Time Travel and The Days of Future Past

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May 25, 2014 by bck1402





For X-Men: Days of Future Past.

Is that enough warning?


When it comes to time travel stories, I find that there are usually two outcomes. One states that no matter what happens, things happen as they were meant to happen and the time travel results in a closed loop. The protagonist travels back in time because he was always meant to do that. The other, of course, results in a changed future; the surprise effect that can come from affecting change in the past or just messing about in the future, in which case it’s just an adventure and doesn’t affect anything in the past. The journeys to the past are always more interesting because who hasn’t thought about that? To go back in time to make a change that might result in a better world, to correct some mistake?

For X-Men: Days of Future Past, both the comic and the movie have the same starting point- a dystopian future where these machines called Sentinels have destroyed mutants to the brink of extinction. The X-Men make one final gambit to send one of their own back in time to prevent an assassination by a mutant that would set the future in motion. In the comic, it’s Kitty Pryde who is sent to prevent a mutant called Destiny (because she can see the future) from assassinating Senator Kelly would pass the bill to create the Sentinels. Where the movies are concerned, Destiny hasn’t been introduced and Senator Kelly got killed off in the first movie back in 2000.

So, utilising existing characters and motivations, they send Logan a.k.a. Wolverine – because being the fast healer and slow ageing character he is, he would look the same in the past as he would in the future (it’s a little make-up job for actor Hugh Jackman), and Kitty wouldn’t have been born yet(!) – to stop Mystique from assassinating one Boliver Trask, who created the Sentinels in the first place.

The actual reasons why Trask created the Sentinels here isn’t entirely clear, and neither is his clandestine experimentations on the mutants themselves sufficiently explained. He may be an opportunist, a war-profiteer looking for a new enemy since the Vietnam War had just ended, but that’s just speculation. One thing is clear is that he has this single-mindedness to his actions. There seems to be this deep hatred for mutants, but no reasoning behind it. I suppose we could just accept it in a movie since we would think there are people with the same kind of hate in our reality.

Trask’s actions, however, would have some other implications within the X-Men movie universe as his head lackey is one William Stryker, here played by Josh Helman, following Danny Huston (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) who followed Brian Cox (X2: X-Men United).

The movie still manages to keep Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) in play. While the comic had some special technology to send Kitty’s consciousness back in time, here, Kitty’s mutant ability has evolved to the point that she can not only phase herself and others through solid objects – as displayed in the impressive opening sequence – but she has the ability to phase a person’s consciousness through time. So, oldie Wolvie gets his consciousness shafted into his younger self. If he succeeds, he would simply wake up in an alternate future where only he would have the memory of the dystopian world he originally came from, and all the history that led to it. They made a point to emphasise that too, which also meant you would see what’s coming.

Still, alternate realities is one thing. Rewriting history – even if it’s movie timeline history – is a whole other matter, given the few surprises we got in this alternate timeline. The chances of of us viewers spending time in this alternate timeline is fairly low after all, so ultimately, should it actually matter? Even if we did get a couple of stars back? How cool is it to have James Marsden back!? But wouldn’t it also render the other movies irrelevant (with the exception of X-Men: First Class)?

For comic readers, it’s most likely no big deal, We get this all the time every now and then. It’s a rare thing to have it done in movies and the only time I can think of such an occurrence is Star Trek (2009), which acknowledges that they exist in an alternate timeline while preserving everything that had come before.

Of course, you could cite the Back To The Future trilogy that also does end in an alternate present. It’s not like it had a legacy that preceded the mucking-about-time bit; just some small key events. If you want to bring up The Terminator franchise, much of The Terminator movies take place in the present day in order to affect a future we’re not too familiar with. With Star Trek and X-Men here, this is world changing alternate timeline. In our time, Star Trek had decades of stories in various formats while the cinematic X-Men has fourteen years and at least five movies affected by this change. Someone, somewhere – out in the wilderness of the internet – has probably worked out the entire timeline of the X-Men films by now. Oh look, there’s a Wiki page.  I think the text timeline combines sources from various places tho… The inforgraphic is a little clearer.

Anyway, one particular plot point is the success of Wolverine’s mission. As long as the future existed, his consciousness in the past would remain in place simply because Kitty would still be there linking him to the past. If the future changed, he would never have been sent in the first place and his consciousness would snap back to the future, but in an alternate timeline. Like I said, they made a point to emphasise it. So even if he did stop the assassination, and still remained in the past, then the future hasn’t changed; which is an oddity in itself. What it would suggest is that the future is affected not simply by actions, but by mindset; to change the future, we have to change how we think.

Yeah, I’m not reviewing the movie here, am I? Did that elsewhere.

In any case, the movie stands well on its own merits and the time-travel aspect is what it is simply because it was in the comic story. It also provided the opportunity to bridge the gap between the two X-Men  casts and, perhaps, set a few things right again. That last one depends on your own point of view where the franchise is concerned, and how much you like X-Men: The Last Stand. And that would ultimately determine how much one would enjoy this movie.

As a sequel to X-Men: First Class, it’s quite good, but perhaps falls a little short. Standing against the rest of the X-Men films, I found it to be quite impressive and enjoyable. It might even serve as a capper to everything that had come before, and still leave the path for the First Class storyline to continue, albeit in an alternate timeline. For the comic fans, we would expect the next to be the Age of Apocalypse, especially given that tag at the end of the credits. What will actually turn up remains to be seen.

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May 2014


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