I just saw X-Men: Days of the Future Past. It's pretty good. It may be the best X-Men movie yet.
Before you say that sounds a lot like what I said about The Amazing Spider-Man 2 recently, just know that the leading contender for that title for me is X-Men: The Last Stand. (Wait a minute. I'm not making my case any stronger. I'm the guy who likes Spider-Man 3. As in "the only guy." Just like Last Stand.)
This was Bryan Singer's third X-Men. His first two were also the first two. Most fans considered X2: X-Men United to be the best comic book movie to that time (2003) and continued considering it at least the best X-Men movie until 2011's X-Men: First Class. When Brett Ratner's Last Stand was released in 2006, most observers considered it to be a pale shadow of Singer's films. (It may be worth noting that Ratner gets very little respect one way or another.) They claimed it basically undid everything that was good about the series. But hey, I thought it was the best one to that point. I really did.
I thought so because it featured a much more cohesive story and a better climax than had been featured in its two predecessors. I was never hot on X2 (very blatantly, to my mind, the first solo Wolverine movie by any other name, which is not necessarily a bad thing). The "mutant cure" in Last Stand enabled the movie to explore the core issues of the series and its characters more effectively than ever before.
And that's also, by the way, why I like Days of the Future Past so much. Well, that and Quicksilver. Seriously, the Quicksilver sequence is now legendary in my book.
I wasn't too hot on First Class either. Most of it was tepid. It was competent but tentative at the same time. By the time I realized that was Kevin Bacon, I just kind of wished he had made more choices like that in his career, not that First Class was so awesome. Villains like that are a dime a dozen in movies based on Marvel characters.
Know what I mean, Captain America: Winter Soldier? I haven't really talked too much about that one yet. I liked it. I liked it a lot. I'd been planning for the longest time to write about how today's audiences may have just seen Robert Redford turn into Alec Guinness. The poor guy's whole career might have been reduced to a single role. Maybe he'll be better about it than the erstwhile Jedi was. But as much as I liked Winter Soldier (Frank Grillo rules! all over again! which is a note for those who also enjoyed him in Warrior), I didn't like what I've called its action porn. Everything it does right it kind of throws away with every action sequence. I mean every action sequence. Which just kind of happen. Over and over again. And the fact that although technically pretty much everyone is the villain in it, and that's really awesome in a contemporary Snowden/Assange kind of way, there's no decent villain. Bucky doesn't really appear in the movie so much as make a series of cameos. That's kind of weird. But even the brilliant Ed Brubaker comics where this movie came from also didn't really know what to do with the characters besides come up with the best Captain America story ever.
(Also, why is Captain America a supporting character in his own movie? Or at least, sharing it nearly equally with Black Widow and Nick Fury? And who wouldn't've enjoyed Falcon in a role as big as all three combined?)
Anyway, I did like Winter Soldier. I think this year has been an incredibly good one for superhero movies so far. This is good, because I've been having a lot of reservations for Guardians of the Galaxy. The new trailer in front of Future Past assuaged some of those. But it could really go either way. I think we're headed back into polarizing Marvel movie territory. Apparently Amazing Spider-Man 2 already started us down that road.
Hopefully Future Past isn't really there, too. It features a lot of pretzel logic (otherwise known as comic book logic, appropriately enough). And it's basically exactly The Matrix but with mutants. But it's possibly the best X-Men movie. As a sequel to either the original movies or First Class it works remarkably well. I think better of First Class because of it, even though Michael Fassbender has even less to do this time than the stuff that didn't really impress me last time. (It's not that I don't like Fassbender. When allowed to be awesome, like in Inglourious Basterds or even 12 Years a Slave, he's definitely awesome.) James McAvoy is much better this time, more committed. Jennifer Lawrence isn't as impressive, but then, a lot of her performance is under blue paint in action scenes. Ellen Page is pretty great in a limited role. Patrick Stewart probably has his best turn as Professor X, the first time he truly has something significant to do (which is exactly as insane as it sounds).
This is kind of basically another Wolverine movie, but there's much better integration than normal. I haven't seen The Wolverine yet. I've been petrified that it's the same as X-Men Origins, where half the movie is awesome and the rest is, well, the same as any Marvel movie (insert random action here).
I don't really get why they kept referring to Vietnam as a war America lost. We gave up on it, yes. We retreated. But technically we didn't lose it. So that was curious. But it put the right kind of context on the whole story, a conflict that can be defined by how it's perceived. Popularly Vietnam has always been a quagmire. That's hardly a question. It probably couldn't be won but I'm not sure it could be lost either. As far as mutants go, however, Future Past is probably right that it's definitely a war that can be won or lost, and curiously both at the same time, too. There's a lot of that existential philosophizing that I love so much, but with mutants.
Also, the Quicksilver scenes. All of them. Really, really excellent.