Monday, June 10, 2024

Cinemutants - X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

At a time when superhero movies are starting to lose their stranglehold on pop culture, there are really only two options: go back and watch old movies, or kill off an entire cinematic universe in spectacular fashion. This July, Marvel’s taking the latter approach with Deadpool & Wolverine, which seems primed to seal off the 20th Century Fox film universe. And while director Shawn Levy promises, “This movie is built [...] with no obligation to come prepared with prior research,” skipping the research has never really been my strong suit when it comes to franchises. It’s a perfect excuse, then, to go through the last 24 years (and 13 movies) with everyone’s favorite mutants, the X-Men.
This week, from 2014, it’s X-Men: Days of Future Past. Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen) send Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) into the past to save their future from mutant-killing Sentinel robots. In 1973, Wolverine has to bring together a despondent Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and the incarcerated Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) to stop Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from killing Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), the inventor of the Sentinels.

  1. Securing our future. We can argue about whether this is the best X-Men movie (it’s easily top three), but there’s no debating the fact that this is the most X-Men movie. Two casts, parallel timelines, ready-made comics inspiration, and a continuity fix that only muddles the waters even further: Days of Future Past has everything an X-fan could want. While the change-the-past plot was intended to smooth over any errors in the timeline (or, at least, provide a plausible excuse for them), it only exposes the gossamer of the plot to brutal scrutiny. By the end of the film, just how much of the past has Logan undone? (Director Bryan Singer is at least erasing The Last Stand, but there’s a wink toward expunging X-Men Origins: Wolverine, as well.) You might still need a chart to understand how all the films relate to each other, but I’ll argue next week that, as far as time travel and continuity are concerned, Days walked so Deadpool could run.
  2. Infinite outcomes. Along with being the apex X-Men movie, Days of Future Past provides something so unique that only the superhero genre can do. As incredible as Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan were, James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender were equally inspired casting choices. And in virtually any other genre, you’d never have an opportunity to put them on-screen together; imagine a Godfather movie that saw Marlon Brando meet Robert De Niro, or a James Bond movie where Daniel Craig teams up with Pierce Brosnan. Another way Days cues up Deadpool is by implying that both versions exist out there somewhere, simultaneously; future films followed both Professors Xavier, and it’s inconceivable that Deadpool & Wolverine won’t see other iterations (or “variants,” in MCU-speak) of recognizable characters. Let’s hope the new castings are just as good. 
  3. It all starts with her. In the comics, Kitty Pryde is the one traveling back in time to warn the X-Men about averting the future; here, though, it’s got to be Wolverine, both for the practical needs of the plot and for the fact that Hugh Jackman continues to be an audience favorite for his literal embodiment of the character. (The movie finds a creative way to keep Kitty relevant to the plot.) Meanwhile, the target of the future remains unchanged; it’s still Mystique, played by Jennifer Lawrence at the peak of her rising stardom. Two years after her Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook and a year before finishing her tenure in The Hunger Games, Lawrence makes a third-stringer background villain into a compelling and deeply human protagonist. It’s almost hard not to root for her, though Lawrence’s apparent fatigue with the role will become inescapable in the weeks to come. (A third woman, Anna Paquin’s Rogue, becomes an axis point in the “Rogue Cut,” which sees Rogue freed from a mutant prison to help Kitty Pryde save Wolverine.)
  4. In the future, do I make it? It feels like it’s been true for most of these movies, but Days of Future Past really illuminates the paradox of accurately and lovingly bringing characters to life and then giving them absolutely nothing to do. Bishop and Blink, for example, look like they stepped straight out of a comic book, but I’d be darned to tell you why, on the strength of this movie, any fan would care about them. Even Storm suffers from this paradox; as cool as it is to see Halle Berry rocking the closest thing to a mohawk we got from her, Storm’s presence in the film is barely consequential, and the film seems not to have noticed that she is essentially the last surviving faculty member at the Xavier Academy. The X-Men might have the deepest bench in comics, but the movies always seemed to focus on the same dozen or so; next week, we’ll see Deadpool do right by Colossus, who’s had less personality than window dressing in these films.
  5. Is the future truly set? Superhero storytelling is perpetually stuck in the second act; after you get through the first-act origin tales, most of these stories never truly end. (And when they do, like All-Star Superman or Old Man Logan, they’re in alternate realities.) Days of Future Past eats its cake and has it too by giving Logan a cheery send-off while also holding open the door for more stories in the First Class timeline. (Quite where Logan takes place, we’ll consider in a few weeks.) But it does seem a little suspicious – and possibly even sinister – that Bryan Singer’s happy ending seems to erase/retcon only the movies he didn’t direct. Of the beleaguered director’s many sins, this is far from the worst, but this film does seem to promise a new golden age that, more or less, never came to pass. Did the film that was meant to fix the franchise actually break it? The best films to come are the ones that play fastest and loosest with continuity...
Sound off in the comments, true believers: where does Days of Future Past sit in your estimations, and was it really ten years ago already? Up next, second chances all around when Ryan Reynolds gets another shot at the Merc with a Mouth in Deadpool.

No comments: