It’s that time again, when the latest installment of the X-Men movie franchise, X-Men: Days of Future Past, takes over many of the discussions in my circle of friends for a couple weeks. They’ve ranted and raved about how awesome it was, about how they like this character over that character, or what their favorite moment was, all while shaming me for not having seen the film–until recently. Imagine their disappointment, then, when I came out of the film notably underwhelmed and somewhat disappointed.
In case you’ve been living under a rock, Bryan Singer’s (X-Men, X-Men 2) latest foray into the Marvel universe takes place after the events of, well, the other X-Men movies. The mutants are on the run from nonmetallic robots called Sentinels, designed to locate and kill mutants. Only Wolverine, Magneto, Professor Charles Xavier, and a handful of other characters we haven’t really spent any time with have survived at the film’s beginning. In order to save themselves, one of the mutants (Ellen Page) uses her powers to send Wolverine’s consciousness back in time to try and stop the creator of the Sentinels, Dr. Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) from being murdered by Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence).
In theory, that’s all well and good. When you’re trying to do a large ensemble movie like X-Men and involve that ensemble in plots that mean life or death for them, it’s important to build up an emotional connection for the audience. This never really happened. It’s assumed that you’ve seen all the other movies, and short of that, you at least remembered what happened in them. For me, it’s been a long time. The only character I actually felt myself actively rooting for was Wolverine, and not even until the last five minutes of the film. Sure, I know all the baggage that Wolverine carries with him, but it doesn’t matter so much for this film. Just because it’s a sequel doesn’t excuse the filmmakers from not giving us the experience of knowing our characters. Another big example of this, for me, is that of Trask, our villain. We never really figure out why he hates the mutants so much, and so his entire evil plan of creating the Sentinels is baseless because he feels “threatened” that the mutants will “wipe out humanity.”
I’m sure it’s fleshed out in the comics somewhere, but that doesn’t matter because the film needs to stand on its own two (or more?) feet.
Additionally, you don’t get much into the story of how the war between the Sentinels controlled by the government and the mutants started. As far as I can tell, the whole thing started when Wolverine went back in time and pissed off all the bad guys… but that doesn’t explain why he had to go back in time in the first place. So the mutants are on the run, which is fine, except there’s no context. Incidentally, something else I noticed about this dystopia is that during the beginning of the film, it appears that all the non-mutant humans are in what appear to be oppressive work camps not unlike a Russian gulag. To channel my friend Ron Burgundy for a moment–something must have escalated quickly, and we never learn what.
Finally, the last big issue I had with the film was the wasted of opportunity of a couple big set pieces. If you’re going to have Magneto rip an entire baseball stadium out of the ground and plop it down around the White House, what’s the point of not using it? Sure it serves to isolate the area from the police, but you’re creating an arena and the expectation of a big, physical confrontation, and they don’t deliver on that? I hope I’m not along in being disappointed, there.
It’s clear by the end that this film is meant to provide an entire reboot of the X-Men film franchise, and I’m not totally sure how I feel about that. Recent films have been better than some of the first ones (*cough* Last Stand *cough*), but then again, do we really want to rehash everything again with our cast ten years older? But on the other hand, this film also set up some characters with awesome powers (that girl thinking with portals, anyone?), but failed to mention half of their names or give us any reason to care about them beyond appreciation of their combat prowess.
So I’m torn. On the one hand, I was vastly underwhelmed with the movie itself, thinking there’s some wasted opportunities and feeling a bit bored by the whole thing, but on the other hand, I see potential for where the franchise is headed in the future.
Let’s just not hope it’s not a future past.