The latest offering in the X-Men franchise was perhaps the best action-adventure film that I have seen in years. Combined with Mom’s Night Out, the best comedy I have enjoyed in a while, and a few other dramatic offerings have made 2014 a joyful year.
There is little need to go over the excellent secular points on X-Men: Days of Future Past. The fundamental story premise in the 1981 comics are justly famous as a genuinely pleasing interpretation of time travel, destiny, and freedom. I fully believe this comic story was a visible influence on the Back to the Future and Terminator mythologies which followed about four years after. (Those of you who follow the film industry means that they’re almost certainly directly derivative since it takes about three years to take a film from concept to the big screen before digital effects.)
I mean, I am fully capable of going into full-on rave mode about this film. Hugh Jackman does not impress me. I grew up a Wolverine fan and the best I can say is that Jackman does not actively harm the role. The dream-team ensemble cast from the prior movies wowed me without stop. Game of Thrones‘ Peter Dinklage took a recurring bit-villain (his toys were always Trask’s real draw) and flushed out a great deal of depth and credibility. Fassbender’s Magneto is entrancing as he bounces back and forth between hero and villain without seeming to deviate one degree from his own internal axis. Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique is no less strong than her eventual role heading up the Brotherhood, but she doubles-down on a deeply ambiguous woman with too much power to do anything but change the world. I deeply enjoyed the echoes of Charles Xavier, and the who’s-who of homages in the future (Warpath, Bishop, Iceman, Shadowcat, Wolvie, Colossus, Magneto, The Human Torch, and more) threw enough action-packed eye candy to please the most die-hard fans of the incredibly vast X-Men franchise. I was particularly glad to see Halley Barry breathe some life back into her infamously flat portrayal of Storm, my second favorite X-Man of all time.
The fight choreography was brilliant, the acting more so, since so many faces on screen had perhaps two seconds to give credibility to characters well-loved by so many. Quicksilver’s three cameo scenes nearly stole the show, with a private climax that blew the roof off the theater. Everyone was hooting and hollering in delight when It happened. (The capitalization is deliberate for sheer cinematic gold. The Marvel franchise just found its When Harry Met Sally moment, and it says something about this Wolverine that a bit character pulled it off.) They even pulled it off while punching a pet peeve of mine (twenty-seven year old Evan Peters plays the teenager in the film) and I could not bring myself to care.
And folks, I have to tell you, the one thing that I did not expect to see when I walked in to that movie theater was a plot line that surpassed the original story in every way. Not only did the story adapt and modernize the classic sci-fi premise, but it simultaneously integrated the complex realities of the prequel remake (First Class), the cheeze-fest original movies from Y2K, a time-travel story, a character-driven plot-line, and the literary soul that made the story great. Days of Future Past was a large part of the X-Men’s rise to fame in the decade or so when it was the only Marvel comic that made any real money, and I feel sorry for the aging characters who must, must be pulled back in by financial pressure.
Perhaps a New Mutants franchise with Fassbender’s Magneto mentoring them would satisfy demand…
But I took something extra from the films, because I am always amused when non-Christian franchises hit on Christian truth better than made-for-single-36-year-old-moms schlock that passes for Christian fiction these days.
This movie will continue to do well because it hits on fundamental truths of the Gospel, while only stating one outright. To paraphrase: No one is ever so lost that they cannot be redeemed: This has been a fundamental truth of the X-Men franchise since early in the comic-book days. Magneto, Quicksilver, The Scarlet Witch, Rogue, Professor Xavier’s little turn as Onslaught… The list of former bad-guys, heroes fallen from grace and redeemed, and those who struggle on the divider define more of the X-Men stories than any other hero adventure I know of (hello… Dark Phoenix?!)
The X–Men started out as a parable about racism, and turned into a vehicle about tolerance against homophobia, racism, national hatreds (Colossus was a fan favorite during the height of the Cold War). All of those stories are tales of redemption, the fundamental potential and value of our worst enemies who may be our greatest allies and best friends down the road. How is this possible?
The film hits on the fundamental truths behind it. First: G-R-A-C-E. It is impossible to go back and repay all the debts and injuries a person has done, much less what a villain has done. Grace is not about ignoring the pain of the injuries, either. It is about taking up your cross, feeling the pain of what others have done, and moving towards them and beside them despite their wrong. Sound radical? Let’s talk the Christian Cross. Without a single mention of Christ this entire process plays out on screen. More. Than. Once.
Second: Unconditional love: To be willing to extend grace, we must have the ability to love those who are not agreeing with us, not doing what we want. This is another Gospel Truth. God loved us when we were his enemies, and we stripped his only kid naked and tortured him to death in public for it. And he still loved us enough to reach out with an open hand. It is no spoiler that in this film Xavier has to find a way to love the friend who betrayed him and crippled him for life, since fifty years in the future they are once again friends like brothers. It is no secret, either, that Magneto has to find away to love and work with the man who has single-handedly destroyed the world’s best hope for justice (from his point of view). And yet the film starts off with this impossible reconciliation fait accompli.
Third: Hope. There is no way to express this clearly, except perhaps to cite the Lord of the Rings, an adventure framed around the fundamental principle that when the problems lie beyond our own strength, a Greater Strength remains in control to work it out for the best. (See my essay on this website, as I will not waste words repeating it here.)
There is the battle for self-acceptance, that no struggle (be it with race, orientation, or mutant blue fur) will ever be won through self-rejection. Self-denial can be essential, ask any alcoholic, but self-acceptance is different. The X-Men stories have always contained a truth that even when we don’t like who we may be, the first step forward is admitting it’s where we are, and the first rung on the ladder out is the idea that humanity/us/the-other-party/our enemy is worth saving.
Pure theological gold here: Grace over sins, love over separation, courage over impossible odds, sacrifice over selfishness, and more. Build a story skeleton out of that. Slap on super-powers, CGI, killer robots, evil conspiracies, sweet martial arts, very well done linguistics, excellent drama, plotting… Did I mention super-powers?!
I will put in one final word with my unconditional recommendation: This film is one of the few films that will come out this year that is truly, deliberately, and finely well-crafted for High-Def 3D. This is the film that shows why people keep trying to do 3D films though it is so often done so poorly.
Unconditionally recommended. Go pay for those glasses. You’ll thank me.