23 May 2014

The Road to a Blockbuster: X-Men: Days of All X-Men United

It's another big loud Summer Friday, and so it's only natural that we return to the Road to a Blockbuster, our almost weekly look at the critical, cultural, and commercial potential of each film trying to be the next big thing - and by big we mean a ridiculous huge crazy cultural event that dominates the national film conversation for weeks to come. This week we see the release of both the Adam Sandler / Drew Barrymore vehicle, Blended (2014), and the much more hotly anticipated X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014). Let's examine both in kind.
At least the movie won't be racist.

Blended is much more Grown-Ups (2009) than That's My Boy! (2012), which is more strongly on the side of unfortunate than one could hope for. What can you really say about Sandler's career, anyway? His roles range from the infurious, in not curious, to the more strange notions of what might have been. Blended ought to do well in its own right - Sandler's family fare tends to do well if not reviled by just about everyone. But no matter what he puts out, it tends to put off someone. Erudite film critics hate Billy Madison (1995). Sloppy potheads hate Punch-Drunk Love (2002). Everyone hates Jack & Jill (2011). He's extremely divisive, but besides that point, Blended doesn't really seem to offer anything to his body of work in the way that something like Funny People (2009) or even yes, the hard R That's My Boy! did. It will be instantly forgettable.

Okay, with that out of the way, let's talk about X-Men. X-Men is an eternally interesting franchise. The initial offering, X-Men (2000) is nearly old enough to get its learner's permit, and its follow-up, X2: X-Men United (2003) is still probably one of the best superhero movies ever made. Both these Bryan Singer films actually pared down the action to focus on only a few characters (Wolverine, Rogue, Magneto) instead of attempting to tackle the entire ridiculous X-Men mythos (sorry, Cyclops). X2 in particular offered some incredible sequences like the Nightcrawler White House attack and Magneto's escape. Holy shit.

After that things got weird and shitty. X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) provided plenty of finality, but also suffered from trying to cram far too many storylines into one film, as if this would be the last one they'd ever make. X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) suffered from much of the same and really just continuously made no sense at all. X-Men: First Class (2011) was able to serve as an extension of this world, the oldest of the Modern Superhero Franchises was able to really experiment with placing some of the familiar characters, others brand new into a period superhero action piece that also had its share of heady character moments. Finally we have The Wolverine (2013), which was mostly kind of a "I'm sorry for X-Men Origins: Wolverine" in its barred down story and setting and lack of mutants, but by its end devolved into some of the same old shit.

Now it's the Age of the Crossover and we're at Days of Future Past. As far as X-Men storylines go, "Days of Future Past" is one of the craziest, and also one of the best. In either its whatever form, comic or cartoon ("Help! Storm's claustrophobic!"), and I think I actually originally read some kind of junior novelization, it involves time travel, an assassination, and lots of sentials killing every mutant. And that cover is one of the more famous in comic history. Only with a franchise six movies deep is this really possible, after every character has been established and fittingly soothed into the collective consciousness. The time travel elements are also fairly tailor made for a franchise that spans mostly the 2000s and the 1960s with tons of crazy continuity problems in between that no one really cares about. I wonder if this will happen.
Now will we get to see an AoA Liev Schrieber?

It's a bold move to make this story into a whole movie. Simultaneously it's functioning as Fox's big Team-Up movie akin to The Avengers (2012), although to be honest it's a lot more like Fast Five (2011) that just brings together disparate characters from the same series that we haven't seen in ten years or so. Honestly, those same chills we get seeing Shawn Ashmore's Iceman again is like seeing Matt Schulze's Vince again. No one really cared about him in particular the first time around. But it's awesome he's back. Days of Future Past has that with like seven characters.

The X-Men series has actually had a bit of troubling diminishing returns commercially lately, with First Class and The Wolverine ranking in the lower tiers financially. Actually, it's almost surprising, and I'm surprised that I'm surprised, that the most cash any of these have made is The Last Stand's $234 million. I also can't believe that I consider that a little low, but in an age where The Avengers have set that bar impossibly high, and even Iron Man 3 (2013) breaks $400 million, the standard for the originators of the Superhero Phenomenon, the reason we're all in this awful age of superhero movies, needs to be crazy high. I actually again point more to the Fast and Furious franchise which only started making proportional real bank when it mashed its characters up.

With the crazy varying range of quality to these X-Men movies, a good one on par with First Class and The Wolverine will be appreciated. A great one in the vein of X-Men and X-Men United would be fantastic. What will the heady time traveling science fiction and more mutants than ever get us? It's hard to tell, but with impressive acting pedigree, Singer, who really knows this franchise, and more hype than anything else this summer, it ought to deliver. Suit up, both Blended and Days of Future Ass come out today.

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