The reasons for this are varied. Primarily the issue is that none of these X-Men films have really ever deserved to be memorable, they've always been Fox's "good enough" franchise to do what all movies should do, make money and entertain audiences. There have been the missteps**, such as "X-Men" and the appallingly bad "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" - which has been made 100% non-canon by this production, thankfully. "Good enough" and "that will do" is the main artistic driver of this franchise, which is not the attitude which will bring you classics. The real issue, I think, is that whatever charm the comic version of the X-Men have, it is not making its way onto the big screen. There's this utterly shameless pulpy fun feel to the comics, which the films are far too self-conscious to follow up on. There's just not enough color here, in any of them (besides notably "First Class") to actually reach the point of tasty fattening cheese which comic book fans have enjoyed for decades.
I cannot say "X-Men: Days of Future Past" completely solves that tone problem. However, it is very good, in fact, it may be the best X-Men film of them all. On the surface, the plot of the movie seems like a typically comic book-y storyline: to use a form of narrative nonsense (in this case, time travel) to retcon and re-order the universe to undo the various mistakes and mulligan's Fox's incredibly messy X-Men series has piled up. The movie has no purpose really other than to put pieces back on the board that were sacrificed too early. (Read: no more "X-Men 3".) However, it manages to pull off that completely cynical space-filling movie and turn into an extremely high-quality experience. It is a direct sequel to "X-Men: First Class", meaning the fantastic performances of Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy can be combined with Hugh Jackman's Wolverine and their future counterparts, Sirs Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, making "Future Past" a kind of 'greatest hits' of X-Men actors. You have solid emotional drama as the great patriarchs of the X-Men universe undergo a difficult emotional adolescence... while of course fighting evil government robots on wacky sets. For the third time in a month, I have been completely wrong, and I could not be more glad for it, "X-Men: Days of Back to the Future Past" is a wonderful movie, celebrating all fifteen years of X-Men lore while doing a fine job sorting out and removing its worst parts.
In the near future, Magneto's darkest fears have come true. The humans, striking back against the Mutant threat, have created an invincible weapon to hunt down and destroy all of their superheroic brethren, turning the world into a dark future of desolate cities and death camps, far greater than the Holocaust Magneto survived as a child. Most of the mutant population has been wiped out, leaving only a small collection of old faces and various new comic books cameos jammed into the plot for fanservice reasons to try one final gambit to save the world. Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) has - using some sort of magical comic book logic - gained the ability to send people's consciousness back in time. Fortunately, only Wolverine, the most marketable of all Mutants, can be sent back to 1973 to make right what went wrong and play Kyle Reese. So while the Future heroes fight off waves and waves of these robots, known as Sentinels, Wolverine must unite the then-mortal enemies, the young versions of Professor X and Magneto (Fassbender and McAvoy) and have them work together to save the world.
|There's a fantastic fitness program in the Terminator Future, I see.|
It does really make for an interesting dynamic where the ultimate villain of the movie: the Sentinels, are completely indestructible and unbeatable, as an early scene where they butcher their way through a collection of powerful Mutants shows. The real tension comes down to not some grand action showcase - though there are plenty to be found here - but the morality of the main characters and their decisions. When faced with the knowledge of their future, the characters react in ways that would befit what we've known of them for these past fifteen years. Professor X has to face his own weaknesses and fears in order to become the leader that will create a positive future for the X-Men. Magneto takes this knowledge and goes straight for the cold solutions, first to kill Mystique because of the threat she represents, and when that fails, to launch a beautiful attack upon the US government to start the Mutant-Human war on his terms, and those terms involve throwing a baseball stadium at the White House. And Wolverine, thanks to Bryan Singer finally using him properly, has a limited supporting role as generally a mentor or sarcastic quip guy. The acting is solid across the board so everything works here.
|Jennifer Lawrence makes one man's dreams come true.|
It the newcomers and cameos who create the most spectacular action moments for the most part. In the future, there is one Mutant, Blink (Chinese superstar, Fan Bingbing***), who has an incredibly cool power to throw around portals in the air to deflect away villainous attacks or move her allies. In the Past, the main new addition is a Mutant, Quicksilver**** (Evan Peters), whose powers are essentially the same as DC's The Flash, he can run insanely fast. Quicksilver has a small role the film, basically just obliterating everything with a great old rock soundtrack and a very comical use of bullet time, and then goes home once he's done his job dazzling the audience in the greatest effects showpiece of the movie. Also, the Sentinels themselves, especially the lizard-like future versions, make for terrifying foes, far scarier than the goofy purple giants of the comic books and 90s cartoons. Even better, since the Future Sentinels actions can be easily overwritten by Time Magic, they are able to kill with impunity, so they can slaughter Mutants to keep up the dark mood without narrative consequence. It helps add to the desperate tone of the film, as little hyjinks in the Seventies are contrasted with characters being devoured by soulless monsters in the Future.
|Yeah... that isn't going to work...|
PS: Magneto was, is, and always will be right about everything. Magneto 2016.
* Which for some stupid reason is officially named "X2". Just "X2". Not "X-Men 2" or "X-Men United" as it was often advertised as, but "X2". So what the heck does that mean? It's a sequel to Rodger Corman's surprisingly inspired 1963 B-science fiction film "X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes"? Because that would be awesome.
** Is it even worth mentioning "The Wolverine"? Does anybody remember that movie?
*** Last year Fan Bingbing was added specifically for the Chinese release of "Iron Man 3". In a case of history reversing itself, she was Raymond Burr-ed into the movie with special scenes filmed only for the PRC release of "Iron Man 3" - scenes we in the US never got to see. Because those extra scenes amounted to maybe five minutes, the entire thing was really just false advertising to get some Asian faces into the Chinese trailer. Despite Ms. Bingbing being the marketable star Disney was using, she received exactly one scene where she plays a nurse, removed from the International cut because it added nothing. Chinese viewers were not pleased by this pointless pandering, and the entire thing might have been an overreaction from Disney to compensate for Tony Stark fighting a villain called "the Mandarin".
**** Okay, was that last annotation complicated enough for you? This will beat it. Quicksilver, thanks to all kinds of ludicrous licensing issues, is now appearing in both Fox's X-Men franchise and in Disney's Marvel Cinematic Universe. However, because the two companies cannot agree on anything and refuse to share continuity - I have no idea how the X-Men would even work in the regular Marvel universe anyway but that is another discussion for another time - this means there are two separate versions of Quicksilver being played by two different actors. Quicksilver A is played by Evan Peters in this, and Quicksilver B is played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who you may remember as the Boring White Guy from last week's "Godzilla". But I assume the Disney version will just be a superhero and they will not be able to use the M-word. Marvel fans were of course pissed about this and were shitting all over "X-Men: Days of Presente Progressivo" because it represented a threat to their beloved Marvel Universe films. Fans, no matter what the medium, are horrible bitches at heart. Unfortunately, Evan Peters killed it in this movie, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson by all appearances has no personality of any kind, so Disney might just lose the Quicksilver Wars.
Meanwhile I had never heard of this guy until just a few weeks ago. Who cares?