Fans of the X-Men movie franchise have to be some of the most patient people on the planet. Oh, it all started out great (early 2000s implication that full body leather was the best way to do a superhero costume aside) but then things started to get dodgy when the films went from delightful superhero romps to big whalloping knees to the groin. But like a Stockholm Syndrome sufferer, or a Sonic fan (same thing, really) we stuck it out in the hopes that someday, somehow, the pain would end. Well, put away your soothing salves and hot compresses, because someone’s finally made a good X-Men movie again. The same someone who made the only two other good ones, Bryan Singer, in a move that frankly makes me wonder if the whole thing wasn’t some New Coke-esque ploy to make us love him even more.
The new movie, X-Men: Days of Future Past starts off a bit Terminator Salvation-y in a dystopian future where mutants and mutant sympathizers are hunted down and exterminated by giant shape shifting robots called Sentinels. The only hope for mutant kind is to use Kitty Pride’s power to send someone’s mind back in time and send Wolverine into his 1970s body to convince Mystique to not kill the architect of the Sentinels, which would have kicked the whole thing off. To do this, he enlists the help of Professor Xavier, who has long since turned his back on his powers and resigned himself to looking like a roadie for the Grateful Dead, and Magneto, who’s in jail for supposedly killing JFK; because sure, why not.
Visually, Days of Future Past is undoubtedly the strongest movie in the entire X-Men franchise, and without the impressive and imaginative fight sequences, I’d probably be burying in the same hole I chucked X-Men: First Class. Bryan Singer knows how to create interesting and fun visuals and action sequences, and does some of his best work here. You may have already heard a significant amount of buzz about Quicksilver, one of the new characters introduced in the movie (the one who’ll also be in Avengers: Age of Ultron but not really, but sorta, don’t think too hard about it) and his big scene is probably going to be the highlight of the movie for a lot of people.
Although really, any time he’s on screen, the movie couldn’t be more fun if you had your pants off. Evan Peters does more to bring personality and charm to the role than most of his cast-mates, and that includes Peter Dinklage, who like most of the supporting cast gets very little character to work with.
So if the visuals are solid, then the movie’s a home run right? Well no, and stop putting words in my mouth. While the fight scenes, effects and overall look of the film get two big thumbs up, the script, without mincing words, is often lazy and undercooked. Numerous plot points, like why Kitty Pride suddenly has time travel powers, and the reasoning behind why it has to be Wolverine who goes back are either never explained or given the most half-hearted explanations possible. I mean come on, Wolverine is the one to go back because his mind has healing powers too? You’re not even trying, movie. The film is so full of unanswered questions and minor plot holes that I can practically hear the “Honest Trailers” and “How it Should have Ended” videos being written as we speak.
But the worst offender for me was a plot point concerning Prof X and Beast, who you may have noticed in the trailers are walking around and looking perfectly human, respectively. When Wolverine meets the two and asks about this, the film breathlessly explains that between First Class and now, Beast developed a serum that fixes Prof X’s spine, but at the cost of his power, and a similar one that makes Beast revert to human form. Now, I’m not gonna harp on comic book science, here. The fact that this doesn’t make sense (which it really, really doesn’t) isn’t what bugs me so much about this plot point. What bugs me is that it never DOESN’T feel like a plot device, a writing shortcut cooked up by a screenwriter to explain why Professor X doesn’t just mind-freeze everyone, why Beast can go outside, and to make Prof X’s character arc (basically him choose to hope again and be Professor X rather than the richest hobo in the land) all the more obvious by having him choose the chair and his powers over legs and no powers.
What would have been wrong with him still being in the chair, but choosing to never use his powers again? Would him overcoming that not be enough of a character arc? Him having to choose the chair feels….obvious. It feels like they’re adding a component to his storyline to make it easier to grasp that the whole thing is about him choosing to be Professor X. That if it’s just him overcoming his personal demons and accepting his role as leader and mentor, we might not pick up on it. So a visual way to represent him making that transition from one state to another was cooked up, and it’s unnecessary. It would have helped if the serum that drives this whole subplot felt at all like an organic or natural part of the world, rather than something dropped in to make it easier on the writers and the audience. It might as well be magic for all the effort they go to making it makes sense in the context of the world.
These gripes aside, Days of Future Past is undoubtedly the best movie in the series since X2. When it works, it works amazingly well, but the often lazy script drags it down like a lead weight. Thankfully the pool’s only a few feet deep, and lifeguards were on hand to save it.