'X-Men: Days of Future Past' lifts from X-traordinary 1981 X-Men story

By Andrew A. Smith
McClatchy-Tribune News Service

May 13, 2014 -- If you’ve seen the trailers for X-Men: Days of Future Past, the Twentieth Century Fox movie that premieres May 23, your reaction has probably been “What the heck is going on here?”

That’s understandable. The previews show a number of inherent contradictions. Like, how can Professor Charles Xavier, as played by Patrick Stewart, be involved, when we saw him die in “X-Men: The Last Stand”? Why isn’t The Beast (Nicholas Hoult) furry? And why does there seem to be two versions of the major characters?

The answer to these questions is one phrase: time travel.

For more information we have to travel in time ourselves, back to 1981. That’s when the story this movie is based on first appeared, in the Uncanny X-Men comic book.

At the time, Jean “Phoenix” Grey was recently dead (for the second time -- don’t ask) and Scott “Cyclops” Summers had taken a leave of absence to work through his grief. Kitty “Shadowcat” Pryde was such a new X-Man she was still using her first code name “Sprite.” The only other members of the team at the time were founding X-Man Angel, and relative newcomers Colossus, Storm and Wolverine (who all joined in 1975).

The story “Days of Future Past” opened with an adult Kitty Pryde (now called Kate) moving through the ruins of Manhattan decades in the future, in the (cough) 21st century. Very quickly we learn that North America had been taken over by Sentinels – large, mutant-killing robots that the X-Men have fought more than a few times – and the United States is a ruin. Most superheroes are dead, the government has been dissolved and what few mutants remain – like Kate – are kept in concentration camps. Sentinels patrol the skies while gangs rule the streets. We’re told Kate has managed to get a day pass for medical supplies, but instead keeps a surreptitious rendezvous with Wolverine, one of the few mutants still roaming free.

Yikes!

What Kate gets from Wolverine is the final component she and her fellow imprisoned mutants need for a last-ditch plan to fix everything. Those mutants – Storm, Kate’s now-husband Colossus, Franklin Richards (the son of Reed and Sue Richards of the Fantastic Four), Rachel Summers (the daughter of Cyclops and Jean Grey) and a crippled Magneto – plan to send Kate’s mind back in time to warn the X-Men of the 20th century to avoid the major mistake that led to this dystopian future.

That mistake was failing to prevent the assassination of U.S. Sen. Robert Kelly – a presidential aspirant – by Mystique and a bunch of mutant super-villains, just as he is pushing a “Mutant Registration Act” to authorize draconian measures against mutants. After the assassination, we learn, an outraged nation passes the act, sending the country down the slippery slope to concentration camps.

Kate’s mind does in fact make the time jump, landing in her teenaged 1981 body. After convincing the X-Men that she’s from the future – hey, the X-Men have seen weirder – Storm leads her team in an attempt to prevent the senator’s assassination. Meanwhile, the story also follows the X-Men of the future as they make a suicidal attempt to disable the Sentinels.

What follows next is the stuff of comic-book legend, and I won’t spoil it for you here. I will say that Uncanny X-Men was at its height in the early ‘80s, with writer Chris Claremont and artist John Byrne co-plotting a run of issues so imaginative and ground-breaking that X-Men became the most popular franchise in comics for the next 20 years.

Amazingly, this famous story was presented in exactly two issues. In today’s world of “decompressed” storytelling – often a euphemism for “stretching a story to six issues so it will fill a trade paperback” – it would doubtless have run the whole summer of 1981, crossing over into six or seven other titles and a clutch of miniseries and one-shots. But, no: Claremont and Byrne told the whole story – two stories, really, in two different time periods – with a beginning, a middle and a very serious end in exactly two issues. And they did it so well that no X-Men reader of 1981 ever forgot it.

Marvel Comics didn’t forget it either -- unfortunately. Various writers re-visited the concepts and the dystopian future of “Days of Future Past” in the 1990s with a four-part story that ran in four annuals of different series, three issues of Excalibur and a three-issue Wolverine miniseries. Oh, there was also a Hulk story in 2009. Frankly, many of those stories weren’t very good, as “Days of Future Past” suffered from the law of diminishing returns.

There are no flies on Marvel, so of course all of these “DoFP” stories have been collected in a new hardback with the same name as the movie. Given the almost painful awfulness of the later stories, I’d recommend that you find one of the other reprint books that contain the original two-parter, like Marvel Masterworks: Uncanny X-Men Vol. 6, X-Men Essentials Vol. 2 or Uncanny X-Men Omnibus Vol. 2. Those will contain not only the two-parter, but some of the issues on either side of “Days of Future Past,” which are pretty good. (Oh, there’s a new prose version of the story as well.)

Needless to say, the movie will not follow the original story perfectly. For one thing, it’s clear that the future X-Men send Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back in time, not Kitty Pryde. Sen. Robert Kelly already appeared, and died, in the first X-Men movie, so he’s kinda unavailable. And somehow or other, the older Xavier (Patrick Stewart) will exist in the future, despite having died in the, uh, past.

Actually, that latter isn’t all that hard to understand. If the X-Men are dinking with time, isn’t it possible they could change the events that killed Xavier back in Last Stand? Plus, time travel provides the excuse to have two Xaviers and two Magnetos, meaning we get the thrill of seeing Stewart, Ian McKellan, James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender all in one movie! Not to mention the many other famed actors who are reprising their original roles, like Jennifer Lawrence (Mystique), Halle Berry (Storm), Anna Paquin (Rogue), Ellen Page (Kitty Pryde) and Shawn Ashmore (Iceman).
Plus – plus! – Peter Dinklage, who has found fame in Game of Thrones, will play Bolivar Trask, the creator of the Sentinels.

What is less clear are all the new X-people who are appearing in “Days of Future Past” that have no connection to the original story, or to the various X-movies to date.

For example, we’ll meet the energy-absorber Bishop (Omar Sy), a refugee from a different dystopic future. And the teleporter Blink (Bingbing Fan), yet another refugee from yet another dystopic future. And the solar-powered Sunspot (Adan Canto), the super-speedster Quicksilver (Evan Peters) and the Native American warrior Warpath (Booboo Stewart), who aren’t refugees from anywhere, thank goodness.

All of this time-hopping leads one to believe that his movie will revoke a lot of Last Stand, not only conflating the various X-movies into a single cohesive timeline, but restoring a number of formerly dead X-Men – Ex-Men? – to viability.

Which is going to make for a movie with an X-traordinary number of X-Men. That’s one way it will be just like the comics!

Contact Captain Comics at capncomics@aol.com.

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Also, Byrne was no longer there to say "no" to Claremont.

If only Claremont had been there to say "no" to Bryne when, on a whim, he drew aliens on the planet that Phoenix destroyed, ultimately leading to the whole "Death of Phoenix" debacle ... 

He could have. Byrne drew the pages before they were scripted and lettered.

I have to note that everybody signed off on Phoenix eating the planet of asparagus people during production. It was Jim Shooter who decreed it unacceptable ex post facto.

ClarkKent_DC said:

If only Claremont had been there to say "no" to Bryne when, on a whim, he drew aliens on the planet that Phoenix destroyed, ultimately leading to the whole "Death of Phoenix" debacle ... 

I guess it was like Carol going away with Marcus, they just didn't think it through.

I saw the movie last night with my wife and two friends. We all enjoyed it tremendously.

Before seeing it I looked up the cast of X-Men: First Class because I hadn't realized that Jennifer Lawrence played the younger Mystique in that movie also. At the time she hadn't risen to prominence. Now she, Emma Stone and Scarlett Johansson are all incredibly young, incredibly talented, and bankable actresses

What was sort of amazing is how little Wolverine had to do. I'm not complaining -- some of the other X-movies could have been titled Wolverine and His Amazing Friends, and he's already had two solo films -- but despite being the central driver of the movie, he had little to do except stand around and give X-position. He did get a chance to take his shirt off, which he should, because his physique is a special effect in itself.

You must have blocked it out, but he didn't just take his shirt off. He had full rear nudity. My wife and our female friend definitely noticed it.

Randy Jackson said:

The best casting option that I heard was Angela Bassett. Berry's Storm just didn't have any presence.

As I recall, when they were filling in names for the very first X-Men movie Angela Bassett was supposed to be Storm. At the time, the studio wasn't sure if movie-goers would go see an X-Men movie since the characters were not well-known to the general public. I don't know if it actually was offered to Angela Bassett. If Halley Berry didn't want to play the character nobody forced her. I think they hired her to put butts in the seats. Maybe it was like the old story of the actor (whose name escapes me) not wanting to do a part and purposely asking for too much money, then getting it.

I saw it this weekend with the Lad, and we both enjoyed it.  I gave him the 2-minute setup of the original DOFP, told him about the dual movie franchises -- he's never seen an X-Men movie -- and he had no difficulty following the plot.

Peter Dinklage was awesome.  I could watch him reading the phone book.

I also enjoyed the appearance of Quicksilver much more than I expected.  His big "save everybody" sequence was predictable in content, but also pure fun.  

Doctor Hmmm? said:

I also enjoyed the appearance of Quicksilver much more than I expected. His big "save everybody" sequence was predictable in content, but also pure fun.

This is probably the best portrayal of super-speed I've seen in movies or TV. Also, it's rare in super-hero movies to have a fun sequence that doesn't rely on camp.

One thing, though. 

I get the notion that a guy who can move at superspeed -- who already presumably has the world's worst case of ADHD --  would like to carry his tunes with him to keep from being completely bored when (from his perspective) the whole world is moving at super slo-mo. 

And I'm happy to see that someone has figured out how Quicksilver could have a Walkman in 1973.

But ... how could he speed-up the playback enough that the music wouldn't also be in super slo-mo, without blowing the cassette to smithereens?

These are the kind of important questions that keep me up at night.

I just figured that Quicksilver listens to all his music in "fast forward" mode, and what sounds to random squeals, if anything, to us, sounds like music to him.  He may burn thru a lot of cassettes & players that way, but it didn't look like he'd have any trouble stealing more...

I just figured that Quicksilver listens to all his music in "fast forward" mode ,,,

 photo doh.gif

Brilliant!  Thanks, Dave!  Now I can get some sleep.

Actually, at the speed Quicksilver was moving, his clothes should probably have burst into flame, or his shoes should have worn out almost immediately. This is much faster than he moves in the comics, more Flash-like -- so maybe, like the Flash, things that are close to his body move at the same rate he does without damage.

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