On X-Men: Days of Future Past

My fellow comic book buddy, whom you might know as Muscle Milk, and I have differing perspectives on what makes a good movie. His focus: Did I have a good time? Did enough things explode? Was I constantly entertained? Was there a hot girl?

My focus tends to be: What did this say to me? Was it consistent? Did the characters develop through the course of the movie? Then, depending on the genre: was it funny enough? Was it dramatic enough? Did Godzilla eat enough people?

It’s the rare occasion when these two standards intersect on one movie – especially a comic book adaptation. I actually feel, though, that the latest X-Men entry didn’t fare too badly. Beware, because the following contains spoilers.

Admittedly, I am the first to say that I’m getting a little tired of all the Wolverine entries. Yes, he’s a cool tough guy and that’s always fun. But believe it or not, there are plenty of other cool butt kickers in the X-Men universe. Let’s try exploring some of them before Hugh Jackman gets too old and tired and then the whole X-Men franchise crumbles beneath his adamantium claws.

However, if we go back to the questions ahead:

Did I have a good time? Yes. The movie was pretty quick-paced and I felt it didn’t spend overly-long drawing out points that we already know and have ingrained in our collective cultural subconscious. We did not need to be re-introduced to the fact that Wolverine is a tough guy bad-ass. Just look at that haircut and facial hair! We know the Xavier-Magneto dynamic, so they didn’t re-tread that too much beyond what felt natural. And plus, Patrick Stewart is objectively wonderful. So there’s that.

Did enough things explode? Aka, was there enough action. Yes. Although, we were subjected to Wolverine bone-claws again. Ick. But I mean, watching the opening with the younger generation of X-Men, headed by Bobby, fight off the Sentinels was pretty awesome.

Was I constantly entertained? Yes. As mentioned, the movie kicks off with pretty great battles against the sentinels, demonstrating what a threat they are. We get some drama between young Charles and Eric. Mystique is actually pretty entertaining throughout – despite how I felt about her portrayal in the previous movie (they took the mystique out of her). It’s partially heist, partially action, all comic book. It’s definitely entertaining.

Did it have a hot girl? Take your pick. Jennifer Lawrence. Bingbing Fan (aka Blink aka the Asian chick with Portal powers). Even Famke Janssen made an appearance (of course).

Down to my criteria:

What did this say to me? There are a few areas to focus on. I really liked the treatment of Xavier, for example. What Prof. X said to his younger self was a thought to ponder on: young Charles wasn’t afraid of feeling other people’s emotions. He was afraid that it would make him confront his own. There’s a lot to be said of that even for we non-mutants. For example, are people with hurtful biases able to sympathize with those over whom they’re casting judgment? Or are they afraid to because once they do, it will cause them to confront themselves and their own wrong-doing? Would it cause their entire value system to collapse? How about focusing on Eric and Raven: are people born villains? Will changing events of their past keep them from pursuing a villainous future? And that ties right along with destiny, namely: will time always auto-correct its course so that no matter what “pebbles” are thrown into its stream, the current remains unchanged? (The movie says no).

“Was it consistent?” didn’t fare as well. By and large it’s pretty solid – especially for a summer blockbuster. But it’s afflicted by the same plot hole as pretty much every movie that ever uses time travel to fix a present-world problem: why, if you could transport a person back in time to any point in time, would you only give them a matter of days (or hours) to fix a huge, time-changing problem? Now, the reason from a story-telling stand-point is obvious. The movie needs tension to be exciting. But there’s not even some convenient deus ex-machina to explain why Wolverine was given so little time. They don’t really explain it at all – they comment as little as possible on it, in fact.

On to power problems, such as Blink’s. The Sentinels are shown to have adaptive power to compensate for the powers of the mutant they’re fighting, rendering them almost indestructible when fighting one mutant long enough. Blink alone seems to offer them an upper-hand: she opens portals left and right so that the Sentinels cannot anticipate who will attack them. For a brief moment of time, though, whoever is on the other side of a portal is vulnerable to attack. At one point, she’s not quick enough closing a portal and gets stabbed through the chest – the portal immediately closes and severs that portion of the Sentinel off. So… her portals can literally slice through Sentinels. While it’s awesome watching the portals being used by her teammates, wouldn’t it be more effective to open portals around the Sentinels and slice them in half?

Or Mystique’s powers. While Mystique traditionally has been an ass-kicker with the power to look like anyone, the movie implies that it’s more than just that: she adopts their traits on a biological level – it’s what gives the Sentinels their adaptive power. So wouldn’t that mean that while she looks like Wolverine, she’d heal like Wolverine? Look like Charles, become a telepath like Charles? While I’d have been satisfied if they’d explained that the Sentinel’s abilities come from scientists tweaking Mystique’s genetic code, the movie implies that it’s already inherent.

Then, of course, there’s Kitty Pryde. When, exactly, did she gain the power to send people’s minds through time to inhabit their past bodies? She’s not a telepath. She can’t do it to herself. And it’s not exactly molecular phasing.

From a story-telling perspective, they also had to retcon the past movies by making old Prof. Xavier give his spiel about how Raven was a cherished childhood friend – though if you watched the first trilogy, there’s no evidence of that. The Sentinels already had working prototypes in the 70s, but did not attack the X-Men until well over 40 years later. Magneto sends Wolverine back to help himself out – and yet young Eric has no interest in knowing how his future self would correct his… er… present past. Or the fact that a mutant killing some random scientist motivates the government to begin plans to exterminate mutants – but not a group of mutants breaking into and out of the Pentagon. Nor a mutant literally lifting a football stadium, encompassing the White House, and threatening to kill the president and his cabinet – the fact that Mystique saved him does little to fix the fact that something so tremendous happened. And Charles decides to trust Eric to go free, despite his willingness to kill friend and comrade. And somehow old Xavier is still in his own body… inexplicably. So consistency wasn’t DoFP’s strong suit – but it wasn’t so glaring that it detracted from my enjoyment.

If we move on to whether or not the characters develop, in this case I’d go back to yes – although Wolverine is still obsessed with Jean and there’s no mention of Mariko. But young Charles transforms dramatically, and Mystique is swayed by her old friend to become a hero to the president rather than villain – although her true allegiance doesn’t seem to be changed. In the end, Wolverine took up a lot of screen-time, but plot-wise, he was really a bystander (or perhaps prompter) in a story about Charles, Eric and Raven – which was welcomed.

And as for whether or not it fulfilled my expectations of the genre, it did. It had, as mentioned previously, explosions, cool fight scenes, excellent graphics, and an ounce of drama.

Overall, I’d give the movie 4/5 stars.

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