Just a bit of warning here, but this is going to be more editorial comment than an actual review.
(As you go: "And how is this different from . . .")
I watched Bryan Singer's "X-Men: Days of Future Past" in front of a row of people who spent the entire movie whispering about this or that bit of Marvel comic book mythology, and getting it all Very Wrong for the most part.
But then it occurred to me that maybe they weren't. Thirty years ago . . . maybe even twenty . . . I could've called them down on all the mistakes they were making. After all, comic book fans were still pretty much in the Bronze Age*, and matters were fairly settled. Nowadays, however, "continuity" is something old people wish for in terms of personal hygiene, and Reality is whatever a current comic book creative team declares it to be.
(*Okay, some of you might not have the slightest idea of what I'm talking about. American comic books are actually split up into "ages". The Golden Age ran from the late 1930's on through the early 1950's. To use an illustrating example: the Golden Age Batman began fighting crime in May of 1939. Now in the 1950's, in an attempt to "upgrade" the characters for a new generation, they were shifted forward into that time period. Sometimes with new people stepping into the identities. This enabled, for instance, the Batman and Superman to continue having adventures on through the 1960s and so on, and this was called the Silver Age which lasted until 1970 when the Bronze Age came along; the feeling being that another upgrade was necessary. The Bronze Age held sway until 1985 when we entered . . . God help us . . . the "Modern Age". And don't worry if any of this confuses you. Just take my hand.)
Perhaps this wouldn't bother me so much if it didn't seem to solely involve the SF genre. I mean yes, I've seen revisionist accounts of history on the big screen (some of them clumsier than others). But there's something about SF which somehow attracts the attention of everyone with a "fresh kid vs. established gunslinger" mentality. J.J. Abrams, for example, sneers at fans and decides he's better than Gene Roddenberry who built one of the genre's more enduring franchises from the ground up. We get remake after remake of classic films by people who think CGI footage can replace Talent.
And so it is in the current age of comic book adaptations. But I suppose I shouldn't be all that surprised. After all, when you're dealing with a franchise you cannot reasonably expect every entry in the series to be worthwhile. For example: out of 178 episodes of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" I can probably come up with only ten or so I'd consider adding to a personal collection (compare that with 12 out of the 78 episodes of the original "Star Trek" series). Despite the fact that I am a total James Bond junkie, I would only keep 11 out of the total number of films in the franchise.
But I don't want to drift too far off subject here. I only wanted to underline some points concerning the reason I was less than impressed by "Days of Future Past". Briefly: being part of an ongoing franchise attracts laziness . . . and Arrogance should never be mistaken for Imagination.
To my way of thinking, Bryan Singer didn't do all that atrociously bad with "X-Men", "X2", "X-Men: First Class" . . . or "Valkyrie" either, for that matter. But "Days of Future Past" lacked several things to my point of view, and direction was one of them. Maybe the effort of trying to fit the film into a broader overall storyline became too much for the house of cards he created, and that's what caused things to fall apart. I mean: when a movie not only has costumed superheroes but also talent such as Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Peter Dinklage, James McAvoy and others . . . and fails to generate any sort of genuine excitement or drama . . . then Singer's going to have to take a good chunk of the fall.
And pumpkins, do I have candidates!
First, keep in mind my oft-repeated rule about too many writers on a project. Herein we have a textbook example. Jane Goldman worked on "X-Men: First Class". She is also responsible for the screenplay for the somewhat promising looking "Kingsman: The Secret Service" (unless this is another case of all the good scenes having ended up in the trailer) and she wrote the screenplay for the somewhat interesting "The Woman in Black". Simon Kinberg wrote "X-Men: The Last Stand", "Sherlock Holmes", "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" and (God help us) is writing and producing the "Fantastic Four" reboot. We then have Matthew Vaughn who also wrote on "X-Men: First Class" and is also working on "Kingsman: The Secret Service".
These three people go on The List.
And I must now offer apologies to Chris Claremont.
Y'see, pumpkins, I was reading "X-Men" comics back when the people who were sitting behind me in the theater weren't even Hershey bars in their Daddies back pockets. The "X-Men" title first appeared in September of 1963. Everybody go "Wow".
Thank you. By the early 1970s, however, the title was losing steam. It was then that Chris Claremont came along and, after a severely needed jump start from writer Len Wein, proceeded to give the title a much needed boost in terms of stories (aided and abetted by artwork from the likes of Dave Cockrum and John Byrne).
As I said, I was reading "X-Men" back in those days. And here I'll freely admit that I had occasional problems with Claremont's writing style. There were times when he didn't know when to end a story arc, and he could be as dialogue-heavy as the worst of them. But that didn't stop the occasional gems from shining through ("X-Men" #183, with artwork by John Romita Jr. and Dan Green, still contains what I feel is one of the best marriages of action and dialogue ever produced). Yes, I had problems with Claremont. But, when compared to the likes of Goldman, Kinberg and Vaughn, Claremont comes off looking like James Joyce.
The plot of "X-Men: Days of Future Past" was "based" or "inspired" from a story Claremont wrote with John Byrne back in 1981 ("inspired", by the way, is Hollywoodspeak for "being too damn lazy or stuck-up to simply adapt the existing story). In the original story, as in the movie, North America has been taken over by the Sentinels. In a last-ditch effort to try and change things, Kitty Pryde's consciousness is sent back in time to her younger self to try and warn the other X-Men so that historical events can be altered.
In the movie, however, it's Wolverine who's sent back in time (by Kitty Pryde who, it must be pointed out, never had that power before. But that was last week. This week is this week and, by now, she might have the mutant power to remove mustard stains from dinner jackets).
Needless to say the rest of Claremont's original story was flushed down the ol' commode just so that Jackman's Wolverine can get more onscreen time in a plot where he, the James McAvoy Charles Xavier, the Michael Fassbender Magneto and the Nicholas Hoult Beast can team up to prevent Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique (or Raven, the plot can never seen to make up its mind which) from murdering Peter Dinklage (who is playing Dr. Bolivar Trask: the creator of the mutant-hunting Sentinels). The plot also calls for Fassbender to levitate RFK Memorial Stadium and drop it on the White House lawn for reasons which were never made clear to me (not that I minded. Any film where a sports arena is destroyed gets points in my book). Meanwhile, in the future (or the film's present . . . whatever), Patrick Stewart's Xavier, Ian McKellan's Magneto and the remainder of the X-Men are fighting off a steadily approaching army of mutants . . .
And it was all something of a colossal bore (which is no reflection on Daniel Cudmore, who was playing Colossus in the movie). When you have over a dozen or so costumed figures engaged in warfare with giant robots, and I'm sitting there in Jaded Moviegoer Mode, then something's obviously wrong. Apparently we were supposed to be biting our fingernails over whether or not the mission to change the future would be completed in time (ba-BOOM!). But hell . . . Robert Zemeckis did a far better take on the subject with his "Back to the Future" films, and threw in some laughs on top of that.
Even with all that, though, "Days of Future Past" wasn't a 100% total loss. Much press has already been generated about a brief scene where Evan Peters (playing Peter Maximoff: the super-fast mutant known as Quicksilver) uses his power to save Jackman and the others from a hail of bullets (all set to Jim Croce's "Time in a Bottle"). Peters is tapped to reprise the role in the upcoming "X-Men: Apocalypse" and, if gets more scenes like that, then the film could be a treat.
There's also a nice scene where Jennifer Lawrence's character uses her shape-shifting powers to free some mutants from a military enclosure (some superpowers work better cinematically in intimate settings rather than in wide scenes). But these bits weren't enough to rescue the entire production. At least not in my eyes.
Yes, "Days of Future Past" is doing well at the box office. But be warned: Singer. Be warned: Goldman, Kinberg and Vaughn. Inertia has a way of catching up with things. And comic book fans, for all our eccentricities and faults, possess very long memories.