Just last year I saw (and reviewed) The Wolverine, an X-Men spin-off focused on everyone’s favorite as he travels to Japan to learn the way of the samurai and die. At least, that’s what I was hoping for. No, the final product is somewhat disappointing. Looking back at my review of it, though, I’m pretty satisfied with what I wrote, especially considering that I saw that movie on a Saturday night and posted the review the next day. Well, this week I’m outdoing myself in exactly the same way that this week’s movie is outdoing The Wolverine: not by much. Ah, that’s not fair. I saw this movie an hour ago. I am outdoing myself.
X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
The Plot: In the near future, a war has begun between humanity and mutants. Unfortunately for the mutants (a.k.a. the protagonists), the war is about to end, and they’re about to go extinct. The last surviving, free mutants, led by Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen), devise a plan to stop the war before it ever happened. Using Shadowcat’s (Ellen Page) powers, they transplant Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) into his younger body in 1973. Wolverine’s mission is to unite a depressed Professor X (James McAvoy), his well-meaning buddy Beast (Nicholas Hoult), and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) in an effort to prevent Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from assassinating Trask (Peter Dinklage), the man who created the monstrous Sentinels that target and eliminate mutants, and whose death sparked the war.
Yay! Time travel. Nothing ever goes wrong with time travel. The plot is somewhat convoluted, and some of you who are unfamiliar with the X-Men franchise may well be questioning who all these characters are and what makes them mutants. I neglected to tell you that Mystique has shape-shifting abilities or that Professor X is psychic, because the film neglects to tell you that. Director Bryan Singer and screenwriter Simon Kinberg operate from the assumption that you, the audience member, already knows everything there is to know about the cinematic universe thus far. You’ve seen all six previous installments released over the last fifteen years, you know all the characters, you know their powers, you know their relationships with one another, and you know their backstories. They don’t spend any time at all establishing characters or conflicts.
Despite this, however, nearly all of the dialogue in the first half hour or so is expository. What are they explaining? The complicated conceit of the immediate plot, which they assume is so intricate that no one could possibly understand it without help. I personally would have preferred if that time and energy were devoted to character development. This isn’t to say that the film is completely devoid of it, but most of the character development takes place for the characters in the past: young Magneto, young Professor X, Mystique, sort of a little bit Beast, and a tiny bit Wolverine. A lot of characters are tossed in as commodities or so you can say, “Oh, I forgot all about Halle Berry.” The characters I mentioned in the plot summary are really the only ones who need to be in the film, but they’re members of an extensive cast that includes about twenty-five recognizable faces. Granted, this includes cameos, but still.
None of us should be surprised by the complete lack of character development. As with most superhero movies, Marvel or otherwise, Days of Future Past boils down to simply being a Big Dumb Action Movie (BDAM). Fortunately, it quickly dispels any expectations you may or may not have had of substance, and once that’s dealt with, it just enjoys itself. It is a BDAM, but it’s a good BDAM. I had a great time watching the movie. For the most part, it knows when to be serious and when to have fun without causing any emotional whiplash. The action sequences are entertaining and pretty well choreographed, the dialogue has the appropriate number of witticisms, and the characters, such as they are, are at least consistent. Off the top of my head, there are no huge, glaring plot holes. And besides, Michael Fassbender is one of the main characters, and by that logic, it can’t be that bad a movie. Right? Ignoring 300, am I right?
The best thing Days of Future Past does, though, even possibly better than just featuring a shirtless Michael Fassbender, which I can get on the Internet whenever I want, is that it retcons the franchise. For those of you not savvy with the lingo, “retcon” is short for “retroactive continuity,” referring to an alteration of previously established franchise reality. They do it in comic books all the time. Days of Future Past has some convenient canonical retroactive continuity revision, which is hard to do without feeling too cheap. Not to spoil too much or give away the ending, but Wolverine’s mission (whether or not it succeeds, I’ll never tell) carefully undoes the travesties of X-Men: The Last Stand, the third installment in the franchise. Yes, it took them four more movies, but someone finally repaired the damage committed by Brett Ratner. You may well be a dirty criminal who can’t let go of The Usual Suspects, but thank you anyway, Bryan Singer, for undoing The Last Stand.
Much like its Hugh Jackman, the X-Men franchise will never die. As long as the movies keep making money, the studios will keep making them. It’s the circle of life, or something. I’ve resigned to the fact that none of them will ever be cinematic masterpieces, but if they’re all as unabashedly entertaining as Days of Future Past, I’m happy for them to keep existing. Besides, Channing Tatum was just cast as Gambit for the next one, so what’s not to be excited about?