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One-Scene Wonder

The seventh installment of ‘X-Men’ poses a quandary.

Jun 9, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 37 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
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Is a single standout scene in a movie worth a half-billion dollars? That is the question to be answered by the worldwide gross of this seventh film in a series that began back in 2000. 

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James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, Hugh Jackman

twentieth century fox film corp.

X-Men: Days of Future Past is another in the endless series of “I’ve seen worse” comic-book blockbusters, which is to say it’s not great but at least it’s not Thor. For this reason, perhaps, the movie has received absurdly enthusiastic reviews—especially given that its opening action sequences are utterly incomprehensible, its plot thereafter makes no sense, and the logic of its surprise ending is that history has erased every single thing that happened in five of the other six X-Men movies.

True, Hugh Jackman has charisma to spare in his seventh turn as the indestructible Wolverine. Patrick Stewart again proves that no actor in history has ever spoken ridiculous expository dialogue about mutant powers as beautifully as he. Michael Fassbender manages, as he did in X-Men: First Class (2011), the extremely difficult feat of being charming in one scene and ominous in the next. Still, the movie doesn’t do anything new; it even seems to borrow its basic plot structure from, of all things, the stinkeroo called Men in Black 3 (2012).

And yet, for about two minutes, Days of Future Past turns into something extraordinary. For the first time in one of these pictures, you get a real sense of what it might be like to have a superpower. The setting is a kitchen inside the Pentagon. There’s a standoff between a few mutant X-Men and some Pentagon personnel with guns. One of the mutants is Quicksilver, a teenage superhero who moves at the speed of light. The guys with the guns open fire. As the other characters remain motionless, Quicksilver begins to move.

The year is 1973, and on the soundtrack we hear Jim Croce’s hit from that year, “Time in a Bottle.” Quicksilver approaches every one of the Pentagon guys and adjusts his body. He points their guns in the wrong direction. He redirects a swinging fist at the fighter’s own chin. He flicks his finger at the cheek of another guy, causing it to reverberate like ripples in a pond. Then he goes to each bullet and pushes it away from a fellow mutant.

The kitchen’s sprinklers are spraying water, causing a delightful indoor spring shower. The Croce song is ponderously slow and hilariously overpensive. When Quicksilver is done, time starts again and there is an instant slapstick ballet in which the Pentagon guys are all simultaneously undone and the bullets slam, harmless, into the wall.

When I saw it, the audience erupted into cheers. The last time I can remember such a thing in the middle of a movie was in 2006, when Jennifer Hudson finished her showstopping song “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” in Dreamgirls, and won an Oscar for it.

The cheers were deserved. This is what people still go to the movies for: to be exhilarated, to be shown something they didn’t expect and that delights and amazes them. It is the scene people will go home and tell their friends about, and it’s the scene that will likely cause them to go back to the theater and see X-Men: Days of Future Past again and again.

The Quicksilver scene so transcends the mediocrity of the rest of the picture that I suspect it will be the primary determinant of whether this seventh entry in the franchise is a global sensation (meaning that it grosses near, at, or about one billion dollars) or proves to be just another very expensive superhero hit that only barely makes back its ludicrous cost. (It took at least $200 million to make and another $100 million to market in the United States alone.)

We’ll know soon. In the meantime, maybe the existence of this one scene will convince the studios that are determined to wring every last cent out of the superhero genre that they need these things to be clever—if they want to delay, as long as possible, the inevitable day when audiences, exhausted by the sameness of these adaptations, start to run screaming at the very sight of a comic book on film. 

John Podhoretz, editor of Commentary, is The Weekly Standard’s movie critic.

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