REVIEW: ‘Crisis On Infinite X-Men Movies’ or: ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’ [Spoilers]
Directed by Bryan Singer, X-Men: Days of Future Past is the thirty-seventh in 20th Century Fox’s series of X-Men films based on the Marvel Comics franchise originated by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee. It is owing to the series’ bitterly old age that the new film is almost totally devoted to reconciling the conflicting plots and divergent timelines of its predecessors. In this very hilarious way, Days of Future Past is the most faithful adaptation to date, having actually translated to film that most core concept of X-Men comics: hopelessly confusing and eternally jacked up continuity.
The film opens in a grim future where there is only war, but one slightly more distinct than other grim futures where there is only war because of Singer’s prodigious use of the color purple. It is in this dark dystopia that we’re treated to the first of the film’s many very clever superpower fight sequences when purple Sentinels besiege a team of X-Men running around and doing something. On account of a bunch of nonsense that will be explained later, the Sentinels are able to mimic any mutant ability — except, for some reason, those of the mutant Blink, who has the very useful power to open purple portals to seemingly anywhere in the general vicinity. This provides the film with some truly cool fight moves, with mutants and Sentinels and energy blasts and Icemen and all manner of things jumping in and out of Blink’s doorways as all hell breaks loose in very entertaining ways.
Fortunately it’s all for naught and we get to see the Sentinels violently kill a bunch of lousy leather-clad X-Men audiences have been waiting to see die for the last forty-four years of mutant movies, and they do so in occasionally ironic ways like burning Iceman alive or freezing Pyro to death (or was it Sunspot? Some fire guy). Sadly, it turns out fine for the X-Men since, apparently, Kitty Pryde has the power to send Bishop’s consciousness a few days back in time and into his younger body to warn the others that the Sentinels are going to kill them in a big set piece, allowing the X-Men to avoid that fate and survive for most of the rest of the movie.
The Sentinels have utterly ruined the world by eradicating nearly the entire mutant race as well as most decent normals, leaving only the nastiest people in charge. It occurs to old Professor X and old Magneto that Kitty’s powers could be used to send someone back in time 50 years to stop the Sentinels before they were created, for so grim is the grim future where there is only war that its X-Men would rather be erased from existence than live another day explaining Kitty Pryde’s powers to each other.
Indeed, in what is doubtlessly the most abusive expository dialogue in the history of comic book films, old Professor X explains to old Wolverine how he’s going to employ Kitty to send Logan’s consciousness back in time and into his younger body and that time will continue to pass normally in the present (the future) even as Wolverine changes events in the past (the present-ish), but those changes will only take effect when Wolverine wakes up again in the future (the new present), but he will still remember everything that happened because bzzzzzzzzztt
In the Days of Future Past comic book, it was Kitty Pryde who was sent back to the past by Rachel “Not Appearing in This Film” Summers to save the future. In this film, it’s decided that Wolverine will be the one to go back via Kitty Pryde, because his brain is the most physically durable (even though he has a long history of being brainwashed and mind wiped) and also because of sexism.
Wolverine wakes up naked in the 1970s, but even more naked than he looks — he’s missing his adamantium skeleton! This bare-assed revelation is literally continuity porn, establishing that Logan wasn’t abducted by the Weapon X program until sometime between the events of this film and the original X-Men. It’s possible that was already established in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but everybody told me not to see that.
After the delightful maiming of some ‘70s bros, Wolverine sets out on his mission to find not-old Professor X and get him back together with not-old Magneto so they can talk their mutual apprentice Mystique Everdeen out of assassinating Bolivar Lannister, inventor of the Sentinels, for her doing so is what sets off the chain reaction which leads to the awful scene where Professor X explains how psychic time travel works.
His first obstacle and first encounter with anything like a believable character is not-old Hank “Beast” McCoy, played charismatically by Nicholas Hoult. A loyal caretaker of Xavier, Beast refuses to let Logan into the closed and dilapidated School for Gifted Youngsters. So Wolverine punches him in the face until he turns into the Blue Hulk and beats the crap out of Wolverine. Not-old Professor X shows up and demands to know why hairy men are fighting in his house. He’s walking, which is weird and of course has a really exposition-heavy explanation, but one that actually speaks to some drama surrounding the Professor.
To wit, it's been ten years since the events of the previous film (X-Men: First Class, which takes place before the events of this film; not The Wolverine, which takes place after the events of some of this film, but may not even be canon anymore?), and all of Xavier’s mutant students were drafted and killed in the Vietnam War. Consequently he has just Lieutenant Dan’d the f*ck out, growing long hair and a beard and taking lots of drugs — drugs designed by Beast to combat the paralysis the Professor suffered at the hands of Magneto in First Class. A side-effect of this drug is the loss of his telepathic powers, which doesn’t seem to make sense but this is what passes for conflict in X-Men movies so we’re going to go with it. The point is, the once righteous and proud Xavier would rather suppress his mutant talents than use a wheelchair, because doing so means he no longer has to hear the suffering voices of the world in his weary mind.
Wolverine lays all his cards on the table, telling the Professor that he’s only here because old Professor sent him and implores the man to
get a job remember his dream of uniting humans and mutants. Unfortunately for Wolverine, Xavier can’t help but remember the greatest single-serving PG-13 F-bomb of all time, and tells Wolverine what to go do with himself. However, seeing a glamour shot of J-Law on his bedside table reminds Xavier of how much he loves his friend and he agrees to help Wolverine stop her from indirectly annihilating all mutantkind.
Meanwhile, in the future, Academy Award nominee Ellen Page grimaces sweatily.
The next step in Wolverine’s mission is to reunite Xavier with Magneto, who we’re told has been locked up in a jail of concrete and glass deep beneath the Pentagon for the last ten years for the crime of killing John F. Kennedy. The "magic bullet" wasn’t magic — it was magnetic, see? But Wolverine is Canadian so he resolves to break Magneto out anyway.
(Magneto will later claim to be innocent, that he was trying to stop the bullet but was himself stopped, which resulted in JFK’s… accidental death? Also he said JFK was a mutant. Just kind of threw it out there....)
Determining that stupid bone claws and a guy who can turn into a blue ape are insufficient means with which to infiltrate the Pentagon, Wolverine recruits one of the worst ever superheroes to help them out: Quicksilver. Known throughout comics history as a sh*tty knockoff of the Flash and an enduring symbol of Marvel Zombiesm, Quicksilver is rubbish. He sucks. He looks like an complete a**hole and that he’s ended up in two unconnected but equally massive film franchises is testament to the chaotic absurdity of existence.
But he’s the best part of Days of Future Past, which undermines my earlier claim that Days of Future Past is the most faithful adaptation of the X-Men comics, for if it were truly reverent to the source material, then Quicksilver would be laughably awful at everything he does. But on the contrary, he’s marvelous. Evan Peters’ performance is charming, fearless and funny. It seems extremely unlikely that the new Flash television show, as promising as it looks, will put forth anything as thrilling and just plain cool as Quicksilver’s rescue of Magneto and the others from Pentagon security.
Even this film can’t; the sequence is without question the highlight, with Quicksilver running so fast that he sets up a kind of super-Rube-Goldberg trap using his enemies’ own relatively still bodies. The heroes blink and Quicksilver’s already sorted it out with more cleverness and style than every mutant in this whole film series combined. Quicksilver is in fact so useful that Wolverine has to send him back home to Mrs. Maximoff before he steals the rest of the damn movie.
When not focusing on Team Wolverine, Days of Future Past tracks Mystique’s mission to avenge the off-screen deaths of everyone missing from First Class. Jennifer Lawrence has become a superstar since playing Mystique in that film, and Days of Future Past is wise to avail itself of her ability to express a strong sense of rage and anguish that does help anchor this crazy story in some kind of emotional way. Xavier and Magneto are ultimately fighting as much over Mystique's soul as they are about their philosophies about mutant-human relations, and it’s the choices their student Mystique will make that represent the way their race's future will unfold.
But for the moment Mystique is persecuted and pissed, and her psychic pendulum has swung far from Xavier’s form of passive resistance to Magneto’s militant revolution. She falls upon Boliver Trask with designs on murder, but she’s stopped by Wolverine and company, who quickly have to become her protectors when Magneto betrays them all and tries to kill Mystique. Ever the extremist, Magneto believes that only Mystique’s death can save the mutant race from the a grim future where there is only war.
The ensuing battle reveals the existence of mutants to the entire world, prompting President Nixon to approve Trask’s Sentinel plans. Both Magneto and Mystique escape the conflict, but some stray Mystique DNA left at the scene gives the inventor the spark of inspiration and, somehow, the technology he needs to develop the Sentinels’ mutant mimicking abilities, and it seems the grim future where there is only war is more certain than ever. Too bad they didn’t bring Quicksilver!
Meanwhile, in the future, Academy Award nominee Ellen Page grimaces sweatily.
Later in the Cerebro amphitheater, Xavier can't find Mystique because he's too weak and depressed to deal, man. But Wolverine has the eminently weird idea of inviting Xavier into his mind to send Xavier's consciousness into old Logan's body in the future and have a psychic conversation with his own older self. Naturally, old Xavier gives young Xavier a good old fashioned Picard pep talk, and it's back on Mystique's psychic trail.
The story comes to a head when Nixon and Trask make a big deal of unveiling the prototype Sentinels to a patriotic crowd on the White House lawn with the national anthem and everything, because that's a thing that happens. The robots are several stories tall and come with a mutant-detecting Glade air freshener. You might wonder why, if they had Sentinels in 1973, did the government not deploy them for 40 or 50 years, but you forget about that because suddenly they start attacking people! It's a result of Magneto clandestinely lacing their non-metal bodies with steel so that he could control them like enormous marionettes! While that’s going on, Magneto performs the coolest bit of action he’s done throughout the entire sixty-nine X-Men movies and lifts a whole stadium off the ground and drops it around the White House so nobody can get in or out (unless they’re in a plane or helicopter or something but luckily none of those show up to rescue the President -- which is plausible because... Nixon).
See, having determined that a grim future where there is only war is inevitable, Magneto decides to go full-on villain and just go on TV with his hostage Nixon and tell everyone that mutants are here to take over and you’d better get used to it.
Meanwhile, in the future — something happens! The future Sentinels have located the X-Men’s hideout and start re-killing them in really entertaining ways. Wolverine had better be successful, because if his body dies in the future then his past conscious… do… it’s bad. Everyone will be f*cked, basically, unless Wolverine and his team can make sure George and Lorraine kiss at the Enchantment Under the Sea dance.
What that means in this movie is Magneto not assassinating yet another President of the United States on live television. Wolverine is powerless to stop it, though, for Magneto has impaled Logan with loads of rebars and thrown him into the Potomac River in a chilling foreshadowing of things to come for the indestructible mutant.
Magneto yanks the safe room under the Oval Office right out from the ground, tears it open and prepares to deprive the world of a Nixon to kick around anymore when, gasp, Nixon turns out to be Mystique in disguise. She brandishes a plastic gun designed specifically for use against the master of magnetism and shoots him non-fatally through the neck and kicks the sh*t out of him so that Xavier can psychically subdue the villain. Mystique then trains her gun on Trask, putting the grim future where there is only war in play once again.
In the grim future where there is only war, the Sentinels have breached the X-Men’s defenses and are moments away from killing Kitty and Logan.
Xavier makes a final plea to Mystique to do the right thing and defy Magneto. Beast begs Xavier to just take control of Mystique's mind, but Xavier refuses, saying he has faith in his old friend to do the right thing. This demonstration of love and trust in the face of genocide persuades Mystique to let Trask live. Mystique leaves the scene a masterless mutant ronin with an uncertain future, perhaps no longer even destined to become Rebecca Ronin-Stamos. Xavier allows Magneto to walk away as well, for they already broke him out of prison in this movie, and allowing the government to capture him again would just mean another prison escape in X-Men: Apocalypse.
In the grim future where there is no longer war, everyone vanishes just before the Sentinels can make lethal contact with Kitty and Logan. Xavier got through to Mystique, and the war was stopped before it was begun.
Old Wolverine wakes up in a strangely familiar room. He emerges to discover the Xavier School has indeed survived 50 years into the future, with students buzzing about on their way to classes and all his dead co-stars from other movies still alive. You see, the events of this film have thrown those of the others into an amorphous state, where what did and did not happen is largely up to the writers of subsequent films, and where if you complain about not understanding what counts and whine about the series rebooting only two films after the last reboot, it means you’re just being an a**hole. You know, like how DC Comics does it.
This epilogue to Crisis on Infinite X-Men films is the best part of the movie after the Quicksilver sequence, for it is a truly emotional experience for the viewer to see that our point-of-view character, Wolverine — given his nature in the comics, possibly the most unlikely point-of-view character in superhero movie history — has made it back home safe and sound after all the harrowing adventures we’ve followed throughout this young century. Indeed, Logan’s touching reunion with the alive-and-well Jean Grey is the filmmakers’ acknowledgment of not just the uncommon lifespan of this franchise but also of the charismatic performance of Hugh Jackman, whose work has traversed the dark and primordial modern superhero movie model and found success in the more aesthetically interesting and comics-like landscape of today (some exceptions not withstanding).
But the epilogue also makes it plain that the filmmakers know these movies have been… not great, with the soft reboot First Class requiring a subsequent timeline sweep, and The Last Stand being so dire that Days of Future Past retcons it almost completely out of existence. Only we and our old friend Logan will ever remember.
The gears grind pretty hard in Days of Future Past’s plot, but probably no more so than most of these X-Men movies. What this film offers that the others arguably don't is some genuine emotional resolution, and not just for its characters but for a franchise that’s been characterized by a distinct lack of emotion; a lack of life; a lack of vision. But in a paradoxical, metatextual way, this could not have been possible without putting these beloved characters and their audiences through those bad movie experiences.
While it was obviously created to clear the continuity path for subsequent films, this movie serves as an excellent conclusion to Fox’s X-Men franchise as we know it. Everyone is older, wiser, and back where they belong. The mutants survived. It’s the happy ending the characters deserve, and it would be a warm, safe place to leave them while a new creative direction is pursued — a truly new beginning.
But it won’t be, because we know Channing Tatum’s Gambit is coming up. We know that blue-skinned bro after the credits is Apocalypse. And we know Hugh Jackman may wish to say a final goodbye to his record-setting role. Despite whatever may be a more creatively interesting path for the X-Men, it would be impossible not to watch Jackman play this grizzled and scarred superhero into old age.