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Review: ‘X-Men Days Of Future Past’ And The ‘Marty’s Hand’ Problem

By / 05.23.14
Xmen-magneto-prisoner

Fox



Marty McFly Needs His Knife Hands To Stop The Race War

If you thought a film with a nonsensical title like “Days of Future Past” was going to be slightly convoluted, ding ding ding, go to the head of Professor Xavier’s Class for Sexy Mutants Who Want to Learn to Punch Good. For one thing, wouldn’t “Days of Futures Past” sound a thousand times better? I know, I know, “Days of Future Past” was in the comics. You can’t change those! You might as well piss on the Bible! Incidentally, I watched DOFP sitting next to an overweight man in his fifties who spent the entire film (save the 20 minutes he was asleep) comparing everything on screen to how it happened in the comics with his buddy. So, that’s my first piece of advice: don’t watch this film with any comic book superfans (probably a good rule of thumb in general).

X-Men was always one of the more nuanced of mainstream superhero stories, and DOFP does a brilliant job articulating its core themes. There’s something vaguely fascistic about the Judeo-Christian, punish-the-evildoers values underpinning most superhero stories (cleverly satirized in Kick-Ass, Super, Dredd, et al). Whereas X-Men has always been about the struggle between the two conflicting poles of human nature, offering some debate fodder for the liberal arts major to go along with all the spandex and pew-pew-ing. Pop-culture savvy folks among us probably already know that Xavier and Magneto were originally envisioned partly as allegorical stand-ins for MLK and Malcolm X, respectively — notably illustrated by the end of the first X-Men movie, when Magneto tells Charles that he’ll continue to fight for mutants “by any means necessary” (Malcolm X’s words, just as powerful when delivered by an aging gay British man, I feel).

While it’s a fun history reference, the dichotomy actually goes deeper than that old Hollywood classic where white guys play black guys. Days of Future Past begins in a dystopian future where the Earth has been ravaged (ravaged, I say!) by a war between mutants and their human allies on one side, and humans and their out-of-control Sentinels on the other – giant robots who can fly, shape shift like Mystique, make knives out of their limbs like the T-1000, and turn their faces into giant, flame-throwing buttholes. It’s a nightmarish hellscape worse than Bakersfield, and the mutants’ last hope is to try to change the course of history and stop the war by sending Wolverine’s consciousness back in time (in the comic book it was Kitty Pryde who went back, but obviously Fox can’t greenlight a $225 million movie with a protagonist who’s a lady, that would be madness!).

While many of the previous X-Men movies touched on the civil rights theme (and especially gay rights – odd that those came through most strongly in the non-Singer X-Men movies directed by straight guys), DOFP takes the allegory even deeper. When faced with hostility, do you respond with hope and understanding, or fight fire with fire? Turn the other cheek or an eye for an eye? Aside from the obvious civil rights parallels, there are analogies to almost every war, especially World War I, where, like DOFP, the fight was touched off by an assassination (of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and of Peter Dinklage, respectively). Help the humans understand or fight them before they get too powerful? X-Men has the usual silly action set pieces necessitated by every superhero budget, but unlike the others, it rarely offers easy answers. I mean, other than “knife hands,” but no one’s complaining about those.

As good a job it does at selling the themes, DOFP’s plot is so convoluted it makes Watchmen look like a Tyler Perry movie. Not convoluted in the sense that it’s confusing, just convoluted in the sense that you’re always asking “Wait, why are they doing A when B makes much more sense?”

See, Days of Futures Past has a bit of a “Marty’s Hand” problem. It’s a time travel paradox that goes back to the future/futures problem of the title: when Wolverine travels back to the past, are there multiple possible futures based on his actions, or just one future? Furthermore, the way this past affects the future is never very logical. In Back to the Future (released four years after the Days of Future Past comic book), Marty’s parents have to kiss at the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance, or else they’re never going to fall in love and get married and have Marty, and he’ll never exist in the first place, let alone travel back in time to re-invent rock n roll. Okay, makes sense, sort of. In Days of Futures Past, if they don’t find the allspark, they’ll never be able to generate the 1.21 jiggawatts of power necessary to get Xavier’s wheelchair up to 88 miles per hour and send Wolverine back to Munchkinland to kill Peter Dinklage. Okay, just kidding. But without spoiling anything, what the X-gang has to do in the past in order to prevent the Flaming Butthole Wars of the Future never makes a f*ck ton of sense.

Where a lot of superhero movies are fashion victims (Man of Steel especially), torpedoed by their slavish adherence to the crappy superhero trends of their time – the requisite fanboy homage, the giant laser thingy pointed at Earth, the shaky-cam fight scenes, the CGI city being destroyed for some reason shot – DOFP is something of a pleasant time capsule from the early 2000s. There was actually a shot of the Eiffel Tower that wasn’t foreshadowing for a scene where they knock it down. And the action was deliberate and balletic, not the usual thumpy GRRR fest you get with shaky cam. All culminating in a slow-motion, 360-degree frozen cam sequence starring Quicksilver that was probably the best damned action sequence I’ve seen since the JFK assassination in Watchmen. It’s rare that you can feel an entire theater exude a palpable sense of “Whoa” in this flashy media-soaked age of roombas and Tinder, but that scene did it, and probably deserves some kind of award. Is there a Nobel for VFX?

But speaking of “why didn’t they just ____ when they could’ve ____ed?!” Quicksilver then spends the entire rest of the film not participating in the plot at all, presumably off dying his hair or buying more goggles. It’s perhaps a bit focus groupy to say “I want more of the funny character!” (I’m sure every Seinfeld focus group demanded more Kramer; focus groups also gave us Urkel), but honestly, there’s no logical reason not to incorporate Quicksilver into the plot more. Especially in light of the intense dislogic of the rest of the film.

In the end, Days of Future Past is painfully, charmingly earnest, and intensely entertaining even when it’s not making much sense (like me after too many ryes). Does that one incredible action sequence make up for a creaky plot and the fact that they put Booboo Stewart in it (as Warpath, the frowningest mutant)? With X-Men, there’s always room for debate.

GRADE: B

Vince Mancini is a writer and comedian living in San Francisco. You can find more of his work on FilmDrunk, the Uproxx network, and all over his mom’s refrigerator. Fan FilmDrunk on Facebook, find the latest movie reviews here.

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