In the year 2003, when I was 9 years old, my dad took me to the theater to see X2: X-men United. Despite this being the second installment of the film franchise, it was only the first one I saw. (X-men 1 was too violent for me to see at the time of its release). So, going in, I had no idea what to expect. Not being a big comic book reader, my only exposure to the x-men had been the little I had seen of the x-men animated show. Thus, I distinctly remember asking my dad why Wolverine, in the posters for the movie, did not have a mask on, and why his hair was so weird looking. He assured me that yes, Wolverine’s hair was indeed supposed to look that way under his mask, and that that was the reason for his mask’s “ears”. I still thought it was weird….
We sat down to watch the movie, just the two of us, with a giant tub of popcorn to share (memory fails me as to where the rest of my family was at the time). But then, something crazy happened. The movie hooked me. It hooked me so well, in fact, that I didn’t eat a single piece of popcorn. Nor did I take a sip of my soda throughout the entire movie. It wasn’t until the movie ended that I looked down and remembered the popcorn. But by that point it was gone. Yes, my father had eaten all of it…. and I had gotten none (he may try to deny this story but it’s true). But how did this happen? What was it that drew me in so much to this movie? I had seen other superhero and action movies before, so why did this one have such a strong effect on me? I can tell you now with almost 100% certainty that it was the opening credits sequence and opening scene of the movie that really caused me to shut up and pay attention. No matter what happened after those two sequences, I was in.
So, what makes these two sequences so great? The first, and most important element of the opening credits sequence, is the music. It starts with a slow build, then hits you with the main theme. The main theme is fast, exciting, and confident. Making you feel as if you’re in for something epic. The second element is the visuals. A fast pace, rollercoaster-like ride to accompany the music’s frenetic pace. We zoom through what appears to be neurons in the brain and high tech circuitry. These elements give us a hint as to what’s to come and feed into the film’s subject matter, having to do with mutations in the body, but, more specifically, with Charles Xavier and his high-tech machine, (appropriately named “Cerebro”). The machine amplifies Xavier’s ability to mind read over great distances. An ability he gains through mutation. The credits even end on the closing doors of Cerebro. Circuitry for Cerebro, and neurons to represent Xavier’s brain as it connects to the machine. Cerebro later ends up playing a major role in the central conflict of the story. It’s a fantastic opening credits sequence, both for the way it foreshadows, and the way it convinces you you’re about to see something exciting. Of course, the first time I saw the movie, it was entirely the latter that impressed me. See for yourself:
I would liken the experience I had watching the opening credits of X-men 2, to the experience many people had watching the opening credits of Star Wars when it first came out in theaters. And in fact, the entire experience of watching the movie could be described as a similar experience to watching Star Wars the first time. Not to say that X-men 2 is equal to Star Wars in any way. Just that my experience in the theater was pretty mind-blowing.
What follows the opening credits sequence, however, is possibly even better. We get a scene in which a teleporting mutant is attempting to attack the president inside the white house:
So right off the bat we get an incredibly well shot, exciting action scene, set to some classic operatic music. After this scene, I can only describe how I felt at the time through the words of Leonardo DiCaprio:
Unfortunately, there’s never quite another action scene in the movie that lives up to this one. (Though Wolverine’s action scenes come close). But luckily, the story more than makes up for it. Now that the film had my attention, I was fully invested in finding out how future events would unfold. And all I can say is that this movie instantly became one of my favorite superhero movies at that time. Both for the way it wove in all its different characters and for the way it presented a truly memorable and complex villain. In fact, even to this day, X-men 2 remains one of my all-time favorite superhero movies. And I think it holds up extremely well. It’s a film that depends much more on character, story, and themes, than it does action set pieces. But I could sit here all day and gush about how great X-men 2 is, so for now, I’ll move on and save the praise for another day.
The experience I had watching X-men 2 has become a way in which I gauge my enjoyment of a film. If I get so absorbed in a movie that I forget to eat my popcorn or drink my soda, then it must be good. However, the thing that stuck with me the most after seeing X-men 2 was the music. Particularly the main theme you hear in the opening credits. It became something of an iconic theme for me. One that I would come to always associate with the X-men. And so, you can imagine my disappointment when, after going back and watching X-men 1, I noticed that the theme used in X2 was not there. Though I really enjoyed X-men 1, and I understood that the theme music must not have been written at the time the movie was made, there was still a part of me that was sad that it didn’t contain one of my favorite things about X2. But then came news of a third x-men film. The one that was supposed to end the franchise and finally show the big war the previous films had been leading up to. Surely, they would HAVE to use the X-men 2 theme for the last movie then right?………right?
NOPE. Instead, X-men 3 used a kind of, variation, on the X2 theme. It was similar….but not quite the same. Disappointed as I was after the opening credits of X3, I accepted the facts and tried to enjoy the rest of the movie. And for the most part, I did. But there was something that just felt odd about it. I couldn’t exactly pinpoint what it was, but it just felt weird. The tone felt slightly off, and the characters didn’t quite feel the same as how they did in the previous two films. It started to really bug me, especially since this was supposedly the last x-men film. And as time went on, I got more and more annoyed with certain decisions made for the movie. But, just as I could endlessly praise X-men 2, I could go on talking for quite a while about what’s wrong with X-men 3. The result of my frustration with the movie, however, is the important takeaway. My curiosity in finding out what went wrong during the making of the film was part of what led to my fascination with movies, and with the filmmaking process. I began to research the movie to find out why it felt so different from the previous two. Obviously by this time in my life I was well aware of the concept of directors, writers, etc. But, other than George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, I didn’t know the names of any directors. Nor did I understand the full extent of how drastically a film could change based on the director alone, or just how much influence the film studios can have. What I learned through my research was that Bryan Singer, the director of the first two x-men films, originally had a vision for a two-part movie for X-men 3. However, he took time off from X-men to focus on making another film (Superman Returns). During this time, Fox Studios, the company that owned the rights to the X-men, decided it couldn’t wait until Bryan Singer’s return to make X-men 3. So instead, they hired a new director (Brett Ratner), squeezed the two-part story into one, and added additional plot elements. The result was something of a mess of a movie. Not completely terrible, but not great either. The rewritten story and new director were what caused the film to feel so different from X-men 1 and 2. In addition, the composer for X-men 2, John Ottman, had decided to follow Bryan Singer and compose the music for Superman Returns, causing the studio to have to hire a new composer for X-men 3 as well.
From this point, onward, I became much more aware of the people behind the movies that I saw. I looked up the directors and writers of some of my favorite movies and kept them in mind when considering future film releases. Simply watching a film trailer wasn’t enough to get me interested in seeing a movie anymore. I had to look to see who was directing it, producing it, and so on. And some movies, such as those directed by Christopher Nolan, I would trust so much to be good, that seeing a trailer almost didn’t matter. But I’m getting sidetracked here. Point being, X-men 3, despite being one of my least favorite X-men films, strangely became the reason why I became obsessed with learning more about movies. While deeper analysis of films, and more obscure film watching, would come later in my life, I can’t neglect to give X-men 3 credit for kicking things off.
But with my increasing knowledge of filmmaking, came a lot of skepticism towards future X-men films. After X-men 3, another X-men movie came out. This time a prequel focusing on Wolverine. X-men Origins: Wolverine is the worst of the X-men films. Knowing that the film wasn’t directed by Bryan Singer or another director that I knew of helped me to lower my expectations. But I still held out hope that it would be good. Like X-men 3, there are elements and scenes that I really like in X-men Origins. But the film suffered from too much studio interference in the story and ultimately ended up being a disaster. (Though, if you’re like some, you may find enjoyment out of the pure ridiculousness of the story and action elements). It didn’t help that, by this time, both Iron Man and The Dark Knight had just come out the year before. Two game changers in terms of how superheroes would be portrayed on screen from then on. The Dark Knight was praised for its realism and Oscar worthy performances. Showing that a film based on a comic book could be not just a great “superhero film” but a great film in general. While Iron Man helped to usher in the age of Marvel’s “Cinematic Universe” and showed that even the obscure heroes could make great films if done right and with confidence in the source material.
With the ever-increasing amount of good superhero films coming out, I quickly started to forget about the X-men films. When it was announced that another X-men prequel film was coming out, I couldn’t have been less excited. I had no interest in watching another Fox Studios produced, non Bryan Singer directed X-men film that I was sure would turn out bad once again. Of course….I did end up seeing it because I’m never quite THAT pessimistic. But my excitement level was very low. Fortunately, X-men First Class actually ended up being really good. Great, in fact. But I still didn’t like it quite as much as the first two x-men films. There is just something about the way Bryan Singer’s first two X-men films feel that I really like. And First Class didn’t have that feeling. The music was once again new, and because of the nature of being a prequel, the cast of the first two x-men films was replaced with a younger group of actors. And so, despite First Class being a good movie, I found myself just craving another Bryan Singer directed X-men movie with the original cast.
Weirdly enough, I got my wish. Three years after the release of X-men: First Class we got X-men: Days of Future Past. A Bryan Singer directed X-men film with all the original cast returning. But just before that, we also got another X-men film. And I can’t yet talk about Days of Future Past without first talking about “The Wolverine”. Released in 2013, the film focused on Wolverine after he left the X-men, serving much more as a character piece than any of the previous films. In my opinion, this is a criminally underrated film. I loved every second of it, and it now sits just slightly below X-men 2 in terms of my favorite x-men films. I loved how it focused on Wolverine’s internal conflicts and how the action scenes were relatively small scale, making them feel much more impactful. It also makes great use of its Japan setting and features a very diverse cast, which I always appreciate. But most of all, it featured my favorite performance by Hugh Jackman as Wolverine out of any of the X-men films. His return to the role as well as cameo roles from Patrick Stewart and Ian Mckellen returning as Professor X and Magneto served to ramp up my excitement for Days of Future Past.
But before I get into Days of Future Past, I need to set things up just a little more. Bryan Singer’s “X-men” was released in 2000. At the time, there were not many big superhero movie releases that had come before, aside from Batman and Superman. But with both those franchises becoming a bit too silly, it is safe to say that not many people took comic book movies very seriously. With the release of X-men, that mood started to change. I like to think that X-men was really the model that proved that superhero films could be taken seriously, with Ironman and The Dark Knight kick starting the modern superhero movie craze. X-men 2 came out in 2002 and was the last X-men film directed by Bryan Singer before his departure. It wasn’t until 2014, 12 years later, that we got his next x-men film. And in between that time, the world had seen an explosion of superhero movies releases. As excited as I was to see X-men Days of Future Past, I was also nervous. Did Bryan Singer have what took to make a great superhero film in an age where everyone expected much more out of them? Though X-men 1 and 2 were great at the time of their release, they were nothing compared to some of the superhero films that came after them. To make matters worse, Bryan Singer also promised to do several very ambitious things with Days of Future Past. Not only would the original cast be returning, but the plot would feature time travel, allowing for the film to feature the new cast from X-men First Class as well. Therefore, the film would have to juggle double the amount of characters as well as fulfill another Bryan Singer promise: To fix some of the mistakes of the previous x-men films. You see, while most other superhero film franchises had rebooted since the early 2000’s (Hulk, Spiderman, Batman), X-men had not. Meaning that all the X-men films were supposed to take place in the same universe along the same continuous timeline. However, with all the different directors and writers that had come on board for each X-men movie, and each one offering their own interpretations of the characters and story, the timeline had become muddled. This is one of the greatest weaknesses of the X-men franchise. The timeline of events makes no sense because each director chose to ignore certain parts of the other movies. For example, in X-men First Class, Xavier loses his ability to walk but maintains his hair, while in a flashback in X-men 3, which takes place after the events of First Class, Xavier is shown walking but bald……..This is why I was so nervous for Bryan Singer. I wanted the movie to be good, but he seemed to have an impossible task: Make a great superhero film, juggle a cast of double the size, and fix the timeline continuity errors that had plagued the entire X-men film franchise……
So, what did I think of X-men Days of Future Past? Well, I can tell you one thing that instantly put my mind at ease as soon as the movie started: The opening credit sequence. Leading up to the release of the film I had heard something that gave me a bit of hope. I had heard that John Ottman was returning to do the score. And I thought, maybe, just maybe……And as soon as the movie started, and as soon as I heard that music, I knew, I was in for something special:
I got chills hearing that music in the theater once more, bringing me right back to when I saw X-men 2 in the theater with my dad. And I’m happy to say the movie following the opening credits was just as fantastic. Somehow Bryan Singer managed to make a film that felt small, intimate, and emotional, with a giant cast of characters and an end of the world type of plot. The time travel was used perfectly, and yes, somehow, he managed to fix many of the complaints people had with X-men 3 and even fixed some of the timeline continuity errors (though not all of them, because let’s face it, that’s impossible).
Overall, X-men Days of Future Past reminded me of why I love going to the movies. It’s to be entertained, it’s to escape the real world for a while. It’s to see things you’ve never seen before. But it’s also to reflect on the world around you. To commentate on it, and to maybe make you think about things in a way you might not have otherwise. One of the things I love most about the X-men films, and of the X-men in general, is that although they are primarily meant for entertainment, they still tackle complex themes. Themes of discrimination, prejudice, misunderstandings, fear, faith, hope, politics, and just feeling different from everyone else. No character feels one dimensional either. The villains are all complex, and you understand their point of view. I absolutely love that Magneto is a main character in all the movies. And that although he’s usually a villain and does some terrible things, you know exactly why he does them. Xavier and Magneto don’t just hate each other. They’re friends with a very complex relationship and different points of view on certain matters. One of my favorite scenes of all the movies comes from X-men 3 (yes, as I said earlier, there are parts of that movie I actually like), in which Magneto reprimands Pyro for talking badly about Xavier.
“Charles Xavier has done more for mutants than you will ever know. My single greatest regret is that he had to die for our dream to live”.
The X-men films do a wonderful job of balancing the humor with the more serious tone. While the Marvel Cinematic Universe films tend to lean more on comedy and popcorn style blockbuster entertainment, and the DC films aim for grittier downbeat realism, the X-men films fall somewhere in the middle. For every great serious moment between two characters, and there are several, there are moments of pure joy and humor, as in the quicksilver scene in Days of Future Past:
I know there are many people that do not care much for the X-men films, and I’ll admit they do have a lot of problems. They are by no means perfect films. And sure, they probably focus a bit too much on Wolverine. But I admire the X-men films for living with their flaws and not choosing to reboot entirely as other superhero film franchises have. And for all the reasons I mentioned above, and for getting me interested in learning about film, the X-men films will always hold a special place in my heart.
Coming soon, I’ll be writing a bit about the most recent X-men film: X-men Apocalypse (which I enjoyed immensely, though not as much as Days of Future Past), and a certain character’s arc across all the films. I also look forward to seeing “Logan”, the last film to feature Hugh Jackman as Wolverine and Patrick Stewart as Professor X.
Lastly, here are my rankings of the X-men films so far, and below that a collection of some of my favorite quotes between 2 characters in some of the films.
- X-men Days of Future Past
- X2: X-men United
- The Wolverine
- X-men: Apocalypse
- X-men: First Class
- X-men: The Last Stand (X3)
- X-men Origins: Wolverine
The theme of hope throughout the series:
Old Xavier: Just because someone stumbles, loses there way, it doesn’t mean they’re lost forever. Sometimes we all need a little help.
Young Xavier: Well I’m not the man I once was. I open my mind, and it almost overwhelms me.
Old Xavier: You’re afraid. And Cerebro knows it.
Young Xavier: All those voices. So. Much. Pain.
Old Xavier: It’s not their pain you’re afraid of Charles. It’s yours. And as frightening as it may be, their pain will make you stronger. If you allow yourself to feel it, embrace it. It’s the greatest gift we have. To bare their pain without breaking. And it’s born from a most human power: Hope…..Please Charles, we need to you to hope again.
Professor X/Charles: Erik, what are you doing here?
Magneto/Erik: Why do you ask questions to which you already know the answer?
Charles: Don’t give up on them Erik.
Erik: What would you have me do Charles? I’ve heard these arguments before.
Charles: That was a long time ago. Mankind has evolved since then.
Erik: Yes, into us. Are you sneaking around in here Charles (points at his own head). Whatever are you looking for?
Charles: I’m looking for hope.
Erik: I will bring you hope, old friend. And I ask only one thing in return. Don’t get in my way.
Erik: Why do you come here Charles?
Charles: Why do you ask questions to which you already know the answer?
Erik: Ah yes, your continuing search for hope. You know this plastic prison of theirs won’t hold me forever. The war is still coming Charles, and I intend to fight it. By any means necessary.
Charles: And I will always be there….old friend.
Hank/Beast: You really think we should let them go?
Charles: Yes, I have hope for them. There’ll be a time hank. I time when we are all together.
Xavier and Erik fight in the past. And Reconcile in the Future:
Charles: You want a fight Erik? I will give you a fight! You abandoned me! You took her away and you abandoned me!
Erik: Angel, Azazel, Emma, Banshee. Mutant brothers and sisters. All dead! Countless others, experimented on, butchered. Where were you Charles? We were supposed to protect them! Where were you when your own people needed you!? Hiding! You and Hank, pretending to be something you’re not! You abandoned us all!
Old Erik: All those years wasted fighting each other Charles…..To have a precious few of them back. *They shake hands*
Erik seduces Pyro to his side with one quick conversation:
Pyro: So, they say you’re the bad guy.
Erik: Is that what they say?
Pyro: That’s a dorky looking helmet. What’s it for?
Erik: This dorky looking helmet is the only thing that’s going to protect me from the real bad guys. What’s your name?
Erik: What’s your real name John?
Erik: Quite a talent you have there Pyro.
Pyro: I can only manipulate the fire. I can’t create it.
Erik: You are a god among insects, never let anyone tell you different.
Storm and Nightcrawler discuss anger and faith.
Nightcrawler: You know, outside of the circus people were afraid of me. But I didn’t hate them. I pitied them. Do you know why? Because most of the time people will never believe anything beyond what they see with their own two eyes.
Storm: Well I gave up on pity a long time ago.
Nightcrawler: Someone so beautiful, should not be so angry.
Storm: Sometimes anger can help you survive.
Nightcrawler: So can faith.
Nightcrawler and Mystique:
Nightcrawler: They say can imitate anyone. Even their voice?
Mystique: Even their voice.
Nightcrawler: Then why not stay in disguise all the time? You know, look like everyone else?
Mystique: Because we shouldn’t have to.
Wolverine just doesn’t care:
Wolverine: Who’s this?
Nightcrawler: My name is Kurt Wagner. But in the Munich Circus I was known as the incredible Nightcrawler!
Wolverine: Ah save it.
Erik: Hi I’m Erik Lehnsherr
Charles: Charles Xavier
Wolverine: Go F**ck yourselves.