X-Men: Days of Future Past launched a few days ago, and this newest leg of the franchise seemed to hit all of the points that make superhero movies fun to watch.
It had cool action scenes, good dialogue, fun humor, and a plot that managed to mostly make sense.
I left the theater thoroughly entertained. Except for one nagging point.
When I saw First Class I was thrilled with the complexity of the characters. The movie was rooted in developing people; confronting emotions, building relationships, and eventually tearing them apart. The pace is steady and deliberate, crafting deep characters so that by the time we get to the action sequences, the consequences matter.
But Days of Future Past seems to have fallen into the trap that so many superhero movies succumb to – it sacrificed character for action, thereby losing the thing setting this genre apart from ordinary action films.
To start, the movie committed the “sin of skip” – jumping ten years, thereby alienating us from the characters. When they spit us out into the seventies, it’s to find people with foreign goals, struggles, and emotions.
The two characters to suffer from this most were Magneto and Mystique. First Class carefully creates Magneto, illustrating all that he has been through, and allowing us to see his reasoning to the point that at the climax of the movie – though we don’t agree with Erik – we can completely understand his actions.
Yet when Magneto declares war upon humanity at the end of Days of Future Past, we have no context. No understanding of how he has turned from attacking only those who would kill him, to seeing no difference between soldiers and civilians. And the delicate balance between enemy and friend, which he and Charles have, is given about two conversations to deal with.
Mystique is treated unfairly in this movie, being essentially relegated to a rogue atomic bomb. She is something that has to be stopped. Not someone who has a mission. Quite literally, Erik and Charles want to stop her from getting into the hands of an enemy who would use her against them. She is simply wild, and we can be told why, but that does not have the same effect of seeing it.
And who is this enemy? The evilness of Bolivar Trask is repeated ad nauseum, but he comes across more as a businessman than anything else. He makes some statements regarding the danger of mutants, but that’s an popular opinion – not his original brand of villainy. He has a single line which conveys his character – “I want it alive.” – referring to Mystique, but what should truly set him apart – mutant experimentation and mutilation – is only discussed in passing. Even the lazy-wrap-up newspaper shot says he is arrested for selling military secrets; his downfall has nothing to do with his actually heinous crimes.
Ultimately, the movie – while entertaining – leaves us with bones, always choosing the less weighty path.
Instead of showing us the struggle of beliefs between Erik and Charles, we’re offered an irrelevant catharsis between them in a future that will not happen.
Instead of having action sequences between characters we care about, we get endless, irrelevant action in the future played out – even in the case of Magneto – by powers. Not characters.
Instead of focusing as much as possible on Charles’ rehabilitation, Mystique’s instability, and Magneto’s stubborn radicalism, we’re treated to Kitty Pride’s time-wasting wound, and Wolverine as a main character with no arc, and no development.
And of course, instead of a complex, terrifying, evil, and above all human villain, we get giant robots.
None of this makes Days of Future Past a bad movie. It is most certainly a good movie, and one that I will watch again. Yet it is disappointing that the filmmakers were content with making a rank and file superhero film over the unique one, which we know X-Men has the potential be.