Let’s talk about “X-Men: Days of Future Past.” I loved it, which shockingly seems to be the general consensus about this film. That’s been the trend with the last few X-Men films — low expectations with lots of wariness going into them, and then leaving the theater pleasantly surprised. I would say that of the last three movies, “Days of Future Past” had the largest gulf between its expected quality and actual level of artistry. Face it, we all thought that with it’s large cast and hella confusing time travel plot, “Days of Future Past” would surely be a train wreck of either the gloriously entertaining or spectacularly frustrating kind. Instead, we somehow got a lean and focused film that was still satisfactorily bombastic. I don’t know how that happened, but it did.
Speaking as the self-proclaimed Biggest X-Men Fan You Know, I can say that I was thoroughly pleased with this loose adaptation of one of my favorite comic book stories, and that I’ve never smiled wider at a film than when I saw movie Iceman hop on an ice slide. It was also fantastic to see Quicksilver and Blink’s powers executed so brilliantly. Both of their powers play with spatial relation and movement, two things that comics have a very hard time demonstrating despite the preponderance of characters with super speed and teleportation powers, and I thought they both stole their respective portions of the film. I found the performances to be nuanced and I loved that the film narrowed in on Charles Xavier’s emotional arc in the midst of the mutant madness.
But here’s why I know I can’t be an objective reviewer, written behind a big spoiler warning. I can’t be objective because “Days of Future Past” could have been a huge flaming mess of a movie and I would still have left the theater happier than ever because of the last five minutes. As I wrote about last week, I have a lot of nostalgia and affection for that original X-Men cast, nostalgia and affection that was utterly destroyed eight years ago by “X-Men: The Last Stand.” I’m not ashamed to admit that I straight up cried when I first saw Jean Grey and Cyclops alive and well at the end of “Days of Future Past.” The movie ends with all of the X-Men happy and together, two adjectives we haven’t even been able to describe the comics since — when was the last time Claremont let them play baseball? This might just be crazy talk, but I even feel like I could probably watch “The Last Stand” and laugh along with it now, knowing that every one of the film’s missteps have been undone. I know now that all the X-Men still end up alive and together, teaching young mutants in the X-Mansion.
I’ve been harsh on “Days of Future Past” in the past. Actually, first I want to selfishly mention that I called “Days of Future Past’s” retcon ambitions way back in January 2013, and, I dunno, I feel good about that? Let me have that, please! To address past me’s actual concerns: No, this new movie is still not my idea of a “real X-Men movie” and “Days” is still very much a film about the same three old white men. If anything, “DOFP” nearly literally doubles down on the franchise’s commitment to Magneto, Wolverine and Professor X by giving us five actors playing those three roles. No, “Days of Future Past” succeeded for me because, even though I’m beyond done with those characters, the story told and performance kept me entertained. Also, you know, Warpath and Sunspot were in it.
The movie even left me with high hopes regarding “X-Men: Apocalypse.” My initial concerns were that, based on the title and it’s supposed source material, we’d be getting yet another bleak bummer-fest. But here’s the thing: “Age of Apocalypse” and “Days of Future Past” are way too similar. The plot structure is identical — heroes use time travel to avert a world gone horribly dystopian — and the latest mutant movie ends with the timeline decidedly not apocalyptic. Going by the film we just watched, I’d wager that the 1980s-set “X-Men: Apocalypse” might — might — be a fun movie more inline with 2000’s “X-Men” and 2011’s “X-Men: First Class.” I have my fingers crossed that we’ve stepped out of the darkness.
But there are two things that really, really have to change for the franchise to work for me, because as much as I enjoyed “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” there are still some big, glaring problems that Fox needs to address. First, Bryan Singer has to go. This may come as a surprise considering that I just heaped a ton of praise on the director’s latest film, but I’ve done so while also purposely avoiding mentioning his name. Based on the sexual abuse allegations currently piling up around him, I just feel icky — an understatement — giving the guy any praise. Having to weigh art against the artist’s alleged behavior is a complicated side effect of living in a time where the Internet makes it impossible for individuals with shady habits to remain hidden, especially if those individuals are given control of a billion-dollar film franchise. I’ve read up on the allegations, and I’ve read up on Singer’s reported history of sketchy behavior, and I still saw and enjoyed “Days of Future Past.” But I don’t want anyone to think that just because I enjoyed a movie that I think Bryan Singer is an a-okay dude and shouldn’t be scrutinized. I don’t think anyone has the right to criticize people that choose not to see the movie based on these allegations, and I also don’t believe the victims should be characterized as money hungry liars, which tends to be the argument given by people that want to enjoy a superhero movie guilt-free. Instead of siding with a powerful millionaire director and dismissing the victims as a way to assuage your guilt, make a donation to a charity that helps the survivors of rape.
In the past, my personal rule with stuff like this has been that if the creator’s personal grossness doesn’t find its way into their art, I can enjoy the art. It’s still something that has to be decided on a case-by-case basis, and Singer’s rape allegations are by far the grossest of grossnesses. Here’s the thing: I actually think it does work its way into the X-Men films, and I do not want him nor this discussion attached to the franchise any more. Singer’s bisexual. Considering the X-Men’s minority metaphor, that makes him a seemingly ideal candidate for the director’s chair. His defenders will say that he hasn’t been formally charged with any crimes yet, but there’s a recurring theme that runs through stories about his behavior which appears to be true and is enough to make me want him out of the franchise. The guy became known for throwing lavish house parties that catered to the closeted Hollywood elite and the young men — and possibly boys — that wanted to make it in the business. It’s documented that Singer took on a number of those young people as assistants and aides and boyfriends — and yeah, there are a lot of pictures documenting this behavior. I have a big problem with a powerful, queer director using that power to convince young, queer, possibly closeted men into believing that their only way into Hollywood is by attending his parties and sucking up to him. It’s a manipulative practice and it perpetuates closet culture. The articles I’ve read about him point out that his parties have lost attendees as homosexuality has become more culturally accepted. Young gay men are realizing that they don’t need to party — at the very least — with Singer in order to “make it.” Singer is not Professor X, shepherding the next generation of gay men towards a future of coexistence. He’s not even Magneto, demanding that gay men own their sexuality and take their careers by force. If the allegations are true, he’s Mr. Sinister, using and abusing others to suit his own needs.
Secondly — remember how that long point was just the first one? — “X-Men: Apocalypse” needs to be diverse. Again, this is a franchise that was built around the concept of equality and yet, for the seventh movie in a row, white men are firmly at the center. People rolling their eyes at this will be quick to point out that Mystique does plenty in “DOFP” as well, but A) She’s the only woman with importance and screen time, and B) Her whole character arc is about breaking free from the choices that men have forced her to make. Right now we have an X-Men franchise that has sidelined Kitty Pryde, completely mishandled Storm, Emma Frost and Rogue, robbed Jean Grey of any agency, and has yet to properly introduce Psylocke, Jubilee and Polaris. The latest film does feature a number of non-white characters, but every single one of them (Storm, Blink, Sunspot, Warpath, Bishop) is relegated to outside guard duty while all of the white characters (Xavier, Magneto, Kitty, Wolverine) handle the important, emotion-heavy, world-saving work. There’s even been a surprisingly anti-international slant towards one of the most international teams in comics as Colossus, Banshee, Quicksilver and Storm all lost their cultural identities in the transition from page to screen. This has gotta change. “X-Men: Apocalypse” should put a young Storm at the center, maybe with Psylocke (Japanese without any of the problematic body-changing backstory, please) and M backing her up. Maybe Northstar, Magik and a teen Nightcrawler could even add some of that international flair so integral to the comics. Just fix it, Fox.
“X-Men: Days of Future Past” satisfied me more than I ever thought it would, and it even made me hopeful for the franchise again. Yeah, I’m going out on a downer note by pointing out those two big problems facing Fox’s films right now, but I’m glad that I only have those two. The fun’s back for me, and I really never thought that would be the case again.
Brett White is a comedian living in New York City. He co-hosts the podcast Matt & Brett Love Comics and is a writer for the comedy podcast Left Handed Radio. His opinions can be consumed in bite-sized morsels on Twitter (@brettwhite).
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