Bryan Singer should only make X-Men movies. Just a couple days ago I was writing about what a terrific job he did in the first X-Men movie, where he balanced the silly blockbuster and more poignant elements of the story resulting in some sort of Rosetta stone for the whole superhero genre that exploded (and still reigns) today’s mainstream cinema. Well, Singer still has it, because X-Men: Days of Future Past is the best X-Men movie since Singer’s last time directing for this franchise, which by the way, was more than ten years ago.
With that last statistic in mind, I have to make two things clear. First, that I loved Days of Future Past. I had an amazing time from start to finish and would rank it as the best blockbuster of the year so far. Second, let me delicately state that my feverish enjoyment of the movie might have quite a bit to do with personal nostalgia. You see, the X-Men are, and have always been, for the lack of a better word, my shit. Their original animated series was one of the first things I was a fan of. Later, I became obsessed with their second animated series. That doesn’t mean that anything X-Men related will excite me, though. I was tremendously disappointed by X-Men: First Class, which was a complete mess of a movie, and the less said about the horrible X-Men: The Last Stand the better.
All of this has made me conclude that the reason this movie is good is because of Bryan Singer, which is funny, since Singer’s career ever since leaving the franchise hasn’t been particularly interesting or exciting either. His latest movie was Jack the Giant Slayer, which I admit I haven’t seen, but by all accounts, is just not very good. Thus, the X-Men seem to be at their best when directed by Singer, and Singer seems to be at his best when making X-Men movies. Case in point, his X2: X-Men United is still one of the very best superhero movies ever made, while his Superman Returns (which he quit the mutants to direct) is a snooze. Flash-forward a decade, and X-Men: Days of Future Past is one of the most fun I’ve had at the movie theater this year.
This is not a matter of fate either, there are palpable reasons why Singer makes these movies good. He may have a particular level of affection for the characters and their stories, but more importantly he definitely understands them, and knows how to shoot a good-looking movie. He has always shown a certain level of elegance in his mise en scène, making even the most ridiculous and silly moments look palatable. Watching the trailers for Days of Future Past I could only think about how silly all of it looked, but watching the movie, Singer’s staging of the action made forget about all those doubts. I would like to rewatch the movie just to spot what is it about his shooting that makes the movie so effective, but I would venture to say right now that there it’s a matter of preference for a more realistic and earth-bound look than, for example, the overuse of backlighting in the unbearably glossy X-Men: First Class.
In case you need to know, the movie is basically about Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) traveling back in time to the 1970s, where he assembles the cast of X-Men: First Class, including James McAvoy as Professor Xavier and Michael Fassbender as Magneto to stop Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from committing a murder that would set off the mutant holocaust of the future. If that sounds silly, it’s because it is. And if that sounds like 20th Century Fox trying to use the stunt of mixing the casts of the older and newer X-Men movies to maximize profits, it’s because it is. And yet, Singer and screenwriter Simon Kinberg make this an incredibly entertaining movie. The first half of it, is non-stop fun, including a prison break scene featuring a young mutant named Quicksilver (Evan Peters), who is the funniest part of the movie, that everyone is already (and rightfully) talking about being the greatest thing since sliced bread.
I will say one thing, though. I can completely see someone’s enjoyment of the movie being dependent on whether or not you have any kind of emotional connection to the characters. I think that even if you don’t, the work by such amazing actors as McAvoy, Fassbender, and Peter Dinklage (who plays mutant-hating scientist Bolivar Trask) will be enough to make you have a good time. And if you do have a certain attachment to these mutants, well, then you’ll have an awesome time just like I did.
Grade: 7 out of 10