Past imperfect

Let’s just “x” out this whole franchise, OK?

Let’s just “x” out this whole franchise, OK?

Rated 2.0

As a world society of moviegoers, we have reached the point where the United Nations is morally obligated to form an oversight organization to ensure truth in end-credits sequence advertising. Billion-dollar Hollywood franchises such as the X-Men movies rake in twice as much overseas as they do in America, and if the citizens of planet Earth are expected to continue plunking down money to watch holograms fight each other in 3-D, the least the studios could do is not end each film on a lie.

At the close of X-Men: First Class, the 2011 film that recast the franchise’s key players as young, turtleneck-clad hepcats, Michael Fassbender’s Magneto frees January Jones’ imprisoned supermutant. In the midcredits sequence for last year’s franchise sidebar The Wolverine, the older versions of Magneto (Ian McKellen) and Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) warn Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine of a new threat to the mutant race, one that will presumably fold the two arms of the X-Men franchise together. Given all of that fastidious setup, it would be reasonable to assume that January Jones and/or a present-day threat to mutants would figure into X-Men: Days of Future Past.

Nope! January Jones is literally nowhere to be found in Bryan Singer’s sloppy and stupid franchise crossover (thank God, she’s terrible, but still), and the ominous threat conveyed to Wolverine in the present-day now exists several decades in the future. If none of that setup mattered, why was it there in the first place? Probably because nothing matters in the superhero-franchise-movie universe except the next picture, including whatever movie we’re watching right now.

After sporadic box-office successes in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, the superhero-movie boom really started in the 2000s with the releases of Bryan Singer’s original X-Men and Sam Raimi’s CGI-supersoaked Spider-Man. Since those films and their slightly superior follow-ups, every subsequent release under the Marvel banner has been an increasingly paler version of its predecessors, as they developed an inane house formula immune to auteurs.

The only auteurs guiding the creation of Days of Future Past are the talent agencies that put together the deal. There are energizing moments to cherry-pick from the film’s 131 minutes of slipshod storytelling, mostly involving the same history-fantasy hybrid story beats that made the franchise overmaintenance of Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class palatable. Still, the overstuffed and undercooked Days of Future Past is a film made for people who couldn’t care less whether or not it’s any good.

Like most other superhero franchises, the Marvel X-Men films have proved irresistible to audiences of all ages, races and cultures, and that presold quality has inspired a depressing malaise. Children can’t be blamed for their predilections, but overgrown children can, and the inability of comic-book-loving adults to critically assess this dreck outside the scope of nostalgia, self-indulgence and brand loyalty has inspired low standards for these films.

It probably won’t even matter to most Marvel fans that McKellen and Stewart are reduced to glorified cameos here, spending most of their screen time quietly waiting to be rescued. Halle Berry’s weather-manipulating Storm is on the Days of Future Past poster, but she shows up just long enough to remind us that black people exist in this version of the X-Men universe before she gets hideously slaughtered.

Indeed, one of the strangest things about Days of Future Past is how much Singer revels in murdering his “beloved” mutant protagonists in the most disgusting and dehumanizing manners possible, including numerous beheadings and disembowelments, only to immediately respawn them in alternate timelines. It’s bad enough that all of that sick violence plus one F-bomb equals a PG-13 rating, but the more debilitating effect on the film is that we know no one can ever get hurt, which dramatically lowers the stakes of a story that literally concerns the survival of the entire planet.

Be sure to stick around for the end-credits sequence, which teases the planned 2016 release of X-Men: Apocalypse. It’s a thoroughly inane bit of filmmaking, and makes no sense whatsoever unless you’re a comic-book nerd—but at least it will never come up again.