Time travel in movies can be dicey business. On one hand, when done well the bending of space and time can be thrilling. When not done well however, time travel becomes a cheap storytelling crutch used to prop up a desperate and failing story. Sadly, time travel in “X-Men: Days of Future Past” falls into the latter category. Rather than infusing the ‘X-Men’ franchise with much needed creative juice, time travel in ‘Days of Future Past’ plays as either confusing or convenient.
“X-Men: Days of Future Past” begins with great promise in a dystopian future where piles of bodies are pushed around by giant machines and a young bandit running the wasteland briefly uncovers the remains of what once was a member of The X-Men; which one isn’t important, only the symbol on his belt is needed to communicate how desperate the future must be if a member of Professor X’s team is haphazardly buried among the remains of average human beings.
Sadly, this compelling opening scene devolves quickly as we see a new group of X-Men led by Kitty Pride (Ellen Page, in a thankless role) who battle Sentinels, shape-shifting machine monsters capable of adapting to any mutant power. Kitty has developed a new power, the ability to send people back in time and this ability comes in handy when she sends one of her new teammates back in time two days to warn her in the past about the Sentinel attack happening at that moment.
The scene is clever and confusing and will likely cost viewers a couple scenes as they work out the logistics. In the meantime Professor X (Patrick Stewart), Magneto (Ian McKellen), Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and Storm (Halle Berry in a barely there cameo) arrive to find the remaining X-Men and take advantage of Kitty’s new talent.
The idea is thus, send Wolverine back to 1973 to unite young Professor X and Magneto, James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender from “X-Men: First Class,” and stop Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from murdering a weapons manufacturer, Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), who’s death galvanizes the creation of the mutant killing Sentinels that eventually turn on both Mutant and Human alike leading to the dystopian wasteland of the future.
Got it so far? Because that’s just the beginning. “X-Men: Days of Future Past” attempts to marry Bryan Singer’s good but not great original “X-Men” movies with the far superior Matthew Vaughn prequel “X-Men: First Class” and fails on multiple levels by only fostering a severe amount of confusion for anyone well versed in the ‘X-Men’ movie universe. For one, how the hell is Patrick Stewart’s Professor X back after getting literally blown to pieces in “X-Men: The Last Stand?”I realize that I am asking a question that most people don’t care about but as a fan of linear logic it seems a fair question.
Of course, the convenience of time travel may have a role in answering many of my questions but that presents other problems, not the least of which is the laziness of time travel as a storytelling device. Yes, anything Logan/Wolverine does in the past can alter the future, that’s kind of the point of why he’s there, but even his intentional changes in the time space continuum of the X-Men franchise fails to answer a few questions, such as how Mystique goes from murdering Trask to being dead and the subject of experiments that create the Sentinels to being part of anything that happened in the first three X-Men features.
Again, I recognize that I am asking a question many will deem unnecessary but I find such lazy, conveniently forgetful storytelling irksome and hard to get past. I’m sure many of you will quite easily forgive the movie its time travel trespasses because so much of the film’s action is quite good but I didn’t care because the film’s logic plays as shoddy and poorly conceived. The only reason Singer’s originals are back is for marketing purposes and not what’s best for the story and that’s just part of the laziness of the whole enterprise.
I could go on trashing “X-Men: Days of Future Past” for other such narrative conveniences but my hearts not in it. In the end, the film is not poorly crafted or even poorly acted enough for me to keep hammering at it. Indeed, James McAvoy brings the same dramatic punch to Xavier that he brought to ‘First Class’ and that in and of itself is rather thrilling. Watching the controlled cool of Patrick Stewart become the chaotic, sweaty and sad McAvoy has a real dramatic power to it even as it is undercut but the lazy time travel gimmick.
There is also plenty of good to be said of Hugh Jackman’s lived in performance as Logan/Wolverine. Jackman has become so at home as this character that he just a minor inflection of dialogue can move the audience. There is one terrific moment when Logan is back in time passing through a metal detector and realizing that he can pass unnoticed thanks to having bone claws instead of adamantium. It’s a minor moment but it gets a big laugh as does a brief encounter with gangsters.
The bad of “X-Men: Days of Future Past” unfortunately outweighs the good as the film devolves into a lazy mess that relies on time travel as the Deus Ex Machina to explain away a number of inconvenient narratives, not least of which apparently is the entire role of Rebecca Romijn’s Mystique in the original X-Men trilogy. Romijn’s Mystique hovers over the proceedings as the biggest of the failures in marrying past and present X-Men movies; at least for those of demanding that the movies make a little sense.