Bryan Singer’s X-Men: Days of Future Past would have needed to split the actual atom to truly return to the glory days of 2003 when he made X-Men 2, and it can only get two-thirds of the way there. But two-thirds of X2 is more than enough to batter most recent superhero films with a large plank, a reminder of the uncinematic blind alleys that the Disneyfied end of Marvel has diligently created by making characters deliver dialogue to some outside jury of cool cats rather than each other. (DC has even bigger problems).
The shortfall is all down to the weird chain of dominoes that puts as innately specialised a director as Singer in charge of one of the biggest film projects going, alongside the eleven years of accumulated genre obligations. There must be time travel tropes, and a night-time storm-clouded dystopia that’s duller than dirt, and Sentinels with unfolding fiery faces who could all be related to New Gort. Characters must contort themselves to deliver dialogue which nods to things they’ve said in other films. How terrified of novelty we are, addicts all.
And more prudish. For a film ostensibly aimed at a similar audience as X2, there’s now zero chance of anything close to the queasy transgression of Magneto exsanguinating a hapless prison guard by the pint while Ian McKellen gives the poor bastard a catty side-eye.
Now you mention it, I miss Pervert Mystique too. Days makes all the right noises about Mystique being a swift and evil hellion, but Jennifer Lawrence looks as unhappy as she did in First Class, unlikely to manifest the easy-going kinkiness that a life on the catwalk gifted Rebecca Romijn before she ever climbed into the paint-spraying booth.
Even $225 million still can’t buy digital compositing where the joins don’t show, or a watertight set of plot points. There’s an ugly night sequence with Michael Fassbender on the roof of a train which looks like it’s wandered in from Doctor Who, and a shot of Beast at the end for which the cameoing actor in question could have been wearing a clown suit and a tinfoil hat, so blatant is the photoshopping. I couldn’t care less that a character may have magically changed from Bill Duke into Peter Dinklage since 2006, largely since that gets funnier the more you think about it. But not bothering to line up with your own post-credits sting from The Wolverine only last summer is just bad staff work.
With a franchise of almost infinite malleability, there’s no real excuse for lack of gender parity. The film puts all its chips on Mystique, and sidelines other distaff characters by fair means or foul. Shackling Ellen Page to the mind-meld table is a waste of actor and character, especially since in the original comics she’s the one doing the time-travelling. And where exactly did she get this godly gift anyway? Even Chris Claremont knew he had to invent a new character rather than rely on arm-waving to get the job done.
As noted by everyone, the Quicksilver section works, but the instructive question to ponder is: why? It’s built on comedy rhythms very different to both Joss Whedon’s collegiate banter and David Goyer’s weary pastiche, and manages to depth-charge both of them simultaneously.
The return of Singer means the return of Newton Thomas Sigel as cameraman. I knew this film and I were going to get on when Sigel adopted a 1970s colour palette for the period scenes, or at least as close as the current digital work flows can get him. Let’s assume that the murky cloud-filled weather-plagued Matrix dystopia is the result of similar in-jokery. The proof comes at the end, when shiny happy 2023 is the colour of corn fields and rose gardens; a certain resurrected character leans nonchalantly against a door jam, lighted by the amber light of the gods, red hair practically on fire.
The return of Singer means the return of John Ottman, whose editing is still as occasionally challenging as it was in 2003, and whose name on the score ensures music which dares to toy with a character’s interior life, as it’s supposed to do. The music editors get away with murder though, with the opening punch-up between disposable new mutants (all still better than Last Stand’s dweebs, mind) acquiring Ottman’s magnanimous recycling of Henry Jackman’s Magneto theme from First Class, which the composer clearly meant for the much later moment when Ian McKellen gets stuck in. A double insult, if you happen to think that Jackman thieved a motif Ottman had intended for Wolverine in the first place.
Mostly the return of Bryan Singer just means the return of that voodoo that he do and Brett Ratner don’t do and Joss Whedon can’t do.