Comics vs. Film…vs. Film: ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’

By May 26, 2014
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For the past several years, when you ask most comic book fans about their favorite superhero film series, the X-Men haven’t been the odds-on favorite. Although the original 2000 film is credited with pretty much starting the golden age of comic book cinema we enjoy today, audiences had become less enamored with the entries that would follow the last solidly critical and commercial darling of the series: 2003’s X2.

2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand, shepherded by a new director and creative team, was a largely disappointing sequel that kind of screwed up the entire state of affairs for the mutant community on film by killing and depowering several characters, many of them being fan favorites. 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine, a solo effort featuring Hugh Jackman’s gruff, adamantium-clawed hero, was also seen as a disappointment, particularly among comic book fans, for its utter failure in adapting one of the best and most defining X-Men stories in the history of the characters as it pertains to Logan’s tenure in the Weapon X program.

Over the course of the entire film series, plotlines, timelines, characters, and situations got royally messed up. Days of Future Past makes an effective and successful effort to correct the course of the series.

Over the course of the entire film series, plotlines, timelines, characters, and situations got royally messed up. Days of Future Past makes an effective and successful effort to correct the course of the series, perhaps putting the X-Men back on top of the superheroic movie pile.

2011’s X-Men: First Class decided to ditch the messed up events that The Last Stand left the modern incarnations of the characters in entirely, and instead opted for a prequel tale that showed the origins of Charles Xavier, Magneto, and exactly how the X-Men as a team were formed. Critics and audiences largely reacted favorably, but it left the continuity of the film series in an even more confusing place. Pre-release materials and a brilliant Hugh Jackman cameo seemed to have placed the film chronologically before the events of the 2000 film, but several inconsistencies and anachronisms seemed to say that this was, instead, a more solid reboot of the entire film series.

Last year’s The Wolverine was the first film in the series to pick up after the events of The Last Stand, and was well-received critically while also setting the stage for the events of the newest film in the series: Days of Future Past, a title that brought a smile to the faces of many X-Men fans.

Elements Adapted From the Original Story

Cover art to X-Men (vol. 1) #141 by John Byrne.

Cover art to X-Men (vol. 1) #141 by John Byrne.

As an adaptation of an existing story, the film Days of Future Past can be characterized as a loose adaptation of the two-issue comic book story of the same name, published in 1981 and written by Chris Claremont and John Byrne, with artwork by Byrne and Terry Austin. In the future, a vast leap ahead to the year 2013 (ha!), mutant-hunting Sentinels rule over a dystopian America, rounding up every example of homo superior they can find, and placing them in internment camps. A loose band of the mutant defenders known as the X-Men still barely exist, and on the night before an impending nuclear holocaust threatens to destroy their race entirely, the remaining X-Men use their abilities to send the consciousness of Kitty Pryde, aka Shadowcat, into the body of her younger self over three decades earlier so that she can work with the X-Men in the height of their prime to avert the terrible future they live in.

The core concept of two primary timelines and a “modern” X-Man transposed with their younger counterpart are all present in the movie, but practically all of the more specific details are different. Fundamentally, the most important one is that Wolverine, not Kitty Pryde, serves as the primary vehicle for the story. Also, instead of going back to what the audience would consider present day, the film takes things further into the past into the 1970s. From there, things get pretty radically different from the original story, with different characters, motivations, and plot details all taking a more unique approach, doing far more service to the prior continuity of the X-Men film series than the comics those films are adapted from.

Sentinels still play a big part in the overall story from both ends, though. They’re the ones running the show in the dystopian future we see in the beginning of the film, and the aversion of that terrible future can be accomplished by affecting their early development by the mutant-hating scientist Bolivar Trask, brilliantly played in the film by Peter Dinklage. That’s primarily where the similarities with the original comics begin and end in this film, because the wider purpose that the Days of Future Past movie serves is some much needed maintenance to the overall timeline, and characters, of the X-Men film series.

X-Men DOFP McAvoy

This image encapsulates what Days of Future Past does so correctly: reuniting the legacy cast (Jackman, et al) with the new cast (McAvoy, et al), and aligning the worlds of the previous films with the new films (the classic hallway first seen in 2000’s X-Men).

“Clean Up on Movie 7!”

As previously alluded to, things got kind of messed up for the X-Men film series over the last several years. Likely the biggest sins committed were in 2006’s The Last Stand, which saw the deaths of Professor X, Cyclops, and Jean Grey, and had depowered the likes of Magneto, Mystique, and Rogue. The end of the film and a post-credits scene alluded to a couple of possible resurrections and repowerings, but The Last Stand left things in such a rough place that it was never properly followed up on, until now. Other X-Men films, starting with The Last Stand and even including First Class, didn’t carry over any of the strong narrative or character threads present from the first two films, so as a result, many of the resulting entries in the series felt disassociated from the first two films that had always been held in relatively high regard among both critics and fans of the characters.

In addition to aggressively correcting the course of the franchise, Days of FUture Past gives a broad and truthful perspective on Magneto through the performances of Michael Fassbender and Ian McKellen.

While aggressively correcting the course of the franchise, Days of Future Past gives a broad and truthful look at Magneto through the performances of Fassbender and McKellen.

Right from the beginning, Days of Future Past brings back many of the original films’ praiseworthy elements: the theme that composer John Ottman gave to the team in X2? It’s back in Days of Future Past, along with the composer himself. A greatly delivered monologue from Sir Patrick Stewart to start things off? Check. Using the Cerebro chamber door to push us into the first scene? You better believe it. But beyond these baseline elements, the film also gets the narrative elements right. Unlike their characterizations in First Class, Professor X and Magneto finally feel like extensions of the characters played by Stewart and Ian McKellen. The big moments that were important details to the plot of the first two films, particularly as it pertains to the then-mysterious origin of Wolverine, are given an important and truthful service in a scene in Days of Future Past when Logan sees someone who will cause him “a lot of pain someday.”

But perhaps most importantly, Days of Future Past is the first comic book movie to use a common comics plot device, the retcon, in a very effective manner. It’s so effective that much of the history that many comics and movie fans took issue with in previous films in the series…maybe they just didn’t happen anymore. And that result doesn’t feel cheap or hammy: instead, it feels right. Like both the audience and the characters deserve it. That, along with some awesome cameos by X-Men movie alumni make Days of Future Past not just the ultimate clean-up for a film series that desperately needed a narrative scrub, but it also still makes for a satisfying journey with these characters that feels meaningful, and though it may stumble in a few places, very fun.

I haven’t mentioned the well-balanced humor, or the awesome scene with Quicksilver, or the climax in Washington, DC. I haven’t mentioned how awesome it is seeing Michael Fassbender and Ian McKellen play the same awesome character in two terrific performances in a single movie, or how well thought-out the use of Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique largely is. X-Men: Days of Future Past is a wonderful comic book movie, showing a true return to form for a film series that’s been getting a lot of things wrong over the last several years. It’s an aggressive and effective course correction, and one that, if your sensibilities are at all like mine, will get you excited about the X-Men on film for the first time in a long time.

For more on X-Men: Days of Future Past, be sure to read Ben Pearson’s review right here at GeekNation.

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Chris Clow
As a former comics retailer at a store in the Pacific Northwest, Chris Clow is an enormous sci-fi, comics, and film geek. He is a freelance contributor, reviewer, podcaster, and overall geek to GeekNation, Batman-On-Film.com, The Huffington Post, and Movies.com. He also hosts the monthly Comics on Consoles broadcast and podcast. Check out his blog, and follow him on Twitter @ChrisClow.
  • Cicero Holmes

    Great review! I’m really excited to see the film now!