up his brand of heroin (a Hank McCoy developed drug that allows him to walk at the expense of his mutant powers) and opens a school where he gives his best students matching uniforms, so why even bother with them? I just do not get why Wolverine, The Wolverine, The Best There Is At What He Does, Bub, also needs to babysit two of the most powerful mutants in history except that the film wants a lazy way to include McAvoy and Fassbender. The film tries to make a case that if things get too stressful for Logan his time-strung consciousness could be affected, so maybe it’s a good idea to have Xavier and Mags around for back-up, or maybe the altered timeline could benefit from having them be pals, but it’s not like the core idea of the mission isn’t something Logan hasn’t done hundreds of times before.

That’s how one gets to be the best there is at what he does, bub.

He’s being sent back to stop someone. Someone he doesn’t even like. Pop a claw in the shape changer and head on home. Hell, stand in front of the bullet she fires and head back home. Trask only comes up to your waist so it’s not even like you’re gonna get shot in the head. You’re just gonna get shot in the-

Well, okay, pop a claw in the shape changer, then. You don’t even have to kill her.

The filmmakers would have been far better off, I think, to craft a moment that could only be stopped specifically with Xavier and Magneto working together. That would have added real narrative tension to the film to complicate the emotional tension. As is, stopping Mystique works only on that latter level, since Xavier grew up with her and then she left him to join up with Magneto.

DOFP Magneto and Xavier

Ian McKellen/Michael Fassbender as Magneto and Patrick Stewart/James McAvoy as Charles Xavier in X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST.

And let’s be incredibly honest for a moment. Why is Logan sent back in time? To stop Mystique from killing someone, yes? Instead of all the hysterics and histrionics getting Xavier and Magneto together, why not, I dunno, JUST USE THE FLIPPING SPEEDSTER????

Evan Peters is the best part of this movie. Every single time I saw that silly Carl’s Jr. ad with Quicksilver (to be honest, my problem is much more with how terrible Quicksilver looks than the ad itself: silver hair! silver coat! silver sneakers! And he’s real quick! That’s how superheroes are named, kids!), I felt myself getting dumber and I would have laid good money down on Quicksilver being the worst part of the movie.

But he’s not. I mean, he still looks utterly ridiculous, but Peters gives the film some much needed levity, and Singer (and his writers) do their best work with mutant powers in his too-brief sequence. Logan shows up at Pietro’s house with Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult) and the guitarist from Bad Company, and his mom (who is not very bright) thinks they’re cops. Pietro zips around the room, asking questions and generally frustrating Xavier, before finally agreeing to help break Mags out of his underground Pentagon prison.

Peters gives Pietro a twinkle of mischievousness that produces the film’s only real moments of laughter. After breaking Magneto out, but not before revealing he didn’t know Magneto was in jail for killing President Kennedy and making it blatantly obvious to the audience that Magneto is his daddy by saying, “My mom knew someone with your powers,” which is followed by Magneto giving a “Huh?” look like he’s in a Vince Vaughn comedy, Pietro saves the day by zipping around a room full of cops and altering the paths of their bullets and repositioning their bodies so they knock each other out. It’s a great scene, but it also makes their decision to leave him home instead of taking him along to stop Mystique incredibly dumb.

Unless, of course, Dystopian Xavier and Magneto are lying to everyone and their real mission in sending Logan back in time isn’t stopping Mystique, at all, but to get ’70s Xavier and Magneto working together. Given that Old Magneto’s dying words are lamenting the years he and Xavier wasted fighting with one another, it’s entirely likely this whole crazy mission is as much about rewriting their own past as it is stopping the assassination of Bolivar Trask. Perhaps it’s just a back-up plan – if Mystique’s captured, history tells us her DNA will be used to create the All Powerful Sentinels that have ravaged the world, so having Xavier and Eric working together for an extra 40 years might be able to stop that program. (And yes, that brings up a whole other range of questions, including who, if Trask is dead, figures out how to weaponize Mystique’s DNA and why not just go stop that person, instead?)

If Xavier and Magneto are – consciously or subconsciously – sending Logan into the past in order to allow themselves to re-live their lives as allies instead of enemies, that helps nominate DAYS OF FUTURE PAST for Worst Shipping Story of the Year. It also brings up the second really dumb/problematic element of this movie:

DOFP has an incredibly disturbing approach to time travel. The narrative premise of the film is that Logan goes back to stop Mystique, which will send a big ripple forward, eliminating the Sentinel program. It’s even made perfectly clear that if Logan is successful, he will return to a world in which no one remembers what he did, or that they themselves once had a different life.

What?

This is their big plan? To wipe out the lives of everyone on the planet by replacing them with another version of that life? What Xavier, Mags, and the X-Dystopians offer up as a plan, then, is little different than what the Sentinels are doing because if their plan is successful they are effectively committing genocide against the entire planet. The difference that’s supposed to make them the good guys is that the Sentinels are rounding up and killing everyone while the X-Men are just erasing experiences and memories and replacing them with something else.

But that is still effectively killing everyone on the planet. Or is it okay because almost everyone on the planet is dead, anyway? Even if that’s the case, Xavier and Magneto’s plan is robbing every last person of the last 50 years of their lived life. Maybe it’s making their lives better, but who are Xavier and Magneto to make this call for everyone? Because no one else is left? The Sentinels are clear cutting the forest. The X-Men are clear cutting the forest and then planting something else in its place, but you’ve still got to kill a lot of trees to plant a lot of trees in this scenario. The film makes a point to show us, after Logan’s mission has succeeded (thanks to Mystique and Xavier, not Logan), that Kitty and Bobby are no longer together, but Kitty is with Colossus and Bobby is back with Rogue (Anna Paquin).

This is apparently supposed to make us feel better by putting characters “back where they belong.”

But what of Bobby and Kitty’s relationship? The Iceman we see in the dystopian future is clearly in love with Kitty and to see that wiped aside because the best plan the X-Men can come up with is a longshot (not a Longshot) that rewrites 50 years of history runs counter to the very essence of superhero stories, which is that there’s always a way to stop the bad guy and save the world.

Daniel Cudmore as Colossus and Fan Bingbing as Blink in X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST.

Daniel Cudmore as Colossus and Fan Bingbing as Blink in X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST.

It comes off as a bit childish on Singer’s part, to be honest. When Logan wakes up back in the present and finds Xavier’s school is up and running, and there’s Rogue and Bobby flirting and there’s Jean and Scott (Famke Janssen and James Marsden) acting like they used to, it makes stopping Mystique seem the far less significant event that needed to be undone and X-MEN: THE LAST STAND the event that needed to be erased. On one level, I get it. LAST STAND was a dumb movie that seemed to take incredibly childish potshots at the two previous Singer films, and Singer has proven himself (with Superman Returns) the kind of guy who has no problem cinematically erasing entire films in a franchise to put the world back the way he wants it.

Singer is tapping into the long-acknowledged truth when it comes to continuity – you can make any changes to the past you want as long as people like the end result, and seeing the halls of the school filled with Anna Paquin, Kelsey Grammer, Famke Janssen, James Marsden, Halle Berry, and all those gifted youngsters is a good, emotional ending.

And you can argue that what happens in these situations isn’t that one timeline is erased but merely that another timeline is established to work alongside it, but DOFP makes a pretty clear case that the timeline that exists at the start of the movie is gone by the end of the film.

If that original timeline exists anywhere, it’s apparently kept in a bottle in Brett Ratner’s house.

DAYS OF FUTURE PAST is made in the vein of films like Star Trek Into Darkness and The DaVinci Code – keep things moving fast enough and people won’t notice the flaws. None of those movies are bad movies, but they all suffer the closer you look at them. If you simply accept that the characters have to be doing the things they are, DOFP is an enjoyable film. None of the problems are our four leads, who all deliver solid performances. The decision to make Mystique as important as she is does seem to stem from the fact that the franchise walked into a gold mine when Jennifer Lawrence became JENNIFER LAWRENCE, but it would be silly not to shift the film in her direction. She’s really good, too, at showing a woman who’s been damaged emotionally but is trying to do what she thinks is right (even if it’s a warped sense of right).

The ’70s sequences contain some narrative stupidity but as a piece of engaging storytelling, it works. Seeing Logan reduced to domesticated shepherd dog is actually quite fun to watch and completes a circle Singer started back in the first X-Men film. The filmmakers and McAvoy lay on the ham a little thick (Xavier will agree to help Logan find and stop Mystique, but he can’t be bothered to shower and shave!) but there’s no doubting that when the scene calls for McAvoy to throw up some emotional fireworks, he can deliver.

It is a bit frustrating that the film isn’t simply about Xavier, Magneto, and Mystique because these characters and actors work so well together inside of this story. It’s the emotional arcs that give DOFP its strongest traction with me. The sequence where McAvoy-Xavier reads Logan’s mind to see images of the Xavier School is the best sequence Singer has filmed since Chazz Palmentieri realized he’d been played by Kevin Spacey in The Usual Suspects. That Singer manages to hit so many emotional notes right on target is what makes DOFP work most of all, and despite my storytelling reservations about the actual mission and genocidal implications of wiping out 50 years of history (combine DOFP with Noah and genocide is having a big 2014), I like watching McAvoy, Fassbender, and Lawrence interact. Hugh Jackman is very good, and so is Nocholas Hoult, and if the movie had stayed in the ’70s once Logan had arrived, maybe I’d have liked the film more.

It’s still an enjoyable movie, though.

The action sequences work really well. I don’t normally think of Singer as a great action director, but the action is really good in DOFP. There are plenty of great visuals (Magneto lifting up an entire football stadium to drop around the White House) and I could always tell what was happening to who in the one-on-one fights. (Before the film, they showed a trailer for Transformers 4: I Think We Just Found a Transformer to remind you that action sequences look crappy when you put the camera too close and move the action too fast.) This is critically important with the Dystopian Sentinels, as part of their abilities is to be able to change their power to suit who it is they’re fighting. Blink, Sunspot, Warpath, and Bishop don’t get to be characters as much as they are used for the visual impact of their powers, but Singer uses all of them well in this regard. Blink, in particular, with her ability to open portals in space works really well on the screen.

Heck, if you told me they were going to make an X-Force movie with Kitty’s team, I’d buy my ticket right now.

The Sentinels are cool to look at, Magneto’s sabotage and manipulation of them during the train sequence is clever (combine DOFP with Godzilla and action scenes on trains are having a big 2014, too), and this is the first time I feel like the filmmakers are getting close to putting Iceman’s full range of powers on screen.

Unfortunately, the post-credits scene fell flat. In my theater, I’m pretty sure I was the only person who knew who En Sabah Nur and the Four Horseman (Whooo!) were because their appearance was meant with a collective shrug. Knowing their identity didn’t make the scene not suck, though. We’d just seen Magneto pick up RFK Stadium, carry it over DC, and then drop it down around the White House, so Apocalypse playing Jenga with the Great Pyramids was slightly less impressive than watching a drunk idiot play Jenga at your kitchen table.

What we really needed to see in this scene was a glimpse of the Fantastic Four. Not that anyone is paying me millions (or even paying me peanuts, literal or figurative!) to come up with ideas, but I would have depicted Reed Richards sitting in his lab, figuring out that something happened to cause one timeline to become obliterated and another take its place, and decide he was going to launch a rocket to verify some readings coming from deep space that he thought might be connected. If 20th Century Fox is serious about universe building, including the FF was the proper move. All we got here was a nod to the movie we all know is coming, since X-MEN: APOCALYPSE was announced five months ago, and lacking any visual flair. The key to making these post-credits scenes work is to give people something they don’t expect, or give them the first taste of something unique, not the very thing they already know.

DAYS OF FUTURE PAST is a film that reveals more holes the more I look at it, but I want to make it clear I enjoyed it well enough when I watched it in the theater. (And I didn’t eat any popcorn, so I can’t say I was swayed by the magical combination of butter and salt on an exploded kernel.) While logic suggests that a lot of what did happen on the screen should have been replaced by something else (USE THE SPEEDSTER, SAVE THE WORLD), what is on the screen is either enjoyable (1973) or visually pleasing (the future). There are some disturbing deeper consequences of erasing a timeline (the film wants us to blindly accept that there was no other option, yet the crew that shows up in China looks like they just stepped off a Paris runway) and few characters in the film act with anything in the way of intelligence, but there’s no denying, much like Into Darkness, if I’m in the mood to turn down the thinking part of my brain and turn up the visual receptors, DAYS OF FUTURE PAST does the trick.

This is cinematic Swiss cheese: lots of holes, but still enjoyable.

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5 thoughts on “X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST: There Is a New Enemy Out There

    • Ha! I thought it was going to be a mess because of the 8 billion characters, but Singer uses most of them really effectively. It’s the narrative blips that are the problem. Still, good popcorn fun.

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  1. Yes, all time travel stories are pro-genocide, That’s what people love about them. Even the Back to the Future movies are genocidal by your reasoning. The size of the genus involves is all that varies…

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    • No. In Back to the Future, Marty’s initial foray into time travel is a mistake. His actions change the future but that wasn’t his intent when he hopped in the DeLorean. Xavier sends Wolverine back with the stated intent of rewriting the entire global timeline. At worst, Marty is guilty of manslaughter in the death of his family and Biff. (Probably. I haven’t seen Back to the Future in 15 years, I reckon.) Genocide involves a targeted destruction of a people; I don’t think BTTF rises to that definition.

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  2. You pretty much breakdown many of the problems I had (or anyone should) with that script as well, but just like you’re saying I also found it coherent and quick enough to follow along and not have to think too much about it at the time. In that way, I would have to say it was a more enjoyable time at the movies than Amazing Spider-Man 2 or Godzilla where I couldn’t stop shaking my head as one incoherent and convenient scene bled into the next. However, Captain America: The Winter Soldier this new X-Men movie was not.

    Because we’ve seen so many time travel movies (and comics) with the basic premise of going back in time to re-write history, I’d never really thought about it as genocide (and you are right about Back to the Future, since as you said, Marty goes back by mistake and is intentionally trying to un-do any changes he may have made by accident that could have effected the future)… but it did remind me of what bothered me so much about the “evil” plan of Shaw in X-Men: First Class being to wipe out all non-mutant life on the planet with nuclear bombs… I mean, wouldn’t that leave a small number of people left with nothing to do in a burned out husk of a planet? Why would anyone want to live like this? The “evil” plan in this movie to create these sentinels to defend against super-powered mutants actually DOES make some sense though, especially when contrasted against the Vietnam war (as they do) then wouldn’t sentinels seem at least like a viable defence/military weapon whether there are mutants or not (does this mean that the X-Men should also go back in time and kill Tony Stark before he invents the Ironman armour as well?). Certainly just killing Trask, or more ridiculously, NOT killing Trask, wouldn’t stop this from happening, right? Anyways, like you said the less you try to think about it the better (… still, over-thinking stuff like this is apparently what we like to do!).

    I did really like your idea for the post-credits scene… as this one proves yet again that Fox/Sony are really just trying to imitate the Marvel Studios movies without truly understanding them. It would be nice if they could concentrate on trying to just make one original and outstanding movie first before mapping out a series of sequels and spin-offs. Obviously, it does’t matter as these franchises make so much money worldwide (why this doesn’t translate into comic books sales is very telling though) that sequels are guaranteed and quality is almost just a lucky bonus at this point… but still, it would keep me from having so many headaches if they could just come up with something as interesting as your FF idea!

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