Friday, June 13, 2014

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) - and Further Discusion

Directed by: Bryan Singer
Runtime: 132 Minutes

I suppose I should start by breaking down the film, but I also added a section to discuss the film a bit more toward the end.

In the past (1970's), Dr. Trask (Peter Dinklage) designed sentinels, which are robots made of a space age polymer that has no metal in it, and yet is extremely tough material.  They are designed to detect mutants and exterminate them.  Mystique was at the forefront of a plan to attack and kill Trask, but in doing so she united humans against mutants.  They proceeded with Trask's research and created the sentinels. They used a blood sample they obtained from Mystique (who's power is to transform herself to appear as anyone).

Somehow, using this blood sample, they are able to implement her changeling power in a way that will allow the sentinels to adapt to any mutant ability, thereby making them near indestructible and extremely intelligent in their method of attacking mutants.

Obviously this doesn't really make sense, because that's not really Mystique's power.  She can change form, not adapt and implement/repel any attack from another mutant.  Speaking of her power, it's a little hard to make sense of. She seems to be able to change form into anyone she's able to see, even if it's only a picture.  Somehow that also means she's able to replicate their voice, seemingly whether she's heard their voice or not.  This changeling power does not seem to be confined to people her own size either.  She is able to reduce her form into that of a shorter person, or grow in size to match a larger person as well.  Suspension of disbelief is one thing, but this is starting to stretch that, even for me.

Either way, the X-men of the future are losing this battle to the sentinels, and the sentinels are now threatening non-mutants as well as mutants.  They decide to use one of the mutant's abilities to send Wolverine back in time to rally the troops and stop the sentinels from being created.  Or, having failed that, stop them before they become too powerful.

Later in the film, Magneto (of the past) is able to take control of the sentinels by somehow putting metal into their bodies.  Don't ask me how this means he's able to control their minds and weapons, but he does.  Also, if he was able to do this in the past, why didn't future Magneto think to do this at some point to resolve the issue without needing to travel back in time.

It may seem like it's going to be a film of cooperation, where all the X-Men reunite and work together to save mutants and humanity alike, but that's not really how it works out.  Eric (Magneto) has his own sort of methods and goals that don't align with Charles' (Professor X).  

So despite Wolverine and Mystique seeming integral to the story, this is Eric against Charles.  They steal the show.  Yet despite this, the best scene doesn't belong to either of them.

Hands down the best scene in the film is the one with Quicksilver, and anyone who's seen the film will know exactly what I'm talking about.  It's a shame they didn't allow the character to play a bigger part.

Nevertheless, Charles is taking drugs and is a bit down in the dumps after losing so much in First Class.  Eric is an angry, vengeful person.  Nevermind that this doesn't particularly match their future personas, but not to worry Charles of the future is able to have a conversation with Charles of the past.

I always cringe a little bit at the scenes where a character needs their future self to come along and encourage them in the right direction (didn't particularly care for it in Star Trek either) in order to facilitate the needed change in the character. That just shouldn't be apart of any character arc. The guy in the future should be a reflection of the character in the past and vice-versa. This is an example of the types of scenes that ruin these time travel films.

The film climbs to a dual climax that sees mutants fighting sentinels in two different time periods, but we know where it's going.  It's painfully obvious that they're going to have the future mutants fail, and the past mutants win and so it won't matter that the ones in the future died.  So instead of upping the ante, the whole thing falls flat.

With Days Of Future Past, Bryan Singer has essentially done away with every X-Men film  that he didn't direct.  He clearly didn't care for them, or for keeping up continuity with even the recent Wolverine film.  In 2013's The Wolverine, Logan's adamantium claws are removed, and yet in the future segments of Days of Future Past, he still has them (with no explanation).

If you're a fan of the X-Men franchise some of these things may bother you too much, or they might be easily looked past because of your love for the characters.  However, as someone who isn't really that into the franchise, a lot of these issues are too much to ignore.  I think First Class was a pretty good film, far better than most of the other X-Men films, but Days of Future Past takes a step back in the wrong direction.

Just for further discussion:
For those who don't know, you might be asking yourself why are there Marvel films and films about Marvel characters, and why don't they interact?  Marvel used to license out their characters to different companies, for example Spiderman was licensed out to Columbia Pictures, and X-Men to 20th Century Fox.  After Disney bought Marvel, Marvel Studios has been trying to reclaim their characters and create a unified universe for their characters and films to inhabit.  Nevertheless, Columbia still owns the rights to Spiderman, and 20th Century Fox still owns the X-Men franchise. That's why even though they are all Marvel characters, not all live within the same film franchise universe.

Having said that, I will say even though I don't particularly like all of the Marvel hero films, I like what they are doing with the Avengers and that unified world they've created.  Their films all seem to have a sense of personality, even though it doesn't always turn out well, at least it has personality.

I've always been a bit bored with the X-Men films.  They are mostly without personality or distinguishing characteristics, and in comparison to other hero films, or even summer action blockbusters (Batman, Star Trek, Godzilla included) the X-Men films feel exceedingly average.

The X-Men franchise was among the first of the super hero craze, but since then we've had so many good (and some not so good) hero films come along.  As the collective quality of these superhero films has increased, the X-Men franchise has become even more average.

With the Avengers, most of the characters have had their own films. We understand the characters and their background. We like the characters. So when we see them together we care if they are in danger, and we don't need tons of time devoted to their background to understand them.

The X-men films have taken the opposite approach. We see them all together at once, and so far only Wolverine has had solo films (and both are pretty bad).  So we have big name actors filling small roles and getting lost in the shuffle.  Most characters, at least in our minds, are reduced to a power that we may or may not even understand.   We are lucky to remember their names let alone who these people are.

Another problem with the franchise at this point is that it can be hard to keep everything straight if you aren't a die-hard X-Men fan.  If you haven't re-watched the other films you might be a little lost on the characters and their motivations.  It's tough to be a filmmaker working on this type of project because you have to appease the longtime fans while giving things a general appeal for a mass audience.  Fans and non-fans need to be able to pick things up and understand, and they need to be careful not to bore longtime fans by retreading familiar territory.

For instance: Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) is a major character who is pretty integral to the film (speaking of Days of Future Past here), but she's not very compelling as a character in this film, and if you don't remember X-men: First Class (which I didn't while watching this film) you don't quite get what's going on with her.

Worse yet for this film, on top of all of that, they've included a time travel element.  Generally speaking these films that try to include time travel usually only serve to confuse and leave the story and characters open to doubt.

It's a confusing timeline to follow especially considering that we've already seen what happens in the years between the future and the past (in X1,2, and 3).  It struck me as odd throughout the entire film that these characters, as early as the 1970's would have been aware of this growing threat, and yet there is no mention of them in the earlier films.  Mystique, of all people, having been involved in the battle against the sentinel program from early on, would not ignore this threat throughout the events of the first 3 X-Men films.

If they wanted to reboot the series they should have done it. They didn't need to try to tie the older films into the newer ones, and end up breaking continuity the whole way.  Especially if they're just going to overwrite so much of what happened in other X-Men films.

Also, this franchise has been beating a dead horse for a long time now.  Their shtick has been racism against mutants.  They are constantly fighting to be accepted in society.  While that's a noble goal or aspect of their films, it's been at the center of the story for 5 films now.  They need to move on.  In the same Marvel universe that loves and accepts the Avengers as heroes and celebrities, it's strange that the general population living in that same world would reject mutants as undesirables.

It isn't as though X-Men films can't be good.  Perhaps it would help if they did some more solo films devoted to individual characters, but the problem as of now is that, with the exception of a couple of characters, the films are populated by random characters we don't know or care about.