X-Men: Days of Future Past

June 4, 2014

I liked a lot of this.  But I didn’t love it, and it took me a day of mulling it over to figure out why.  Most movies that are broken I can figure it out immediately.  This. . .it was subtle, and it took awhile, but here it is:  This movie doesn’t know who its main characters are.

So I’m going to ramble on about main characters for awhile, as if this is some kind of writing workshop and I’ve just gotten in a manuscript that is mostly very good but will probably never sell because of that subtle main character problem.

In the comics, Kitty Pryde is the one who goes back in time to warn her friends in the past.  At the time the books came out, she was the most engaging character in the series, and she makes the story great and heartfelt and charming, even with all the tragedy. (It’s right there on the cover:  EVERYBODY DIES!)  Here’s this middle aged woman suddenly returning to her teenage self, on what’s really her first day of being an X-Man, and the contrast is intriguing, and gives the reader a concrete emotional anchor.

I understand why the movie decided to send Wolverine back instead — he’s basically the main character of the entire X-Men series of movies, right from the start.  We’ve only seen glimpses of Kitty (though her battle with Juggernaut was the only good thing about the third film); audiences are already invested in Wolverine, so that’s fine.  But he’s near-ageless, and except for a few gray hairs, he’s basically the same in both times — so that arc has to change.  And that’s okay, because there’s another arc there:  Wolverine has to learn to be a mentor to this young man, Charles, who will eventually grow up to become his own most important mentor.  That’s a great story hook right there.

But Wolverine isn’t the main character of this story.  Charles, Eric, and to some extent Mystique, are. (Mystique is clearly the villain, but a sympathetic one, given what we know about her.  But she really only gets enough time to be the one-note crazy bad guy here. Unsatisfying.)  I rewatched First Class the night before going to see this, and it’s a great, great story — because it’s so solidly about the friendship between Charles and Eric.  I’m a little in awe of how awesome this is — a movie about friendship, that  happens to have superpowers.  That moment when Eric puts on the helmet, shuts Charles out, and Charles is screaming because he knows something important has just broken, shattered — the movie nails all the beats.  It’s powerful.

I kept looking for something like that in Days of Future Past, and the movie kept slipping past it.  Part of why it did:  it crammed in a bunch of things that had nothing to do with that arc, and Wolverine’s role in it.  It kept throwing in references to Stryker, flashbacks about Jean — all important to Wolverine’s story as depicted in the other movies.  In fact, this depended a whole lot on the audience having seen those other movies, to its detriment, I’m afraid.

For a story whose plot was essentially a big standoff — Mystique wants to kill Trask, Trask wants to kill all mutants, the Sentinels want to kill everyone, Eric wants to kill Mystique, Charles wants to stand in between them all shouting “No!” — this was a really complicated movie.  What it really needed to do was cut out everything that wasn’t about Charles and Eric trying to work together to stop Mystique.  Wolverine doesn’t have an arc in this story.  He should be something of a Greek Chorus, foretelling doom — and that’s totally okay.  He can have his realization about settling down and learning to be a mentor — and then get to the work of mentoring and observing.  Everything else muddies the story.

Three more general observations:

All the superhero action stuff was pretty much great.  The Quicksilver sequence in the kitchen was amazing.  I loved the future bits, and the way the movie cut back and forth during the climax.  The familiar characters, the fighting, the struggle against impossible odds.  Totally engaging.  My friends and I decided we really want to see a movie starring the second stringers — Kitty, Colossus, Iceman, etc.  That would be awesome.  One of the tricks of writing about superheroes, especially in something like the Wild Cards world, or X-Men, is finding creative ways to use your characters’ powers.  Unexpected ways.  Put your water-bender in a desert and let her figure out how she can still use her powers.  Let your metal-bender find ways of working around his limitations.  Rebar is Magneto’s favorite thing in the world, and I love that.

The Easter Egg:  was a failure, I think, because even my comics geek friend was like, “Wut?”  Clearly, it’s a teaser for whatever movie is coming next. But I’ve got nothing linking it to what came before, and no idea what’s coming next.  I kept thinking of the Guardians Easter Egg in Thor: Dark World, which was also completely out of left field — but we had the Asgardians there to tell us this is the same universe, and I knew Guardians was coming.  It’s a stepping stone.  This egg had me flailing in the deep end with nothing to hold on to.

Women characters:  Yes, I’m going to talk about this, because it bothered me.  I’m wondering why the scarcity of meaningful women characters bothered me more in this than it did in Godzilla, and I think it’s expectation.  Previously, this series has done a great job:  Jean, Rogue, Storm, Mystique, Emma Frost, Moira — I really missed Moira in this one.  This time we have. . .Mystique, the Macguffin.  Jennifer Lawrence did what she could with what she had, but it was really unsatisfying having a plot that was basically a bunch of guys trying to stop this one powerful crazy woman.  I walked out of the theater feeling this desperate, aching, heartbreaking desire for a Kitty Pryde movie with Emma Page.  Please, Marvel.  Please give me a movie focused on one of your amazing women characters.  Do it soon.  I’m dying here.



13 Responses to “X-Men: Days of Future Past”

  1. ianthealy Says:

    All very good points. I’m generally unfamiliar with the Marvel Universe since I’m a DC guy, but overall I thought it was a generally enjoyable, generally well-done superhero movie. That Quicksilver scene, though… That was worth the price of admission alone. I may have geeked out more than most because the main character of my own superhero fiction series is a speedster and I kept thinking “Yes! THIS is how it’s supposed to look!”

  2. Phenix Nash Says:

    Not sure if you’ve read this Slate article, but it touches on some of the same issues: http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/movies/2014/05/kitty_pryde_reviews_x_men_days_of_future_past.html

  3. Erik K Says:

    My big problem with the movie was how they treated Mystique. All through the movie, they make it a Really Big Deal that she’s never killed before. She’s done all of this fighting and never kills. And IF SHE KILLS then she’s going to completely change, become a different person, and be lost forever.

    *Even though Wolverine slashes through helpless(ish) people as his very first act;

    *Even though a running theme is that if one person stumbles, they can come back;

    *Even though we’ve never seen any of the X-men make that big of a deal in killing someone.

    It’s frustrating, and what’s more, it also requires Mystique to be stupid, and also Erik to be stupid.

    What Erik should have done: get Mystique alone after they reunite with her, say that he’s totally alright with her killing Trask, just please don’t kill him in front of cameras. Also, kill him in a completely normal way so it seems like a human, then go about sabotaging the sentinels. It would have restored agency to Mystique, which was a big problem in the film.

  4. I found this movie stupid where First Class was smart, fighty where First Class was talky, spectacle-driven where First Class was character-driven. I thought it was a giant disappointment, and a return to big dumb X-Men movies after a lovely small intimate one. So…basically what you said, only my brain wasn’t nearly so nice.

    My husband is a hyooge X-Men fan from childhood, so he knew what was up with the Easter egg, but he was the only one of the four of us.

  5. I haven’t seen it yet but I’m sad to hear it. I’ve honestly struggled with the x-men franchise for a while now. It’s not bad, it just has a hard time dealing with it’s large cast. After growing up with the xmen animated tv series I really, really want to love it.

  6. Tim Schmidt Says:

    I enjoyed x-men. I didn’t think it was the best of the series but it was worth going to see at the theater. I also thought that quicksilver’s kitchen scene was the best scene in the movie.

    I’ve now seen all of the big 3 of the May blockbusters (Godzilla, X-men & Maleficent). The 1 I liked the best is Maleficent. First, they did some things I wasn’t expecting with the story line (in a good way mostly). Second, Angelina Jolie is awesome in the title role. Third, it seemed to borrow some elements of Frozen.


  7. Lionus Says:

    For a movie, or that matter a novel, where there is A main character, everyone else (outside of the villain) is then largely a “spear carrier in the background“ with nothing much else to do in the story but 1) be placed in peril, 2) serve as a speaking post for the main character to throw exposition at, and perhaps 3) be killed “tragically” (thus intensifying the main character’s motivation to “get the bad guys“).

    If this movie was about one main character dealing with just one Story Problem then it probably could have been called, “X-MAN: Days of Future Past”, of if you prefer, “X-WOMAN: Days of Future Past”.

    Sadly, since the movie/story is about a group of people (whose comic book lives are a decade or more old), there are multiple character goals, motivations and varying pre-existing relationships all shoe-horned together to fit under one roof. That fit is not necessarily the best one nor does it cover every character.

  8. carriev Says:

    See, I don’t think shoe-horning things in is a good way to write stories, about one character or about many characters.

    I write stories. When I encounter a story that doesn’t work, my natural inclination is to figure out why. This is what I came up with, and I think the story would have been better served with more focus and less trying to fit everything in. It’s still an X-Men story — just about the part rather than the whole. *And that’s okay.*

    (Part of why the first movie was so genius is how it took two disparate characters, Rogue and Wolverine, and tied their stories together into a single plot. The background characters still had plenty to do. But the story was clearly about *these two*. *That’s* how it’s done.)

  9. Calico Says:

    For Marvel to do a Kitty Pryde movie, you better hope they get the rights back from Fox for the X-Men characters. Barring Quicksilver (I don’t know how Marvel is going to be able to use that character and Fox too), Marvel doesn’t have the rights to the X-Men, hence why we haven’t seen Wolverine in the Avengers movies. And poor Spidey is owned by Sony, so no good seeing Spidey in an Avengers movie either….

  10. The truly aggravating thing about Fox focusing so much on the male characters of the X-Men in their movies and only spinning off solo male characters like Wolverine and the upcoming Gambit movie (and the previously talked about Magneto and Deadpool solo films) is the female X-characters have always been hands down the most distinctive women in comics. There is just SO much untapped potential there. Psylocke was a British spy before joining the X-Men in the comics, pitch a solo film with her as a telepathic female James Bond. Storm had awesome cinematic-worthy adventures when she was younger – like as a thief on the streets of Cairo engaged in a cat and mouse game with the Shadow King, an immortal body-hopping telepath seeking to exploit her powers. Magik (Colossus’s sister) was a teleporter who was kidnapped by the ruler of a demonic realm called Limbo before she ultimately deposed him and took his place on Limbo’s throne. And so on and so on. Practically every female X-character has a great solo hook and plenty of their own adventures to mine from, but nope, female led action movies are too risky, so forget about the superheroines…oy.

  11. I’ll agree with kalenodonnell here a little bit: I recently had a conversation with a few acquaintances regarding the Marvel IP rights issues and why we haven’t seen a female-led Marvel Studios movie. I told them that, essentially, it’s because all of Marvel’s most popular female superheroes are X-Men. It is a bit frustrating that two of the bigger names, Storm and Kitty, were in this movie but essentially served the roles of cannon fodder and plot device respectively, especially when the original story was focused on Kitty and this one abandoned that to give us more Wolverine instead.

    I actually appreciated the fact that the movie ended up actually being more about Xavier, Magneto and Mystique than about Wolverine, and I do realize that the setting of the story could not have been when it was and starred Kitty.

    I disagree with you on one point, Carrie: I think, of all the characters, the one with the most compelling arc in this movie was Raven/Mystique. She’s very well portrayed as an idealist who has lost her way and is in the midst of falling from grace, and it’s possible that one of the best character study moments in the film is when she’s speaking with the French nurse about the news broadcast. When you really get down to it, she is the character with the most agency in the movie, and the one who, ultimately, makes the choices that change the future, because from the very beginning to the literal second the credits roll, the movie is about the consequences of HER actions.

    I enjoyed it, and possibly a little bit more than I enjoyed Godzilla (which I saw the same day): there’s a part of my brain that realizes, somewhat cynically, that this movie mostly exists in order to retcon away all of the stupid about X-Men 3, and to get us back on track for a modern day X-Men movie without a ‘real’ reboot. But I felt it was well done enough that it can stand on its own, and in the end I feel that being enjoyable is all that a movie REALLY has to be.

  12. Rich Wilson Says:

    I do believe they were chanting “En Sabah Nur” in the after credit scene. Is that what you were calling Easter Egg?

  13. Yeah, they were saying En Sabah Nur, its the real name of Apocalypse, the 5000 year old mutant who’s the next film’s main villain aka the gray skinned guy who was building the pyramids with his mind (even though telekinesis has never even remotely been one of his powers, but whatever).

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