I have always been a fan of the X-Men, that wily band of mutants and the curmudgeons who oppose them; whether they are other mutants or the society that fears them. Social commentary on our own culture runs amok in this premise and has been mined several times in the comics, the animated series, and the mega-budgeted film franchise. The X-Men series is most notable, in many ways, for propelling Marvel characters into the blockbuster cinematic spectrum (we will not count the low-budget atrocities like the 90s Captain America, Fantastic Four, and Punisher movies for the purposes of this article along with 1998’s Wesley Snipes vehicle Blade, no matter how much I love it). Now, coming next year to a theater near you is the most ambitious of any X feature to date, an adaptation of the fan-favorite two-part comic book story arc Days of Future Past. Of course, this could go either way and the movie can turn out brilliantly like some of them or be an unmitigated disaster like the rest. By looking at the series past and comparing that to what we know of this new installment, the pros and cons of this movie’s existence will be considered.
Since the beginning of the film franchise, the X-Men have seen some pretty spectacular highs and some infuriatingly ill-conceived lows. X-Men (2000)began the franchise on a solid if unspectacular note that set the stage for the far superior X2: X-Men United (2003). If the first movie is an appetizer of bread and olive oil, nice to eat if I’m hungry but can’t satisfy a full stomach, then X2 is the main course Filet Mignon. The stakes were higher and the themes touched upon in the first film were explored with more depth. Plus, juggling two antagonists in one film has never been so elegantly handled as in X2, with Ian McKellen returning as the human-hating Magneto and Brian Cox as the mutant hating William Stryker. Two foils enacting their wholly disparate goals with what is ultimately the same masterstroke. It’s brilliant. Give it a watch again sometime.
Unfortunately, things took a turn for the worse and for a while it seemed as though X2 would be the last quality entry in the series, with X-Men: The Last Stand (2006; a horrific amalgamation of The Dark Phoenix and Gifted runs from the comics) and X-Men Origins: Wolverine being released in the subsequent years. The Last Stand was a major disappointment considering its aspirations of being an epic finale that ultimately pulled the rug from under itself with a halfhearted script that was not confident in its own choices. This lack of confidence clearly emphasized by the half-measure conclusions to the Magneto and Xavier story arcs (if you ever stayed until the end credits, you know what I mean when I refer to the latter).
The worst was yet to come, however, as X-Men Origins: Wolverine was unleashed on the world in 2009 and thoroughly bored anyone unlucky enough to be anticipating a stand-alone Wolverine movie. This was the nadir of the series and is notable for accomplishing something I didn’t think possible, making a dull Wolverine film. Say what you will about The Last Stand, but at least it was entertaining in parts.
A respite from awfulness came about in the summer of 2011 with the release of X-Men: First Class, a movie that serves as the second best X-Men film to date in my opinion despite a few squabbles over continuity. My main problem being that in one scene Xavier is shown being confined to a wheelchair at the end of the movie whereas the opening scene of The Last Stand has him walking around as an older man. I let this slide considering it seemed to me that they might be doing away with what happened in The Last Stand. That being said, the movie was excellent and featured great performances by James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence and Kevin Bacon, to name a few.
I have not seen The Wolverine yet, as it comes out the upcoming Friday from the time I write this, but rest assured I will soon enough and a review will be written. My anticipation for it has been surprisingly muted to say the least but I am interested to see it.
If I am dwelling on the bad more so than the good, it is because this is the amount of trepidation with which I approach Days of Future Past. Based Uncanny X-Men #’s 141-142, the story follows Kitty Pryde, or Sprite, imprinting herself into the the mind of her younger self in order to prevent an assassination that will result in a dystopian future where a majority of the X-Men are dead (as well as other characters in the Marvel Comics Universe that cannot appear in the movie due to the bureaucracy of studio rights), a vast majority of mutants live in internment camps, and those who try to go on the lamb or fight back are hunted down by giant robots called Sentinels.
According to the IMDB page for the movie, it states the plot of the movie centers around Wolverine being sent to the past to stop a historical event that will set off a catastrophic chain of events. Because of this, Hugh Jackman is back as Wolverine along with Halle Berry as Storm, Ellen Page as Kitty Pryde, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen and more! It seems to be similar enough to the original story but with the emphasis on Wolverine. I love Wolverine, and Hugh Jackman’s portrayal of the character is the definition of perfect, but do we need another X-Men movie that is centered almost entirely on him? One of the reasons First Class worked so well in my opinion is because it was the first to break away from the mold of relying on that one character too much (although who could forget his show-stopping ten second cameo?). To be fair, Wolverine was a major part of the comic’s story arc, but the focus wasn’t on him. He may be the most popular character, but it gets a little tiring when every movie has the focus square on him with alternating takes towards Magneto and Xavier every time. There are other characters in the lore who can carry interesting storyline’s as well.
From a marketing perspective, however, this makes perfect sense. The time-travel storyline allows actors from the original trilogy to return to the roles they made famous along with those from First Class. Not to be flip, but my excitement for this idea of having the original cast duke it out along with the recent one fades slightly when I begin to think that bringing these actors back may be just be a ploy to get the series back to its big money-making days that effectively ended with The Last Stand. You still need those actors considering the storyline they chose to explore, but to me it shows a lack of confidence in the First Class cast to carry their own sequel (which may not be entirely unfounded, considering First Class brought in roughly half the attendance of both X2 and The Last Stand according to Box Office Mojo). It doesn’t scream like it was a story that needs to be told given the context of the franchise and direction that was necessary to take after the events of First Class.
Despite my qualms with what may be the prime motivator behind the film’s existence, a cause of celebration does come in the form of Bryan Singer’s return to the series. He directed both X-Men and X2 before unceremoniously dropping the franchise to direct Superman Returns, an unsavory fact considering how both that movie and The Last Stand turned out. His work represented what was the best of the series, while also taking on producer duties for First Class, his take on the material is serious and elevated the stories into modern times. It’s a pleasure to see him helming an X-Men movie once again.
I hope my fears prove to be unfounded once the movie is released. There is great potential in this story and we seem to have the right people on board to put that story on screen in the right way. The footage coming out of the San Diego Comic-Con has apparently been encouraging as well (I have not seen it beyond watching some footage of the live panel). And, these new character posters, showing both Magneto and Xavier, young and old all in one teaser, are incredibly cool. While many things may be going in the right direction here, let’s just hope that the finished product can live up to the talent behind it and not feel like a perfunctory gesture to bilk more cash out of the general movie-going public through mere fan service.
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