Tuesday, July 01, 2014

OVP: X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

Film: X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
Stars: Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry, Nicholas Hoult, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Peter Dinklage, Evan Peters
Director: Bryan Singer
Oscar History: 1 nomination (Best Visual Effects)
Snap Judgment Ranking: 2/5 stars

I have never been a big fan of the X-Men movie franchise.  There, I said it, and I stand by it.  I’m not sure why this is, particularly since I’m not averse to comic book movies (I particularly liked the Nolan Batman franchise and The Avengers films), but the X-Men movies may hit too close to home.  My brother, mom, and I would read Marvel comics all the time when we were kids.  We would go to the local Pamida (I swear, I’m not that old…I just grew up in a very small, old-fashioned town) and my brother and I would twirl the two comic book stands, pouring over every issue, wondering which one we’d spend our allowance on (again, I was born in the 1980’s-not that old).  Almost without fail one of us would buy one of the X-Men series and check-in on Cyclops, Jean Grey, and the gang.

The problem for me with the X-Men franchise has been both that it plays fast and loose with the chronology of the comic books (this is the ultimate nerd gripe, and one with little merit, and one that I truly hate, but one that I’m man enough to admit sways my opinion), but also because everything onscreen feels so lifeless.  For every inspired piece of casting (Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, Michael Fassbender as Magneto), there’s an equally lazy piece of casting (Halle Berry as Storm, James Marsden as Cyclops, and (not to earn enemies here) Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique).  The films also seem to obsess too frequently on one central character (in the original films this would be Jackman’s Wolverine, in the latter franchise it appears to be Lawrence’s Mystique and the Professor X/Magneto relationship) while teasing us with dozens of great characters from the series that appear as nothing more than props (Bishop, anyone?).

(Spoilers Ahead) That being said, I did go into this particular installment with a thrill, as Days of Future Past is easily my favorite of all of the X-Men stories.  I loved the way that it put the focus on a few characters that never get any sort of limelight (particularly Kitty Pryde, one of the best characters in the X-Men, who becomes the hero of the story even though she’s one of the most junior members of the X-Men at the time), and keeps the amount of characters to a relative minimum, with a ticking clock toward doom.  It’s a great dystopian plotline, and I remember wearing this comic book novel OUT as a child.

Of course, I knew I was in trouble when the directors didn’t have enough confidence in the story to put Ellen Page, Oscar-nominee and total badass, at the center of the film but instead shifted that over to the stalwart Hugh Jackman.  I truly hate when people complain about the source material being amended or upended for the screen, but I feel like this greatly limited the story and once again put Wolverine, whose story has been played out over these many, many films, at the center of the movie.  As a result, we see most of the next few scenes through his eyes instead of Shadowcat’s, and we get a similar perspective of him and his constant narcissistic attitude, rather than someone who could perhaps give us a smarter and more forward-thinking reaction to this “new” old world.

However, comic book nerds can’t have everything they want, and in some cases, they get something they didn’t know they want, and it’s completely fair to say that the film peaks in the first half hour or so of the film with the introduction of Quicksilver (Evan Peters of American Horror Story fame).  Quicksilver in the comic books is a very serious, driven and morally conflicted character who is the son of Magneto, whereas here he is a stoner loser kid who spends his day pulling pranks and eating junk food (there is a joke about his lineage, though unless you’re a complete comic book nerd it sailed right over your head).  I loved every second of Peters’ ridiculousness, as it was great comic foil for a film that desperately needed it, and because it allowed Professor X, the Beast, and Wolverine to have an eye-rolling common frenemy.  Plus, Peters is so damn delightful as Quicksilver (Aaron Johnson has a tall order for when he appears as the same character coming up), it’s hard not to smile and wish the entire film was really about him.

Alas, it is not, and the film continues toward familiar treads (Mystique is moral, then she’s not…Magneto is moral, then he’s not…Wolverine is quick-tempered, then he’s not…Professor X is short-sighted, then he’s not…and this is really all the characters we have time for despite casting nearly a dozen other big-name actors in these parts).  The films never realize their full potential because they’re too focused on spoon-feeding us more of what we already know.  I get that Lawrence and Jackman are the biggest names in the films, but what made the X-Men so fun and original is that you saw combinations of different mutants each week fighting together, and that the focus, like a television show, would shift from one main character to the next.  Here that’s simply not the case, and as a result you see some of the character and actor flaws on-display (Jackman’s Wolverine, for example, becomes boring to watch all the time since he essentially is immortal).  This wouldn’t be a problem if this were just one film, but it’s not-it’s a multi-film, major motion picture franchise, and it’s one that keeps rehashing and retelling without a true story arc to connect it.  Even The Avengers gets this, giving us different flirtations with Captain America, Thor, and the Hulk in one-off films instead of just spending all of their time with Iron Man.  Until the creators of X-Men understand this, they’re going to just be telling middling versions of truly great comic books.

Those are my thoughts-what are yours?  Do you agree that Peters is best-in-show?  If you do agree with me, which character would you like to be central to the next film?  And what X-Men are you holding out hopes to be in the next movie (Gambit and Jubilee spring to mind for myself)?  Share in the comments!

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