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1981’s X-Men storyline Days of Future Past didn’t actually invent the trope of the Bad Future (Dickens’ A Christmas Carol features one and that’s just the oldest one I can think of) but it may honestly be the single most influential use of that trope. Certainly in comics, maybe in general. If you’ve ever read a story where a character travels back in time to prevent a future with a purple sky, ruined buildings and too many damned robots, chances are it was influenced by this one X-Men story by Chris Claremont. It’s also one of the best-regarded X-Men stories in the franchise’s history, right up there with The Dark Phoenix. But whereas TDP is something of a weird digression, bringing in alien space empires and giant cosmic fire birds, Days of Future Past ties neatly into the X-Men’s recurring themes of prejudice (depicting a future where mutants are close to being wiped out) and the dangers of radicalism (Mystique’s assassination of a senator having brought that future about).
Honestly, this one story’s impact has been so huge that if you actually go back and read it it can be a little underwhelming because it’s tropes and story beats have been copied so often elsewhere. Plus, the whole thing is wrapped up in one issue! They didn’t stretch it out across two years and have it cross over with every other Marvel title! What even the hell? But nonetheless it’s a story that is an intrinsically important strand in the X-Men’s big shaggy carpet and it was only a matter of time before the movies took a crack it.
The X-Men franchise is probably the most faithful to its source material of any superhero movie series and I don’t really mean that in a good way. Put it like this, Days of Future Past (the movie I mean) uses an incredibly convoluted time-travel plot to retcon away disastrous decisions made by previous creative teams. Just add a couple of Wolverine clones and Magneto revealing that he faked his death by pretending to be another villain who was pretending to be Magneto and you have the MOST X-MEN THING EVER. So at this point in the franchise the X-Men movies had been rescued from their Brett Ratner/Gavin Hood induced nadir and had been returned to their glorious prior status of being “quite good”. Brian Singer returned to the director’s chair with a mission; to integrate the previous “quite good” X-Men First Class and The Wolverine with his own X-Men movies thus creating one, unified timeline of acceptable quality.
So the movie begins in “the future” (don’t they all?), specifically 2023 where the war between humanity and mutantkind just got a little out of hand. To put it another way, the Sentinels have taken over and everything’s FUBAR. So bleak is the situation that the last few surviving X-Men; Xavier, Magneto, Ice-Man, Kitty Pryde, Wolverine, Storm, Colossus and some new recruits, have assembled in an old fortress in China for a last desperate roll of the time travel dice.
Now, full disclosure, I haven’t fully caught up on the X-Men films and haven’t yet seen Apocalypse or Dark Phoenix but at the time of writing, Days of Future Past is my favourite of the mainline X movies. This does not mean that it’s perfect. Oh my goodness gracious, no. In fact, it managed to be quite impressively dumb in places. Mostly here, when we get to the issue of how time-travel is supposed to work in this movie. Like in the comics, the mind of one of the X-Men is going to be sent back in time to possess the poor unsuspecting body of their past self. So far so good. And the mutant who is going to be sending the traveller back in time is, of course, one of the many time-manipulating mutants like Velocidad or Tempus or Majik no I’m just kidding it’s Kitty Pryde.
Why does Kitty Pryde suddenly have the power to send people back in time? Well, isn’t in obvious? Kitty’s powers allow her to phase through walls, and what is time but the universe’s wall?
“Well Mouse” you say, (how dare you talk to me) “maybe she’s using her powers to phase them through time itself?”
“But, dear reader” I say, “She’s only sending their minds and not their bodies, and how do you phase something that isn’t solid to begin with?”
Hey, while we’re taking crazy pills, why not have Storm use “time winds” to blow Wolverine back into the past? It would make about as much sense.
Oh yeah, Wolverine is going back instead of Xavier because the strain of the journey would tear Xavier’s mind apart but Wolverine’s got that healing factor so he’ll be fine. Think about that for a minute. Wolverine’s healing factor is so awesome it can repair his soul.
But why is Wolverine going back to the last period of Earth’s history where he could get away with that hairstyle? Well, in 1973 Mystique assassinated a scientist named Bolivar Trask who originally designed the Sentinels. Mystique was captured and her DNA was used to create even more powerful Sentinels that could adapt to any power-set stop…
Just stop. That’s not how Mystique’s powers work. Never has been, never will be. Not in this franchise, not in the comics. She can’t turn herself into metal or ice or fire, she just changes her appearance. That’s it. If you need a mutant who could kickstart a killer robot programme might I suggest either of these two?
And that’s just off the top of my head.
And secondly, am I the only one who thinks this plan is screwy? You’re going to avoid the bad future that’s riddled with robots by…saving the life of the guy who originally designed the robots. That’s like trying to prevent the creation of the internet by travelling back in time and giving Bill Gates a billion dollars in seed money and a backrub. If anything, you’re going to make things worse.
I mean, I hate to say it but…surely the best course of action is to go back in time to when Trask is a baby and…well, y’know…
So Wolverine gets sent back in time to his own body in the 1970s and wakes up in bed next to a beautiful mob boss’s daughter (that is, the daughter is beautiful. Not the mob boss. I don’t think. Maybe he is. He could be organised crime’s Adonis for all I know). This time period’s Wolverine is apparently living in New York and working as an enforcer for the Mafia which is odd because Vietnam is still raging and according to Origin Logan and Sabretooth were fighting in ‘Nam until they both got recruited by Stryker. I suppose Wolverine could have joined the army later because it’s only 1973 and the US didn’t leave Vietnam until 1975 (yeah kids, the US used to just stop fighting wars back in the day) but Logan always struck me as someone who didn’t wait until the last minute to join a war and preferred getting in on the ground floor. Basically, Logan, why the fuck aren’t you in Vietnam?
Anyway, Logan heads over to Xavier’s School for Gifted Genefreaks and discovers that it’s collapsed into squalor and ruin like the dream that was the sixties, man. The school has been shuttered and now Charles Xavier potters around the mansion like Miss Havisham in a goatee while Hank McCoy looks after him. Logan is surprised to discover that this Xavier is a) not a telepath b) not bald and c) not in a wheelchair which is a radical re-working of the character to say the least. Logan gives Charlie the whole “I’m from the future ya gotta believe me Doc!” bit and Charles recognises him from all those years ago and tells him the same thing that Logan once told him and Magneto.
Logan asks McCoy what happened to Chuck and Hank says that the school had to close after most of the teachers and older students were drafted. After the Government turned Xavier’s students into its own army of child soldiers he slipped into a deep depression, presumably because they had stolen his idea. Also, he’s upset because raven left him and she ws the closest thing he has to family.
Xavier is walking now because McCoy has been dosing him with the formula that he uses to maintain a human appearance. You know? The one that backfired horribly the last time but he decided that looking like a Were-Smurf was who he really was and #mutantandproud? Well he’s been administering that to Charles which has the dual effect of numbing his telepathy and letting him walk. I don’t exactly know how a serum is supposed to undo the paralysis caused by being shot in the spine but I’m not Hank McCoy, professional wizard.
I really don’t like this, if I’m honest. It undercuts the ending of First Class and it makes Charles’ rage against Erik in this movie seem less earned. I mean, sure, he shot you and crippled you but your furry blue friend was able to make a magic potion so you could walk again so no harm no foul, right?
Because Raven won’t listen to Xavier, our heroes have to go find the only person she will listen to; Erik.
Unfortunately, Erik has been a naughty boy and has been put in a concrete holding cell miles beneath the Pentagon on suspicion of having killed JFK. To break him out, they decide to recruit a young mutant named Pietro, whose power is the ability to run like the clappers.
Did I talk much about Quicksilver in the Age of Ultron review? I don’t think I did. He’s not a character I’ve ever particularly warmed to (and I usually love speedsters) but I do quite like this version. Quicksilver presented a fascinating legal conundrum when they were making this movie. The agreement Marvel had with Fox (before Disney swallowed Fox whole) was that that Fox could use the X-Men and their supporting characters while Marvel retained the rights to the Avengers and their supporting characters. Sounds simple enough but then you come across a character like Quicksilver who is, to put it bluntly, a bit of a slut. Quicksilver is definitely an Avengers character, serving on the second incarnation of the team and rarely being absent from the main roster. But he’s also a mutant, and (usually) Magneto’s son so you could easily make the argument for him being an X-Men character. Both Fox and Marvel were adamant that that they had the right to sue the character and so they both called each other’s bluff. The result was a “King Solomon and the baby” kind of situation where Quicksilver’s various aspects were split up between two different versions of the character with Marvel getting “Euro-trash dudebro who’s got this weird vibe with his sister” and Marvel getting the “mutant speedster, secret son of Magneto” bits. But whereas Marvel clearly just wanted him because Fox did, Fox went all in, making Pietro one of the most powerful mutants in the franchise, giving him several major setpieces and generally just making sure that he’ll never be able to form lasting relationships because no one will ever love him as much as they do.
They succeed in breaking Magneto out of jail (using Quicksilver’s speed and the power of Jim Croche) and Erik and Charles have it out. Erik is angry at Charles for sitting on his ass and letting almost everyone from First Class die, and Charles is angry at Erik for putting him in a wheelchair where sitting on his ass was all he could meaningfully contribute. Charles also accuses Erik of killing JFK but Erik says he was actually trying to save the President because he was secretly a mutant.
Meanwhile, Bolivar Trask is in Paris during the Peace Accord Signing, to try and get the North Vietnamese to kick in on his Sentinel Programme because, North Vietnam has beaten the United States and is now the new world superpower because geo-politics operates on prison rules.
I have to say, I love Peter Dinklage in this role. He plays Trask very much as the hero of his own story, the only sane man who can see the coming menace. There’s a kind of warped utopianism to his vision that is kind of fascinating. He doesn’t appear to bear mutants any real animus, he simply thinks that they’re dangerous and that they represent a chance to unify humanity in a single purpose. His patented mutant sniffer starts chirping and Trask realises that there’s a mutant in the room and reveals that one of the Vietnamese is actually Mystique. The X-Men arrive to save Trask and manage to stop the assassination but then Magneto realises that as long as Mystique is alive the rest of mutant kind will be in danger so, y’know…
He fails to kill Mystique but Raven is injured in the battle which means Trask now has some of her DNA so it looks like it’s choo-choo, all aboard the Bad Future Express. Indeed, Trask uses the public panic that ensues to convince President Nixon to greenlight the Sentinel Prgramme, who I’m sure is just charmed that Trask has been sitting on these giant flying kill robots for the past decade.
Magneto, realising that the sensible, moderate response is to declare total war against the US Government (we all have mornings like that) goes and gets his fanciest helmet that he uses for special occasions. He also catches up with Raven and offers to team up with her and she’s all “No, you tried to off me” and he’s all “Baby, baby that was all in the past wanna go kill Nixon?” and she’s all “I can’t stay mad at you”.
Back at the X-Mansion, Charles tries to track Mystique with Cerebro but he’s out of practice and she bucks him like the wild untamed computer mustang she is. Logan tries to give him a pep talk, realises that he’s useless in any situation that doesn’t involve stabbing and instead just has Charles conference call with Xavier in the future. Since Patrick Stewart could inspire hope in a ham sandwich, this gives Charles the boost he needs and he figures out where Magneto and Raven are going to strike.
At the big unveiling of the Sentinels at the White House, Magneto arrives and he’s brought a gift: RFK Baseball Stadium which he drops around the White House in one of the most jaw-dropping effects sequences I’ve ever seen in a superhero movie. Nixon and Trask sick the sentinels on him but Magneto has secretly re-programmed them which he knew how to do, somehow.
Meanwhile, the future is happening in the future but…faster, and the Sentinels attack the X-Men’s hideout, killing them off one by one.
The X-Men try to stop him but Magneto dispatches Wolverine to the bottom of the Potomac with laughable efficiency. Mystique is about to shoot Trask but Charles finally manages to get through to get through to her and convince her to choose a different path. She knocks Magneto unconscious and takes his helmet, allowing Charles to take control of his mind. The fight now over, Charles lets Magneto and Raven escape, telling Beast that they’ll come back to the fold when the time is right.
This prevents the Bad Future from happening and leads to possibly the stupidest newspaper headline ever seen in a motion picture and yes, I am including Captain America‘s WAR RAGES ON IN PACIFIC AND EUROPE.
They gave the mutants a pass? Remember, from their perspective the GUY WHO KILLED A PRESIDENT drops a FRICKING STADIUM (named after that same president’s dead brother) on the FRICKITY FRUCKETY WHITE HOUSE and was only stopped at the last minute by a mutant who was also there to kill somebody and then the the guy who dropped the stadium was allowed to escape by yet another mutant who has the power to take over people’s minds and turn them into his unwitting puppets. And famously tolerant and trusting US President Richard Nixon decides “you know what, we’ve pegged these mutant folks all wrong. They’re good eggs and no threat to us.”
Yeah. I think not.
But anyway, back in the future Logan wakes up in a new future where everyone who died is alive again and Brett Ratner is just an old legend used to scare naughty children.
Logan asks Xavier what happened and Xavier realises that Logan has only just come back and has no memory new timeline. Xavier promises to fill him in on everything that’s happened.
The X-Men movies continue their hot streak with a fun romp that manages to combine the best elements of the original and reboot movies. It’s not perfect, and at times it’s dumb as hell, but it’s got possibly the deepest bench of acting talent ever assembled in a superhero movie and the cast give it their all. Still probably my favourite movie in the series with an “X” in the title.
I ancient Egypt, a mysterious figure creates pyramids with his brain while a crowd of people chants “En Sabah Nur” and four mysterious figures look on.
And the audience went
Hey, was that Stan Lee?
It was not. According to Stan Lee at the time he was quoted as saying: “I was supposed to be in Montreal today, doing the cameo for X-men…the new X-Men movie. But I said, ‘No, I’m going to visit my friends in Toronto instead.”
Well. I hope Stan Lee’s Toronto friends are proud of themselves.
Department of Duplication Department
So “Trask”, who was previously introduced as the African American Head of Homeland Security in X-Men 3 played by Bill Duke is now Bolivar Trask played by Peter Dinklage. I suppose the creators could claim that these are two different characters who coincidentally have the same surname but c’mon. They know what they did. Toad is now played by Evan Jonigkeit, having been played by Ray Park in the original, and this time does not get struck by lightning. And Stryker is now played by John Helman, joining the elite “played by three actors” club.
How worried is Guinan right now?
Let’s just…let’s just let her be.
Wait, Magneto is how old?
Ha ha! It slipped up! Yes, this movie actually gives us some concrete dates to go on. The future scenes are set in 2023 and Word of God has it that Magneto is 93 in these scenes which means I need to re-calculate some things..
Magneto is born in 1930.
He’s supposed to be twelve when he’s sent to Auschwitz so that puts his time there at 1942.
X-Men was released in 2000 but takes place in “the near future” but we know that there’s a new president between X2 and X3 which means the movie has to take place before 2004 unless the president we see in X2 resigned, was impeached or died in office (all very unlikely). So let’s say X Men takes place in 2004 which means Magneto’s 74.
X-Men 2 takes place a few months later, still 74.
X-Men 3 seems to take place only a few months later but since there’s apparently been an election let’s say it takes place in 2005, which makes Magneto 75.
Wolverine Origin: 1979. Magneto’s 49.
X-Men First Class: 1963, he’s 33.
The Wolverine: I cautiously dated this movie as taking place in 2013 and the final scene as taking place two years later in 2015, making Magneto 85.
Mutant Heaven has no pearly gates, only revolving doors.
Oh Lord. Can I just say everybody? Everybody dies and comes back? Fine.
Cyclops, Jean Grey, Beast, Storm, Xavier, Colossus, Kitty Pryde and Ice Man are all resurrected by the new timeline. Prior to that, Colossus, Sunspot, Ice Man, Blink and Warpath were resurrected by Kitty Pryde’s totally logical time-travel powers. Mystique and Magneto are probably resurrected too but we don’t see them. Probably missing a few. Probably missing a lot.
Today, mutants are…
Political radicals and conscientious objectors.
This movie is…
NEXT UPDATE: 11 July 2019
NEXT TIME: With apologies to Eamonn Sharpson, who’s been waiting on this review for five years (DVD was a nightmare to track down).