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“X-Men: Days of Future Past” is best X yet
Time travel is the best plot device imaginable for films that have very little basis in reality. As the recent re-boot of the Star Trek franchise has shown, resetting the continuity of a series of films/television shows/books is as easy as falling into a convenient black hole.
Suddenly, all of the mistakes from the previous incarnations, all of the anachronisms and dated styles and clunky attempts at cultural relevance can be erased and explained away. Of course, anyone that’s ever seen a film like “Primer” knows that resetting a timeline isn’t quite as simple as these Hollywood films make it—more often than not, moving backwards only causes confusion and chaos.
Hell, even Marty McFly figured that out upon discovering the hellish dystopia of Hill Valley when Biff escaped into the past with a sports almanac. But as long as the scriptwriter chooses to ignore any negativity that comes from potential alternate timelines, time travel works as a great slate cleaner. Most people are willing to completely suspend their disbelief when it comes to time travel. No one wants to think too hard about a paradox. This tactic is on full display in the best X-Men movie to date, Bryan Singer’s “X-Men: Days of Future Past”.
The X-Men films mark the very beginning of our current superhero craze. “X-Men” was released more than ten years ago, in a time when a movie about superheroes was not a guaranteed box office success. There was no promised sequel, no long-term planning. As a result, mistakes were made.
Marvel Studios wasn’t around and the idea that plots and stories could take place over the course of several different films, involving several different and unique characters, was something that hadn’t been tried. Singer needed to jam as much X-Men (meaning as much Wolverine as they can fit into two-plus hours) into his film as possible.
When “X-Men” became successful, and the studio had a budding franchise on their hands, the movies weren’t handled as gracefully as they might have been. There are a lot of weird continuity issues, recasting problems, and outright removal of popular comic book characters for reasons that were never sufficiently explained. After the success of “X-Men,” the franchise began to look a lot like movies made by committee.
This changed to some degree with “X-Men: First Class”— largely because Fox may have finally realized what was possible with the property, and the wild popularity of superhero movies finally attracted more high-caliber young actors like Jennifer Lawrence and Michael Fassbender. “First Class” was excellent in a way that nearly made up for all of the mistakes of the past. It focused on characters other than the guy with claws, fuller characters with their own backgrounds.
Which brings us to “X-Men: Days of Future Past.” This is a film that fully realizes the capabilities of the characters in the X-Men universe. They are more than just a random collection of names with specific powers. They are people with pasts, family members and personalities beyond their mutant gifts. While the film doesn’t completely delve into all of these characters (the future scenes seem a lot like the same old X-Men we’ve always had), it does a better job than previous incarnations.
As I mentioned, the time travel aspect of the film essentially resets the continuity issues that have plagued the franchise from the start, although it never explains how Professor X manages to be in this film given that he was blown up by Phoenix in “X-Men: The Last Stand.” If the rest of the film is any indication, that tiny quibble isn’t all that important.
What we have in “X-Men: Days of Future Past” is the first argument that maybe another movie studio can effectively manage a Marvel property. It’s a high-quality, entertaining film that fully redeems the franchise and might for once be able to stand toe-to-toe with any of the Avengers films.
This leads me to one more point: We have reached critical mass in the superhero genre. They now stand alone as a category like romantic comedy or horror. In fact, they may even need their own category at the Oscars. These films are not, by any stretch of the imagination, going away. It’s time we embrace them for what they are. There are more than 50 years of stories to be told—the surface hasn’t even been scratched. Let’s settle in for the long haul.