The Great Superhero War of 2014 officially began this week. Mere days after the Marvel Studios assembly line released the trailer for next year’s intriguing Captain America sequel-slash-SHIELD spinoff, 20th Century Fox just debuted the first complete teaser for X-Men: Days of Future Past, the franchise-binding sequel-prequel. Running just a little over two minutes, the Future Past trailer features the return of pretty much every X-actor whose name doesn’t rhyme with Mames Jarsden, while also spotlighting some new faces. The result looks like it could either be the Ocean’s Eleven of superhero movies or the Love Actually of superhero movies, both of which sound much better than whatever X-Men: The Last Stand was.
Since Future Past combines various strands of the 13-year-old movie franchise, and weaves in ambient bits of X-Men lore from the past half-century, the film’s trailer may induce a feeling of cultural vertigo. Let’s dive in and try to sort things out, shall we?
We pull back and see that the eyes belong to Wolverine, a.k.a. Logan, a.k.a. Weapon X, a.k.a. Hugh Jackman. This marks Jackman’s seventh go-round as Wolverine, including a hilarious f-bomb cameo in First Class and the Wolverine spinoff series, which produced one terrible film (X-Men: Origins–Wolverine) and one surprisingly decent film (The Wolverine). You might note that Wolvie is looking a bit gray around the temples in this shot. This seems like a direct replication of Future Wolverine’s hair from the original Days of Future Past comic book arc.
Original X-Men roll call! Halle Berry is back as Storm, who is looking very anxious in this image. She’s flashing Logan a stare that seems to say: “Go. Save yourself. I’ll sacrifice myself in a dystopian prologue, with the understanding that the plot of the movie that follows will potentially resurrect me for the sequel.”
Also back for more fun: Ian McKellan’s Magneto. You may recall that The Last Stand left off with Professor X dead and Magneto powerless, but you may also remember that the epilogues for The Last Stand hinted that Magneto would get his powers back and Professor X wasn’t actually dead. Basically, Days of Future Past is the story of Bryan Singer time-traveling back to 2005, turning down Superman Returns, and making the actual sequel to X2.
Magneto appears to be running with a tight crew of badasses, the most notable being Bishop. Bishop first appeared in the X-books in the early ’90s. In his original incarnation, he was a mutant policeman who traveled back from the future to save the X-Men from calamity. That whole “travel back to save the X-Men” story arc appears to have been swooped by Wolverine in the movie. Considering that Bishop has the B-list power of absorbing and redirecting energy, that’s probably a good thing. Still, Omar Sy looks pretty cool.
And that’s Sunspot, a less memorable character from the New Mutants/X-Force era who has the power to absorb and redirect power. But he can do it with solar power. Which is good for the environment. Anyhow, he can shoot fire and stuff.
Magneto and Professor X join forces: “Side by side to end this war.” We don’t know the exact particulars of this “war” they’re talking about, although given that there appears to be no sun or smiling in the future, we can assume things are not so good.
The cast assembles in what appears to be the ruins of a cathedral. It’s worth pointing out that despite this trailer’s feast-for-fanboys vibe, there is a lot of ambiguity around Future Past’s future setting. Sure, Wolverine has gray temples. But all the other X-Men look as old as they should look seven years after The Last Stand. So is Future Past actually set in the “present day” of the X-Men-verse? Or maybe – a la the Harry Potter series – the original X-trilogy actually took place much earlier than we thought, like 1994? Also, how does this connect to that surprise teaser at the end of The Wolverine, which did not appear to be set in a dystopian future without sunlight?
The plan comes into focus. Says Wolverine: “I wake up in my younger body, and then what?” “Find me,” says Professor X. And sure enough, we do. First Class Roll Call! James McAvoy is rocking a Mad Men Season 6 beard as the younger Professor X…
…while Michael Fassbender is back as young Erik Lehnsherr, the man who will be Magneto. He’s on a “darker path” than Professor X, we’re told. When we left him in First Class, Erik appeared to be on his way to starting a Mutant revolution. Here, though, he’s pointing a gun at somebody: Suggestive of the Cold War mercenary work he was doing when we found him at the start of First Class.
Further evidence that the ’70s haven’t gone well for our First Class X-Men: Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique is shown here shedding a single tear. Four out of five scientists believe that when Jennifer Lawrence cries, an angel loses its wings and a cute dolphin gets punched in the face.
Young Professor X returns to the X-Mansion and blows some dust off of Cerebro. It’s interesting that Future Past appears to begin in two different ruined timelines. The future looks apocalyptic; but the past doesn’t look much better either.
“You’re going to need to do for me what I once did for you,” Old-Professor tells Wolverine. “Lead me. Guide me.” This may hurt your head a bit: In the original X-Men, Wolverine was a loner who had lost everything and believed in nothing. Professor X made him into an X-Man. Now, Wolverine is repaying the favor…by traveling to a time when the Professor was a loner who had lost everything and believed in nothing. In the fullness of time, 2024’s X-Men: Nights of Past Future will see Professor X travel back in time from the ’80s to the ’40s, when Wolverine was a loner who had etc etc.
So now we get the general gist of the plan: Wolverine is going to travel back in time into the mind of his past self. This is the Slaughterhouse-Five unstuck-in-time method (also demonstrated by Desmond on Lost), not to be confused with the physical-time-travel method preferred by Doctor Who and Marty McFly. The latter is dangerous since you run the risk of meeting your past self. That’s never a good idea, since your past and future self might explode, according to the Blinovitch Limitation Effect, also known as the Timecop Rule.
…yes, here’s Wolverine, apparently in his past incarnation. This is when we have to address the continuity elephant in the room. Future Past is set in the early ’70s. According to X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Wolverine was fighting in Vietnam in the early ’70s, before embarking on their adventures with Team X, the team of mutants which featured Ryan Reynold’s Deadpool and lots of other mutants you forgot. Is Future Past going to address why ’70s-Wolverine isn’t rolling with his brother Victor? Or is Future Past going to heroically erase X-Men Origins: Wolverine from the timeline?
But guys, we need to talk about Storm’s hair. Halle Berry is shown rocking a new-wave pixie cut. This marks the fourth attempt by incredibly talented costume designers to nail Storm’s white-hair look. This is reasonably successful, although you once again get the sense that an X-Men movie has taken one of the most beautiful actresses in the world, let her play one of the most beautiful characters in the history of comic books, and given her a wig leftover from a 2012 Halloween sale. Fashion flashback!
This may be controversial, but I think Storm achieved her hair epitome in The Last Stand, with a shorter cut that looked ready for action, but still allowed for some snazzy windblown badassery. When your power is control of the freaking elements, your hair must have some windblown potential.
Further evidence of infighting: Magneto is shown here forcefully pulling Mystique in his direction. I’m not sure how he’s doing it – iron in her blood? Maybe she got a hip replacement? The more interesting question is Why. First Class ended with Mystique solidly on Magneto’s side, both as an ally and (possibly) as a lover. Here, they appear to be at odds. Does Professor X enlist his old stepsister to his cause? Fun Fact: In the original “Days of Future Past” story arc, Mystique was the villain. Although, in all fairness, when the original “Days of Future Past” story ran in the comics, Jennifer Lawrence had not been born yet and the earth was still a cold, lifeless husk.
A quick word about Blink. The character was introduced exactly one month before she died in the mid-90s, essentially a throwaway character with a hand-me-down superpower. She achieved unexpected prominence one year later, when all the X-Men books – and this was the mid-’90s, so there were about 57 X-Men books – spent four months in a parallel universe where mutants took over the world. In that alternate universe, Blink was still alive… and the alterna-Blink proved to be incredibly popular, not least because of her cosplay-ready character design. (Vintage Joe Madureira: Cool hair, cool makeup, lotsa pink.) So the character was re-reintroduced in another alternate universe, before ultimately being resurrected in the main universe. And that’s not to mention “What If?” #75, an issue of Marvel’s alternate-universe monthly, wherein Blink survives, achieves cosmic powers, attempts to change her own past and almost destroys all of reality. I’m betting she’ll have three lines of dialogue and a minute of screen time in Days of Future Past. Still: Not bad.
Now, I know what you guys are wondering, assuming you stuck through that Blink tangent: “But I thought this movie had Sentinels? Where are the Sentinels?” Answer: Probably still being worked on by talented digital effects engineers. In lieu of any actual Sentinel appearances, here’s a picture of the Sentinel action figure who stands guard outside of my office, shown in a state of existential disarray:
Look at that! Mr. Sentinel has been joined by his pals: Spider-Man with a Superman Headband, Bane, Donald Duck in a Stormtrooper Outfit, and the Ferrari from The Counselor. You laugh, but this is exactly how they wrote Days of Future Past.
We end with an old man talking to his younger self. “Please,” he says. “We need you to hope again.” It’s Professor X talking to his younger self. Perhaps it’s also the X-Men franchise talking to its own past self. The 2000 X-Men film was the official beginning of the post-millenial Superhero Era on film. The franchise has produced one beloved classic (X2), one pretty-good spinoff (First Class), one film you’ll learn to love when it plays on FX nonstop in 2014 (The Wolverine), and a couple bad movies that hopefully after Future Past will have never existed.
But the franchise has also seen imitators and newcomers take its place. Marvel Studios turned the multi-franchise strategy into an industry-redefining model. (Marvel has made two billion-dollar movies; the X franchise topped out with The Last Stand, which made a mere $460 million.) That’s not to mention the DC Batman/Superman/Nolan series, or the incipient Amazing Spider-Man reboot saga. Can X-Men achieve new glories in the future by returning to its glorious past? Can hope triumph in the face of bleak destiny? Does this mean the next movie will be set in the 1980s, which means Miley Cyrus can finally essay the role of Dazzler? Time will tell. Or has already told. Or will have already been about to be told, eventually.