X-Men: Days of Future Past is a good movie. Not a great movie. Not an astounding movie. Not even all that great as a superhero film, but it has its moments. It hits its stride more often than not, and what few flaws it have are small and easy to ignore. Strictly speaking, there’s no reason for this film to exist other than as an excuse to create a film featuring the old and new cast of X-Men and to erase (or retcon) some of the missteps of the X-Men films in the past. It is an inoffensive, above average entry in the series.
I should take a moment to acknowledge my own biases here.
I don’t care for most time travel stories. Time travel stories allow uninspired writers to create false drama by doing things they can easily reverse. I don’t care if people die in the future if the entire crux of the story is that they WON’T die in the future once the story is resolved. Days relies on this empty dramatic turn twice. Yes, we are treated to the sentinels of the future killing the mutants of the future not just once, but two times. Both times treat it as this supremely dramatic moment, but considering we already know this isn’t the future we’re going to end up with, it’s all marking time until the conclusion comes along and fixes everything.
Colossus is terrible in this movie. Just terrible. While nearly all the future X-Men are pretty bad at their job, Colossus is especially rotten. He spends the whole movie getting his ass kicked the most on a team of characters that’s whole story purpose is to get their ass kicked. Also, Bishop remains one of the dumbest heroes in the X-Men continuity, and this film does nothing to redeem him. Just a stupid n0n-character with a silly non-power who serves absolutely no purpose.
The exception is Blink. I don’t know anything about her, but damned if the movie doesn’t make her powers to create warps in space as just plain awesome. She’s the only character who exhibits any creativity in the use of her powers, and she’s honestly the only one of these future characters I ended up caring about because of it. Yes, I know the rest of these characters from previous films and from their original comics, but in the context of this film, they’re nothing more than fodder.
The future elements are definitely the most disappointing. I don’t expect the X-Men to be able to fight off the sentinels because the entire premise of the film is that they’ve lost this war in the future, but it would’ve been cool to see the X-Men exhibit finely honed teamwork, to almost appear as if they might win, only to have the sentinels rally and claim victory. None of the future stuff really matters, but if we’re going to spend time there, we could get some thrilling action. Instead, we mostly watch X-Men get their butts handed to them by killer robots, and I never go the impression the robots were that tough so much as the X-Men hadn’t mastered the art of tactics. How much cooler would the battle have been if Sunspot burns a sentinel, so the sentinel freezes itself as protection, and then Colossus shatters it with a mighty punch? A few more minutes devoted to making the future fights more interesting would’ve been nice.
Then again, none of this future stuff really matters. If exists mostly to give Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan something to do. I might argue that this doesn’t add much to the film, but for a lot of the audience, it wouldn’t be an X-Men film without these two actors in it. It serves its purpose, and it’s only when it acts as if there is any reason at all to be invested in what happens in the future that I zoned out in the movie. But for a lot of people, it’ll probably be a highlight.
Once the movie is in the 70’s, things get more interesting. Just like in First Class, the setting is the most interesting thing going on here, and it’s refreshing to see a film embrace a retro aesthetic. Seeing Beast in a leisure suit is almost worth the price of admission alone. Unlike First Class, Days didn’t make me feel like Magneto was completely right, but it didn’t convince me he was wrong either. As I noted in my review of First Class, one of the reasons I dislike that movie so much is that it actually convinced me genocide is a reasonable solution to conflict resolution and that Professor X and the X-Men are naive at best and dangerously delusional at worst. Days doesn’t convince me otherwise, but it does at least have some ambiguity.
The highlight of the film is, hands down, the character of Quicksilver. I’m surprised at this as much as anyone, but it makes sense. He’s the only character here having any fun, and his power of superspeed is definitely the best power to have. Superspeed has always been a tricky power. It works well in comic books because the medium of static art gives the writer some leeway. Here, on film, it becomes the ultimate problem solver. When Quicksilver single-handedly saves everyone’s lives while disabling a room full of guards, all without breaking a sweat, it looks amazing, but it does show how powerful a character like Quicksilver would be.
Because the film makes Quicksilver so effective, its only solution to keeping him from solving every difficulty the X-Men face is to simply have him NOT come along. There’s no story or character justification for it. The writers might as well appear on the screen, shrug, and say, “We made him too awesome, folks. Sorry” and then sweep him backstage so that he won’t remove all conflict for the story. It’s a quibble, but a reason would’ve been nice.
Another quibble I’ve had with the X-men films from the start is the idea that Mystique is some sort of super badass fighter. Mystique works best as an infiltrator and assassin, who leaves the fighting to other characters. She’s a spy, not a commando. I’m also not a fan (ever) of killing off characters off screen between films. I didn’t care much for any of the characters of First Class, but they deserved better than to be tossed aside so casually.
With all that said, you might think I didn’t like Days. It’s true that I didn’t love it, but I enjoyed it enough. There’s some good character work, though I definitely think Magneto is the weak link here. He does whatever the film wants him to do, and his plans are vague. I’m not sure I believe Magneto would be foolish enough to start a war between humans and mutants by assassinating the President on national TV. It’s not impossible to convince me that this is entirely Magneto’s intent, to force the issue, but the movie doesn’t take the time to be clear about it. Some might argue that it’s subtle storytelling to leave it up for debate, but I wouldn’t mind some clarity in character and motivation now and then.
I also admit that I’d like to see an X-Men film where the focus wasn’t entirely on the mutants as oppressed minority. I get that this is what the X-Men films are mostly about, but I wouldn’t mind seeing a story where there were other sources of conflict. It seems like these films are in a holding pattern, where, aside from some superficial differences in set design and supporting cast, we’re just running through the same ol’ tale. Fortunately, with a decent script and director, the story still works.
A good film. Not great. But it works.
Now if only Colossus wasn’t always such a wimp.
Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,