If you’re a fan of the X-Men comic books this is the movie you’ve been waiting for. If you’re a fan of the X-Men TV show this is the movie you’ve been waiting for. If you’re a fan of the other X-Men movies this is the movie you’ve been waiting for. If you’re a fan of the X-Men line of chia pets… you get the picture.
If, however, you don’t like time travel, you’re not going to like this movie. If you don’t like the X-Men, you’re not going to like this movie. If you can’t suspend reality enough to enjoy a Sci-Fi/Fantasy action film, you’re not going to like this movie. If your favorite X-Men movie was “The Wolverine” because of it’s much more character driven and has a somewhat realistic plot with only three mutants in it… you’re not going to like this movie.
I started my understanding of the X-Men with the 90’s cartoon on Fox TV. It was a controversial show among Christian mothers; I think someone at Focus on the Family had probably written a article about it. The issue that my mom had with the show was that it wasn’t always clear who was good and who was bad. For me, I never had trouble understanding that X-Men wasn’t as much about the typical super hero plot, represented recently by The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (reviewed here), wherein the Superhero gains powers, encounters tragedy, makes a vow to fight for good, fights bad guys – usually one to three individuals at a time who also has super powers and by defeating that one bad guy he saves his city who is typically very grateful. I like this formula, but the thing that is appealing about the X-Men is that it isn’t about that formula. It almost isn’t accurate to classify the X-Men films as “superhero movies” as they so totally break the mold. The X-Men stories are about the larger society, prejudice, fear, and how to be diplomatic in complex situations.
The Morality of X-Men is confusing and often changing according to who is a greater threat. Here’s my own take on it with a little help from our friends over at Dungeons and Dragons. Putting Magneto at “true neutral” is because of the aberration in the pattern of his actions. Half the time Magneto seems to be a team player, joining up with the X-Men to fight a greater evil, but the other half he’s trying to destroy humanity in an effort to establish mutant superiority. When you see his history, you understand why this seems logical, and it is done out of a sincere desire to help mutants. He also comes around in the end, as we see in this movie.
I don’t want to over-hype it. It’s certainly not perfect. I’m not slapping any hyperbolic labels on it like “best superhero movie ever” or “best movie of summer.” But I might call it the best X-Men movie so far, if for no other reason than the fact that it bridges the continuity (or lack there of) between the original trilogy and First Class while paying it’s respects to the Wolverine films. Undoubtedly there will be many questions about this film as it relates to the others, but those details aside I think anyone who has seen and enjoyed the other films can enjoy this one. If you haven’t seen any of the X-Men films I want to say now DO NOT SEE THIS MOVIE. It will confuse the daylights out of you. It will probably confuse you a little if you have seen the X-Men movies, but at least you have some idea of who the characters are before you launch into multiple time-lines and young/old versions of characters. Rewatching X-Men 2, 3, and X-Men First Class would be helpful, though it will raise a few questions that I’d be glad to discuss with you at length because I don’t have anything better to do.
Before I launch into a synopsis, I want to emphasize that if you’re not a fan of time travel tales that you will not like this movie. This is a film that hinges on time travel and I know there are some people who are simply bothered by the impossibility and seeming arbitrary rules of time travel in any given movie and this film is no different. It is very wibbly wobbly. By contrast I know many people who love time travel movies. I’m one of them. Part of this has to do, honestly with my view of God as being outside of time. I see God as a being for whom everything is currently happening, everything has already happened, and everything will happen soon. I often like to think about the possibility that heaven exists outside of time and what does that mean for our eternity with Christ?
As much as I would love to break down all the issues that time travel creates for this and the other six movies, both time-line and continuity wise, our buddies at Entertainment Weekly are paid to do this stuff, so if you want a fairly comprehensive article on the time line as well as some othe details of the plot you can read their article here. Aside from the usual illogical hatred for X-Men 3, I agree with most of the theories there. But let’s talk about the movie by itself and what actually happens.
Ok this is going to be confusing. We open in the not-too-distant future where we see several of our friends last seen in 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand, Shadow Cat (played by the now much more recognizable Ellen Page), Ice Man, Colossus, and a few new faces including a more obscure X-Man named Bishop. The first fight is just a couple of minutes in, and it might actually be the best fight in the film. Sentinels show up and kill almost everyone except Shadow Cat and Bishop who run to a back room where shadow cat uses her secondary mutation (made up just for this movie) and she sends Bishop’s mind back in time and everything disappears. At this point if you’re watching for the first time and don’t just know that’s what’s happening, you’re just not going to know what’s happening, especially when we go to the next scene and all the people we just watched die are still alive. While you’re still confused a new version of the Blackbird lands somewhere. Out of the jet comes Old Magneto, Storm, Old Wolverine, and Old Professor X. If the last thing you saw was X-Men 3, it might be a surprise to you to discover that Xavier is still alive.
If you’re worried that they’re going to give some half-baked comic book explanation of exactly how Xavier survived after being vaporized by Dark Phoenix in X3, don’t worry, because they don’t try to explain it at all. Instead they rely on you to have watched the after credits scenes in both X-Men The Last Stand and last year’s The Wolverine. Which gives you the detail that Xavier apparently transferred his consciousness into the body of a brain dead man and then reveals himself to Wolverine. They never bother explaining why the brain dead man looks like the old Xavier or why the legs of this body don’t work either. Oh well. You’re just going to have to accept that he’s back.
What’s even more confusing is the X-Kids’ explanation of what happened in that first scene. Apparently every time the Sentinels (giant robots that operate like the T-1000 from Terminator 2.) find them, Shadow Cat sends bishop back in time a couple of days to warn them. They then move their location so that they’re never found. If you followed that, you should have no trouble with the rest of the plot. Xavier then suggests they send someone back in time further and stop this war from starting. Shadow Cat says that she can only send someone a few weeks back in time without scrambling their brain. That’s when the movie-making machine at Fox stepped in and said, “yes but our big star is Hugh Jackman and he has the ability to heal.” And we, the public, have no problem with that because everyone but Dr. Cox loves Hugh Jackman.
That’s Right, because Wolverine can heal faster than anything can kill him, he volunteers to have his mind sent back in time into his younger body (conveniently played by Hugh Jackman because, as Shadow Cat reminds us, Wolverine doesn’t really age.) So after it’s made clear that if they’re caught by the sentinels this time that they’ll have no way out (as Shadow Cat will be occupied with Wolverine’s brain) they send Logan back in time.
There’s a random scene in which Wolverine is naked and we see his butt. I mention this because for one of my friends this was the reason he was worried about taking his kids. So there you go. It happens. It’s like four seconds.
Logan goes to the X Mansion where we find out that the young Professor X is depressed and is taking a drug that allows him to walk, but suppresses his powers. Beast is there also – he had developed said drug to hide his own mutation which actually kind of neatly alludes back to the Dr. Jekyll and Mister Hide reference made in X-Men First Class. Somehow Logan manages to convince professor X, not only that he’s from the future and needs their help, but also that they need to break young Magneto out of jail for… you know… reasons… Ok so, story-wise it doesn’t totally make sense except for the fact that this is what future Eric and future Charles tells him to do.
They go get Quicksilver, who is actually Magneto’s son – as is revealed in a small offhanded comment by Quicksilver. After wolverine says that they’re trying to break out a “guy who controls metal” Quick Silver says “my mom used to know a guy like that.” Which just gives enough of a nod to make us aware that Brian Singer is going with that version of the story. (Something that was lacking in X2 in the scene between Nightcrawler and his mother, Mystique – who doesn’t seem to think it necessary to mention to anyone that Nightcrawler is her son.)
Quicksilver gives us an awesome scene in which they break magneto out of prison. Perhaps the most visually impressive scene in the movie is when we see Quicksilver’s point of view as he dispatches with a room full of guards by running around the walls while fire sprinklers have been set off. The scene is in slow motion except for Quicksilver. The water is falling slowly, bullets flying slowly and everyone reacting slowly as he darts around the room, knocking over several guards and pushing bullets out of the way. Then Quicksilver leaves because this movie has too many characters to spend any more time with him. Don’t worry we get one little clip of him watching TV with his little sister (Scarlet Witch?) And undoubtedly he’ll be in the next movie.
A trivial aside: many of you will be confused at this so I’m going to say it now in hopes that maybe you’ll remember it later. In Avengers 2 there will be a totally different iteration of “Quicksilver” and “Scarlet Witch.” They were introduced post credits after Captain America: Winter Soldier. These are the same comic book characters, but they are in different cinematic universes and are played by different actors. That is because there is a difference between movies made by Marvel and movies licensed by Marvel. All the characters in X-Men are licensed to Fox. That is why it is very unlikely that we’ll ever see Wolverine in an Avengers movie. Quick Silver and Scarlet Witch are shared properties in this agreement, however, so they can appear in either film. Because the studios are separate, though they are being interpreted differently and played by different actors. FYI Spiderman is licensed to Sony, which is why you’re not going to see Spider-Man in the Avengers. If you’re wondering why you won’t see Batman or Superman in the Avengers, please wear tinfoil on your head so we can all know who you are.
Then we get down to business. The whole goal of traveling back in time is to stop Mystique (“ooh ooh ooh! That’s Jennifer Lawrence! We’ve Got Jennifer Lawrence in that part!” Shouted the Fox execs) from killing Bolivar Trask. Trask is a weapons contractor with the military who is recommending to a congressional subcommittee that the US go on the offensive against the growing mutant threat by building enormous robots that are capable of detecting the “Mutant-X gene” and wiping out all mutants. It is explained to us that In the darkest time line, Mystique is successful in her assassination of Trask, but this leads to a public outcry against mutants. Mystique is captured and experimented on. Presumably she escapes before the events of the original X-Men but not before the new leaders of the Sentinel Program harvest Mystique’s DNA and use it to make Sentinels that can shape shift to beat any mutant.
We see Mystique in the midst of her various activities leading up to her Assassination attempt. We meet a young William Stryker (the bad guy in X2, and Wolverine: Origins) who is played by yet another actor, a Seann William Scott look-a-like named Josh Helman. This, in addition to the fact that Wolverine didn’t wake up in the Vietnam war, just solidifies the fact that we all have to basically ignore everything that happened in X-Men Origins: Wolverine… anyway… of course we meet Trask who is played by Peter Dinklage. I have to say that part of me was distracted by Dinklage, who of course has (say it with me) achondroplasia – a common form of dwarfism. The character of Trask from the comics is listed as being 5’10” so this was kind of a bold casting move, but Dinklage has such an intimidating voice and such a large presence that it only took a scene or two before I was more than cool with having him playing the major bad guy. Though, as one friend pointed out, achondroplasia is a real-life mutation… seems kind of ironic.
While they are successful in foiling Mystique’s initial attempt on Trask’s life, they make things worse as a camera catches the fight immediately following it which shows the world how dangerous Mystique, Magneto, and Beast all are. Magneto decides that it’s too risky to keep Mystique alive, so he tries to kill her, but she escapes into the crowd while Beast fights with Magneto. At the same time Wolverine is thrown for a loop when he sees young Stryker (who is responsible for giving him his indestructible skeleton and metal claws) and freaks out for a minute, causing us to see the future X-men toiling over Logan as he trashes about, accidentally stabbing Shadow Cat. The rest of the film we get cuts between the 1970s and the 2020’s to remind us of the ticking clock of the pending sentinel invasion upon the future X-Men.
The final confrontation takes place around the White House as Trask unveils his Mark-1 Sentinels – he doesn’t realize that the giant robots have been reprogrammed by Magneto. Upon their unveiling they attack the crowd watching. Xavier, who has over come his depression and is back in a wheelchair with his powers, is in attendance with a disguised Beast and Wolverine. At the same time Magneto uproots a local ballpark – I’m not sure which one – and drops it around the White House. This might be my biggest issue with this movie. The ball park around the White House thing seems totally unnecessary and does seem like just an attempt at some big visual at the climax. If someone had said “he wouldn’t attack the White House, the army would stop him!” right before he dropped the stadium around the white house it might’ve at least explained the logic, but even so – it’s not like the stadium doesn’t have doors. Or they didn’t have jets and paratroopers. It’s just easier to suspend reality around the White House battle.
At the same time, in the future the Sentinels have shown up and the real visual climax takes place as all the surviving X-Men battle to protect Shadow Cat and Wolverine from the shape-shifting Sentinels. Back in the 1970s Wolverine is sent to drown in the Potomac with several pieces of rebar stuck through his torso. Magneto is about the kill the president. (It was Nixon, so this would’ve been the best possible outcome for his career) when Mystique stops him. The whole event is on live TV and everyone sees a mutant save the president’s life. She then looks as if she might kill Trask, but instead drops the gun and walks away. In the future, everyone involved in the battle disappears. In the past we see Stryker later fishing a still-alive Wolverine out of the Potomac, but at the last minute it’s revealed that it’s not Stryker, but Mystique. This raises lots of questions regarding Wolverine’s origin story that I don’t have time to get into.
This is where the real spoilers are
I thought the movie might end after the battle. If it did it would be a fairly satisfying ending, but instead we see Logan wake up. We know it’s the future, not only because of the white stripe in his hair, but also because his alarm clock radio is holographic. He’s in the X Mansion and he gets up and walks into the hallway. He sees adult Beast (played by Kelsey Grammar) and Rogue (Anna Paquin). He sees Shadow Cat and Colossus teaching a class. Then he walks towards Xavier’s office to see… Jean Gray still alive. WHAAAAAT? She of course isn’t at all surprised to see him, as no one in this timeline knows about the darkest timeline. Then from behind the door comes Cyclops. What-what? And finally he sees Professor X who quickly realizes that this is the Logan he met as a young man, now returned from their first adventure together. So basically Bryan Singer just rebooted X-Men, but with the same cast. They could go anywhere from here. They could make more sequels starring the original cast, they could tell another Wolverine origin story. OR they could do what they’re going to do and keep going with the First Class cast and do a movie about the baddest bad guy in the X-Men cannon. The after-credits scene isn’t all that surprising given the name of the next X-Men movie: X-Men Apocalypse.
The after credits scene may not be a shock, but it is, however, a huge treat to a long-time X-Men fan. It starts in the desert sands, so even without the title of the next movie, we have a pretty good idea of where they’re going with this. As the camera moves up we see thousands of people worshipping a hooded figure who has his back turned to us and his hands raised. We soon realize that the figure is using some kind of telekinetic ability to build a pyramid. The camera swoops around him so that we can see his gray face and in the distance – four horsemen. Boom.
For an X-Men fan, this might be a five out of five stars, but for a more casual fan it’s going to be hard to follow and there are several issues. As such I’ll take the average and give it four out of five stars. Really really fun for the 8 year-old in me, but I’m aware of the fact that it’s not the best film ever made. So far it is my favorite comic-book movie this summer and that is saying a lot as I really did in enjoy Captain America. Is it good for kids? It’s pretty violent and, as I mentioned you do get a glimpse of Hugh Jackman’s best side. Also the themes are pretty mature (I mean that literally by the way, some people use “mature themes” to really mean “juvenile themes that you don’t want your kid to hear about.”) with blurred lines of morality it is something you’d want to consider. I’d say definitely not for kids under 10 and pG-13 is probably a pretty good guide for this one.
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