The Fifth Color | ‘X-Men’ gets back to where we once belonged
X-Men: The Last Stand was the last X-Men movie I thought I would ever see. I was so let down that I didn’t even want to watch X-Men: First Class when Fox tried to lure fans back with the promise of a clean slate. X3 was just too far. All the buildup and promise of the first two films was washed away with thoughtlessness and a complete misunderstanding of what made those adaptations great.
It’s easy to forget that the first X-Men movie really kicked off the revival of major comic-book adaptations that continue today. I know, Blade came first and was a big hit and really rekindled Hollywood’s love affair with comic properties, but X-Men was the start of the uniformed team, super-powers and the struggle between good and evil that modern audiences crave. The idea of peace and war for survival, the human-rights angle played as a mutant allegory portrayed by talented actors was all there comfortably next to stabby fight scenes, snarky quips and Halle Berry. From the first movie, we went to what could be debated as the best X-Men movie, X2: X-Men United. Themes were expounded upon, comic morsels were dropped for fans to pick up on, and the special-effects budget improved tenfold. After that, development problems, the wanton destruction of characters and the complete mishandling of the Phoenix storyline all combined to create a movie that nearly killed the franchise.
X-Men: First Class was a chance to get the audience back with a younger, sexier cast of mutant heroes and villains. For the most part it worked, but I didn’t want a new group of X-Men; I wanted the old one back. Everything in the first two X-Men movies still worked, and it didn’t feel right to just jettison it all because of one disaster. To borrow a phrase, just because one stumbles and falls doesn’t mean they’re lost forever.
If only we could go back in time and change X-Men: the Last Stand. ..
WARNING: SPOILERS for X-Men: Days of Future Past. I’ll try and remain vague, but I’ll definitely be talking about the final act because — short version — it’s worth the admission price to see if you’re a fan of the original films. For more, continue on, True Believers!
X-Men: Days of Future Past effectively blends together the old and the new, continuing two continuities at once. It’s a bold choice and incredibly complicated, but if you’re an old hand at following comic plotlines, it’s a piece of cake to wrap your head around. Blah blah blah, time travel, blah blah, change past to alter the future, blah blah, Wolverine. We’ve seen it before. But this is a great chance to take the things that worked from both versions of on-screen X-Men (the First Class crew and the OG X-Men) and blend them together. Fans of the young-and-sexy X-Men from First Class get that big, sweeping allegory for human rights and moral choice that the first movies had and the OG fans get the benefit of the advancement of special effects and set pieces that First Class did so well. The original cast gets a nice boost from new actors, while the new team gets the gravitas of Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen. The addition of new character in the future is handled well, giving us just enough to be fascinating without further complicating the plot.
Is this a good movie? Not really. The time-travel mechanics are wonky and confusing to comic fans (when did Kitty Pryde get the power to send people back in time?) and illogical. A lot of motivations feel hand-waved and rushed to get to the next story beat (young Magneto remembering that he’s supposed to be evil and dangerous in the last act seems abrupt). Quicksilver seems like he could have solved a lot of awkward plot holes, and his big scene is so entertaining you jant more of him in the film. While I can certainly recommend it to people who haven’t seen X-Men: First Class, I can’t imagine what this would be like for non-comic fans; I heard a lot of people explaining the end of the movie to friends as we headed to the parking lot. The Days of Future Past storyline is pretty complicated as is, and there’s very little to be done to streamline it for fresh audiences; it’s a bold move by the writers, and they do the best they could.
Is this movie what the franchise needed? Heck, yes. It feels like a natural forward progression of both styles of X-Men that leads naturally to more films. The effects are really well done when it comes to characters that might have a hard time translating to the big screen, like Blink and Quicksilver. But most importantly, it feels like there’s a moral core at the center of the X-Men’s story; an idea of hope, of peace and being better people in the face of adversity, which should be the point of most films with such four-color heroes. I’m not saying all superhero movies have to tell us to say our prayers and take our vitamins, but general audiences can go home now with the same inspired feeling they had when the original X-Men films came out. They quite literally return us to that age.
Recons are annoying because they overwrite both the good and the bad and should only be used sparingly to correct mistakes. Simon Kinberg, writer and producer of Days of Future Past, and one of two credited writers on The Last Stand, gets a clear chance at vindication for the mistakes made in X3. “It was absolutely a conscious thing that what we were doing was trying to set the continuity into a more coherent place,” he said. “And that we would erase certain inconsistencies.”
In the end, his efforts have created a new future that should lead to a far brighter future for the X-Men movies than what had been left for them before.