Being a movie critic requires a certain amount of intellectual distance from the film you’re watching, which isn’t easy when you’re also a die-hard movie fan. My personal viewing preference is to let a movie pull me under, surrounding me in the universe created by the actors and directors. When I’m in work mode, however, I have to stay paddling on the surface so I can see clearly enough to know which actor deserves the credit for making a scene successful or who to blame for a romantic subplot coming off poorly.
This is especially hard with comic book movies, where I am not only a fan but also a huge comic geek. I’m one of those people who answers casual questions about character back stories with a 20-minute explanation, which means my experience of watching something like “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is different than what it would be for most people. When writing the review, I have to step outside that knowledge base (and obsessive fan-love) and deliver an analysis that the average movie-goer would find relevant and useful.
Most of the time, I pull it off. Critical muscles work the same way as physical muscles do, and they get stronger every time I use them. I’ve had people hear me hyperventilating in the movie theater who later marveled at the well-reasoned and thoughtful review I managed to put together.
There are exceptions, though, which brings us to “X-men: Days of Future Past.” I’ve been following the X-men since I was about 12 years old, and have stacks of comic books at home that chronicle nearly all of the two decades I’ve been immersed in their adventures. I can relate the histories of nearly any of the characters, including those from alternate universes, and am passionate enough about certain plot arcs that I’ve been known to frighten people.
Needless to say, I watched all three of the original X-movies, including the almost universally reviled “X-Men: The Last Stand” in 2006, and both of the “Wolverine” stand-alone movies. I actually avoided watching “X-men: First Class” for some time out of sheer geekish offense that they had played so fast and loose with the established canon. When I did see it, however, I fell madly in love with its portrayal of the touching relationships between certain characters who later become mortal enemies.
Which leaves me with a problem. “X-Men: Days of Future Past” is meant to tie in “First Class” with the rest of the X-movie verse, which means that it will further chronicle the bitter spiral of characters who once cared about each other into the enemies they will later become. Narratively, it’s fascinating stuff, and there’s a chance “Days of Future Past” could end up being the most gripping movie in the series.
I won’t know, at least not before the rest of you do. I’ve been heartbroken about this movie since I saw the first trailer, and when I do inevitably go it’s entirely possible I will spend the entire time trying hard to muffle my sobs. While this is a perfectly acceptable response for both a movie fan and a comic geek, I’m afraid there’s no chance for that distance so vital to my job as a critic. I won’t be able to step away enough to give you the experience you need.
So, this once, I will accept defeat and let others do the job I cannot. Tomorrow will be soon enough to return to the fight.
To read Dan's review of X-Men: Days of Future Past, click here.