Thursday, September 28, 2017

Theory Thursday: "X-Men:: Days of Future Past" is Overrated

Hugh Jackman
Welcome to a weekly column called Theory Thursdays, which will be released every Thursday and discuss my "controversial opinion" related to something relative to the week of release. Sometimes it will be birthdays while others is current events or a new film release. Whatever the case may be, this is a personal defense for why I disagree with the general opinion and hope to convince you of the same. While I don't expect you to be on my side, I do hope for a rational argument. After all, film is a subjective medium and this is merely just a theory that can be proven either way. 

Subject: Flatliners(2017) opens in theaters this Friday.
Theory: X-Men: Days of Future Past is overrated.

James McAvoy
In theory, the promise of a new Ellen Page movie from the director of the Swedish The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo should be a lot more exciting. To provide some quick background, I was a massive Juno fan when it was released in 2007. I still make the argument that Diablo Cody is a great screenwriter. However, there's something dispiriting about Flatliners, or at least the marketing of it, that makes me not want to see it. What's so exciting about the premise of people dying? It's a whole labyrinth that is dampening my excitement. However, it did feel like the rare opportunity to discuss in general my feelings towards Page's career, which has had a lot of great films besides Juno. One can look at Hard Candy, Inception, and I would even include Super, Whip It, The East, and last year's Tallulah. What wouldn't I include on that list? X-Men: Days of Future Past.

Okay, there's a few ways to slice that criticism. If you were to judge that X-Men movie as an Ellen Page vehicle, it's abysmal. She has a very small role that is "important" without being crucial. I could judge it that way and shut down this argument quickly. Just as controversially, I actually really think that X-Men: The Last Stand is underrated because of how aloof it is (fun fact: the last line of the movie is Hugh Jackman saying "Way to go, fur ball."). Maybe it's just the onslaught of bad general superhero movies since, but The Last Stand has some entertaining features, in part because of Page's Kitty Pryde. With that said, it feels criminal to judge a movie with an ensemble this big on just one performance. No, my issues with Days of Future Past lie more in the entire package.

To briefly summarize, I am not an X-Men fan and believe that there's only one true masterpiece in the entire line-up: Logan from earlier this year. Having recently watched the original trilogy, I have confirmed that they're fun as blockbuster movies, but there's something missing from them for me. The ensembles are fine, but I never feel connected to any character well enough to make the required third act group huddle to take full effect. Jackman's Wolverine is fun, sure. I would even argue he is superhero cinema's most iconic portrayal, but the films in general feel like they're lacking something below the surface besides that they're mutants who are excised by society and that this is all an LGBT allegory. That's not bad to have, especially in the early 21st century, but I still feel like something's missing, and it may be that director Bryan Singer has never been my favorite filmmaker. Ironically, I think that James Mangold gets the X-Men franchise better than Singer does... and he made the two most disparate entries in the canon.

As you can guess, I wasn't wild with the "reboot" nature of the X-Men series following X-Men: First Class. To me, it was a fine movie the reintroduced a cast of actors that I frankly liked more (admittedly in other work), including my personal favorite actor Michael Fassbender. It was a fine movie that tried to explore global politics. Continuing the irony, it's directed by Matthew Vaughn and not Singer. Seeing a pattern here? I feel like everyone but Singer has fun with these characters and allows them to exist outside of novelty. Their stories have something more important to offer. When Singer came back for Days of Future Past; or lazily gluing the old and new actors together, it was celebrated before being mocked once again in X-Men: Apocalypse... which isn't great, but I think a step up from this particular movie.

This past summer, Spider-Man: Homecoming made people notice how confusing the Marvel Cinematic Universe timeline of events actually was. After Days of Future Past, it's hard to know when anything happened and with which cast. You have Wolverine going back in time to stop something from happening by Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) and Magneto (Fassbender). It's all devious and full of espionage, but the film's choice to do time travel feels a bit pointless. Why make a story about traveling back in time? Why have the opening be a future chase scene where nothing crucial happens except to injure Wolverine and get him into the past? There's a lot of excess baggage in making this a film revolving around two generations of the same cinematic icons. It's played for humor, but it's not enough for most roles to feel like more than cheap cameos. This is a film hypothetically for the original cast to pass on the torch, but it kind of feels cynical in the process. Singer does what Singer wants, and that's fine. However, this is a film that goes too high concept for a premise that I don't know entirely works.

Like I said, almost all of Singer's X-Men contributions have been largely hit and miss to me. I don't get the excitement, even if I'm relieved that most tell contained stories. I think a bigger issue is that the franchise hasn't gotten a chance to expand its roster in meaningful ways. All it does is explore side journeys with Wolverine, which has become the Samuel L. Jackson of this franchise. He's always there. It's what makes Logan so thrilling. What happens when an immortal character finally grows old? I won't spoil anything, but Jackman has said that it was his last movie, and he went out on top with a great tribute to what the character could be. Here's hoping that the franchise now allows other characters to feel significant with their own stories. Imagine if we got some Storm, Cyclops, Professor X, etc. movies out of the deal. Then maybe X-Men could compete with MCU just a smidgen. Instead, Days of Future Past shows what they actually want to do, which is throw a bunch of characters you know on screen and expect that to appease fans for two hours.

I admit that this Theory Thursday's connection to Ellen Page is a bit of a stretch. However, I have been hearing for a long, long time that Days of Future Past is the best X-Men movie of recent years. I saw it and was not impressed enough to agree. Even if Apocalypse isn't a masterpiece, I think it at least fails in more interesting ways. First Class gets by on solid reintroducing key players in memorable ways. As one can guess, I'd like to think that Singer steps down to producer status in the future and allow these movies to be as interesting as they can be. Speaking as we're entering the golden age of X-Men TV series (in 2017 alone, there's: Legion, Inhumans, and The Gifted), the franchise is finally starting to get interesting and exploring things that make it worthwhile. Legion was great and Inhumans hasn't gotten too hot of reviews, but at least they're trying to do something new. That's more than I can say for Days of Future Past

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