How do you make a reboot not feel like a reboot? Time travel.
The X-Men franchise has been a bit of a roller coaster over the years. The first two films were excellent, the third filled with cringe-worthy moments, the first Wolverine film atrocious, the second a significant improvement, and First Class being perhaps the most mixed bag of them all. There have been some home runs in the franchise (Hugh Jackman, for example) and there have been some almost irrevocably terrible choices (Anna Paquin as Rogue, for example). So the franchise did something that few have done before. They decided to go back and make some appropriate changes to their own franchise, through one of the most intriguing story archs is the film franchise’s history, not to the mention the source material’s.
It’s the future. Xavier has a futuristic wheel “chair,” Wolverine has gray hair, apparently just because it looks cool, and magically has his metal claws back, and the robotic sentinels are destroying all of mankind, although they’re supposed to be aiming for mutants. So, of course, Kitty Pryde uses her abilities to send a fellow mutant back in time to warn them when the attacks are coming, so that they can keep on the move and stay alive.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, what?”
Yeah, they kind of said “Continuity? What’s that?” on this one. Let’s take it one step at a time here.
First, there’s Xavier. He was supposedly pulverized by Jean Grey in X-Men 3, but some will remember his voice, and by extension, his consciousness, being in the post-credits scene. Still, how did he get a body back? How did he survive? Apparently that’s not relevant.
Kitty Pryde’s primary talent is walking through walls. How this extends to sending somebody back in time is not really fleshed out, so I guess we just have to increase our ability for the willing suspension of disbelief. What can you say? Comic book movies.
Then there’s Wolverine (AND IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE WOLVERINE, SKIP THIS PARAGRAPH), who, in the film, aptly named, The Wolverine, had all of the adamantium drained from his body, leaving only his bone claws. Somehow he suddenly has his metal claws back in this one, but of course, that’s never explained.
So Xavier, Magneto, and a few other mutants who are still alive agree to send Wolverine back in time to stop the events that caused the creation of the sentinels, which goes back to Mystique’s assassination of Bolivar Trask, the man who invented the sentinels. Once he was killed, the government took his claims of the dangerous mutants more seriously, which then led to the sentinels identifying genes that would make being a mutant likely, which then led to a dystopian future for all of mankind, not just mutants.
So Wolverine wakes up in his body in 1973, and sets out to reunite Xavier and Magneto for the purpose of stopping Mystique. If you’ll recall how First Class ended, you’ll remember that Xavier was put in a wheelchair by Magneto, who also stole Ravel (Mystique) away from Charles. Now (well sort of now, I mean it’s 1973) Charles is addicted to a drug that allows him to walk but robs him of his powers, Magneto is in a super-secure prison due to his connection to JFK’s assassination (the whole magic bullet thing), and Mystique is working diligently with her own little Brotherhood of Mutants, although she never uses that name.
That’s a lot just to set up the film. In fact, one of the immediate weaknesses of the film from a marketing standpoint is that you can’t say “Hey I want to jump into the X-Men universe” and go see this movie. You will be terribly lost. There are also some things to be cautious of. Mystique’s all-but-nude physique is still present instead of other presentations like you can see below. There’s also a full view of Wolverine’s backside when he wakes up in his body in 1973 (where we learn that he was having sex with a mob boss’s daughter), and a smattering of profanities typical to modern action films. So is it worth wading through all of that?
Let’s take a look at the film’s elements to find out. First, there’s Quicksilver. Wolverine, Xavier, and the crew come to him because they need to break Magneto out of prison, and his lightning speed comes in handy. But, at the risk of offending my DC friends, I must say that Quicksilver makes a far more interesting character than the Flash. This isn’t just about speed. Peter (his name is actually Pietro in the comics, but whatever) is a cleptomaniac, as they find from visiting his room in the family’s basement, and has a very jittery and somewhat impatient personality. This flows beautifully with the Quicksilver from the comics, who’s always frustrated waiting for everyone else to catch up. This is illustrated particularly well when he acts like a toddler asking “Why” repeatedly to Magneto to find out what he did to be put in prison.
But the real beauty here comes in the scene where you see everything from Quicksilver’s perspective. He doesn’t feel the effects of the speed. He just runs like we do, but everything else is slowed down. That scene alone is worth every travesty in the X-Men film franchise.
But even with amazing action sequences like this, plus Magneto displacing an entire football stadium, the film is really trying to be about something else. It first acts as though it’s about the relationship between Charles and Magneto, and how Raven was the thing that drove them apart, not to mention the ideologies that separate the two men. It is, particularly in the ways that Xavier and Magneto believe that the dystopian future must be evaded, but it’s also about Mystique. Because in the end, that same character that was supposed to be homicidal (they point out that this would be her first murder, which would lead to many more), is given the ability to turn from it. She’s given the choice all over again.
This film says, in the end, that we are not victims of circumstance. The future is not deterministic. We have the ability to shape, if nothing else, what we do. Who we become. In the process, it also manages to hit the reset button on the franchise and open up the possibility for some really awesome movies where the record is set straight. But the thing that’s really great about the film is that it tells us that we have the power to be who we want to be. We can choose. It’s not up to “destiny” or “fate.”
So is it worth it? Thankfully, with the invention of ClearPlay, we can skip past Wolverine’s backside and the profanities. Mystique is still a concern, but thankfully, you don’t see very much of her in her blue form in this film. Ultimately, I’d say that this film is worth it, and a welcome addition to the franchise. I can only hope that Bryan Singer continues to direct future X-Men films, because he’s definitely set the record straight here.