I’m old enough to have read the classic Days Of Future Past storyline when it originally came out in the X-Men comic book back in the 80s. The story, broken down to it’s basic components is rather simple: due to the assassination of Senator Robert Kelly at the hands of a mutant, Trask Industries creates the Sentinels to wipe out mutantkind. The Sentinels go awry and proceed to wipe out both mutants, superhumans, and much of humanity, thus in the future, the X-Men send Kitty Pryde back to the past to prevent the senator’s murder in the hopes of normalizing relations between mutants and humans. After seeing the debacle that was X-Men: The Last Stand in terms of the portrayal of the even more classic Dark Phoenix story arc, I was concerned this would be a debacle as well. Well, I wouldn’t say it was a debacle, because the basic storyline is intact, but it is somewhat of a convoluted hodgepodge of corporate decisions and questionable direction.
Want to ensure you get the most bang for your buck? Then rather than send Kitty Pryde back in time, you send Wolverine back in time. Okay, I can forgive that because, yes, I’d rather see Jackman’s Wolverine anchor the film as opposed to Ellen Page. However, other signs of corporate interference include the introduction of certain characters and the altering of well-known characters. East European Pietro Maximoff, a mutant speedster and highly arrogant adult in the comics, becomes Peter Maximoff, an American emo teen. And his function in the film is nominal, save for a visually interesting set piece which demonstrates how remarkably fast he is (although as a former reader of X-Men and Avengers comic books, I didn’t buy that he is that fast). Kitty Pryde, a mutant who can pass through solid objects, is inexplicably endowed with the ability to send people’s conscious minds into the past. Well, that’s convenient. Especially given that Charles Xavier, a mutant telepath, actually possesses that ability! But I suppose the bean counters saw Patrick Stewart as a bigger bean than Ellen Page, so bada-boom, bada-bing, Stewart keeps his dialogue, Page grimaces in the background. And most egregious, the bean counters couldn’t have a crippled young Xavier, thus the creation of a serum that allows him to walk. Unfortunately, to hide this superficiality, the writers devise the notion that the serum blocks Xavier’s telepathic abilities because he can’t deal with all the voices in his head. Despite the fact this wasn’t a problem for him in any of the previous X-Men installments. And to round it out, the Beast, for reasons I can’t understand, is required to perform a spot on impersonation of the Hulk, similarly limited to growls and roars while in Beast mode. I can only assume the writers found it too much of a challenge to write dialogue for a furry blue guy.
Other issues with this movies I attribute to Bryan Singer. He seems to have difficulty with pacing. And plotting. Events occur and dialogue is spoken that have no consequence or necessity. Was it necessary to insert John F. Kennedy into dialogue in such a preposterous fashion? Did we need the added tension of Kitty being mortally injured in the future? Camera shots are blocked as if to purposefully confuse the audience. Is that actually Xavier or a mental projection of Xavier? Actions and motivations are murky. If Magneto is willing to sacrifice a beloved member of his team to assure that humans don’t embrace the Sentinel program, why is he later so gung-ho to assassinate the president in front of a global audience? Wouldn’t it make more sense for the X-Men to stop the assassin prior to the national event where the assassination is to take place, where cameras from around the world are focused on the terrifying battle and the public couldn’t give a damn if the X-Men were acting out of good intentions? But worse yet, in the climactic scene, certain characters that have been set up to be pivotal to the action are rendered completely feckless. The climax undermines everything that we’ve seen prior. I don’t want to say any more than that so as not to completely spoil the film. But it makes a viewer like me very frustrated in that I maintain this silly notion that a good plot involves A leading to B leading to C and so on.
Having said all that, I recommend this film. I give the filmmakers credit for creating a story that’s massive in scope. I also have to respect the fact that they wanted to erase the slate clean of the past X-Men films, as their attitude towards franchise continuity is decidedly “NFG” (No F–ks Given).* I applaud them for addressing some instances of possible continuity error, however, I had to eventually give up trying to determine where this film resided in the timeline of the X-Men cinematic universe; I believe the past storyline takes place a few years after X-Men: First Class (although many of the young mutants in that film are unaccounted for here) and the future storyline takes place ten years after 2013’s The Wolverine. There is plenty of action and exciting visuals–Magneto uses RFK stadium to entrap the White House. There’s absolutely no reason for it, but it looks amazing. There’s great chemistry between the characters and the acting is top-notch. Michael Fassbender is once again awesome as Magneto; Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy and Patrick Stewart are all great. The future is convincingly dystopian, downright dark. Unfortunately, Halle Berry and Ian McKellen don’t contribute much. But the unlikely casting of Game Of Thrones’ Peter Dinklage is brilliant. His Bolivar Trask, while a character in the comics, replaces the comic’s Robert Kelly. More importantly, is there anything this man can’t do? As much as I want to refrain from commenting on his diminutive stature, I can’t help but point out this guy is the definition of a good actor being able to deliver, no matter the circumstances. Although only 4′ 5″, Dinklage’s presence is one of the most commanding throughout the film. I’m convinced he could play nearly any role. The only criticism I have is that it seems unlikely there’s no mention of Trask’s appearance in terms of genetic anomaly, yet his entire crusade is against people with genetic anomalies.
Is it a bad film? I guess I’d say no. Could it have been better? Absolutely yes. While I enjoyed X-Men: First Class far more, this film is worth seeing. Although unnecessarily confusing and murky at times, it’s worth a second viewing to determine if the confusion is the fault of the film or the fact that I wasn’t paying close enough attention. Actually, during the 9:15 am screening I attended, the film froze in place during one scene and we were informed that it would be fixed quickly. Rather than wait, I took the opportunity to sneak into the 9:45 am showing down the hall, hoping that going back a half-hour into the film, I’d pick up on some of the more confusing plot points. That didn’t help much. So I recommend you go see it and report back to me; you can help clear up the stuff I missed. 3/5 reels
P.S. I should point out that while leaving the theater, I heard another viewer on his cell phone say, “Yeah, it was pretty good…but not as good as Captain America.” Hear, hear.