So the second movie of last week's long-haul flights was one I wanted to catch in the cinema but missed - X-Men: Days of Future Past. It was one of the films out this year that I wanted to see, but always held a slight fear for; the casting sounded overly cluttered, the franchise itself hasn't always been a mark of quality, and it felt like a little bit of a backward step after the interesting clean break that was X-Men: First Class. Still, that cluttered cast is made up of one hell of a line-up, Bryan Singer was a sure hand behind the first two X-Men movies, and it's a revered storyline with a lot of potential. So i'd be crazy to pass up the chance to watch it.
The general setup isn't too hard to follow; in "the future", mutantkind is being hunted and destroyed by indestructable robot that mimic their powers and the only hope to save the world is to send a long warrior back in time to prevent the crucial moment that triggers it all in the first place. This is so much the plot of The Terminator that the film even has Wolverine lampshade it on his arrival in 1973, and I guess they're just waiting for Harlan Ellison lawsuit to land. Anyway, in order to save the future Wolvie need to track down both Professor X and Magneto to convince them to work together to prevent Mystique killing the creator of the future super-Robots. To avoid too much confusion most of the other First Class characters have been handily dispatched between movies, so that's convenient.
I've got to say that the opening movements of DoFP are pretty damn fantastic.You get a big opening fight set in the future which showcases a whole host of cool mutant powers, most of which from characters who'll only have names if you're a comics fan. Then a neat bit of setup before jumping back to 1973 for most of the running, and a smart mix of pace, action and comedy as they get the band back together. Really, this is the best part of the movie by a long shot, and it's a shame that the second half gets bogged down into incoherence.
I've had a week to think about it and the problem seems to be that the filmmakers had an end point in mind for the characters, and arc for each of them, that are often at odds with the other end-points and arcs for other characters. A big deal is made of needing to get Magneto and Prof. X together to "save" Mystique, but at the same time they want their big ending where Magneto gets to be the villain, and setup another 20 years of X-rivalry. I'm not saying they should have kissed and made up, but there isn't really any point they work together apart from really, really, briefly and non-essentially. Mystique, too, seems to have wobbly motivation for much of the film.
The cluttered cast also seems to be a bit of an issue. There are a lot of very talented actors here and most of the moments that land do so largely thanks to their efforts. Peter Dinklages' villain is badly underwritten and seemingly motiveless (or at least, his one scene of motive-exposition is really basic) and the what is probably the biggest emotional moment of the film (in the future, towards the end) only works at all because of the general awesomeness of Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen. It's not bad - this is not a bad film, it's an entertaining one that doesn't really make a heap of sense - but it is a little frustrating and means the lingering sense of the film is one of questions over if it really works at all.
Finally, where does it leave the franchise? There are a lot of forward nods to events that now may or may not happen - X-Men and X-Men 2 presumably sort of happen, and X-Men 3 explicitly does not. Where does this leave the proposed sequel to The Wolverine, given that the main character arc for that film is him trying to deal with the guilt over X-Men 3 (the plot, not simply being the film, but....). Obviously we shouldn't get too hung on continuity, but Days of Future Past seems to want to trade on our affection for the franchises continuity, and at the same time, dispense of it. It's the sort of conflicted sensibility that does seem to seep through the film at all levels.