Friday 23 May 2014

X-Men - Days Of Future Past

Future, Past Caring

X-Men - Days OF Future Past
2014 USA/UK
Directed by Bryan Singer
Playing at UK cinemas now.

Warning: Big spoilers in this one and I’m not even going to apologise for them... this is no more than this dreadful movie deserves to “call it out” to people.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote that, “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” It’s strange but, I’ve only ever heard that quoted, usually incorrectly (from people who have remembered it wrong), by film-makers trying to defend the outrageous continuity errors evident in their films which their audience has had to point out to them. I have to say that, in terms of the context within which people quote this about their big screen stories, I have to disagree and bring my own inner hobgoblin to the table, in this case.

I believe that a film franchise succeeds or fails on a lot of different factors on a film by film basis but, one of the things which is really important, and which can kill a whole franchise if you let it, is consistency... in this case, the consistency of continuity. And, unfortunately, the X-Men franchise has now, as far as I’m concerned, sacrificed itself for a quick buck on the altar of the hobgoblins who were really only interested in having a good time at the movies but, instead, are forced to hold a mirror up to the movie and say... “Seriously? You think your audience are all this stupid?”

Before I rip into this awful mess properly, I just want you to know how I stand on the previous films in the franchise, so you can see where I’m coming from and judge my thoughts on X-Men: Days Of Future Past (or X-Men: Days Of Screwing The Continuity Even Further While Pretending To Solve It And Hoping Your Audience Doesn’t Think About The Movie For Too Long, as I now call it) so you can either agree or disagree with my thoughts in terms of this movie’s place compared to the others.

X-Men: Bryan Singer’s first movie was pretty much the first movie based on a Marvel comics property that was actually any good. Not just good, pretty damned brilliant, as it happens. It almost made up for not having the proper characters from the 1960s in it and changing the costume design... well... yeah, almost makes up for it. Something to note: Professor X and Magneto built Cerebro together, when they were friends, in this continuity.

X2: X-Men 2: This was at least as good as the first movie. Another brilliant piece of modern fantasy action from Bryan Singer with a strong opening and a strong ending leading into something very dark and with a consistent tone throughout. Basically, an epic feeling movie to set up the Dark Phoenix character arc.

X-Men: The Last Stand: This was awful. Brett Ratner took over the franchise and basically used every great set up from the previous films and managed to make them pretty boring and unwatchable for, pretty much, most of the film. A lot of people haven’t forgiven this movie for being so bad, as far as I can see. Something to note: Young “bald” Professor X and his friend, Young Magneto, go to recruit Jean Grey together. Professor X can both walk and simultaneously use his mutant powers. In this movie, Charles Xavier is killed/disintegrated, although his mind seems to have jumped into a “different” human being... if the post credits sting is anything to go by.

X-Men Origins - Wolverine: A lot of people didn’t dig this movie but I thought it was okay. A lot of fun and very much like an old 1980s or 1990s “straight to video” kind of B Movie.... but with an A Movie budget to play around with. Thought this was much better than the reaction it got. Things to note: Professor X is in this one too, at the end. My review is here.

X-Men: First Class: Absolutely brilliant. Had a lot of continuity errors which could not be explained as a hangover from the previous films but since it was technically a reboot of the franchise, I was happy with this when treated as a stand alone sequence of movies. Things to note: In this timeline, Magneto and Professor X did not build Cerebro. Professor X is crippled by the end of their first big adventure and way after he and Magneto were still friends, confounding the opening of X-Men: The Last Stand totally. My review is here.

The Wolverine: Nice little movie. Not as fun as the last one but different and kinda interesting. Things to note: Wolverine's adamantium claws are severed and are no longer something he has in this “continuity”. Instead, he has reverted back to the bone claws he was born with as a result of the events depicted in this film. Jean Grey haunts his dreams after he killed her in X-Men: The Last Stand. Also, Professor X and Magneto confront Wolverine in an airport in the post credits sting of the movie. Wolverine looks shocked because, obviously, Professor X is dead, isn’t he? At least, his body was destroyed. My review of this one is here.

Okay. Recap over.

So here we have X-Men: Days Of Future Past. And all I wanted from this movie right now is for it to fix all those stupid continuity holes from the clashes between the awful X-Men: The Last Stand and the amazingly cool X-Men: First Class... and in a fairly fun manner, if possible. And, if only the writers would have thought about it a little more, maybe they would even have nailed that because, frankly, while a bit silly, the central premise they use to wipe out the history of the characters in this one really works well... except it fails before they even start using it.

I can see how the idea here was maybe “borrowed” from the rebooted Star Trek films from a couple of years ago. In the first one (reviewed here), the Spock of the regular timeline is catapulted back into his past, which then changes the future of the younger versions of himself and his friends... thus giving the franchise new life to go back to the days of Kirk, Spock and McCoy in their prime for a movie series without having to worry about contradicting anything that came before. Revelling in that, in fact, by having a half remake of Star Trek II - The Wrath Of Khan for their sequel (reviewed here) and totally having their cake and eating it at the same time. And why the older version of Spock didn’t just wink out of existence because his timeline didn’t actually happen anymore, I’ll never know. Oh, yes I do... because they don’t care about the logic at the heart of the theory of time travel. Okay, whatever.

Singer’s approach in X-Men: Days Of Future Past is to have Wolverine’s “mind” sent back to his younger body in 1973 and get him to change the past then, to split everything off into a new timeline which doesn’t result in the death of mutant kind... and you know what? That could have worked out really well, and the film-makers obviously seem to think it did.. or they never would have released this shambles into cinemas in this form. But the thing is, to have someone sent back from the future to change that timeline... you need to have that future actually be a possibility in the first place. That reality has to have existed before you go back and change it... and there’s no way the point in time that Wolverine is sent back from could actually have happened within the continuity of the previous films without a lot of explaining away of certain things... and there’s absolutely no concession to this, nor concession to audience intelligence, in the movie.

It starts off well enough with concentration camp imagery of imprisoned and dead mutants (and potential mutants) and this is, of course, a nice echo of the World War II Nazi concentration camp sequences which open both the original X-Men and X-Men: First Class. So a really nice idea there from the director. Then we have a fairly cool fight which is basically just a set up to explain the major time travel element  in the film. And then we see the last surviving mutants holed up together, awaiting the coming of the deadly Sentinels. Among these mutants are Kitty Pride, Ice Man, Professor X, Magneto, Storm and Wolverine. They are, of course, the X-Men... well... err... X-Men and X-Women... except... woah... hold on a minute... who’s in that line up again?

I got really excited by the post-credit sting at the end of The Wolverine because the story confronted us with something that was just so impossible within the actual X-Men timeline... Professor X and Wolverine existing in the same continuity after the events of X-Men: The Last Stand... that I figured they must be really confident about undoing the mess they’d made of the consistency between the movies. If they could throw something like that in to be explained away in the next film then... hey... they could do anything.

But that’s the thing, guys and gals. This opening set up is why the whole premise of this movie fails totally. Not only don’t they explain it... they don’t even refer to the events depicted at the end of The Wolverine in any way, shape or form. They just act like the third film didn’t even happen... kinda. Stay with me here because it’s an important concept to get over. Wolverine’s claws in this version of the timeline are back to being adamantium claws. Yep... that’s right... it’s like the events of The Wolverine, released only last year, didn’t even happen. Except... here’s the rub... The Wolverine refers all the way through to Logan’s guilt at having to kill his beloved Jean Grey to save humanity and... err... mutantanity from certain doom. So we know that happened in that continuity. However, in this film, Wolverine also has painful memories of killing Jean Grey (or Dark Phoenix or even, my favourite, Marvel Girl) in that third movie... they actually use clips from it as flashbacks in this one. So then... Professor X is dead isn’t he? This makes no sense. And you can’t try to justify/explain this version as being a version in which the events of the third movie never took place, because they refer to that movie a number of times.

And that’s basically why this movie is screwed before it’s even started. Because the point in time from which our intrepid hero is travelling back from in his mind is absolutely not a reality which could have happened and no attempt is made to explain this. What, they thought we were going to be all overjoyed that most of the old crew were back that we wouldn’t notice the thing has no logic or reason to it at all?

Not only that but, at the end, Wolverine’s mind snaps back to the version of himself fifty years later in a timeline we haven’t seen and all his memories of those fifty years are replaced by his old ones (which is why he’s astonished to see people like Jean Grey and Cyclops back in his timeline). This also makes no sense... his mind didn’t have anywhere else to snap back to... his timeline was destroyed. Serious clangers all round here folks.

Okay, so now I’ve reiterated why the film just totally falls apart and screws the entire franchise sideways into a cocked, adamantium hat... what’s the movie like apart form the huge plot holes?

Well... it’s kinda okayish, in some ways. It’s got a good buzz about it early on but, ultimately, it all just felt a bit “by the numbers”. Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry and Ellen Page were all fine... but that was it for them. They were all just fine... and who can blame them in some ways. Their dialogue wasn’t exactly special. Ditto for most of the First Class team. Michael Fassbender is always damned watchable but he honestly didn’t seem to be present in most of his scenes, apart from when he loses it at Charles Xavier on the plane... that was pretty good. Jennifer Lawrence’s take on Raven/Mystique was okay too but she’s flying more or less solo in this one and, although she’s a bit of a stand out character, she’s mostly just seen beating people up.

James MacAvoy is fantastic and just like his Xavier character in X-Men: First Class. Absolutely a consistent and brilliant performance. However, asides from the cool acting, theres another basic continuity problem with this one. We saw him crippled at the end of the last movie but, in this one, Hank/The Beast has made him a serum which gives him his legs back every time he has his fix. However, this also has the side effect of relieving him of his mutant powers... further highlighting the absolute impossibility of the opening sequence of X-Men: The Last Stand as a path from this reality... except we know all that must have happened because Wolverine’s mind was just sent back from that future reality. Not very well thought out, is it? It’s like the writers kept painting themselves into a corner and then were trying to distract you with things to cover up the fact that they couldn’t address the issues this throws up. But hey, who cares, the audience won’t be paying attention will they? Um, whatever dudes.

There were some other nice things about the movie. The idea that Magneto was implicated in the murder of JFK but was actually trying to save him because he was a fellow mutant was nice. Some, not all, of the action sequences were nicely handled too, the really good ones being the opening fight scene and the sequence where Quicksilver saves them all in the Pentagon jailbreak scene. Which is a pretty great scene... except... oops. Now that’s another confusing thing for audiences who don’t understand that the rights to certain Marvel characters reside with more than one company...

So here you have Quicksilver who is played by Evan Peters in X-Men: Days Of Future Past.... which is a Marvel/20th Century Fox picture. However, we just saw him portrayed by Aaron Taylor-Johnson in the first mid-credits sting at the end of Captain America: The Winter Soldier (reviewed here), made by Marvel/Disney, and will see him portraying that character again in The Avengers: Age Of Ultron next year, also for Marvel/Disney. What’s worse is, the 20th Century Fox version of the character and the Marvel/Disney version of the character are not allowed to share the same history, The ones locked into the S.H.I.E.L.D timeline is not even allowed to mention “mutation” apparently. This is going to confuse a hell of a lot of audience members who don’t know the ins and outs of the situation, folks. All they’re going to know is you’ve got the same character played by two different actors with contradicting histories co-existing at the same time in cinema history. Probably not a great idea guys.

Okay, what else. Well, the music is okay. This one marks the first time that an X-Men movie has had the same composer twice and John Ottman’s score here reuses the X-Men theme he used for X-Men 2. Wait, what? Yeah, you can see the problem here, right? Even the music is, for one of the few rare times in a Marvel movie, insisting on a continuity which is already shot to hell. Which is a shame because Ottman’s score does the job here. It’s not as cool as his earlier X-Men 2 score, or even his two Fantastic Four scores, but it does it’s job and I’ll be grabbing a copy when the CD comes out in a couple of weeks.

And... what else? Um... the special effects are okay, if you like that kind of thing, and the film is competently shot and edited. So, some nice work there... but none of this goes anywhere near making up for the fact that this movie screws up the continuity even worse than X-Men: First Class did.

When the four sequels to Universal’s The Mummy were released in the 1940s, these sequels formed what was supposed to be a single continuity. However, some of the films took place decades after the previous one and in all that time, they were all set in contemporary America, give or take a few years. Worse, in one film, Kharis The Mummy gets buried in a swamp in one country and, when he rises from the swamp to live again in the next movie, it’s somehow relocated to another country. Now, it’s my belief that the majority of those 1940s audiences didn’t question these huge plot holes because, frankly, these were the decades well before anything like commercial home video viewing could even be imagined and re-release cinema screenings were less of a thing then. The movie played, you saw it, and it wasn’t until commercial television started out in the 1950s that these movies would get shown enough again to be able to spot stuff like this. However, note to people in Hollywoodland expecting a gullible audience to swallow the scripts they turn out with more holes in them than a Swiss cheese... your audience is no longer living in the 1940s. It’s not like somebody isn’t going to notice all this stuff somewhere along the line. You need to write smarter than this!

When I went to buy a ticket for X-Men: Days Of Future Past, for a performance a few hours later, there were a lot of firemen in the cinema and when I got to the front of the queue I was told that they were only giving out refunds. It turns out the cinema in question had been struck by lightning less than ten minutes before I’d arrived and it had knocked all the projection rooms out. When I tried again a few hours later, they’d literally just managed to get the cinema rebooted up and were selling tickets again. All I can say is... I should have taken this as some kind of omen, maybe? X-Men: Days Of Future Past is my joint, least favourite X-Men movie, tying with X-Men: The Last Stand in last place. This was not how I was hoping the latest film in a, mostly, fairly strong film series would play out and the only audience I could possibly recommend this to is an audience who haven’t seen any of the previous movies in the franchise because, honestly, this one just makes no sense. And it’s such a shame. It feels like Ridley Scott’s Prometheus (reviewed here) all over again. It just didn’t address the issues it needed to address... and these directors/writers/producers need to make a smarter product to keep the percentage of their audience interested in these things satisified, I’m afraid to say. The hobgoblins are loose... and their small minds are out to tear apart your inconsistencies.

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