Just to annoy everyone, here is my original review of last year’s comic book smash hit movie X-Men: Days of Future Past. There are several ways to approach this review if you are a fan, go berserk Wolvie style and shred me to bits, view me with a mixture of indifference and contempt like the franchise treated Scott Summers, or (and this is my preference) just shake your head in pity and get on with your lives.
If any movie kick-started the current wave of superhero films it was Bryan Singer’s X-Men (2000). Such was it’s success that it is now hard to remember just how risky a proposition it was. Viewed now it looks like a TV pilot as Singer was given a limited budget by a studio clearly unsure a comic book movie had commercial legs following the messy demise of the Batman cycle with Batman and Robin.
Singer got a massively increased budget for 2003’s satisfying sequel X2, which expanded and developed the simple but effective parable of the effects and costs of prejudice, and their ‘coming out’ metaphor. Those two films laid the groundwork for an epic conclusion to a trilogy that would based on one of the comic book’s most celebrated stories, The Dark Phoenix Saga. Sadly the wheels fell off when Singer was tempted away to make Superman Returns. The third film X-Men: The Last Stand went to rent-a-hack Brett Ratner. The result was a bloated misfire from which the franchise has been struggling to recover ever since.
Matthew Vaughn’s semi reboot, semi –prequel X-Men: First Class suggested that the lumbering X-Men behemoth could be wrestled back on track. Set in the 60s First Class introduced a new cast, including James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender as younger versions of Professor X and Magneto. Approaching this latest instalment Singer and screenwriter Simon Kinberg were presented with a difficult challenge, joining two diverging off-shoots from the same franchise, incorporating story strands introduced in the messy Ratner episode and further plot points from The Wolverine (X-Men Origins: Wolverine is fast becoming the Star Trek 5 of the franchise).
X-Men: DOFP begins by again invoking the holocaust imagery that was so startling in the original film (which opened in a Nazi death camp). What was incredibly brave in 2000 is beginning to feel like cynical set dressing in 2014. In a post apocalyptic future (is there any other kind) mutants lead by Professor X and Magneto (Patrick Stewart and a wasted Ian McKellen) lead a desperate resistance against the T-1000 like Sentinels – robots designed to hunt and eradicate mutants that have expanded their programming to include sympathetic humans.
Things get off to a frenetic but exciting start with mass fight giving screen time to series regulars Shadowcat, Iceman and Colossus, whilst also introducing new mutants Warpath, Blink, Sunspot and Bishop (got that? There will be more). Its clear things are desperate and so the survivors have a crisis meeting in which they decide to use Shadowcat’s ability to transport a mutant’s consciousness across time to send an emissary back to 1973 to stop Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from executing Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) the industrialist who invents the Sentinels and whose death convinces President Nixon to activate his programme.
The plan is to send Professor X, but there is a problem. The mental shock of travelling so far back in time could render even Xavier catatonic. Handily Wolverine’s physical regeneration capabilities mean his mind can snap back and survive the trip (I’ll come back to this). One of the pleasures of First Class was Vaughn’s cheeky appropriation of rat-pack and 60’s Bond tropes, however apart from some lava lamps X-Men: DOFP plays its period trappings fairly straight.
This early section of the film is its best as Wolverine attempts to gain the trust of a young Hank McCoy aka Beast and a washed up, booze addled Professor X (McAvoy gets most of the film’s scant smattering of decent lines subverting the morally righteous character we think we know). Key to future Professor X and Magneto’s plan (I’m taking it on trust they had one) is enlisting the aid of 70’s Magneto. Unfortunately as usual he is incarcerated in an unfeasibly high security prison and so a daring rescue must be hatched. This brings in another new mutant, Quicksilver, who has the power of super speed.
Quicksilver was the subject of much derision in the run up to the film’s release, mostly due to his My-Chemical-Romance-in-their-glam-period duds. Ironically the character – as played by American Horror Story star Evan Peters – is the best thing in the entire movie. Quicksilver’s appearance in the film culminates in an extraordinary slow motion action sequence that evokes The Matrix’s bullet-time.
Sadly after this point Quicksilver disappears in a puff of smoke (not literally spoiler-phobes) and the film nose dives into a swirling maelstrom of narrative incoherence, logical inconsistency, random character motivations culminating in a climax heavy on CGI spectacle and light on excitement or danger. In fact so out of control and undisciplined is the film that it’s hard to know where to start. However it boils down to one simple issue. The film makes no sense.
Let’s have a bulleted list (SPOILERS, BUT IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN IT BY NOW I DOUBT YOU GIVE A SHIT):
• The timeline is bonkers. The post apocalyptic future is set in 2023, X-Men: The Last Stand took place around 2006. Yet Kitty Pride and Iceman (Ellen Page and Shawn Ashmore) appear to have aged no more than a few years
• Since when has Logan’s mind been self healing? It managed not to heal amnesia for two whole movies because it was crucial to the plot
• What it Bolivar Trask’s motivation? He is embarking on a holocaust, but we don’t see anything to explain why, even if Wolverine had spilled his pint it would be a more credible reason than is to be found in the movie
• Wolverine has jumped back to a point before adamantium was grafted to his skeleton. But his bone claws (as seen in The Wolverine) can cut through concrete and steel. So what was (is? Fuck getting tenses right in this review is hard) the point of the torturous procedure in his future (technically past)?
• Exactly how indestructible is Logan? The answer is exactly as indestructible as the plot needs him to be
• How much Portal has Bryan Singer been playing?
• Why do future mutants all look like they play keyboards in Atari Teenage Riot?
• What does Magneto think he is doing in the last act (I won’t go into details, but when it happens just ask yourself ‘WTF dude, why?’)
• Um, didn’t Professor X die in X-Men: The Last Stand, I mean yes I remember him transferring his consciousness but his body was vaporized wasn’t it? I don’t remember the ability to grow a new body being one of his mutations
It very strange that last point has been forgotten as Kinberg was one of the writers of Last Stand. This franchise is now so confusing the writer can’t remember his own plot twists. Although one shouldn’t be surprised as Kinberg’s CV (XXX 2; Mr and Mrs Smith; Jumper; This Means War) reads more like a collection of human rights violations than cinematic achievements. Damon Lindelof must look at this guy, and the four and five star reviews X-Men: DOFP got and think WHAT THE FUCK DUDES?
X-Men: DOFP exemplifies all the worst aspects of current Hollywood storytelling and its apparent reliance upon conventions of mythic story structure and proscribed heroic character arcs. Everyone seems to be at a different stage of ‘the hero’s journey’ – the monomyth described by Joseph Campbell. I’ll spare you all 17 phases of this, but from the synopsis above, Quicksilver is at ‘call to adventure’, young Professor X is ‘refusing the call’, everyone is a ‘supernatural aid’, and old Wolverine is ‘crossing the threshold’. But who is the hero? Fuck knows, I don’t, Kinberg doesn’t, and neither does Singer.
The problem is that overfamiliarity with these story concepts means that successive franchise films are becoming more and more homogenised and samey. I don’t actually think the problem is in the writing, no decent screenwriter actually believes that the book ‘Save the fucking Cat’ is a template for a perfect story (it was written by a guy whose claim to fame is the screenplay for Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot for fucks sakes). I think the problem is that the bean counting idiots holding the purse strings have read it and swallowed this Idiots Guide hook, line and sinker.
As shot by regular Singer collaborator Newton Thomas Sigal (who also shot Drive) the film looks great. Alongside the great Quicksilver set-piece there are some great physical combat scenes with Mystique. Sadly in the final third the computers take over and cross cutting between past and future timelines that should be thrilling just feels like a cheap way to kill off characters without consequence. Even on that level if fails as for most of the film the future stuff is forgotten about and certain major franchise players are reduced to tiny walk on parts. Most damagingly Singer does not appear to have learned from Superman Returns that having a character lift really heavy stuff is not in and of itself interesting.
X-Men: DOFP is a film so overstuffed with characters, so needlessly convoluted, so fundamentally broken as a narrative, that it makes Spider-man 3 look like My Dinner With Andre.
This narrow minded, mean spirited, and frankly uncalled for review first appeared on http://www.chrisandphilpresent.co.uk/