The X-Men franchise hurdled the reboot trap with the aplomb thanks to the excellent First Class‘ – befitting the extraordinary abilities of its growing cast of characters. But the challenge of where to head next remained. Could the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s growing box office spur Fox on to shape a career for the mutants on film that could rival their history in comic books? A look at X-Men Days of Future Past and past future…
X-MEN DAYS OF FUTURE PAST’S TRICK IS NOT JUST THAT IT CONTINUES, NEAR-RESOLVES, AND REBOOTS THE X-FRANCHISE, BUT THAT IT DARES TO TOUCH SOME OF THE SPECTACULAR SCIENCE FICTION FAMILIAR TO READERS OF THE COMICS ON THE WAY. Purists will gripe. Chris Claremont idealists will rant. Fans of Hugh Jackman will blush. Mostly, they will all be right, but the ambition of the fifth main X-Man film cannot be doubted. The cinematic X-Men have jumped like, well, Ripcord from a wall.
1970s – X-Men Days of Future Past (2014)
Magneto’s recruitment strategy was never conducted at Jongleurs…
Crucially, the reboot’s ongoing chrono-oddesey allows it to build on First Class’ major contribution: humour. That was cruelly lacking in the original trilogy as most of it fell to the gruff rebellion of an over-tall Wolverine who couldn’t carry a spark into his solo missions… The original trilogy almost swept it under the carpet as sheer class (McKellen, Stewart) rose above it, in search of the inner-Shakespeare. The other characters made for a dry bunch.
Cyclops was an underdeveloped straight-laced foil to Wolverine’s outsider. Late-arrival Angel was a tortured idealist. Kitty Pryde’s fall into a love triangle with Rogue and Iceman didn’t so much add steam as highlight how artificial and dull teenage romances can appear onscreen. When Beast finally appeared he mostly anguished in the War Room, specs propped on his nose. Good guys are dull they say. But it’s not like Magneto’s recruitment strategy was conducted at Jongleurs – h simply attracted the less academic mutants. Toad’s disappearance from the chronology that followed the first film wasn’t because of the lightning bolt that hit him. It was because of Storm’s delivery.
The great news is that following the events of Future Past all the good guys are back! Party-hat-materialising mutant power, go!
In the second life of the X-Men, the humour is here to stay. Along with huge set-pieces that put 2000’s compact but slight X-Men film to shame. Hopefully, while we wait for a sequel that’s unlikely to involve the original trilogy cast, at least in the way this manages, we can expect more of that. After all, there’s little worse than a dull X-Man. That’s why we never see Solemno sitting there quietly in the corner waiting for Apocalypse…
As Future Past’s takes the initiative of fusing a franchise past and present as quickly as it does, the futurism of the original trilogy becomes a dystopian refuge. The near-future stylings of the 1999 original inevitably make more sense. The future, no matter how harrowing, suits it. For all the spectacular devastation and nods at Portal, other X-Men films, and other X-Men yet to come, it carries a heightened level of threat.
In comparison, the past carries the fun of the film, by dint of not being the dead-end of the future, but also the melancholy of nostalgia. Things are not necessarily less serious in the 1970s, an interesting point of reversal considering the franchise’s start nearly 30 years later. While the science-fiction of the future and the mechanism back to the past, the film is afforded the time to breathe, this time soaking in the flares and sideburns, although the decade is as generalised as the 1960s was in First Class. It’s a credit to director Bryan Singer, returning to the franchise in the big seat for the first time since the triumphant X2, weaves news real and fake into the film more skilfully than Vaughan managed in First Class and his 1970s may actually be more fun than the swinging ‘60s. That’s some achievement.
Marvel’s pre-release dig seem all the wiser…
There’s a playfulness in a film that knows it’s going to be good. The X-Man franchise has never had that kind of swagger before, and it descends directly from First Class, bolstered by an incredible cast. It’s tempted to see it directly challenging competitors. At its most brash, Magneto’s stadium lift could be a poke at The Dark Knight Rises, as could be the Russian templedom of the film’s last stand. Thanks to the ridiculousness of the Marvel properties rights issues, it’s an inescapable conclusion that Quicksilver was included to take a slice out of The Avengers rather than snaffle some of its zeitgeist.
Radically different from the fleeting appearance of the MCU‘s speedster, Future Past‘s Quicksilver is highly effective as a face of the 1970s and a main carrier of comedy. In the brilliant but dour, modern-day but near-future, Captain America: The Winter Soldier the silver speedster’s post-credit cameo was sinister going on creepy. Its inclusion was understandable, but it also handily beat Fox’s franchise to the punch. As an effective member of The Avengers and X-Men, Quicksilver falls between the two studio camps under the old rights deal, a messy situation but one that the mutant-verse got the better of. the X-Men’s Quicksilver is realised as an ADHD kid with an attention disorder to match his metabolism and a predilection for a con – a great screen adaptation. His intriguing characterisation combined with his comic mantle suggests that Marvel’s pre-release was wise.
Future Past lets Quicksilver carry the key joke set-piece of the film, with Jim Croce’s 1973 If I Could Catch Time in a Bottle backing his speed force antics (another extra-diegetic nod in a film that uses the music of the era expertly). there’s even time to nod to the character’s deeper comic roots. During that audacious escape, the franchise’s second magneto jailbreak, a throwaway quip about the Master of Magnetism (father to Quicksilver in the comics, and here it seems) is neat. It’s a shame that Magneto couldn’t, before his Nazi-hunting days, also sire a rights detente between Marvel and Fox. the time conceit enhances the comedy. Wolverine’s cryptic comments about the Quicksilver he knows in the future, so far unseen, are intriguing. His younger self will certainly return, but who knows if he’ll make it through to the 1990s.
But Quicksilver’s set-piece is not just for laughs. It adds a necessary balance to darker onslaughts and the step-up in terms of threat is huge. And it brings a heightened palette for action to match it. While First Class’ Shaw-led attack on the CIA may have challenged the opening set-piece of X2, Future Past features at least three that blow the other films in the franchise out of the water.
The weight of opposition
Wolvie’s back in the limelight after his cameo in First Class, and once again he is the nearest thing to a leading mutant in the team. It’s fortunate that the plot device gives him plenty of room to share the comedy around and it’s worth noting the strength of the cast that came in to portray the younger versions of established characters. The younger mutants have been gifted greater plot roles, but they also excel in the period-ridiculousness. Fassbender and Mystique are highlights once again. A film before, one had started as an assassin, the other a confused teen. Now both are terrorists. Given a fair share of screen time, it seems all the stranger that Wolverine struggled to hit the same heights of humour or imagination in his solo films.
Perhaps the greatest sign of intent comes in the continued bold casting of villains, as once again Magneto is kept as a secondary, conflicted anti-villain. Peter Dinklage’s curiously emphatic Trask is a particular highlight in a film that relishes throwing up ambiguities, no doubt set free by Magneto’s greyer journey. Files of subjects recall Sebastian Shaw’s hypocrisy, although Trask is a quite defenceless human, cowering bewildered in the White House panic room by the end.
But it’s the weight of opposition set against the strong core that is more important than paradox or logic, reason or rhyme. Although this can lead to blips… It’s a shame Magneto of the future, faced with the ultimate mirror of his grand design is so vulnerable, an inverse of the ascendancy of the loner master of magnetism in the past. Naturally, McKellen and Stewart are superb in their relatively static scenes. A high-point? Possibly the ambiguity of Magneto’s skulking off at the approach of the Sentinels. he seizes the role of antihero at the end.
If the tremendously satisfying Future Past leaves the audience with anything, it’s a dose of its own confidence. I only hope Matt Vaughn’s Kingsman: Secret Service, for which he supposedly jumped the X, can live up to expectations. In the resurgent X-Universe he helped to create, Bryan Singer only has one further goal in mind…
The 1980s… Apocalypse (2016)
a sign of intent in name alone
X-Men: Apocalypse. Now that’s got a ring to it. And a villain who might just knock The Avenger’s Thanos into a Cosmic Cube. At the close of Future Past is a prophetic, epic post-credit teaser – Pyramid building, the ominous Four Horsemen in the background… Trailing what has been described as a disaster (level) movie. There’s every likelihood that Bryan Singer will return and that the awe-inspiring story of X-Men versus a mutant God will build on the progress laid in the 1960s and 1970s as they head to the 1990s. The time between films may prove to be most important. There have generally been three years between each ‘main’ X-Film, (including 2011’s First Class if you spring from 2009’s Wolverine). Apocalypse faster arrival (you can see the build-up already) signals a sign of intent in name alone. It’s even enough for Hugh Jackman to reconsider hanging up his claws.
A reboot trick greater than 2009’s Star Trek…
In picking up the reigns of Future Past, Singer’s unearthed a reboot trick that exceeds First Class, and may p[rove greater even than 2009’s Star Trek ruse. On scrutiny, there are only a few logic flaws that chip away at it. Professor X‘s resurrected physiognomy following his brutal assassination in The Last Stand is unexplained, but then this is a world of mutants so who can say? Still, it would have been impossible to refuse Patrick Stewart an invite (he simply wouldn’t let them) and one shouldn’t go searching for plot holes in a film all about paradox.
At the end we have a reset character list, the distinct benefit of them being near-exterminated, a reanimated Cyclops and perhaps most importantly, the chance top redo The Phoenix story line. But there may be no greater indication of the luxury that the franchise can now enjoy than the fact Apocalypse is unlikely to touch the reborn generation of the first trilogy as it serves up a far more straightforward sequel to First Class.
The years have confirmed the simple, elegant, and crucially funny answer to the age-old question of a prequel or sequel can diminish an original film. Simply, neither can – though many try. Days of Future Past proves that a sequel/prequel (two-for-one!) can even enhance a previous film, correcting the wrongs of The Last Stand. As Professor X said, “Infinite decisions mean infinite consequences, for the future is never truly set…” If that’s all this and First Class have in their favour, that’s not bad going. Fortunately, it isn’t all they have. Having traversed a key comic story line with aplomb, reignited the passion of the Wolverine, righted the timeline, and with a whole untapped world of mutants to delve into and a Marvel schedule to take it on its mutant toes, this franchise is clearly flying.