Now that we’ve officially declared “X-Men: Days of Future Past” the second best “X-Men” movie ever made, it’s time to talk about what doesn’t work in the movie. To paraphrase Will Ferrell on “Saturday Night Live?” Needs more J-Law.
And I don’t just say that as a writer for a website that is mildly OCD in its obsession with the starlet. Jennifer Lawrence is an integral part of “Days of Future Past,” and an essential part of selling the movie to a new generation… But the way Lawrence is used is not to the full extent of her awesome abilities.
A little bit of back-story for those who have yet to see the movie, skirting spoilers as much as possible. “Days of Future Past” takes place in 1973, a decade after “X-Men: First Class” and thirty years before the first “X-Men” movie. So the intention of the filmmakers seems to be to split the difference between Lawrence’s depiction of Raven/Mystique in “First Class” and Rebecca Romijn’s in “X-Men.”
Before I get to the next part, I want to emphasize: both these actresses are awesome, and there’s a reason Mystique is a fan-favorite character. But in the first two “X-Men” movies, at least, Romijn plays her as a monotone, Terminator-esque badass. In “First Class,” Lawrence does not.
When we leave Lawrence’s Mystique at the end of “First Class,” she’s on her way to embracing her bad side, joining up with Michael Fassbender’s Magneto in the newly formed Brotherhood (of Evil Mutants). But she still feels. She hurts. She’s embraced her mutant side and has come to accept that she’s a naked, blue shapechanger, but the way Lawrence’s plays her, she’s still a human being.
When “Days of Future Past” has opened, she’s lost all of that. We’ll leave the discovery of why and how to you after you’ve seen the movie, but she’s a full-on spy, barely saying more than a sentence before fixing her target with a steely gaze or a kick to the throat.
There are moments where Jennifer Lawrence gets to bring the wealth of emotion we know the Academy Award-winning actress has at her disposal. But it’s hard enough to relate to someone with thick, scaly blue skin, let alone one who spends 90 percent of the film’s run time spin-kicking dudes in the face, without those rare touches of humanity being reduced to minutes or seconds at a time.
In fact, these rare scenes, which all touch on Mystique’s relationship with James McAvoy’s Professor X from “First Class,” use Lawrence the best — and are the best in the film. A scene between the duo in an airport halfway through “Days of Future Past” and the ending of that movie in particular pack an emotional wallop. By not letting Lawrence emote throughout, we’re left with a distinct impression that they could have just cast her stunt double — or any other actress — and we would have been just fine.
And therein lies the problem. It’s not that Lawrence is miscast or not good in the role. She’s just wasted. If you hire Jennifer Lawrence, you expect humor, waterworks, intensity, goofiness or all of the above. You expect something human, not a stiff face with no expression walking from scene to scene like a simulacrum of a fully formed character.
Lawrence’s appeal as an actress lies entirely in the audience’s ability to immediately empathize and sympathize with her. With the choice to skip the character’s development from “First Class” Mystique to “X-Men” Mystique, you lose that connection, and the movie suffers for it.
In particular, that ending I mentioned packs a punch because I had seen “First Class.” It’s a resolution to all the emotional beats left hanging from that movie, not from the beats in “Days of Future Past.” They’re there in “DOFP,” but they don’t actually come to bear until the end. If the filmmakers had allowed Jennifer Lawrence to be a little more J-Law throughout the movie, that wouldn’t have been as much of a problem for any audience members coming into the new movie clean.
Don’t get me wrong: “Days of Future Past” is great, and the start of a new, exciting chapter for the franchise. But if they manage to get Jennifer Lawrence back for the 2016 sequel “X-Men: Apocalypse,” I hope she gets the chance to be more than a robotic assassin.
“X-Men: Days of Future Past” is in theaters on May 23.