Hi, I’m The Guy Who Didn’t Like ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’
Everyone loves X-Men: Days of Future Past. It's a box office hit, already raking in more than $500m worldwide. It's a critical hit, earning a 92% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. And it's a popular hit, at least judging anecdotally from reactions on Twitter and Tumblr and that cool new social media platform you don't know about yet because you're old.
I'm the guy who didn't like Days of Future Past. Sorry, everyone. I know it's tempting to dismiss such responses as hipster contrarianism, but I honestly didn't want to be that guy. Life is more fun when you enjoy stuff. So here's why I have to be that guy.
Fox launched its X-Men movie franchise fourteen years ago, back when superhero movies were still a tough sell. The X-Men are one of the easier concepts to land because of their one-size-fits-all origin story. They don't need to get bit by any radioactive oojamaflip; they just woke up like this.
But Fox clearly wanted to play up the sci-fi and play down the spandex. In a literal sense that meant no comic book costumes. In a general sense it meant the filmmakers didn't feel any need to honor the characterization and relationships from the comics. They were mining the comics for material, not truly adapting them for the screen.
Fourteen years ago, that was more than enough. I was excited to see any version of Rogue, or Storm, or Mystique on the screen, or Colossus and Nightcrawler in the sequel. It barely mattered that they all bore only a scant resemblance to the comic characters with the same names.
Obviously now I'm spoiled. I've seen big screen versions of Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America that feel like enhanced versions of the comic book characters rather than dilutions. There's an authenticity to the Marvel Studios versions of their characters that I never feel with Fox, who retains the film rights to X-Men and Fantastic Four.
But maybe it's just me. Maybe it's my reading of the X-Men that's out of sync with everyone else's, and that's why I'm the one guy who didn't like DOFP.
So let me ask you this; how important are women to your reading of the X-Men?
In my view, the women are more than half the show. The X-Men franchise is one of the few narrative franchises in my life -- one of the few cultural experiences -- to effortlessly present a world where women and men share the stage as equals. It's not a story about women. It's a fictional world that fully acknowledges and includes women.
The first X-Men movie came close to understanding this, giving major roles to Famke Janssen's Jean Grey and Anna Paquin's Rogue -- and, sadly, the egregiously miscast Halle Berry as Storm.
But since then the franchise has only amped up the role of Hugh Jackman as badass alpha dog Wolverine, and Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen as the bickering marrieds, and scaled back on its women. Jean got to be the co-star/threat of the third X-Men movie, but by this point there was no arc to be had for Rogue or any other women, because Jean's new mutant power was generating man-pain.
And now Mystique is the female lead, but only because she provides the battleground for the dueling ideologies of two of the movies' male leads. The unsettled shapeshifter is cute metaphor; we get it. But as gifted as Jennifer Lawrence is, she seems to convey too much vulnerability for a character as self-defined and ruthless as the comics version of Mystique. The only X-woman with major screen time is perhaps the one farthest from the X-women I know.
And not for nothing, it's notable that the franchise's female lead is naked all the time. She's probably naked all the time in the comics as well, but at least comics Mystique pretends to wear clothes.
Rogue is reduced to a wordless cameo in Days of Future Past. Jean, of course, is already dead -- until, twist, she isn't. Storm gets to die brutally in one of the movie's two dazzling "kill all the non-white characters" montages. Even she gets a better send-off than her fellow woman of color, Angel Salvadore, who is unceremoniously killed off between movies (along with Emma Frost, Azazel and Banshee), just to give the other characters something to emote over. For those of us who despaired at Darwin's on-screen "the black guy always dies first" moment in X-Men: First Class, the off-screen death of Angel seems to double down on the filmmakers' blithe insensitivity.
I will concede that Fan Bingbing's Blink is a great addition to the movie's minor pantheon of x-women -- her fight scenes were among the movie's best -- and the addition of several non-white heroes to the universe is very welcome. But they all serve as a gruesome footnote to the exciting adventures of a bunch of white guys.
And even those white guys didn't seem especially interesting this time around. Where was Charles and Eric's acrimonious bromance? Even they felt sidelined to accommodate the movie's crowded cast. Where was the scathing camp that has become a hallmark of the series? Did all the humor get used up in that one rightly celebrated Quicksilver sequence? Why make Wolverine so central yet make him so redundant to the plot that he could literally be thrown out of the movie for the final reel?
On which note, this seems a good time to bring up the Kitty Pryde problem.
Kitty was in the first X-Men movie, and in the second. By the time the third movie rolled around, Ellen Page was the third actor to play her -- the first, I think, to get any lines.
Kitty Pryde is a major X-Man. I was part of the panel at Marvel.com that voted her the #1 X-Man of all time; I don't think we got that wrong. I think Days of Future Past director Bryan Singer and I are in agreement that one of the only good things X-Men: The Last Stand director Brett Ratner brought to the franchise was Ellen Page in that role.
Days of Future Past is, in the comics, a Kitty Pryde story. In the movies, it's a Wolverine story -- and yet one in which Wolverine has no arc, because the character is exhausted. By slotting Wolverine into Kitty's role in Days of Future Past, the movie adds nothing, demotes Kitty to little more than a cameo, and outright fires Rachel Summers (who originally served Kitty's role) from the story.
Two x-women were marginalized so that a beloved character with six movies under his belt could give one more tired trot around the course. If Kitty had been the one sent into the past, Wolverine could still have been in the movie -- and teaming Wolverine with Kitty would have given him something to do. I'm baffled that anyone could look at what we were given in place of a Kitty/Wolverine movie and be satisfied.
(Nerdpick: Sure, Kitty probably wasn't born yet in the past timeline, so she couldn't actually have been sent back to her own body. As with so many quibbles, this could have been fixed with a little magical something called "writing it differently".)
The time travel element is also frustrating to me, because time travel has become such a weird plank of the X-Men mythology despite being an awkward fit. In the original Days of Future Past storyline it offered a way to reflect on the dire consequences of prejudice. It showed the worst possible outcome of the struggle for acceptance that the X-Men faced. It was a powerful dramatic device.
In the comics it's now become a cool plaything, an opportunity to tell wacky stories and introduce gritty characters. Instead of complementing core themes, it distracts from them.
While the DOFP movie plot is certainly still informed by that original idea of worst possible outcomes, the sci-fi time travel elements drown them out. In the movie's climactic confrontation, one mutant's ability to drop a stadium around the White House is apparently countered in the court of public opinion by another mutant's decision not to shoot the president when given the chance. This is such a bafflingly implausible resolution that it exposes any pretense that the movie is interested in dramatically exploring the concept of prejudice.
But it's OK. They can fix it. They can fix it all. The one benefit of a time-travel movie is that it opens the door to a reboot.
In the fourteen years since X-Men, we've learned that movie audiences can actually get their head around comic book superhero ideas. They don't need the costumes scrubbed off (if they can buy into Captain America's uber-dorky star-spangled pajama set, they can buy into anything), and they don't need superheroes re-positioned as generic sci-fi. The stage is set, the time is right. Audiences will eat up an X-Men movie that feels more authentically X-Menny.
But DOFP feels like a half-hearted reboot. It surely causes as many continuity problems as it solves. I'm not honestly all that bothered by that -- I'm an old school James Bond die-hard, I can take or leave continuity -- but the movie seems to want to offer solutions, and yet ultimately offers the sort of DC Comics continuity spackle that at best lays the ground for another reboot in a few years' time. As ComicsAlliance editor Andy Khouri observed in his review of the film, that's one superhero tradition the movies didn't need to import from the comics.
The reboot really only undoes the things Singer didn't like about Ratner's Last Stand, which is fine for his ego but doesn't accomplish anything for the rest of us. We all still sat through that awful movie anyway, and what does it matter if Jean is alive again in the future if the next movie is going to be set before that scene?
(That seems to be the scuttlebutt, as the next movie, X-Men: Apocalypse, is said to be set in the '80s. If it's based on Age of Apocalypse, we'll be stuck with more dystopian timeline shenanigans and essentially a re-tred of DOFP, so let's form a circle and pray that it's not.)
If Fox and Singer were determined to have their cake and eat it too with a palette-cleansing refresh of its self-contradictory continuity spaghetti, they could have taken the opportunity to really clear the table and make-over the franchise -- perhaps taking from the best elements of Singer's X-Men, Singer and Matthew Vaughn's X-Men: First Class, and yes, the comics too, with their kick-ass ladies and relative diversity. (Relative to the Avengers, anyway. Not relative to real life.)
Instead, the ending of DOFP felt like Fox doubling down on its version of the X-Men from fourteen years ago, with their sad lumpy vinyl jumpsuits. Yes, Fox has opened up the franchise to go in new directions, but it didn't show any interest in embracing the franchise's comic book roots. I still don't recognise their Kitty, their Storm, their Mystique. They're XINOs. X-Men In Name Only.
Fox and Singer have built something that works. I won't pretend otherwise. The box office and the critical reception show that it's true. It just didn't work for me. So I get to be the guy who didn't like Days of Future Past. I'm the guy who wants to see Kitty Pryde in the spotlight; I'm the guy who wants to see cool, recognizable versions of Storm and Nightcrawler; I'm the guy who wants to see a family of outcasts and freaks bound together against prejudice, rather than the crew of the USS Westchester.
And maybe the next movie will give me all of those things.
But maybe it'll be Charles and Erik and Logan doing their man-pain dance again while a naked blue woman gyrates around them. And I guess I'm just not as into that as all of you.
Still, I thought the fight scenes were pretty good.