Bryan Singer’s sprightly Days of Future Past jettisons most of the youngsters from the 2011 reboot in favor of the series’ new leading men, James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender. It’s the right call, but the filmmakers commit one small blunder: They make Wolverine the hero.
It’s a small gripe about an inevitable choice. Hugh Jackman’s a minted and confirmed movie star, and Wolverine (for better or worse) remains the most appealing and durable character to emerge from the overall X-Men franchise, but he’s wasted as a leading man. The gruff but lovable Logan is a foil, not a square-jawed hero.
That said, let’s doff our hats to what is pretty dang impressive popcorn flick. When I heard they were planning to unite both X-Men teams in one adventure, I figured we were in for a top-heavy, lumbering behemoth of a tale. It is kind of a lumbering behemoth, about as wieldy as the baseball stadium Magneto steals for the movie’s climax, but the excellent source material gives the movie focus and balance.
In fact, shame on me for not even knowing that this was taken from one of the most famous storylines in X-Men history, by writer Chris Claremont and artist (and later famous writer) John Byrne. (Put down your pitchforks; I’m reading it now.) It’s an indecently good hook, and one we’ve seen time and again across genre fiction. For me, this most reminded me of the classic episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation “Yesterday’s Enterprise” in its depiction of a war-torn mutant future, but of course it shares some DNA with the likes of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, as well.
The movie was packed with bravura set-pieces, but my favorite — and the favorite of most geeks I’ve spoken with — was the prison break. Our heroes break out perennial mutant overlord and curmudgeon Magneto from an all-concrete facility buried a mile under the Pentagon. Evan Peters, one of American Horror Story’s skilled rep players, gave us a Quicksilver who was part basement-dwelling rocker-wasteoid, part earthbound trickster god. I guess the Pentagon sequence could’ve used a few more details to round out the heist. (What the hell was that thingamajig Beast brought, anyway? A “Dowhateveryouwant-o-meter”?) But the centerpiece of the sequence was the kitchen scene, which had Quicksilver averting a volley of gunshots in slow-motion, all while redirecting punches into guards’ faces, goofing off, and grabbing a snack. Bravo. (I know we’re going to see a different take on this character when Aaron Taylor-Johnson tackles the role in Joss Whedon’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, and I can’t wait. One of the pleasures of live theater that we’re often denied in film is the opportunity to see more than one take on a character.)
I also admired the deep level of humanity at play. I don’t know if McAvoy and Fassbender feel like they’re slumming in a comic-book movie, but they sure as hell don’t look like it. McAvoy’s whole “anti-mutant serum as heroin” storyline felt a little truncated — and I guess it had to be in a movie that featured virtually every character and actor from the previous six movies, as well as some newcomers — but McAvoy played it with commitment and honesty. Ditto for Fassbender, who had to somehow make the thermonuclearly overpowered Magneto seem like an actual person with an actual history. I conferred with my sister, a longtime Marvel comics expert, and she confirmed that “baseball stadium-throwing” would indeed reside outside Magneto’s abilities, at least at this early stage of his career. Regarding Magneto’s stubborn nature, a friend of mine called him “incorrigible.” Hard to argue with that assessment.
If this is essentially going to be Fox’s Avengers franchise, they’re doing a hell of a job with it. I love Marvel Studios’ movies, and I’d love to see a crossover among the franchises, but as long as that’s never, ever going to happen, I’ll be happy to start sitting around for stingers at the end of these movies, too. (I missed the Apocalypse-teasing after-credits scene this time around.)
Odds and ends:
• As much as I enjoyed the performances from McAvoy, Fassbender and Jackman, it’s a bummer that one of the most diverse comics properties has shifted its focus so entirely (and apparently irrevocably) to white men.
• It’s always great to see Peter Dinklage, but I feel like his skills were wasted on a role like Bolivar Trask.
• Good grief, I am so relieved that the ending wasn’t a hallucination Logan was having in the moments before he died. I flashed on the ending of J.C. Chandor’s stellar All is Lost as a drowning Logan flashed forward to an idyllic, amber-toned future where everyone was alive and in love. Thanks for not breaking my poor, little heart, filmmakers.
• I can’t put my finger on why this is, but I feel like we finally got an effective portrayal of Beast this time around.
• Finally, I’m moved to ask if I can ever watch a Bryan Singer movie again, given the allegations against him. I don’t know. I’d be delighted to open a discussion about this topic in the comments.