X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST
Release Date: 22nd May 2014 (Ireland)
Running Length: 131 minutes
Cast: Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence
Directed by: Bryan Singer
Story by: Simon Kinberg, Matthew Vaughn, Jane Goldman
Cinematography: Newton Thomas Sigel
Studio: 20th Century Fox
The narrative’s entire premise is dependent on trying to get something not to happen. Unfortunately, that’s not very interesting for the audience.
Even before X-Men: Days of Future Past gets bogged down in plot devices involving time travel and alternate future timelines, Bryan Singer’s movie is a bit of a head-scratcher. Is it a sequel to the 2011 prequel (X-Men: First Class)? Or is it a continuation of the trilogy that Bryan Singer started in 2000 and Brett Ratner killed stone dead in 2006? Singer’s task of cleaning up some of the problematic plot strands created in X-Men: The Last Stand (while keeping what worked in Matthew Vaughn’s prequel) is admirable. Unfortunately the execution is overcooked and underwhelming.
Days of Future Past begins with a vision of a dystopian future of 2023. Mutants and humans alike have been hunted to the brink of extinction by an army of exterminating robots called sentinels. What remains of the X-Men are holed up in the ruins of a Mongolian monastery, and about to be discovered and eradicated by said sentinels. A last-ditch attempt to suspend the inevitable involves sending the mind of Logan (Hugh Jackman) back to 1973, where he must prevent Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from assassinating the inventor of the sentinels, Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), and therefore setting in motion the events which lead to the mutant genocide. For some reason, he must reunite the younger Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) to achieve this. Logan finds Xavier the younger a non-functioning hot mess of drink and drugs, who dismisses his story as “future shite.” The “magic bullet” that killed JFK sees Magneto incarcerated in the depths of the Pentagon. Fassbender’s first portrayal of Magneto was marred by an accent that vacillated wildly between continents. Here, he manages to pick an approximation of Ian McKellen’s plummy thespian cadence and stick with it throughout.
After the unpleasant taste left by Joel Schumacher’s super-mondo-camp-fest, Batman and Robin (1997), Singer’s original X-Men (and its sequel) persuaded the movie-goer that the comic book movie could, when handled right, be taken seriously. His return to the series was seen as a positive development. X-Men (2000) worked because it played to its strengths and hid its weaknesses well. Singer knew what to use from the source material and what to change. Trouble arises when the comic book movie tries to imitate the mode of representation of the comic too closely. Comics and film are two separate entities. One simply cannot get away with reproducing comic dialogue or costume design in live-action film and expect the audience to take it seriously, no matter how loudly the fanbase is begging for it (i.e. Willem Defoe in Spider-Man, or everything that Vinnie Jones wears, says and does in X-Men: The Last Stand).
For the most part, Days of Future Past avoids lapsing into comic dialogue. The problem here is taking the comic aesthetic and applying it to live-action film. In spite of a fourteen year interim, some of the costume and character designs in Days of Future Past are worse than those of the original movie in 2000. Most of the ridiculous characters from First Class are left unused, but unfortunately, a new batch of equally-preposterous mutants has popped up to take their place. The actors portraying minor characters like Toad and Ink appear to have gone nuts with a box of props and water-soluble adhesive. I won’t begin to mention the “future,” when apparently we’ll all be wearing capes, knee-pads and copious amounts of eyeliner. This shoddy character design disrupts the verisimilitude and constantly breaks credibility, making it very difficult to remain invested in the story. Evan Peters’ portrayal of Quicksilver is one of the movie’s high points, but he’s burdened with a costume that looks like it came from an amateur production of Cats. Likewise, Nicholas Hoult is magnificent in the role of Hank “Beast” McCoy, but it’s impossible to take him seriously when he looks like an angry Cookie Monster.
These faults, however, are minimal in comparison to the film’s biggest problem. The narrative’s entire premise (preventing the assassination of Trask) is dependent on trying to get something not to happen. Unfortunately, that’s not very interesting for the audience. Rather than building towards an organic climax, the scattershot ending feels like it’s there simply because it’s expected. The movie has none of the emotional heft of X2: X-Men United. Jackman’s Wolverine has evolved from a loveable anti-hero into an authority figure, and the character has lost much of his charm and appeal in the process. The deus ex machina resolution leaves the future of the franchise in a healthy place, but the clumsy execution is as clichéd as when Pam Ewing woke up in 1986 and found Bobby taking a shower. At this stage, the X-Men series of films and spin-offs has a history almost as convoluted as the comics that spawned them. It might be time to give these characters a rest.