Director Bryan Singer returns to the franchise that defined much of his career with X-Men: Days of Future Past, an ambitious blockbuster that attempts to unite the characters from the original X-Men trilogy with the 2011 movie X-Men: First Class. It’s a sizable undertaking, to be sure, and while Singer does manage to keep the film moving at an even clip, as a movie, X-Men: Days of Future Past is an anticlimactic bore.
In other words, it’s an X-Men movie not directed by Matthew Vaughn. Singer’s previous entries in the series were ineffective, poorly structured films to begin with and time has not been kind to them. A lot of hate was spewed at the time when Brett Ratner took over X-Men: The Last Stand, and rightfully so, but Singer didn’t exactly leave a pristine legacy. All of his X-Men films – Days Of Future Past included – have structural problems, lack a thrilling climax and are largely devoid of character development or the sense of community that one would expect of a ragtag group of outsiders, bound together by their differences.
What we have continued to get instead is fan service, which is a shorthand, lazy way of engendering character traits and filling backstory without actually building characters or creating relationships that don’t depend on a working knowledge of a 51-year-old comic book that has reinvented himself a few dozen times. Wolverine says “bub,” Magneto is a jerk, and in this movie, finally, Iceman actually surfs on a god damn ice bridge. But those nods don’t make for a satisfactory movie.
Using the Back To The Future rules of time travel, the X-Men of the future send Wolverine (played again by Hugh Jackman) back in time to stop a turning point in mutant history. If Wolverine can accomplish this, then the future will be altered for the better and crisis will be averted. When he arrives in the 70s he finds a cynical Charles Xavier (again played by First Class alum James McAvoy) and an imprisoned Magneto (played by Michael Fassbender). It’s telling that much of the chemistry built up between Fassbender and McAvoy’s characters in First Class is mostly non-existent in the film, but that’s a small corner cut compared to the many, many others Singer and screenwriter Simon Kinberg have to make in order to unite these timelines.
What follows is a relatively small caper film bookended by some relatively low stakes dystopian future sequences wherein everything is gray and dirt brown. Oh, and the overall timeline gets a healthy alteration. The stakes never mean anything and the entire plot is telegraphed, which is expected in summer blockbusters, especially ones that are part of a larger, connected universe.
The A.V. Club’s review makes the case that that type of storytelling is true to the comics, but it’s not. Comics are episodic and serial in nature, but they establish everything over time. To a new reader, if they don’t have the background knowledge or someone to catch them up, it looks like a lot of that canon is assumed when really it’s been built.
The X-Men movies have always just operated under us knowing a certain amount about the books or the universe and being able to fill in the blanks where needed.That’s lazy, and it happens all the time in this, and really all of the movies. They’ve always been sloppy and lazy and about as interesting as the color palette of their uniforms because no time’s really spent making us care about any of them, and that’s also why First Class works. Relationships are built, reports are established background and context are given. Characters’ actions are justified, even if it’s just to them.
That’s good storytelling, regardless of the medium.