-Review by Paul Ewbank-
Gosh, I really wanted to like this film.
I’ve always been a fan of X-Men. Ever since watching the TV series as a kid I’ve had a soft spot for this particular franchise, and the films and my occasional forays into the source comic books have always been enjoyable even if their quality was a little bit mixed. It’s just a really good premise- guys with an infinite array of cool powers and personalities struggling to be accepted by a prejudiced world. It works as an analogy for whatever social divide is big at the time and also just as a backdrop for some kickass characters getting to beat the crap out of stuff. So yeah, X Men good.
Top of the heap as far as films go was unquestionably X Men First Class. Matthew Vaughn’s totally on point direction and a note-perfect cast made for a breath of fresh air in a series that was undeniably getting a bit bogged down. First Class was one of the best superhero films of the last few years (and that’s saying an awful lot) and I was very, very psyched for the sequel. When I heard that it was going to be directed by Byran Singer, the dude who helmed the first two films, and would feature the cast from both First Class and the original trilogy, my first thought was “Oh wow that’s totally awesome dude”. My second thought was “man, I really hope they pull it off.” Excited as I was, I could see all kinds of ways that trying to put so much into one film could go wrong. And while I wouldn’t go so far as to call Days of Future Past BAD per se, I do have to report that it’s nowhere near as good as I’d hoped. It has a lot of stuff in it that I really liked, but there were too many obvious flaws and stupid decisions to make this the ultimate X Men film I so badly wanted it to be.
It started brilliantly. In the future, giant robots called Sentinels have wiped out most of humanity and the last surviving mutants hatch a desperate plan to go back in time and alter history to prevent the Sentinels ever being created. The first action scene where the mutants-most of whom are older versions of the X men from films 1-3- try to fend off the seemingly indestructible sentiments is jaw dropping and shows how far these films have come in using mutant powers to make for exhilarating action scenes. Seeing Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen back in their X men costumes was pretty cool too, and Hugh Jackman’s mutton chops are always a welcome sight. That guy must’ve played Wolverine more times than he’s played all his other characters combined. I don’t seem to recall Kitty Pride having the ability to send people back in time, but I was willing to overlook that for the time being. Once Wolverine gets sent back to the 70’s and we’re back with the First Class ensemble we start to run into problems. For one thing, most of them have been killed off unceremoniously between the two films. All we have left are Xavier, Magneto, Beast and Mystique, with Havoc making a random cameo in a Vietnam War scene that has nothing to do with anything else. I guess his contract said he has to be in the film or something. I can understand not wanting too many characters running around but it is kinda annoying that Bryan Singer killed off every mutant who didn’t feature in his own two films.
Wolverine’s mission to save the future involves reuniting Xavier and Magneto in order to convince Raven (mystique) not to kill Tyrion Lannister who is the designer of the sentinels, since his death will actually convince the world that making giant mutant killing robots is a good idea. To help them bust Magneto out of prison Wolverine and Xavier enlist Quicksilver, an ADHD teen with the power of being really, really fast, to the point where he can pick up bullets in mid air and put them somewhere else. Every scene with Quicksilver in it is totally awesome and Evan Peters is hilarious in the role. I wish he was in it more but his powers would’ve kinda made the rest of the film a heck of a lot easier. Quite why it was decided that the ONLY way they could save the future was if both Charles and Eric were together is beyond me, but if it means we get to see Fassbender being all badass again then that’s fine by me.
Once he gets out though the thing really goes to pieces. There are just too many perspectives: Wolverine, Xavier, Magneto, Raven and the guys in the future all vie for screen time and the result is that there isn’t really a main character and none of it hangs together. Add in the fact that Peter Dinklage doesn’t really make a convincing main villain and a surprising lack of action in the middle third of the film and you start to have real problems. But the worst thing about it is how dumb the characters act. In First Class and even the original trilogy Magneto was a brilliant character because all his nastiness was totally justified and even understandable, to the point that you’re almost rooting for him. Here, as soon as he gets let out he just starts being a dick for no reason at all, wrecking stuff and generally floating around being a tool for the fun of it. Dude, did we not make it clear enough that you’re supposed to be saving the entire planet from certain death? Stop pissing about!
Part of why this thing is such a mess is that Bryan Singer is trying to reconcile the First Class universe with his own from the original trilogy. In the process he’s succeeded in reminding me of all the flaws those films had: supporting characters who get no dialogue at all, ridiculous plot contrivances and a whole lot of Wolverine being angsty. Trying to unravel he mess of continuity from all SIX preceding films in the series is kinda like unravelling a ball of live cobras with your head, and Days of Future Past gets its face well and truly bitten off, to the point where the closing scenes pass in a blur of WTF rather than being the emotion climax they were supposed to be. Time travel is always going to make your plot and continuity lines a little hard to follow but it doesn’t have to be this contrived. The whole thing reeks of having been edited and chopped to pieces in an attempt to make a cohesive film- apparently Rogue and other characters had major parts that got reduced to essentially background noise in the final cut. Camoes from original trilogy characters which were presumably intended to be fun throwbacks instead got me thinking that maybe those films weren’t really as good as I remember them being. They were good for their time, sure, but superhero films have come a long way since 2003 and Singer apparently hasn’t.
It’s not all bad. The acting is still phenomenal- James McAvoy as young Xavier had me welling up on several occasions (his whole arc is one of the best things about the film) and everyone else brought their A-game too. The action in the future is a real sight to behold and the future meets past thing allows for some pretty cool moments- Wolverine meeting young Magneto, old and young Xavier connecting telepathically and a few other scenes show how many cool possibilities this premise allows. I guess for the first hour and the final 20 mins I was pretty gripped, but in between there were too many unanswerable questions and not enough to distract from them. Heck, if you’re even thinking about plot holes it means that you aren’t engaged with what’s happening on screen, and that’s never good. I really, really loved First Class and no one is more disappointed than me to tell you that Days of Future Past is passable at best. A sequel has already been announced but I’m no longer gonna be waiting with baited breath. Maybe the only people who know how to make good Marvel films are Marvel themselves. Who would’ve thought.