They say that the two most powerful words in advertising are “new” and “free”. Well, thanks largely to my habit of collecting rewards points and buying all of my tickets to films, I was able to redeem the offer of a free ticket last Thursday. Which made X-Men: Days Of Future Past the obvious choice to see.
Rather than give a detailed review, I am going to reflect on my reactions to the content.
Oh, and if you plan to moan at me about “spoilers”, piss off. In 1993, when Basic Instinct shattered box office records in spite of people protesting its existence publishing a very undetailed explanation of its ending (“Catherine Did It!”), it proved one thing about good filmmaking. Paul Verhoeven is the kind of filmmaker who can pull real surprises even when people know every frame of the film in advance. The basics of every moment of RoboCop (the real RoboCop) were known to me long before I saw it. The film changed the way I look at this world and myself. Bryan Singer and Matthew Vaughn have proven in the X-Men films they directed that they are in the same class.
Halle Berry is in this film. Her total screen time is about ten minutes, tops, but that is twenty minutes too much. Given the colossal failures of her attempts to make herself an a-list star, she cannot possibly have enough to threaten the producers with to ensure her casting. And make no mistake about this, Fox: when Halle Berry Tries To Convince Us She Knows Jack About Being Othered And Fails Miserably As Always dies towards the end of the film, I did not make any expressions of shock or dismay. As at least twenty other patrons of Event Cinemas in Parramatta can testify, I cried out “yesssss!!!” in satisfaction.
Can I make this any plainer, Fox, Bad Hat Harry productions, et al? Just about any black woman could play Storm better than Halle Berry.
Several new characters and actors are introduced to the franchise. With the exception of Quicksilver (Evan Peters), they are terribly underutilised, even to the point where one of them could have been cut out of the film entirely without making a difference. Bishop (Omar Sy) is that character. I think Daniel Cudmore has resigned himself to never getting a chance to really explore Colossus as a character. Fan Bingbing does in about five to ten minutes what Halle Berry has failed at with large shares of time in three films now. That is, convince the real world’s equivalent of the X-Men (such as myself) that she knows what being the subject of lies, dehumanisation, and persecution is like.
And make no mistake about this, future creative teams on X-Men films. That is the very basic litmus test of an X-Men film. You have to convince people like me that you know, or even grok.
(In this context, the people who grok to varying degrees that I know of are director Bryan Singer and Sir Ian McKellen.)
Halle Berry does not grok. She does not even understand. She tries to protest that she does, but she does not understand either that she is a privileged idiot who has been handed role after role and contract after contract in spite of only having one discernible talent that fades with age.
The other complaints I have are relatively minor, but they need to be heard. As moments where Magneto paddles Professor X in the face with how right the norms prove him are concerned, there are precious few in this film. Please make no mistake about this, Mister Singer. As my kind have been learning the hard way, and many times paying for that with our lives, normies do not stop hurting people simply when someone makes an effective demonstration of how wrong they are. You have to make them stop by force.
That is why Magneto, regardless of who plays him, always was, is, and always shall be the true hero of the X-Men franchise.
Sir Patrick Stewart and James McAvoy have a moment in the film where, through use of Professor X’s powers, they stand in the same place and exchange lines about the character they share. It is the true magic moment of the film. It is high time that Professor X and those playing him had one of these.
Ellen Page finally gets to be in a good X-Men film, and although she is not given a whole lot to do in it, she proves she is worthy of it.
Sir Ian McKellen is also given little to do in the film. But what he does do, he does exactly as he has done in all of the other X-Men films he has been part of. He makes a series of simple gestures into a powerful statement.
Michael Fassbender has considerably more screentime than McKellen, and the ratio between screentime and awesome moments is about the same for him. Like McKellen, Fassbender communicates more to the audience with a few simple gestures or words than the rest of the cast can do when they pull out all the stops. Also like McKellen, he conveys well that he knows exactly who the real enemy is, and how hard they must strive to stop that enemy.
I am going to diverge for a second and talk about character introductions. A few different new cast members are introduced in Days Of Future Past. What Warpath, Blink, and Bishop get does not really even qualify as introduction. They are sort of displayed as the mutants who are the last to survive the genocide, and that is it. Toad and Sunspot do better. But the real crown jewel in terms of character introduction in this film is Quicksilver.
(This also prompts a little word about how simply getting into the reality of the character can change the results. Fan Bingbing’s name might sound silly to the ethnocentric. Hell, it sounded silly to me when first I heard it. And prior to the announcement that she would be in this film, I had never heard of her. Contrast this with Halle Berry, who has had a meaningless Oscar awarded to her and came into acting from a modelling career in which tens of millions of dollars were exchanged. See if you can guess which of these two convinces me more that she understands the reality of her character whilst having only about one percent as much screentime.)
It is not a coincidence that the length of Quicksilver’s introduction to the audience is on par with that of Wolverine and Rogue in X-Men or Nightcrawler in X2. Unlike “here they are, just be happy, yappers on Fudgebook”, Quicksilver gets a long and detailed series of moments where the rest of the team introduce themselves to him, and we see examples of what he can do.
Another thing that differentiates the real X-Men films from X-Men In Name Only or Wolverine Goes Apeshit For 80 Minutes is the dialogue. Quicksilver, after getting a positive answer to his query about Magneto’s ability to magnetically manipulate things, remarks off-hand that his mother knew a guy who could do that. You do not say, Quicksilver.
This is after Quicksilver demonstrates very effectively why if a dozen or so Humans shared a genetic mutation that enabled them to move faster than the Human eye can possibly track, norms would be extinct within a year of their reaching adulthood.
People complain about the use of Wolverine for focus. To a degree, they are right. Wolverine is very overused in this franchise, and the fact that he is the only character to get two films with his name in them does not help. Thing is, with the successes he has had on multiple fronts since first playing Wolverine in the 2000 production of X-Men, he has been able to elevate himself to a producer. If he wants in on an X-Men film, they will make it happen.
Also worth mentioning is that no film has ever been green-lit without a producer saying, “hey, people will pay to see this guy”. Whether it is Hugh Jackman, or Sir Ian McKellen, or (the very briefly seen in this film) Anna Paquin, producers work on the basis of being able to say “this person is in the film, come and see them”. It is one of the oldest marketing tricks in the book, and has a power comparable to those words “new” and “free”. So the next time you feel compelled to moan about a character being in this or that film to your mind inappropriately, instead thank the actor for getting the film green-lit in the first place.
Now, having said all of that, are there other actors whose characters should get more in-depth exploration? Absolutely. Colossus needs a moment where it is explained why he is aligned with the X-Men and what motivates him. Ditto for Blink. But the biggest loser in terms of character development in this film was Bishop. Whereas Blink’s power is easily rationalised by the storyteller in me, I remain unsure of what Bishop’s power even is.
But where Days Of Future Past really shines is in showing how much America changed during the mid-1970s. The major historical event of the film is the signing of the Paris Peace Accords, firmly placing it in 1973. Two years later, the Supreme Court would essentially make it legal for people to bribe the American government.
Much of the fear and misery that Othered People live in today can be traced back to this era. The era where it stopped being about the people and became about the will of the rich. The film misattributes this somewhat by making Nixon look like the biggest case of penis envy since penis envy was a thing. But the level of the corruption surrounding him and the manner in which Bolivar Trask, as played beautifully by Peter Dinklage, is able to determine the course of the American Government’s response to mutants simply through what amounts to used car salesmanship is priceless. It shows really what went wrong in that time. How the cancer that became a plague when Reagan was “elected” began.
If you have not seen X-Men: Days Of Future Past yet, do so. It is an example of why America’s mainstream film industry is worth saving. On a scale of one to ten, ten being the almighty standard that X2 set and no other comic book adaptation has reached in spite of mainstream critics bleating otherwise, Days Of Future Past is a 9.5 or so.
I can think of far worse things to do with the 131 minutes (plus ads, plus plus plus) it will cost you to see it.