By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist May 27, 2014 at 2:42PM
The Tone Doesn't Get Too Grim
We love Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, but for a while, we almost wish they didn't exist, if only because of the few years of Nolan-ized blockbusters that followed: dark, grim, and unrelentingly allergic to fun, which is what summer escapist tentpoles are meant to be. But things have been improving this year. Both "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" and "Godzilla" have combined heavy stakes with actually being enjoyable, and without slipping into dourness, and 'Days Of Future Past' continues the trend. Singer and co. might overstep the bounds a little bit at the very beginning, but for the most part, the grim future setting is leavened both by making the action fun (the inventive deaths for the anonymous future-mutants help), and by the lighter tone of the 1970s sequences. Some characters have heavier issues than ever before—Charles' drinking, Mystique's quest for revenge—but it's balanced nicely by characters like Wolverine and Quicksilver, who aren't taking matters too seriously. The X-Men's great benefit is that they can have a more serious subtext at work in a way that, say, Thor doesn't, but Singer also remembers, perhaps even more successfully than with "X2," that the audience are here to have a good time.
Not Drowning In CGI
Last time Bryan Singer made an X-Men movie, it was eleven years ago, and the modern superhero movie was still somewhat in its infancy. But things have escalated fast, and even a relatively grounded entry in the genre like 'The Winter Soldier' climaxes with a host of exploding into pixels, to say nothing of the city-trashing that ends "Man Of Steel." There's spectacle in 'Days Of Future Past,' certainly, with waves of sentinels and Magneto's stadium-lifting parlor trick. But it's used sparingly, and in general Singer keeps the action focused on the characters battling it out. Indeed, in both of those examples, he still manages to keep things contained: the future mutants only ever battle a few Sentinels at a time, while at the climax, so many filmmakers would have had the robots rampaging through D.C., but Singer actually uses the stadium as a way to hone in the action (perhaps learning a lesson from the "keep them contained" climax of "The Avengers"). There's still a ton of CGi in the film, but it's used smartly, and almost always mixed in with live-action elements, preventing it from ever descending into the video-gamey vibe that so many of these films do. It's something we hope they remember moving forward with the sequel.
On the one hand, we imagine Jennifer Lawrence probably regrets signing on to "X-Men: First Class"—she's got to balance the lengthy shooting schedule with her other, even bigger franchise, "The Hunger Games," while also trying to fit in more awards-friendly work, and photobombing people on red carpets. Plus it means lord-knows-how-many-hours in the make-up chair before she can even get in front of a camera. On the other, we can't imagine anyone we'd rather see playing the part. Mystique/Raven's role here is both beefed up (she's literally the most important mutant in history), and weirdly wasted (see below), but Lawrence kills it, both with a ninja-like physicality that bridges the gap between her younger turn in the first film and Rebecca Romijn's equivalent in the present day, and with her ever-present ability to take an emotional beat and knock it out of the floated-by-Magneto park. From an ability, with Fassbender, to suggest years of sexual history, to her terrifying revenge face, and absolute hurt when her colleagues turn on her, Lawrence continues to be a delight to watch in these films. Word's starting spreading about a possible Mystique spin-off, no doubt as an attempt to keep Lawrence interested in the franchise, but for once, that doesn't sound like the worst idea as the character has gone from a second string villain in the originals to an integral part of the series going forward.
We’ll admit, this movie generally does more right than it does wrong, but while we’re here deconstructing it…
Quicksilver’s Hasty Exit
Not a huge dealbreaker or anything, but we admit, it’s kind of amusing that Quicksilver’s powers are so amazing, he can literally run circles around all problems. So, breaking Magneto out of the Pentagon? No problem. But wouldn’t it have been just a little handy to keep him around for say… every other problem, obstacle and conflict for the rest of the movie? Sure, the X-Men send him home because he’s a kid, but it seems silly especially when everyone’s under a “do-or-die” threat of changing the course of history and time. Maybe it would’ve been worth the risk to include the kid after all? And yes, the filmmakers say he’ll be back for “X-Men: Apocalypse,” but good luck with that because you’ve already established a character that can basically defeat anyone with his speed.
We Miss Logan/Wolverine's Reluctant Hero Status.
Almost devoid of quippiness and shorn of most of the gruffness that makes the character so eternally endearing, here Hugh Jackman's Wolverine is probably the blandest we've seen him be. In fact in some scenes in which the dramatic tension really lies between Magneto and Prof X, he's pretty much the fifth wheel; a hairy guy photobombing in the background. Embarking on a dangerous mission, for which he immediately volunteers, and tasked with recruiting Xavier and others to his cause, Wolverine here has little internal conflict, bar a sudden Stryker flashback which only happens at one narratively convenient moment in order to incapacitate him. We understand the oft-mentioned parallels between his role now and Xavier's own in his life (there's a lot of you-saved-me, no-you-saved-me stuff going on), its just a shame the screenwriters felt they couldn't salvage any of Wolverine's famous reluctance to play hero this time. It's not a dealbreaker and it's not like we don't get enough Wolverine elsewhere, but along with the mystery of Prof X's coming back to life ,we wonder what has happened in the intervening years to turn Wolverine into, essentially, GI Joe.