X-MEN: ‘Days of Future Past’… Should We Be Excited?

Posted: March 16, 2014 in FILM
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I have to say, actually, that having seen the teaser, I’m slightly less excited about the film now than I was before I saw it. Nevertheless I choose to be optimistic and believe that the DOFP movie will be something well worth watching. Speaking as someone who generally doesn’t get excited about films at all, Days of Future Past has me more interested than I’ve been in any film since Revenge of the Sith; and that’s including this year’s ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ movie.

With Bryan Singer at the helm and an impressive cast-list combining the First Class and older characters/actors (so McKellin and Fassbender both, Patrick Stewart and James McAvoy), and a classic, much-loved story premise from the annals of the X-universe, there should be reason enough to be excited, more so than any previous X-Men big-screen offering.

The choice of storyline is interesting; they clearly wanted to take a classic, well-established story from the rich comic-book annals and adapt it. I’m curious as to what other possibilities were considered before deciding on Days of Future Past (voted the 25th greatest Marvel comic of all time by fans in 2001); the Dark Phoenix saga was sort of touched upon in X2 and X3, but only in a rather downbeat, underwhelming way. Mutant Massacre, for example?

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Uncanny X-Men #81 (1981).

Most classic X-Men storylines would be just too complex to even dream of adapting – Age of Apocalypse, Fatal Attractions, The X-Cutioner’s Song, The X-Tinction Agenda. That’s the problem; even DOFP seems too big, but obviously the filmmakers and the studio didn’t think so. I trust Bryan Singer and his DOFP team, I think; my only real advice other than ‘don’t fuck up this story – they’ll never forgive you’, is to have less Wolverine (Hugh Jackman was a revelation as Wolverine in X1 and has made the role his own, but come on, we’ve seen enough of this guy by now) and focus more on Ellen Page‘s Shadowcat, maybe Colossus too.

And also to play down Magneto’s villainy and accentuate the more complex side of his character (what Ian McKellin had to act out in X3 was just terrible, but thankfully what Michael Fassbender got to do in First Class was much more interesting). And, of course, bring back Nightcrawler.

Portraying a grim future in which most of the X-Men are dead and mutantkind is persecuted even more severely than in the more familiar X-Men timeline, Days of Future Past is one of the most famous X-Men stories of all time, appearing originally in Uncanny X-Men #141-#142 (1981). While some key elements will no doubt appear in the movie – the Sentinels, and judging by the teaser trailer Mystique‘s attempt to assassinate Senator Kelly – others almost certainly won’t; I doubt very much that it will include the appearance of Rachel Summers (the alternate-future daughter of Cyclops and Jean Grey). But I could be wrong. In any case, I was genuinely excited when I first heard about what this next X-Men movie was going to be about.

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Ellen Page and Shawn Ashmore as Kitty Pryde and Iceman.

One of the absolute key roles in the story, other than Wolverine, will be Shadowcat/Kitty Pryde; sidelined in the cartoon adaptations, it appears that Kitty retains her crucial part in the story in this movie adaptation, which is great as Ellen Page can definitely pull that off and warrants the screen time.

Meanwhile Jennifer Lawrence is Mystique, but Rebecca Romjin does not also appear, Nicholas Hoult is Beast, but no Kelsey Grammer as the older Hank McCoy – which is a shame, as Grammer was one of the very best casting choices made in these X-Men films. Anna Paquin does return as Rogue, with Shawn Ashmore as Iceman. Meanwhile Banshee and Havok from First Class are both back, which is good news, as is Colossus. Unfortunately so is Halle Berry/Storm (no offense to Halle Berry as an actress in general, but just not as Ororo Munroe).

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Blink, as appearing in Astonishing X-Men #1 (Age of Apocalypse).

New characters on the roster include Warpath, Sunspot, Quicksilver and Blink – all good characters from the comics, but I’ve seen ‘Blink’ in the trailer and she looks terrible; I shouldn’t pre-judge, but the suspicion is that the comic-book character is not going to be done justice by the movie or actress (which wouldn’t be the first time we’ve had that problem; Storm, Gambit and Sabretooth come immediately to mind as characters who’ve been painfully diminished by their film counterparts, while several small-part roles in the movies for otherwise well-loved X-universe characters have been a source of agitation rather than gratification for fans; this being mostly due to the ‘look’ of said characters being off).

Warpath (Proudstar) also looks pretty terrible on first appearances, again proving how difficult it can be to render the ‘look’ of an illustrated character effectively on camera. And Sunspot appears to have been racially mis-cast.

Quicksilver doesn’t look great either; and Quicksilver/Pietro Maximoff is a key player in the X-Men and Marvel mythology. Omar Sy appears as time-travelling Bishop (never a great character in the comics, so not likely to be that badly diminished by big-screen adaptation). But Blink and Sunspot in particular are fan favorites (they’re favorites of my mine, certainly), so a poor translation of their characters wouldn’t do much to endear. Sadly there’s no indication that Nightcrawler will appear – though he should; and was, I maintain, the best X-Men character from the films so far (excluding Magneto, of course).

In general, the X-Men films have tended to do very well with casting the main characters (Jackman as Wolverine, Famke Janssen as Jean, Anna Paquin as Rogue, etc), but a little hit-or-miss with the supporting characters, X3 for example being littered with poorly handled minor characters that might as well have been left out entirely. As an aside, I have to say I really liked James McAvoy as Charles Xavier in First Class; he really captures what I imagined Xavier would’ve been like a young idealist and with the appropriate level of enthusiasm.

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Sunspot (Roberto Da Costa); like Blink, a fan favorite.

The Days of Future Past storyline was adapted in the early nineties X-Men animated series, but altered from the original and with the character Bishop replacing the crucial Kitty Pryde role; it was also adapted by the later Wolverine and the X-Men cartoon, but again with an alteration of the original story, the cartoon adopting elements of the Age of Apocalypse series instead (another classic X-Men storyline). The latter was an entertaining result; but there will always be purists who hate all the sacrifices/adjustments inevitably made in transition between mediums.

I’m somewhere in the middle; holding the comic-book source as bible, but happy to have other mediums try to do something with the material. This has been my attitude towards all the X-Men films; sometimes I’m disappointed or unimpressed, but other times I’m pleasantly surprised and therefore perfectly happy to have a good, worthwhile version of the X-Men mythology on the big-screen.

It does beg the old question, of course, of whether the movie can possibly live up to its comic-book source. The answer, of course, is no.

That preexisting answer is the key to how to approach a movie like this if you’re a card-carrying, Claremont-loving X-Men die-hard who can’t quite stomach the journey from paneled page to big screen. This movie is never going to be as good as the comic-book story; it can’t be. It has in-built limitations because it’s a movie. It can’t be as complex, can’t be as well-paced, can’t be as well-developed, as its source-inspiration. Can’t be done, not going to happen – lower your expectations. If you take that attitude as your approach to the movie, you’re more likely to enjoy it, to get something out of it.

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Michael Fassbender returns as the Master of Magnetism.

The fact is, that with very few exceptions (the Christopher Nolan Batman films, for example, or Downey-Junior’s portrayal of Iron Man), no movie adaptation can ever fully live up to its comic-book source. If you acknowledge that from the outset, you can try to view any such movie on its own terms, rather than trying to hold it to an impossible standard. I have a love/hate relationship with comic-book movie adaptations in general, there being some I like, plenty I utterly hate, and some that leave no impression at all, good or bad (most being in this latter category).

The X-Men film franchise specifically I think has been a mixed bag, though creatively remains the strongest movie output from the Marvel Universe (though I also hold that the X-Men titles are also Marvel’s strongest ever comic franchise too, so maybe I’m biased). X1 and X2, both directed by Singer, were excellent in my opinion; different from the comics and the cartoons, but retaining enough of its source’s character and paying enough respectful dues to the comic books, that they can be considered very well measured adaptations, aided by excellent casting choices as far as the key characters were concerned.

X1, in fact, can be said to have set the standard for modern comic-book movies.

X3: The Last Stand was a poorer showing, with some good elements, but far more flaws and annoyances. The two Wolverine movies (how Wolverine gets two standalone movies and yet the likes of Nightcrawler and Shadowcat barely get screen-time even in the main films, I don’t know) were a significant drop in quality, and then X-Men: First Class restored the quality level to a large extent, particularly for style, setting up ‘DOFP’ with a better sense of expectation. I am still more interested in this movie than I was in Avengers Assemble or any of the other Marvel Studios‘ releases.

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‘Blink’ as appearing in the movie.

This next film is without doubt the most ambitious to-date for the X-Men film franchise; clearly a lot of long-term X-Men fans are nervous, even sceptical, about it.

I happen to think the ambitiousness of this enterprise is to be lauded, given that they could otherwise just continue making smaller-scale, less meaty movies if they wanted. Of course the danger is – and I’m sure the studio doesn’t care – that by actually taking a specific storyline from the comic books, they risk utterly outraging or alienating fans if they do it badly.

But it’s a risk that’s obviously being taken, so – even if they do mess up Blink, Warpath or Quicksilver – we’ll just have to see what happens later this year.

 

X-MEN: Days of Future Past  is released May 21st 2014…

 

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Comments
  1. Mumra2k says:

    Awww man, that’s “Blink”? All this time I thought that perhaps Psylocke was about to get some real screen time.

    Like

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