As any X-Men fan will tell you, the X-Men movie franchise has been a mixed bag. X2 is the clear greatest, while the least of these might be Last Stand or X-Men Origins: Wolverine. We haven’t yet seen The Wolverine (aka Wolverine 2), so we cannot say where it might fall. The most recent, X-Men: Days of Future Past, does an admirable job of connecting the different story- and timelines while also validating some films and negating others.
For starters, the film validates the 1963-set film, First Class, by centering the story around the character growth of young Professor X, Magneto, and Mystique. In fact, with the exception of Wolverine, the contemporary versions of these characters play a minor role. So even though Bryan Singer originated those on-screen likenesses in the first X-Men film, he embraces the vision Matthew Vaughn provided with James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, and Jennifer Lawrence. Focusing especially on Lawrence is a strong box-office choice, since her popularity is sky high. She holds her own, but she doesn’t own the film. McAvoy and Fassbender outpace her acting, or maybe they just have more emoting and fewer spiral kicks to do, benefits of their particular mind-based superpowers (it’s all in the face).
The ending, wherein the events of all the X-Men movies except for First Class and the 1973 parts of Days of Future Past get negated, is an easy way to bypass the mess that was Last Stand and get back all of the characters that were killed off in it. And I was legitimately shocked by the reveal that Mystique, masking herself as William Stryker, rescues Wolverine from the bottom of the ocean–What will that mean for Logan’s development into the new future’s Wolverine? WHAT WILL IT MEAN?!
For a great write up on the timeline of the film and implications thereof, check out this EW article.
The best part of the film was easily the scene where Quicksilver saves the Magneto/Xavier conflict from tanking their escape from the Pentagon prison. The combination of the super pretty high-speed photography and Quicksilver’s blase playfulness made it the kind of fun with superpowers we all fantasize about. You can keep your flying and super strength–this portrayal solidified my desire to have super speed if ever given the opportunity. Of course, it also begged the question of why they didn’t enlist Quicksilver’s help with the rest of the mission, especially since speed was of the essence; but the answer is clear–the movie would have had no conflict since Quicksilver so easily mooted the argument between X and Magneto.
Furthermore, there was a bunch of brouhaha regarding the look of Quicksilver. I wondered why they had gotten this nobody (I don’t watch American Horror Story). But one wee scene between Magneto and Quicksilver in an elevator wherein Quicksilver drops a tidbit about his mom once knowing a guy who could control metal, and my little brain very quickly compared those two actors’ faces and came up with a match. Nice casting, Singer!
I’m gonna go for the No-Prize. Peter didn’t have a passport!
Among the most bizarre responses to this film have been those shouting out and about perceived inconsistencies within the film itself, among the Fox X-films, and even the greater intertext of all Marvel film and comic representations. From the distinguished grey stripes in Logan’s hair to, well, you know what, nevermind. That’s a great example. Wolverine’s hair is greying in the future so that the average child, grandparent, or individual reluctantly tugged into the theater by a starry eyed fan can easily distinguish between time periods. I could go on, but I want to get back to…
Quicksilver!!1! The scene Erin mentioned is the best action sequence in the film. In fact, it’s probably the best action sequence in every Marvel movie ever. I’ve been struggling with that, ‘cause the introduction of Nightcrawler in X2 still makes me a little weepy. But it’s the truth. The scene showcases some of the best effects the film has to offer. It shows off what superspeed might mean in both new and familiar ways. It puts the personality of the character on display. Significantly, though, it’s character building. Evan Peters does some subtle work and the beginning and end of the scene that develops empathy for and maybe even identification with the character.
That’s huge for nerds. Frink types can find themselves wondering why Mutant X didn’t perform action Y. With Quicksilver, in a few minutes, the viewer understands. It’s neat.
The other standout is, as everyone’s saying, Mystique. Academy Award winner Jennifer Lawrence is excellent while she’s on screen. But the performance is distributed. Mystique’s shapeshifting abilities mean that much of her role is performed by other actors, and several of them deliver incredible scenes. The stunt double deserves quite a bit of credit as well.
But how is it? It’s good enough. The Jeffrey Albertsons of the world wouldn’t be up in arms if there weren’t ill fitting pieces here and there, but the movie largely overcomes them. It accomplishes the task of unifying the franchise and showing the way forward. That’s what a good continuity reboot does.
It’s engaging throughout. The performers revel in their roles. The effects are solid. Viewers and reviewers want to know more. What happens next? What does the end mean?
Incidentally, I have absolutely no confidence that we’ll find out. Recent screen adaptations tend to end with the promise of Apocalypse and then disappear. Expect creative differences, multiple directors, or actors backing out to sink the third installment. I’m cool with being wrong about that, though.
addendum 1: Check out Emily Asher-Perrin’s spoilery review, “X-Men: Days of Future Past Saves Mutantkind by Teaching Professor X to Respect Women“, exploring exactly how the events of the film actually create the possibility of a different future. It was posted on Tor.com after we’d written ours and it’s worth a read rather than a clumsy summary.
addendum 2: While I firmly believe that there are times when some explanation can be worse than no explanation at all – Bobby Ewing, midichlorians – there is one unforgivable error. Pong paddles are shown to move at literally impossible speeds. It doesn’t matter how fast the player is if the hardware can’t keep up. Where is the outrage?