Hammering Out... is a series of movie reviews featuring a lively he said/she said discussion between John and Julie. This week: X-Men: Days of Future Past.
JOHN: With Days of Future Past, 20th Century Fox is making a clear, calculated bid for Avengers-style grosses at the worldwide box office. The last X-Men installment, First Class, was well-received by critics and audiences (including yours truly) but didn't make all that much money, relatively speaking. Now, we've got the old cast (Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry and more) paired with the younger cast (James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, and Jennifer Lawrence) for what, on paper at least, is the ultimate X-Men movie. It's even got Bryan Singer back directing, and he hasn't directed an X-Men film since 2003's X2. So, like Babe Ruth pointing to the fences, Singer and Fox are aiming for a home run, but did they hit one?
In a word, no, but let me explain [Ed. note: That's five words.]. Days of Future Past is good, heck, really good in parts. Simon Kinberg's script easily could have become a convoluted mess, juggling WAY too many characters and giving short shrift to all of them. But it never falls victim to that. It is cleanly written, simplified for maximum audience understanding, and surprisingly small-scale. The story starts out in the future where adaptive killer robots called Sentinels are wiping out all mutants (and many humans too). Professor X (Stewart) and Magneto (McKellen) team up and task Wolverine to send his future conscious back to his 1973 self and work with their younger selves (McAvoy and Fassbender, respectively) to stop Mystique (Lawrence) from killing Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), the Sentinels' inventor, and thereby save the future.
Sounds epic, right? Not really. The old cast is basically stuck in one room, and only appear at the beginning and end. Most of the movie plays like a sequel to First Class, only this time with more Wolverine. Because every X-Men movie must have more Wolverine, or so the thinking goes over at Fox. That's okay by me. I really like McAvoy and Fassbender, and would prefer to see their relationship/rivalry depicted. Jackman has never been more jacked than he is here (punctuated by the gratuitous ass shot), and seems to relish the opportunity to play more of a supporting character rather than the lead. Lawrence also seems more engaged - her Mystique face and body makeup are much better than they were in First Class - and producers have rather obviously given her a bigger role befitting of her current star status in Hollywood.
All the actors are great. We could spend an hour going through each one and their role in the story. But, I'd like to quickly focus on Evan Peters' Quicksilver character. He's a new addition to the franchise, and only has a handful of scenes, but they just so happen to be the best ones in the movie. The showcase scene is a prison break, where Xavier, Wolverine, and Quicksilver try to break Magneto free from his cell 100 feet below the Pentagon. As armed guards fire upon them, Quicksilver races circles around them, gleefully moving the bullets and messing with the guards as everything happens in slow motion. It's a fantastic sequence, and a lot of fun. The movie could have used more moments like it.
This is the seventh X-Men film to be made since 2000, and, having seen them all multiple times, I must admit to a bit of fatigue at this point. The themes and character motivations are largely repetitive. The debate between Magneto and Xavier has played out the same for years now, with Magneto believing, "It's them (humans) or us (mutants)," and Xavier believing, "Can't we all just get along?" There are so many other ideas to mine from this material, so it's a bit frustrating that the filmmakers keep going back to the same well. Singer should know better.
So, yeah, I think I've said enough for now. I'm interested in hearing your take, as a non-X-Men obsessive, but as someone who's seen some of the other movies at least once and has a passing familiarity with these characters. Is Days of Future Past the new Avengers? Or is it just another comic book sequel, albeit it one with a big-ass cast that probably cost a lot of money?
JULIE: Yes, I am the casual X-Men viewer. I've never read the comic books. I've seen each of the other movies only once (though I have no recollection at all of X3, because I think I slept through the entire thing after a big meal at Fat Willy's). I really enjoyed First Class, and appreciated the thought The Powers That Be put into casting the thing. The cast lists of both that movie and this one read like a who's who of young and talented Hollywood (minus January Jones, of course).
That said, yeah, I didn't love this film. I, like you, wanted more from it. And I don't think that necessarily means more spectacle. I wanted more, I don't know, information about what was going on in the future timeline. That whole thing was confusing and a waste of the actors' talents. No one had anything to do. Iceman was basically just there. Fan Bingbing kept throwing portals around and I (remember: lay person) admit that I had trouble grasping what was actually happening with these portals. Everything happening in the future just felt muddled and pointless (especially when you consider how the whole movie eventually ended).
The '70s storyline was better, though, yeah. It's the same thing over and over again, i.e. a Magneto vs. Professor X pissing contest. I did love the Quicksilver stuff, however. I would watch a Quicksilver movie, but it makes me sad that Aaron Taylor-Johnson and not Evan Peters is playing the role in the next Avengers movie. Maybe ATJ can capture the kind of humorous attitude displayed in this film, but I don't know.
But the thing I really want to mention is how annoyed I was at the ending. So, SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER I hated how happy things ended. Seriously SPOILERS STOP READING SPOILERS. OKAY, HAVE IT YOUR WAY. YOU WERE WARNED. The whole time it was happening, I thought it was a Wolverine dream sequence, but it wasn't. It was the actual way the movie ended, where everyone who died is back alive and all is fine at the Professor X Workshop for Young Impressionable Mutants. Things were so good and happy (literally the only "bad" thing was that Cyclops was back and he was still with Jean Grey) that I kept waiting for something to be weird or negative (like, I wanted the big reveal at the end to be that Charles Xavier was not running the school, Magneto was! Dun-dun). It was too much of a retcon. I don't even care how implausible my idea sounds. I feel like the writers should've taken a page from Shonda Rhimes and written themselves into a corner and left it for the next movie to write themselves out.
JOHN: I don't know that all writers should model themselves after Shonda Rhimes. But that's another discussion altogether. You mention "retcon." That is the ultimate word to use here. This whole movie is one big retcon, and a huge "F**k You, Brett Ratner." Ratner, for those who don't know, directed X3, which notably killed off many beloved characters (Cyclops, Jean Grey, Professor X), all of whom are SPOILER back and better than ever by the end of Days of Future Past. There really are no stakes if everybody is just going to live. That's exemplified by not one but two scenes in the beginning and end where at least 5 mutants die at the hands of Sentinels, only to come back to life a few scenes later. Why kill them twice if they're not going to stay dead?! That being said, I actually was very happy to see Cyclops (James Marsden) back. Marsden's acting stature has risen in recent years, and I think he's a genuinely charismatic screen actor. That never really came across in any of the previous X-Men films he was in, so I'd pay good money to see him and Jackman tangle over Famke Janssen again.
That's the thing with Days of Future Past. Fox, Singer, and any of the other filmmakers brought into the X-Men stable can now do whatever they want with the franchise. If they want to focus on McAvoy and Fassbender, they can do that. If they want to stay with the old cast, and give Anna Paquin (as Rogue) more to do, they can do that. If they want to combine the casts for another team-up, they can probably do that. The world is their oyster at this point. It's a clever move, and I just hope that we get some solid stories in future installments, which, as the post-credits sequence portends, will have something to do with the Apocalypse comic book storyline. It's way better than whatever Sony is doing with Spider-Man at this point.
Getting back to some of your points though, I'm not sure I agree that the action in this movie was "muddled." I thought everything made fairly decent sense. Whether all the time travel stuff makes sense in the end (does it ever?) is probably asking to open a can of worms. I also disagree with your comment about the lack of spectacle or whether it was needed. This movie was pitched as pure spectacle, but the action - apart from the prison break sequence - just wasn't up to snuff. Magneto lifts a huge stadium and lets it crash down as cars swerve to avoid it. Mystique gets some cool moves. Those portals are pretty nifty. But, there's nothing here that approaches Avengers-style spectacle, or even Captain America: The Winter Soldier-style spectacle. And, frankly, this movie needed it, especially given the lack of truly-felt stakes in the script.
JULIE: Yes, asking anyone to model s/himself after Shonda Rhimes the writer is a risky little game, but in this case I think she's right. If the producers of X-Men: Days of Future Past want us to get excited about seeing yet another movie, they need to give us something to get all "Oh, shit! How long do I have wait to see how this plays out? I am dying here!" I do not include the post-credits tag in that because who knew what the hell was going on there (remember: lay person). I will hold up another mediocre property as an example: Man of Steel. That movie was shit. But by the end of it, because the final scene gave me that "Oh, shit!" moment, I was already planning to pony up dollars for the next installment. This one? Eh, not as much.
OK, so the time travel. Let's think about it for a second. They changed all this stuff in the 1970s, but the only way the future has been changed is that everyone is alive and happy? I cry bullshit. Where's the Butterfly Effect? Has Ashton Kutcher taught us nothing? I keep thinking of The Simpsons and the time travel toaster episode where, in the end, they all end up perfectly normal except for lizard tongues. That's what I wanted in this movie. Where are my lizard tongues?!?
JOHN: Well, Toad was in this movie, so does that count? I don't have the answers, but there's an awesome (and awesomely long) analysis by Darren Franich over at EW about all of the various timelines and time travel paradoxes. You can read it here. Time to wrap this up. Though I've complained about the movie a lot in this review, I did like it. It's a strong comic book flick. I think it just suffers from inflated expectations. I'll give it 3.5 stars out of 5, and rank it among the X-Men films as follows: (1) X-Men: First Class; (2) X2: X-Men United; (3) X-Men: Days of Future Past; (4) X-Men; (5) The Wolverine; (6) X-Men: The Last Stand; and (7) X-Men Origins: Wolverine. You?
JULIE: Same. I do like to complain and figure out ways to make things better, but that doesn't mean this movie isn't worth your time. In fact, on the scale of Shonda Rhimes characters, ranging from Quinn to Dr. Cristina "Effing" Yang, I give this one a solid David Rosen.
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