A lot of people really liked this movie–with a 91% positive score on Rotten Tomatoes and an IMDb user score of 8.6 out of 10, it’s one of the most acclaimed superhero films to date. If you know me, you probably know why I began this review this way. I didn’t love this movie. Did I like it? Sure–*** is hardly a bad score, even if it puts it below Captain America and the Muppets. But I didn’t go crazy over it, and rather do my normal synopsis-and-analysis review (which, in this case, would be monstrously tedious), I’m just going to rattle off the reasons why. I might be spoiling this movie like milk on a hot day. Consider yourself warned.
1. Bryan Singer isn’t really that good of a director. For all the fuss made over Singer’s return to the X-Men franchise, his direction here is really not that outstanding. Matthew Vaughn’s work on First Class had a deal more distinct style and humor, but here–aside from one great sequence that I’ll get to in a bit–Singer’s work is pretty 1-2-3. The cinematography is fine (admittedly, I was sitting closer to the screen than I wanted to, and my visual analysis of the film was not perfect), but it’s rarely surprising, it’s rarely really fresh or unique. It gets the job done, and that’s about it.
2. Most of the characters are badly underserved. In his review on Collider, Matt Goldberg notes the underuse of Magneto in this film, but I’d go even further, and say that almost every character, outside of the younger Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), is underdeveloped or underused. The best scene in the film is the extended sequence where Magneto is heisted from his prison at the Pentagon, and within that sequence, it’s the wonderful slow-motion scene where Quicksilver (Evan Peters) saves the day whilst listening to Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle”; it’s a genuinely clever and funny scene, and Peters’ cheerful flippancy makes it all the more entertaining. Yet outside of this chunk of the movie, Quicksilver scarcely appears; is it because Singer and Co. knew he would steal the film outright? (He would, at that. I’d take him over Xavier or Magneto any day.) As Goldberg points out, Magneto (Michael Fassbender/Ian McKellen) doesn’t really do much here. The younger Magneto has a good confrontational moment with Xavier (which nearly destroys the plane they’re riding in), but outside of that, Fassbender does little but play somber and/or arrogant. I honestly barely remember anything he does in the film (other than decide that Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) has to be killed), and at the end, when considerable screen-time is taken up with his transporting the upper decks of a baseball stadium for the purpose of sealing off the White House lawn, it’s more tedious than awe-inspiring. And what about Mystique? Despite being repeatedly told that her murdering Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) will only cause death and destruction, she stubbornly insists on doing so, and when she changes her mind at the end (thereby Saving the Day), we just see her hold a gun on Trask for an extended period of time, before lowering it and walking away. We get precious little insight into Mystique’s psyche , other than one scene where she impersonates Trask and sees evidence of his murderous experiments on mutants. Jennifer Lawrence’s performance doesn’t help matters, but I’ll get to that later. Trask himself, despite being the primary villain, doesn’t actually do much. Dinklage is a fine actor, and he gives Trask a measure of thoughtful menace (he’s arguably less malicious and more grossly misguided), but in the large cast, he gets somewhat lost in the shuffle. Ditto for Hank McCoy/Beast (Nicholas Hoult), who takes a decided backseat to Xavier and Wolverine.
3. The “future” X-Men have fuck-all to do. There are quite a few people running around in the framing sequences here, and honestly, they’re pretty much all ciphers. Some of this is on me; I’ve only seen the first X-Men film and First Class, so there’s a decent chunk of background material I’m probably not caught up with. That said, I honestly didn’t know who these people were, and never had any opportunity to learn–compared to, say, The Avengers, which dropped Hawkeye into the action and over the course of the film helped us get to know him, to actually give a damn about him. Omar Sy is a fine actor (he’s great in The Intouchables), but as Bishop, he does nothing any good stunt-man couldn’t. And as for the returning cast from the initial trilogy, the focus remains heavily on Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Wolverine; Ian McKellen has a couple of good moments with Patrick Stewart, but it’s not enough. Perhaps the most egregious case is Halle Berry’s Storm, who has at most two lines of dialogue. I understand that the future sequences are just a framework for the 70s material, but…come the fuck on. The trailer implied some level of interaction between the past and future timelines, but there was actually some false advertising going on; where the trailer suggested that young and old Xavier would actually be in the same space together, in the film, their meeting is facilitated by the younger Xavier entering Wolverine’s mind and psychically travelling to the future, and entering the mind of his older self. This is the extent of the interaction between the timelines, and it’s an effective enough scene (McAvoy and Stewart are both quite good), but I maintain that the advertising was misleading. 4. And as a result… The Sentinel War (or whatever it’s called) carries little weight. We know what’s happening, all right–originally I was going to talk about how the premise was poorly set up, but in fact, it’s adequately set up…I just didn’t care. I got a basic idea of what had been done to the world and what was being done to prevent it, but so what? Had the film really taken the time to show how the war had progressed, and how totally it would have devastated the world, I might have been more invested. But as it was…eh.
5. Jennifer Lawrence (and a few others). I don’t hate Jennifer Lawrence, but I’m pretty sure I’m on record in saying I find her overrated, and that the level of acclaim she’s received is way out of proportion to her growth as a performer. At her best–in The Hunger Games films and most of Silver Linings Playbook–she has a bright, fiery spirit. But in other roles, I think she comes off as stiff and artificial; she never disappears into a role. And here, not helped by the writing, she makes Mystique a stubborn enigma. When Xavier tries to reach her, taking over the psyches of those around her, she reacts with a flat, almost indifferent steadfastness–rather than getting the sense of one determined to act, regardless of the outcome, it feels more like one refusing to change their mind because otherwise, the film would end then and there. When all is said and done, Lawrence isn’t bad here, but she’s not that good either. Then again, who’s really at the top of their game here? The script demands that young Xavier act like a whiny jerk, and McAvoy obliges, perhaps a little too well. Fassbender, as noted, doesn’t get to do much other than be a cold jerk; Hoult makes little impression; Dinklage doesn’t get enough to do…I think I’ve made my point. 6. “Magic”. One of my friends who saw the film with me made a good point: why does the serum that heals Xavier’s spine and allows him to walk blot out his mental powers? The film doesn’t really make any attempt to explain that–my friend said the serum might as well be magic. And since this is very much a science-fiction franchise (the X-Men aren’t supernatural, after all, but the next step in human evolution), such lapses in logic are a bit of a problem. I’d also argue the Sentinels, even the ones we see in 1973, are well ahead of anything science was capable of producing at that time–but never mind. 7. Not enough Nixon. Come on. You take one of my favorite presidents (that reminds me, I need to rewatch/review Nixon, Frost/Nixon, and Secret Honor. And All the President’s Men.), go to all the trouble of putting him in the movie, and then don’t really give him much to do beyond a mild bit of selflessness at the climax. I’d take the Nixon of Watchmen over this any day.
With all that said, I still was mostly engaged and entertained by DOFP. It’s certainly competent, has an interesting-enough story, and has Quicksilver–who I really hope gets his own movie one of these days. But while it’s good, it’s not even close to being great. Score: 74/100