The Insanity of Superheroes: Thoughts On “X-Men: Days Of Future Past”

The earliest tapestry of comic book to film adaptations is filled with one misfire after another. Many nerd historians point toward the technical limitations of the time. But beyond the inability to make a properly stretchy Mr. Fantastic or a suitably terrifying (read: not silly-looking) Thanos lies the issue of creative limitations.  It goes without saying that what works in a comic book doesn’t always work in a film. The sprawling storylines combined with the pure nonsense of the superhero genre is enough to scare away anyone with only the faintest knowledge of the different between The Brood and The Skrulls.

For that reason, the superhero-mania that Hollywood is going through is littered with familiar faces that have been vastly simplified. From Spidey’s organic webshooters to “yellow spandex” snark from Cyclops, the ridiculous backgrounds of your favorite heroes has been cleaned up for the general viewing public. Which is for the best, really. I mean, think of the most elaborate storylines that have occurred in the most accessible comic books. They make Passions look like Fun With Dick And Jane.  And it can make for entertaining movies, even if you have to spend three and a half hours at a Denny’s explaining to your girlfriend why it’s such bullshit that Beast has blue fur before they even bothered to introduce Apocalypse.

And then comes X-Men: Days Of Future Past.

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More than any other comic-to-film adaptation, Days Of Future Past encapsulates a delicious mouthful of the batshit insanity of what goes on in your average comic book storyline. Alternate dimensions, time travel, secret Presidential mutants–it’s all there. And it’s actually accessible to your average moviegoer, which is damn impressive.

Based on the Chris Claremont X-Men storyline of the same name, Days Of Future Past follows Wolverine as he travels back in time to lead the younger versions of his fellow X-Men–including a burnt-out Charles Xavier who is now addicted to a mutant power-numbing serum that allows him to walk.  They must stop the shapeshifter Mystique from murdering Boliver Trask: the man responsible for the Sentinels and a future that sees mutants hunted down and imprisoned (or worse). Turns out, Mystique’s assassination of this 70’s Lannister causes humankind to agree that Mutants deserve a genocidal ass-whoopin’: a fate that involves far more face-melting and head stomping than I personally anticipated.

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The plot is such an elaborate retcon for the sins of X-Men 3 and Origins: Wolverine that I’m amazed they didn’t call this entry X-Men: Mistakes Were Made. Prerequisite snark aside, I think that we can all agree that an attempt to polish the failures of previous X-Men films is an abundantly noble goal. And it actually succeeds with flying colors, with Bryan Singer using Simon Kinberg’s exciting script in order to lead two exceptional casts: that of the original X-Men trilogy, and that of the more recent X-Men: First Class.

And the cast is more than a little terrific. Nearly everyone reprises their roles–from parallel Magnetos through Michael Fassbender and Sir Ian McKellan, to Anna Paquin popping in briefly as Rogue (and somehow getting alarmingly high billing for her trouble). Peter Dinklage and Jennifer Lawrence bring all the skill and panache we’ve grown to expect from them, and no one delivers vague, tough-guy dialogue quite like Hugh Jackman. But the supporting character MVP absolutely goes to Evan Peters as Quicksilver. While his getup might look like a half-assed cosplay experiment, Peters is the most memorable part of this film. Seeing Quicksilver reimagined as an ADD-riddled teenager with sticky fingers leaves a massive smile on one’s face, and leads to one of the best demonstrations in recent memory of how a mutant’s powers work. He is so overpowered, in fact, that the entire movie could have ended in fifteen minutes if Professor X hadn’t needed someone to drop his stupid rental car off (I am being absolutely serious about this).

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The drama of X-Men: Days Of Future Past does occasionally feel a tad disproportionate. Kinberg’s plothole-filled understanding of time travel, for example, is far more believable than James McEvoy’s heroin-addict style needle fumbling. I understand that a major part of Wolverine’s mission was to get the young Xavier off the happy-feet sauce, but that detail is glossed over enough to be nearly pointless. Seriously: Charles Xavier kicks his habit faster than a queer teenager in a “pray the gay away” demonstration video. And in a movie about time travel, superheroes, and giant robots, substance abuse really shouldn’t be such a distraction. It’s also true that the exposition of the storyline is repeated so often that I found my eyes rolling in my skull like a plastic clock shaped like a cat.

Pictured: Conquistaclock.

Pictured: Conquistaclock.

Granted, this redundancy may have been more for the sake of the audience that is more used to X-Men as a straightforward beat-em-up, which I suppose is forgivable if it means inducting more Muggles into the undiluted insanity of comic books. And it’s not like it kept us from some amazing battle scenes. The future battles between the X-Men and the Sentinels are absolutely amazing, with an awesome display of different powers: from the laser-rifle badassery of Bishop (who is criminally underused) to the Portal-esque bouncyhouse physics of Blink. Basically, everyone getting a chance to show off just how foot-stompingly cool they are–just in time to get torn to pieces by the Sentinels. Sincerely: some of the mutant deaths at the hands of the Sentinels are just as hard to watch as they are cruelly inventive.

There is no doubt in my mind that X-Men: Days Of Future Past is one of the best X-Men movies ever made–if not the best. It’s possible that this is due to its loyalty to the source material–one might even call it the movie’s “comic purity”. But largely I believe that the true culprit here is the same thing that made the original X-Men comic books such a success: their longevity. Over time, we grow to know these characters–we love them and empathize with them. And when that’s possible, it’s easiest to figuratively dig the knife in by using a robot to literally tear their heads off. What can I say? It make for sublime popcorn fare.

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2 thoughts on “The Insanity of Superheroes: Thoughts On “X-Men: Days Of Future Past”

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