I saw it last night, and it was a healing experience. I felt that a long, dark chapter had finally come to a close, and now I can look forward with optimism the way I did over ten years ago. What do I mean by this? The tale is quite an epic in itself, apart from the film and its predecessors.
Let’s start in the past…
X2 was released on the eve of my high school graduation. I saw it a handful of times in the theater, and it remains my favorite film of all comic book films released. I was gladly surprised at the first X-Men film a couple years before, but nothing could prepare me for the drastic upping of the ante that occured with its sequel. My friends and I who had grown up with the comics and TV shows were absolutely giddy at the stories explored in X2, the characters and how they developed, and the hint of Dark Phoenix that we saw in the film’s conclusion.
In short, this film was not only a grand experience by itself, but it delivered a promise of more to come. This is where the tale takes a darker turn.
Director Bryan Singer jumped ship from his X-Men franchise to make a new Superman film (Superman Returns, which is sadly underrated and still better that the more recent Man of Steel, but more on that another time…). He ultimately left the series in the hands of Brett Ratner. Despite some decent film credits in prior years, what we got from Ratner was a steaming pile of film mess. The promise we were left with at the conclusion of X2 was betrayed in a whirlwind of too many incomplete plots, needless character deaths, hollow emotional stakes, and an overall tired feel to the film.
The respect Singer has attempted to show the source material in his two films became a cash grab by Ratner. Sure there were more mutant battles with special effects, a few love triangles, and Ian McKellan is a awesome actor, but nothing could save the film. I was glad when the film was finally over, because I felt like I had just watched a sacred part of me get publicly defiled.
And thus began a period of my film-watching life where I learned not to expect or want anything from a film. It wasn’t all X-Men: The Last Stand’s fault, it was Hollywood in general (even the third Spider-Man film released around this time was a letdown). I had this sense that nothing sacred could survive. Eventually it would become tainted and wither away. With this third film I watched a phoenix rise from ashes merely to throw a brief tantrum before sputtering out darker than the faintest ember.
There were other films in the series. X-Men Origins: Wolverine (which I only partially viewed because my distaste eventually got the better of me) and The Wolverine (another Wolverine film which actually got some decent praise, but I still have not seen it). These were dark days for X-Men and these were also times when other superhero franchises were having there time in the limelight. Perhaps, though, we owe Hugh Jackman a bit of thanks for his enthusiasm for Wolverine. In retrospect, it seems the mutant’s healing factor seems to have rubbed of on the franchise…
Then there was X-Men: First Class. I’ll admit that by this time I was fatigued to the point of apathy. Another X-Men film, I thought, and new actors this time. How will that work?
It worked quite well as it turns out. With a jaundiced eye I watched and was slowly yet surely convinced of the film’s genuine effort to be a good film. While I didn’t agree with some of the stylistic choices and directing, I couldn’t fault the entire film for those minor issues. There was finally a decent film to ameliorate my mutant malaise, and maybe I could hope for a better film in the future?
No… Don’t. Abandon hope when considering anything from Hollywood. Remember what happened with X-Men: The Last Stand. Just be glad First Class didn’t suck… Those were my thoughts.
But then there was the announcement of X-Men: Days of Future Past and it’s ensemble cast. It’s intentions to bridge the original trilogy to First Class. It’s goal to tell a story based on a renowned comic book story. These were things I remember hoping for after X2. Could this be the film I thought was promised to me? Could things such as this happen, and more than a decade after the fact to boot?
Well maybe. My hardened heart needed more. More is what it received in abundance when the first trailer was released (I have a strange affection for movie trailers, so I watched this a bunch). A work of art in itself, this distilled preview teased me with plot points without spoiling the entire package, and left me curiously invigorated. Perhaps this new film would be… okay. Just don’t get too excited.
Despite my early anticipation of the film’s release, the actual date of release had snuck up on me. Before I knew it I was sitting in the theater feeling… nothing. I don’t go to late films because I’m becoming old in my late 20’s and staying out all night is a game for the young. But then it began. Then it ended.
And now in the present…
Let me just say, I rarely say that films are a healing experience. Sure there are some that are inspiring and heartwarming, educating and reaffirming, and others that I want to experience all over again the moment the credits roll. But healing is something I reserve for literature or art, and despite the industry’s attempts, film is rarely art. X-Men: Days of Future Past may not be art, but Bryan Singer pulled out all the stops, and exposed some secrets in just the right manner so that we can be reacquainted with forgotten yet familiar faces.
At the end, a main character is in disbelief that he succeeded and that things have returned to “normal”. Lives have been restored, the past corrected, mistakes erased. For over ten years I watched a film franchise up close and from a distance. I loved it and hated it. It hurt me, but ultimately healed me. I wonder now if the darkest parts of this saga were worth it in the end, knowing now that things turn out alright. Perhaps. All I know is that X-Men: Days of Future Past is the X-Men film I have been wanting for over ten years. A deep pain from my youth has been soothed.
All I can say now is, go see this film, and join the rest of us who ironically anticipate Apocalypse.