Saturday, August 3, 2013

Reliving the Days of Future Past

Posted By on Sat, Aug 3, 2013 at 2:11 PM

Bonus scenes, whether mid-credits or post-credits, have become as commonplace in superhero films as one-liners punctuating large explosions.

The device is so popular that you'll find articles with the specific purpose of saying, "Hey guys, no after-credits scene in this movie!" There's a slight outcry when it doesn't happen, and the producers of The Wolverine were certainly aware of this notion in picking an important sequence mid-credits. It stars heavy-hitters Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian McKellen, or as they're known in the Geekverse, Picard/Professor X and Gandalf/Magneto.

Professor X and Magneto team up to tell Wolverine that something big is ahead. It's a setup for the next X-film, of course, subtitled "Days of Future Past." Most X-Men fans have at least heard of the famous storyline of the same name from the 1980s. They may have even read it - all two issues of it - but many were simply aware of its existence in the comic book ether before it was announced that this is the basis of Bryan Singer's return to the franchise.

The film will feature an ensemble cast with a mix of actors from X-Men: First Class and the rest of the franchise. We will see the older and younger versions of characters like Charles Xavier, newly used X-Men like Bishop, and the ageless Hugh Jackman returning as our favorite Canadian mutant. Unlike the upcoming Avengers: Age of Ultron, if you want to know where this new film is going, look no further than the storyline for which it's named.

If you need to freshen up on your X-Men history, or just want the CliffsNotes version of Days of Future Past, let's take a look at this celebrated adventure -- starting with one of the most revered and homaged comic covers of all time, from the first issue of the story. And yes, spoilers are ahead.
The X-Men of the Reagan Era were always a bit bleak. This story is no different. It concerns an alternate universe and - hey wait, sit back down. This isn't one of those alternate universe stories, in which the fallout is none and lameness is high. This is classic Chris Claremont, the scribe responsible for some of the best X-tales since days when fans first started using "X" as a prefix. This alternate universe takes readers to a harsh and ruinous 2013, which is presented as a possible future for our heroes.

Decades ago, the year 2013 seemed feasible for a post-apocalyptic backdrop to the creators of this series. We live in a timeframe in which many celebrated sci-fi stories set in the "future" would have come to fruition by now. Readers end up seeing tales that either overshot or underestimated what the future had in store for mankind (that, or people have just been waiting to use their hovercrafts when I'm not around). We do know that the film will partially take place in the 1970s, featuring many of the aforementioned cast members from X-Men: First Class, and we can assume the timetable will be shifted to reflect the years passed since this comic debuted in 1981, so that the 2013 of the comic book isn't jarringly dissimilar to our own.

So now for the toughest sell: In the comic, Kitty Pryde's mind is sent back in time.

OK, sure; let's just buy that. This is comic books after all - the medium that gave us caped men in their underwear, intergalactic space cops and deaths, resurrections and re-deaths of every major character. Ellen Page's take on Kitty Pryde may be hard to reconcile with her incarnation in the Days of Future Past comics. But none of what the X-films have given us quite matches up to the relative ages presented in source material. We can assume that all sorts of things will be shifted from the original comic, when you consider the strange and sprawling nature of how different X-Men were chosen to appear in their respective films. As far as comic-to-film continuity, it's a mess. But we can only trust that Singer will translate the storyline as best he can with what he has - which is admittedly quite a different canvas than Claremont had at his disposal.

Returning to the comic book, we're seeing a harsh future in 2013 and our heroes need to do something about it. The mutant-hunting robots known as the Sentinels rule the land. They were created by Bolivar Trask, who in an exciting move on the filmmakers' part, will be portrayed by the great Peter Dinklage on the silver screen. People are now divided into three categories with designated letters: "M" for mutant (with some enslaved, but most killed), "A" for anomalous (or those with potential for mutation) and "H" for human (also known as the only group allowed to breed). These are dire times, and an ironically wheelchair-bound Magneto and his former do-gooder foes must work together to make things right.

Using some vague technogadgets and Rachel Summers' vast powers, a scheme is hatched and Kitty's mind is sent back to the '80s. She inhabits a younger version of herself, while the mutants left behind in 2013 move forward in their cause. Though it takes some convincing to get the X-Men to believe her, they eventually are open to her story of being the older Kitty Pryde in the younger's body. She tells them that if the team doesn't stop the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants from murdering Senator Robert Kelly, the frightening future she foretells will come to be. We only have two issues to work with here, so it doesn't take long to get things moving.


While the X-Men of the 1980s battle to stop the Brotherhood, the future, elder versions of our heroes are fighting the Sentinels. And they're dropping like flies. After a few major deaths, they come to the conclusion that it's all up to Kitty and the X-Men to make things in the future not end up so horrid.

But the X-Men of 1980 fail.

No, not really. Of course, they stop the Brotherhood's plan and all is restored ... ish. It's later revealed to readers that this theoretical future for the X-Men isn't gone, but merely, as we said before, an alternative universe. And the lasting repercussions include Rachel Summers traveling from that timeline to the mainstream Marvel Universe to join the X-Men - and the villainous Nimrod also following the same path to our own reality.

It seems like a fleeting story, but seeing beloved characters perish in a fictional 2013 was a bold and unsettling move by the team of Claremont and John Byrne. The concept made the time-travel trope not so insufferable, and the bleakness and stark images of the story still inspire the comic's current run.

How will it translate to film? Brief as it is, Singer has plenty to work with in giving every character - and every actor who has stuck with the series - his or her due. The films have fumbled some of the comics' famous stories when given to directors like Brett Ratner, but hopefully, Singer's hands haven't lost the touch they once had.
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