After a few downright terrible installments, the X-Men movie franchise shown some flickers of new life with X-Men: First Class and The Wolverine. Now it's beginning to feel like 20th Century Fox is saving its biggest payoff for next summer, with X-Men: Days of Future Past.
The Days of Future Past title holds significant meaning for longtime comic book fans, giving the film the potential to be the best X-Men movie yet, and perhaps the best Marvel movie in recent memory. After the impressive debut trailer for the movie hit the net yesterday, it looks like the studio is finally ready to wash the bad tastes of X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine (and Fantastic Four and Daredevil) out of the mouths of fans everywhere.
In the ‘80s, no comic book property was hotter than X-Men, thanks to the classic creative team of writer Chris Claremont and artist John Byrne. Together they turned the Uncanny X-Men title from a book perpetually on the verge of cancellation into the iconic superhero series we know today, and one of the reasons why it became such a success is Days of Future Past.
The storyline began in 1980 and ran through Uncanny X-Men #141 and #142. It gave readers a bleak look at a war-torn future where humanity, having won its war against the mutants, begins hunting them down with the help of mountainous killer robots known as Sentinels.
The narrative alternates between the year 1980 and a dystopian version of 2013. In 1980, the X-Men fail to stop Mystique and the Brotherhood of Mutants from assassinating Senator Robert Kelly, a powerful anti-mutant politician. This causes a chain reaction that ends with the terrifying future we see at the beginning, complete with charred corpses and internment camps.
In an attempt to stop the assassination of Kelly and prevent this violent future, Rachel Summers—the future daughter of Jean Grey and Cyclops—sends the mind of the future version of Kitty Pryde back in time into her teenage self in order to set things right.
Getting a nosebleed yet? Don’t worry, things won't get any simpler.
As the present X-Men—along with the older Kitty in the younger Kitty’s body—battle the Brotherhood and save Senator Kelly, the war-weary X-Men of the future continue to get picked off by Sentinels, including Wolverine, who gets incinerated down to his adamantium skeleton in one of the great panels in Marvel history.
In the end, the present X-Men are successful and the young Kitty is left with no memory of her older self taking over her body. However, it comes at the expense of knowing that the X-Men's future will never truly be secure.
Days of Future Past acheived the real unpredictability that superhero comics generally shy away from. Here, we see a version of the X-Men that fail miserably at their mission of peace, and are instead brutally slaughtered for what they believe in. All of this misery is juxtaposed with classic superhero beats set in the present day, where the mutants do pull through and save the world in typical Marvel fashion. More than 30 years later, this story still stands as one of the most daring superhero tales ever put to the page.
Though director Bryan Singer looks ready to bring many of these elements to the Days of Future Past movie, it’s not a dogmatic adaptation. The most obvious departure is the fact that it’s Wolverine who goes back in time to fix the future. The reason behind this is simple: Hugh Jackman and his veiny physique is a much stronger box office draw than Ellen Page, who will likely be reduced to a glorified cameo as Kitty.
And because Senator Kelly was killed back in the first X-Men movie, don't expect his assassination to play into the plot. Somehow we think Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) will be the main human antagonist here.
That said, there are a few welcome deviations from the comics, including an emphasis on both past and present versions of Magneto and Professor X, who looks like a Manson Family fanboy in his younger days. Plus, any excuse to fit Michael Fassbender into more movies sounds good, even if it spits in the face of comic book lore.
Eagle-eyed comic book fans are sure to pick up plenty of gems in this trailer, like the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearances of Blink and Bishop, along with Wolverine’s grey temples and a brief look at a less-jowly version of Richard Nixon. Movie lovers will also surely appreciate musical cues pulled from Sunshine and The Thin Red Line that class up the trailer.
With Singer back at the helm directing two different casts of X-Men, Days of Future Past could be a new beginning for the X-Men franchise or a time-traveling swan song. Either way, with an important comic book legacy hanging over its head, the movie should be feeling some (hopefully productive) pressure.
X-Men: Days of Future Past hits theaters on May 23, 2014.