There has always been something deflatingly average about the X-Men films, and X-Men: Days of Future Past does nothing to reverse that trend. As we’ve only gotten more – and better – comic-book adaptations since 2000’s X-Men, the franchise has become something like the Ikea of superhero movies. They’ll do the trick until we can get some real furniture.
Despite the addition of acting heavyweights Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence and James McAvoy, the most recent X-Men films don’t even really do the trick. Both 2011’s First Class and now Days of Future Past are, in effect, prequels to the earlier movies, largely taking place during the younger years of mutant adversaries Professor Xavier (McAvoy) and Magneto (Fassbender).
Lawrence has gotten lost in this shuffle – as in First Class, she’s pretty flat here – but McAvoy and Fassbender once again almost make Days of Future Past worth watching. McAvoy has an optimistic earnestness that works as a nice foil for Fassbender’s rigid determination. They give their characters’ ideological opposition – optimism versus pessimism – a human face.
If any movie didn’t need the added complications of time travel, Days of Future Past is it.
Days of Future Past also finds plenty of time for the franchise’s stalwart: Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine. Amidst all the British professionalism (Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen also show up as older versions of Xavier and Magneto), Jackman amusingly knocks about like a blunt tool. The movie’s best bit is a 10-second conversation between Jackman and Fassbender, in which the former’s star charisma goes up against the latter’s impeccable acting chops. The moment ends in a delightful draw.
What else do we get? Too much. Returning director Bryan Singer (who is no Joss Whedon, speaking of fresher voices on the superhero scene) tries to juggle at least 10 other significant mutant characters, as well as a rotating array of global locations. And if any movie didn’t need the added complications of time travel, Days of Future Past is it. But as the title suggests, we get that too. The twist allows for a dual climax, in which the action takes place simultaneously across two different eras. Somehow, rather than up the ante, this exhausts it.
Yet even in its overblown finale, X-Men: Days of Future Past is not distinct. Plenty of superhero movies end that way. If this franchise has a distinguishing characteristic, it’s the fact that it doesn’t have a distinguishing characteristic. There’s no zip, no driving force, no personality to these movies, other than what the overqualified actors manage to squeeze out of their individual scenes (and I can’t recall an instance in which the dialogue or direction or camerawork did much of anything to assist them). Yes, the overall X-Men narrative functions as a parable about tolerance, but the franchise has been milking that theme for some five movies now. With nothing new to offer – and fighting for attention in a post-Avengers landscape – I’m afraid the X-Men no longer seem necessary. Time to move the grownup furniture in.