X-Men: Days of Future Past

xmdofpI’ll start by saying, yes, I enjoyed this film. It’s exciting and fun and everyone turns in great performances. Getting to see a dystopic future in which a little handful of mutants seem to be pretty much all that’s left of mutant-kind (and it looks like not much is left of the rest of humanity either) is kind of a punch in the gut. The marketing sets this up pretty well, but it’s a bit darker than even that. The opening sequence sees this ragtag collection of heroes trying to fend off a ridiculously violent attack by enormous robots called Sentinels. And, just like that, we’re introduced to the plot device for this film: time travel.

You see, Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page), who you may remember as able to walk through walls, also has the ability to transfer someone’s mind into their body in the past. The person can then use information about the future to reset history. (Why Kitty has this astonishing ability is not addressed. Which kind of bugged me. But I supposed it would have bugged me more if they had a stupid explanation.)

This allows for the original cast (Shawn Ashmore, Patrick Stewart, Halle Berry, Ian McKellen, Daniel Cudmore) to have their moments in the “sun”, while we also watch Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) dropped into 1973, where he hangs out with the cast of First Class (James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Nicholas Hoult, Jennifer Lawrence). In a film this stuffed with characters already (including a fair number of cameos that I won’t get into here) it seems strange to add even more mutants to the proceedings. But they do. There’s a bunch of cool fighters in the future, and a handful of new faces in the past as well. The most impressive of which is Quicksilver (Evan Peters), a guy with super speed. He gets his own sequence where he pretty much rules. Then he gets summarily written out of the story. Which is kind of weird, because they’re trying to stop a heinous genocide in the future, and Quicksilver is kind of impossibly powerful. He should be their go-to guy for… everything.

Anyway. The bulk of the drama swirls around the somewhat awkward love “triangle” of Charles Xavier, Magneto, Beast and the woman they all love (in different ways, of course), Mystique. The importance, both personal and to the overall timeline, of Mystique feels a little forced. I assume the producers said, “Hey, this Jennifer Lawrence is kind of a big deal. Let’s make sure she’s front and center (and basically naked) for the lion’s share of this movie.” Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for that, BTW.

There are a half-dozen exceptional action sequences, culminating in a ridonculous parallel finale, wherein we watch mutants make a hash of US history in the past, and Sentinels put the screws to the last survivors in the future. The film follows (a little too closely, for my taste) the formula of both X-Men United and First Class: Magneto is Charles’s ally against a great threat, only to go his own way and nearly wreck everything at the end. Spending so much time rehabilitating Mystique means that there’s little interest in trying to rehabilitate the much more interesting Magneto. But, at least, this preserves the timeline to allow Magneto to be a major thorn in the side of peace in the future.

So, a slightly creaky plot aside, there’s a lot to love in this movie. But, as a time travel movie, it has to be deeply flawed. They’re all deeply flawed, aren’t they? Keep reading for some spoilers as I dissect this film a bit further.

Really. There are spoilers.

You have been warned.

First a note on the timeline. We are told that the past takes place in 1973. And we’re told that Wolverine has gone back in time 50 years. Now, it’s always possible that he’s rounding, but if we take him at his word, the dystopic future is in 2023. More about that later.

In the original timeline, the Sentinels in their 1973 incarnation were pretty much ready to go, and quite devastating. Where have they been in all the previous films in the intervening five decades? Particularly in The Last Stand, when the US Government was on a huge quest to hunt down Magneto and his Brotherhood? Or even in X-Men United, when Stryker (who was in the loop on the Sentinel program) could have used a couple of them for defense of his base at Alkali Lake?

Another thing about the original timeline. We are told that Mystique’s assassination of Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) is the catalyst for ramping up the Sentinel program (though, it’s a slow ramp, since it takes five decades, but whatever). But in the new timeline created by Wolverine’s involvement, there’s not a single mutant killing one defense contractor in a sealed room… there’s a three-way mutant beat down on the street, caught live on TV. This is followed by a devastating attack on DC that must have killed hundreds, maybe thousands of innocent people (based on the way the stadium was dropped around the White House), and a mutant threatening the President himself (and his staff), and it’s just barely stopped by one more mutant, who was clearly thinking about assassinating Trask. How is it that this much more destructive and public demonstration of mutant power is less likely to push the Sentinel program forward than that one bullet to the head in the original timeline? I don’t buy it.

And about that attack by Magneto. I get that he can put metal into the Sentinels to control their movement… even their firing mechanisms, if I’m being generous. But how is he able to control their computers? How is he able to activate their targeting? He has the power to physically manipulate metal. We’ve never been given the idea that he has any kind of ability to control electronics. Worse still, he’s standing in the middle of the transplanted stadium, with no view to the outside, but he positions the Sentinels around the outside, as if they’re monitoring for incursions. Which is handled how? How would Magneto know when or where an incursion would be taking place? Or, if he’s given them some kind of instruction to defend him, that’s certainly counter to their programming, since they are programmed to kill mutants (like him). So is he reprogramming them, too? Huh?

The finale relies on the events of the past altering history significantly enough for the future to never have happened… in which case the siege in the Chinese temple simply disappears. But Wolverine was changing things in the past time and again. And not small things. Big things. Big things in history and with the personal lives of key players (particularly Charles and Magneto). How is that one decision to not shoot Trask the one thing that alters the future enough for that standoff to never have happened? Wouldn’t the standoff (even if it ever existed) be with different people and in different locations every time Wolverine said something else to change the future?

Speaking of timeline changes, (and this is why I mentioned the 2023 date), at the very least, some of the “new” mutants would not have been born by 1973. The following actors were not born before 1973: Ellen Page, Daniel Cudmore, Shawn Ashmore, Anna Paquin. I would posit that the extraordinary changes to history (and particularly the history of mutant-kind) that occur in 1973 would likely have made even the births of these characters unlikely, or if not, at least have modified their back-stories dramatically.

The other thing these films have been pretty bad at is maintaining continuity for specific characters. The most egregious example is the difference between Sabretooth as portrayed by Tyler Mane in X-Men, and by Liev Schreiber in Origins. Also pretty ridiculous are the differences between the Moira McTaggart in The Last Stand (Olivia Williams) and First Class (Rose Byrne). But this film generates a couple of head-scratchers of their own. Like, why was the largely human looking Toad from X-Men (Ray Park) all creepy looking in Days of Future Past (Evan Jonigkeit)?

Why does future Logan have metal claws? By the end of The Wolverine, they had been amputated, leaving him with just the bone claws. I supposed a case could be made that he let Magneto reapply the adamantium to his claws during the intervening time since the last film, but Wolverine at no point shows the kind of trust of Magneto that makes that likely.

Why does new-and-not-dead Charles Xavier need a wheelchair?

Actually, that raises another question. Wolverine claims that the original plan was to send Charles’s mind into the past… but that was not Charles’s original body. If Kitty had sent this Charles back into the past, he would have shown up in his twin’s comatose body. Bummer.

There were a couple of other flashback things that bothered me a little, too. When Wolverine has Charles probe his mind, we see a lot of stuff that happened in other films, terrible stuff. Would his survival of a nuclear blast (in The Wolverine) not have made the cut as a top-ten bad thing to remember? Now, the possible answer here is that he didn’t remember that nuclear blast, because he got his memory wiped in the 80s by that adamantium bullet. But if that’s the case, why do we get a shot of the death of his girlfriend from Origins (Lynn Collins), Moon Shadow, or Fox Woods, or whatever her name was?

(Edit: The above paragraph is struck through because, on a second viewing of the film, I did see a clip of irradiated Wolverine in the flashbacks. So, kudos.)

That’s a lot of continuity and time-travel-logic problems to stuff into one little film. It kept bouncing me out of the story. And the other thing the film does that I found annoying is it shows us this idyllic future where everyone is okay and happy in the mansion… which means that anything they do from now on with the First Class cast has to conform to that… or else they introduce other discontinuities into the series. The second Terminator film handled that perfectly, by not showing us future Sarah in a happy life.

And, for the record, terrible after-credits scene. Looked like a video game cut scene.

Well, that was a long review, wasn’t it. I wonder was the next one will be…

Famke Janssen was (just barely) in Days of Future Past with Ellen Page. Ellen Page was in…

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