Why I gave up on the X MEN

I break down the rather ill conceived X Men Cinematic Universe in brief, and take a more detailed look at Days of Future Past.

With 7 movies over 13 years, the X Men cinematic universe is one of the most established superhero (‘mutant’ if you’re a stickler for detail) franchises out there, not just in terms of number of films, but the diversity of stories told, and the dizzying number of characters the universe boasts.

People give credit to Bryan Singer’s  2000 movie ‘X Men’, not only the first film in the X Men franchise, but one, they argue, paved the way for the current generation of superhero movies as we know them. I personally believe that honour goes to Sam Rami’s ‘Spider-man’, which came out a couple of years later. The first X Men film just didn’t have the magic that Spiderman had when it hit theatres. ‘X Men’ felt more like a group of misfits that were brought together by Professor X rather than what we today call a conventional superhero movie.

Back then,audiences needed a conventional narrative with likeable characters, one X Men did not necessarily provide. Instead it gave us characters who more often than not regretted their ‘gifts’, and even wanted to get rid of them. This made for an interesting inner struggle for the characters, one that’s been milked throughout the series. You could argue that maybe ‘X Men’, as a film was a few years ahead of its time, since audiences needed to embrace more black and white superhero narratives before welcoming characters like Mystique and Wolverine.

This was followed by ‘X2: X Men United’ in 2003, again directed by Singer. A much stronger film than its predecessor, X2 introduced us to Wolverine’s creator, William Stryker. Although it dealt with similar themes to the first film, it was a much stronger film. It had a stronger plot and actually delved deeper into its characters. For the first time we saw Professor X and Magento working with each other. This movie set up the franchise for great things to come; which in hindsight became a case of potential never truly realized.

When Bryan Singer left the X Men franchise to direct Superman returns for WB/ DC, I rejoiced. I expected to see a great character driven narrative from Singer mixed with some great action, given his work on 2 X Men films. What he gave us was an abomination. And Fox and Brett Ratner didn’t do much better with ‘X Men: The Last Stand’, throwing everything AND the proverbial sink at the audience, with a paper thin plot.

Not enough venom can be spewed on the direction Fox took with ‘X Men: The Last Stand’, ‘X Men Origins: Wolverine’ and ‘The Wolverine’. ‘The Last Stand’ single handedly ruined Gean Grey, Cyclopse, Professor X, Mystique, and marginalized Magneto and beast, focusing squarely on the two biggest stars at that point in time, Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, and Halle Berry’s Storm. The script had no clue how to properly incorporate so many other characters in the movie, and being the last one of the trilogy, they put gazillion mutants in there.

Between the 2 Wolverine movies that followed, they managed to turn casual fans of the X Men away from fan favourites Gambit, Blob, Deadpool, and Silver Samurai as well.

It took a valiant effort from Matthew Vaughn in ‘X Men: First Class’ to re-establish faith in the franchise. ‘First Class’ stands as my favourite film in the franchise, and does a great job introducing us to Charles Xavier/ Professor X and Magneto, and sheds light at their friendship, and formative years. It takes us through the different ways they approach the Human/ Mutant status quo, with Magneto being far more radical in his thoughts. The effort, however, also opens up inconsistencies with the original films in the franchise. And these inconsistencies are multiplied tenfold by ‘X Men: Days of Future Past’

The latest entry in the franchise, ‘X Men: Days of Future Past’ is the most ambitious of the lot, with past and future versions of the X Men working together to overcome a common enemy. It’s filled with a lot of inner conflict and motivations of a lot of its characters, rather than throwing action sequences at the audience unrelentingly.

This would normally be the kind of thing I’d welcome with open arms in a summer blockbuster, a little more being offered then mindless action, but I came out of DOFP, rather disappointed.
Don’t get me wrong, as a standalone entity DOFP works very well. Simon Kinsberg’s screenplay is extremely taut, and almost every scene does something to advance the story, with very little excess fat making it to the final cut, and there really is a lot going on, given the sheer number of characters here. All of them are done justice too from a screenplay perspective.

Why am I whining then? Here’s the thing, I’ve seen all the films in the X Men franchise and I still don’t feel like I really know most of these characters. At seven movies in, I feel like I should understand at least the central X Men, but the likes of Magneto and Mystique always seem to be a whole new character in the movies.  The movies seem to adopt an episodic approach to the characters, rather than continuing their journeys.

Since DOFP goes about the task of setting right the wrongs caused by ‘X Men origins: Wolverine’ and ‘The Last Stand’, and has such a huge impact on the course of events to follow (let’s be honest, it pretty much reboots all of the last 6 movies, barring X Men: First Class), I feel like it’s the most to blame for all the anachronisms (and there are SO MANY in this movie) and character inconsistencies.

Coming back to Magneto, he just seems to switch sides at will. He chooses to work with Xavier when it’s convenient for him, and fight him when he feels like it. Even in DOFP, we see him ready to kill Mystique to save the future and himself without batting an eye, after all they went through in ‘First Class’; and yet, in the third act, he looks to commit the same murder that he almost killed Mystique to avoid? Are both the characters really so daft as to go ahead and perform the act knowing what’s really at stake? I really thought Magneto planned to sabotage the sentinels just to prove they can’t be trusted for public safety (which would have been a much smarter thing to do), but I was wrong.

If you really think about it; did they really need to rescue Magneto to stop Mystique from killing Trask? I don’t remember him contributing to the mission in any way, other than making everything worse. Did he really NEED to be in the movie?

What about his motivations? That’s the other thing; I still can’t say I understand Magneto’s motivations as a character. There have been at least 3 instances in the series so far where I can recall Magneto asking his fellow mutants to ‘rise up’ against humans. If he is such a charismatic leader, I’d imagine a few close aides would have joined him over the years.  And he lets them die as collateral damage? He’s always raising an army or a brotherhood, and running through mutants like a hot knife through butter in the name of collateral damage. After ALL that, he and Charles still end up working together again and again under the rouge of ‘facing a common enemy’. I find that a little hard to believe.

It just seems like the film makers aren’t really sure what to do with the characters of Magneto and Xavier in the movies other than thrive off the conflict between them. It would be great to see the movies reach some kind of consistency as far as the interactions between them are concerned.  While the conflict worked well in ‘First Class’, and the contrast between the two sets of characters was on full display in DOFP, instead of it feeling fresh and interesting, I couldn’t help but feel like I’ve seen all of it earlier.

Even when it’s all said and done, I never really saw Trask as a villain here, He wants to find a way to help the government fight mutant threats; he goes about it legally, seeking permission, with no imminent plan to cause wide scale destruction. It basically comes down to Mystique and Magneto being the real villains here as well, both potentially driving history down the road the team is working to avoid.

It’s interesting to think that given everything we’ve seen from the X Men series so far, whether Magneto, a champion for mutant rights, has actually cause more damage than help for his cause.

Considering the original reality that occurred before Wolverine goes back in time and  changes it, we never heard of the sentinels during the first 2 XMen films, no explanation is provided for that either.  If the cops are smart enough to use plastic weapons against Magneto in the 70’s why did they always resort to metallic ones in Singer’s earlier X Men films? And why could Xavier just get into Trask’s head and make him stop here?
If these were Transformers movies, I wouldn’t bother asking these questions, but coming from the guy who helmed The Usual Suspects, I believe I’m warranted in expecting more from the movies.

My other major gripe with DOFP is the use of the EXTREMELY overused ‘Reset button syndrome’. It really trivializes the sense of imminent danger the characters face in the future, as you know that even if they die, they’re all going to come back with a history altering correction. Seeing so many of our favourite mutants die should be gut-wrenching, but I found myself counting the minutes before those mutants inevitably reappeared on screen, not for a second believing any of them were actually dead.

The film also doesn’t answer several other questions regarding its major characters. How Xavier is still alive after Gene Grey / Phoenix vaporized him? How did Magneto get his powers back after being ‘cured’ in ‘The Last stand’? We also see Wolverine having to switch back to bone claws at the end of Wolverine? Did he get more Adamantium implants since then?

The stage is now set for ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’, scheduled to take place in the 80s. This just further convolutes the timeline in my opinion rather than simplify it, but let’s see how it plays out.

As a direct sequel to ‘First Class’, DOFP works very well, but as a film that attempts to directly alter the course of every other movie from the X Men universe, which is what it really tries to do, DOFP falls short.

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