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X-Men: Days of Future Past

Days of Future Past

So many people. Next time give them all something to do

dir: Bryan Singer


Time travel is tricky. I guess it comes down to what your intentions are. I'm not talking about the intentions, good in nature, that the road to hell is paved with. I mean the story-telling purpose, or the creative purpose, or the "let's-make-shitloads-of-money" impulse.

After watching Days of Future Past, it occurs to me that the purpose of this movie, and the desire it represents to change the past in order to alter the present (or future), is really about one thing: Bryan Singer's desire to rewrite history so that X-Men III: The Last Stand never happened.

For some people, including me, it's a perplexing but still appreciable impulse. That third X-Men film, not directed by Singer, was pretty shithouse. It wasn't shithouse because Bryan Singer didn't direct it. It was shithouse because Brett Rattner, who's a barely mediocre director, directed it. Even though it was, as I said, pretty shithouse, it's perversely the most successful of all the X-Men related flicks. So it would seem strange that the studio would give the keys to the franchise to Singer again in order to undo what they themselves allowed to happen in the past.

Let's talk about that for a moment: every time another superhero flick comes out it's an opportunity to express how utterly sick of superhero flicks "we" all are. But we keep watching them, I keep watching them, so why would the gods/clods of the movie studios stop?

The world truly needs no more X-Men flicks, or flicks with Wolverine (give Hugh Jackman a goddamn rest already: let him come off the steroids at least for a while, his old muscles can hardly take the strain any longer). There are so bloody many of them already. They've covered just about every variation of a grumpy Canadian guy who heals superfast and has pointy/shiny things shoot out of his hands that you can come up with. The well is dry, people, let it lie unexploited at least for a while.

But the bucket keeps being lowered into the well. This flick is better than almost all of the other X-Men and X-Men related travesties barring the first two films. It fits snuggly as a sequel to X-2, making it as if all the other films never happened, especially X-3.

And probably plenty of people are happy about that. It's meant to be a kind of sequel to X-Men: First Class really, because most of the story transpires in the "past", being after the events of that flick where mutants either caused or averted the Cuban Missile Crisis, depending on how you look at things.

In this flick, which starts in the "present", a "dark, dystopian" present as if there's any other kind, these evil machines called Sentinels have wiped out most of mutant kind, and are also killing people who don't hate mutants, the way there may be people in Australia who don't actually hate or fear so-called "boat" people, or refugees. The Sentinels do to the mutants and their bleeding-heart sympathisers what the Nazis did to the Jews and everyone else they didn't like: kill them and stack the bodies up. And if you think I'm exaggerating or extending the analogy too far, the imagery is explicitly concentration camp-style footage, or at least supposed to remind us of that.

So, everything's dark, which seems like the one positive aspect to look forward to, but almost all the mutants are dead. Only the most powerful / recognisable are still around, and they hatch a plan to send someone into the past in order to change their present. These supergeniuses come up with a plan to send Wolverine's consciousness into the past, or his "mind" or something, into the Wolverine of the past, so he can assemble the Aveng- I mean, get the mutants of the 1970s together so that they can stop someone from doing something.

What that 'something' is, isn't much of a spoiler, it's just something they talk about endlessly. A really angry blue girl (Jennifer Lawrence) kills an ethics-free scientist called Boliver Trask (Peter Dinklage) in full view of hundreds of people and cameras. This starts off the timeline which eventually results in gigantic Sentinels exterminating everybody. If they can stop her from killing Trask, then, presumably, everything will be okay.

Old Professor Charles Xavier (Jean Luc Pica- I mean Sir Patrick Stewart) and Old Magneto (Sir Ian McKellen) urge Wolvie to seek out young Xavier (James McAvoy) and young Magneto (Michael Fassbender), and convince them of the seriousness of what needs to happen, so that they can avert the ensuing disaster. Young X and Mags, though, have completely different ideas about what's important in the scheme of things.

When Wolvie ends up in the past, it appears that he has 'appeared' on the set of Starsky and Hutch, because when he walks out onto the street, people are dressed like they're doing the high school musical version of pimps and hos. It's hilarious in a I-hope-it-was-intentional way, but it's possible it's just laziness poking through. He goes to find Charles, and finds a washed-up junkie/alcoholic instead, walking around on his legs like he thinks he owns the place.

And Magneto is nowhere to be found, at least, not found easily, since they've put him in the dumbest possible location I could possibly imagine for crimes against humanity or something. Or crimes against history.

Even though it's set in the 1970s, towards the end of the Vietnam War, there is a creepy overreliance on references from the decade before. They explicitly refer to the Kennedy assassination, but they also do a bizarre amount of references to the Zapruder film.

The plot I actually found enjoyable enough, even if I never really understood the importance of the mechanics of it. There are ideas and levels of 'morality' in the flick that I can appreciate (like that certain people shouldn't kill people, but others are welcome to kill as many people as possible as long as it achieves their objectives and that's okay), but they seem a bit clunky in a flick like this in this day and age, regardless of the setting. It builds up to a strong climax, at least as far as Mystique and Charles and Richard Nixon are concerned, but the way they get there is beyond creaky and clunky.

I couldn't help but think that the central problem, despite their continual repetition, that they had to stop Mystique from killing Trask, wasn't the dumb assassination (considering she can appear as anyone anywhere, why not convince her instead to kill him way away from the prying eyes of millions?), it was the fact that they capture her, extract her mutant DNA, and use that to give the Sentinels supermutant abilities. Preventing that surely could have been much easier than the strained alternatives?

Erik/Magneto, when he's eventually rescued, decides to think outside the box and come up with his own solution, but his plan is even dumber than that of the heroes, and ends up causing the instance he's supposed to be trying to stop.

Oh, the irony of temporal mechanics.

The level upon which the story works is that people in the 'present', or at least the versions we're familiar with, behave a certain way because of either the experiences they've had or because they've grown into the people they were always meant to become. Charles as an old guy is overflowing with power, but also with compassion, empathy and a genuine drive to make the world safe for both humans and mutants. Erik (Magneto) in the dystopian "present" has seen his dreams of mutant supremacy evaporate, because everyone's dead, and hopes something can change, but he seems like all he wants to do is lie down and cuddle with Charles, and who could blame him?

But the Magneto of the past is always reliable, in the sense that you can always expect him to do the worst possible thing at the worst possible time in order to fuck things up for everyone.

My biggest problem, and I know how much of a Comic-Book Guy I will sound with this rant, but it affects my enjoyment all the same, with the 3rd film was the scene where Magneto rips up the Golden Gate bridge and basically flies around with it. When I see shit like that, it takes me out of the story and makes me think "I am watching some dumb thing based on comic books that really isn't worth my time, money or intellectual energies".

They did the same thing in First Class, where Erik, in a hovering plane, tries to lift a goddamn submarine out of the fucking ocean. Come on, even in the 1960s they'd heard of Newtonian physics.

At least, I thought, in this flick, there isn't going to be anything like that. In fact, Singer manages to create a scene of a scale of magnitude even possibly dumber than that, when Magneto tears up an entire sports stadium and gets it floating about in the air for no reason I could work out or appreciate.

Stuff like that, it just makes me wonder, well, if you could do that, more than half of the stuff that seems necessary for the protagonists to do in the plot make no sense. If you could lift a stadium weighing millions and millions of tonnes into the air, well, there's nothing you couldn't do. If you can do that, well, why not throw Paris into the sun, or stack a million cars on top of each other to create a staircase to the moon or kill like a million people in a second by getting everyone in a hundred kilometre radius to punch themselves in the throat with the metal in their watchbands etc etc. There are no limits when you chose for there not to be, and then there are limits again when you choose to bound the script down again out of convenience, but it's pure cheesy stupidity to me.

It reminds me all of how silly it all is, even as I am caught up in it, and I was caught up in it, I guess. The scenes where Young Charles and Old Charles somehow speak to each other were remarkably well done, and, as annoying as James MacAvoy can be, his path to becoming a better man was also enjoyable as well. Of course, his storyline could just have easily just been called "Don't Do Needle Drugs, Kids, and Stay in School!", because it was such an after-school special it was comical, but it still gave the story some much needed 'reality'.

Some of the characters get to be at their best, and many seem to be horribly wasted (Blink? Blinked and I missed her, as much of a megastar as Fan Bingbing is meant to be), but overall they do a good enough job, I reckon, in the scheme of things. The best sequence, for my money, had to be the Pentagon break in, and the subsequent shoot-out in the kitchen which showed far more inventiveness and creativity than most of the other action sequences combined, involving as it does a mutant who goes unnamed (at least his mutant name, but has to be Quicksilver (Evan Peters). It also had the only laughs I experienced for its more than two hour duration. He was the only character who seemed like he was having any fun.

Again, in plotting that doesn't make much sense, they don't bring Quicksilver with them for the rest of the flick, where his abilities could have made anything a million times easier for everyone concerned. Considering that everything, including The Future, depended on them fixing things in the past, it doesn't make a whole hell of a lot of sense, just like most of the insanely villainous shit Magneto tries to do, but, hey, if dumb people didn't do dumb things, then they're would be nothing for the rest of us to laugh at.

In the end, seeing with some amount of shock, that everything was meant to be a big "fuck you" to Brett Rattner's third film, by literally erasing everything that happened in it from the timeline, I couldn't help but laugh again, amazed at how far spite can carry you, even in Hollywood films that cost hundreds of millions of dollars to make. They say you should do what you love, but they never tell you that you can do that, and still take it out on those you hate as an added bonus.

I enjoyed it, wouldn't say I love it, in fact wouldn't even say that it's the best superhero flick this year (it might be unpopular to say, but I thought The Winter Soldier was stronger), but it was okay.

Really, though, they're not doing much else than just entertaining us for a while, are they? Maybe that's enough.

7 times Fassbender likes playing evil dudes way too, too much out of 10

“All those years wasted fighting each other Charles...” there’s so much meaning in your words, Magneto, implying all the loving that should have occurred instead… - X-Men: Days of Future Past