In the past, there were films based on the favorite comic book characters of my youth. The first X-Men film left me positively giddy. I still have collectible figures floating around from the second. X-Men: The Last Stand left me angry, frustrated that such careless writing could have wreaked so much havoc on the story and characters. I thought the franchise had died at that point, until the Wolverine origins film. I prefer to just not talk about that one.
Then we were treated to X-Men First Class. I did talk about that one. Then there was the latest Wolverine film, which, while not exactly memorable, held a bit more promise. So, all that to say, when I saw the first trailer for X-Men: Days of Future Past, I held out hope. Days of Future Past is such a classic X-Men story arc, acclaimed by fans to be one of the best X-Men story arcs ever, in fact, that, if anything were going to save this cinematic canon, it would be this. I took a deep breath. I pounded down my cynicism. I made plans to go. I even saw it in 3D. I was hoping against hope that this film would repair the damaged history of the X-Men film canon.
History is, after all, what is at stake in the story. The X-Men must find a way to travel back in time to prevent an event from occurring that has led to a dystopian future in which mutants are hunted and killed by lethal and unbeatable robot Sentinels. This is an apocalyptic war that has destroyed most of the world, leaving it in Sentinels’ hands. So dark is this future, that, as Wolverine claims, “I’ve seen a lot of wars. But I’ve never seen anything like this.”
And Wolverine, of course, must be at the forefront of the story, because this is the only way that Fox has held on to any momentum with these movies. Historically the fan favorite of all the X-Men, Wolverine is reprised by Jackman, the same as all of our recurring characters are reprised by their original actors. This is good, and Jackman manages to breathe some life into this script, which speaks to his acting ability a great deal. Since, as Kitty Pryde must project someone’s consciousness back into the past to alter the course of the moment in history when everything changed, but the journey would destroy anyone else, Wolverine must make the journey because his healing factor will keep him alive. So, into the past he is projected…
Except, wait. Remember your (canonical) Marvel history here? It was Kitty who was projected into the past, not Wolverine, and since when can Kitty Pryde project anyone’s consciousness across temporal barriers? Oh, that’s right…since never! Adaptations are one thing, but completely re-building characters…especially characters that have already been established on film…well, that’s just bad form.
And, speaking of bad form: The discrepancy in period settings and technology is serious enough as to completely break my suspension of disbelief on several occasions in the film (Cerebro is housed in the Xavier estates’ hi-tech sub-basement as always, while upstairs, Hank McCoy’s communication scanning setup feels decidedly steampunk in nature). Quicksilver, another long-time fan-favorite character, is introduced in this movie (somehow, Wolverine knows him?). Whenever we see a new character introduced in these movies, with the possible exception of Nightcrawler, we’ve been disappointed, and Quicksilver is no exception. The scene in which he is outrunning bullets is so campy, so implausible within the rest of the story as to not fit at all, and left me shaking my head wondering if the writers had any idea what they were doing. Primary characters reprised in Days of Future Past are relegated to fast-paced action scenes, with nearly no characterization work at all except for Wolverine, Xavier and Magneto. How a character as strong and important to the mythology as Bishop can be introduced, be visually impeccable, and experience no character development at all, leaves my jaw agape.
For Magneto and Xavier, at least, there is a moment in which Magneto recognizes the wasted years spent fighting each other, but even the insight into Magneto’s character we gained during X-Men First Class is left behind, and Xavier’s development, while a solid attempt, is ultimately shallow and without solid foundation.
In fairness, the film is redemptive in the end. While none of our heroes actually act as heroes, the emphasis on humanity’s ability to choose to do what is right at any time is the overarching theme. Unfortunately, this is overshadowed. Our heroes, fighting for their own survival, are decidedly un-heroic here. Our villains are bad for the sake of being bad (what, exactly, is Trask’s motivation, again?), and the potential for the themes with which the X-Men deal so profoundly…the danger of a police state, acceptance instead of fear, oppression of minorities…never really come to the surface. Perhaps the glimpse of redemption is a drop on a parched tongue in the end, and seemed more profound that it actually was.
In summary, X-Men: Days of Future Past plays off of the revisionist history established in X-Men: First Class while attempting to reconcile the disaster made by X-Men: Last Stand. The result is a scattershot and un-researched adaptation of a story arc permitted to run amok, explained away by history being changed, while also explaining away a contradictory history in the events of X-Men: Last Stand while attempting to tie up the decidedly atrocious ending of the latter in a neat bow. It’s too disorganized, too flippant, and ultimately too simple. This is shallow scripting and un-motivated character development, no more than a fleeting glimpse at what this story has, and should have, been.
Of course, there is a hidden ending (people amazingly continued to leave during the credits, although I can’t blame them after sitting through that), a hidden ending so visually awkward that I had to ask my friend who the character was in the end. It was a villain that I knew well from X-Men history. I didn’t even recognize him.