This article contains spoilers for X-Men: Days Of Future Past. Lots of them.
X-Men comics have a reputation within the industry for being a little too complicated. In part, that’s because the original Days Of Future Past storyline made it cool to create possible dystopian futures and mix characters from them into the team. Bishop, Cable and Rachel Summers all joined the X-Men after coming back from the future. Villains like the Dark Beast and Stryfe came from timelines that no longer exist. Keeping it straight requires a lot of work.
And now, with the release of the X-Men: Days Of Future Past movie, the X-Men movies have finally become as complicated as the comics. Despite claims to the contrary, Fox has clearly taken a look at the success of Marvel’s cinematic universe and decided it wants a piece of that action. But in resurrecting a continuity it effectively left for dead in X-Men: The Last Stand, it’s also introduced a few questions about exactly what happened.
In this piece we’re going to look at some of the plot threads X-Men: Days Of Future Past seems to have ignored, aborted or otherwise dropped, so don’t be surprised if you find a spoiler or two in the mix. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, it’s probably best to come back later. We will have to discuss the ending, after all…
Question 1: How is Xavier alive after the events of X-Men: The Last Stand?
Professor X was memorably vaporised by an out-of-control Jean Grey during the events of X-Men: The Last Stand. The film did introduce a get-out clause for this, casually mentioning the idea of a psychic transferring their mind into a comatose man on life support, and then strongly hinting, if not outright revealing in a post-credits sequence that Xavier had done exactly this.
So that explains why he’s not dead, but it doesn’t explain why he’s still Patrick Stewart. Well, on the commentary for DVD X-Men: The Last Stand one of the writers suggests that the brain-dead man is Xavier’s twin brother, who was born without a consciousness. If Xavier transferred his mind into that body, that leaves Patrick Stewart free to reprise his role in the next film.
What this doesn’t explain is why Professor X needs a hoverchair in the DOFP future, if he’s not in his original paralysed body. Maybe he’s just lazy?
Question 2: Why aren’t Wolverine’s claws still bone in the future?
In the post-credits scene of The Wolverine, the status quo is this: it’s been two years since the events of depicted in the film. Yukio is no longer travelling with Wolverine. His claws, after being cut off by Yashida’s giant samurai robot-suit, have regrown as bone. At the end of that sequence, he’s recruited by Professor X and Magneto, and when he turns up in Days Of Future Past some years later, he’s got metal claws again. So where did those claws come from?
To be fair, this isn’t really a story problem, though it does cause a continuity headache. We can only assume that at some point between the end of The Wolverine and the start of DOFP, Wolverine gets Adamantium re-bonded to his claws. How? Well, that’s a story for another day, I suppose. Or maybe we can assume Magneto did it with his mastery over all this metallic. Er, speaking of which…
Question 3: How did Magneto get his powers back?
Not an especially tough question, but one which doesn’t really get addressed during DOFP, possibly because the writers considered it resolved in the previous film. In the final battle of X-Men: The Last Stand, Magneto is injected with the mutant “cure”, and loses his powers. In the film’s final scene, he’s shown waiting to play chess in the park, now a broken and anonymous man with no opponent. As the film ends, he reaches out with his hand, and in the second before the scene ends one of the chess pieces moves, as if pulled by a magnet.
We can therefore assume that the cure just didn’t stick. Why didn’t it stick? That, we don’t know. Is it the same for everyone? Again, we can’t really tell. The adult Mystique (who was also “cured” during X-Men 3) doesn’t appear in DOFP, and Rogue is only in it for a split second, but only in an alternate future where all bets are off, and apparently still without her powers (but not definitively). Maybe in the “happy” future, she wasn’t cured but can control them. Maybe they’re still gone. We doubt we’ll get a definitive answer any time soon.
Question 4: Why were Magneto and Xavier recruiting Wolverine anyway?
That’s a very good question. Because it didn’t look a lot like a dystopian future when he was in that airport, did it? And they didn’t even know they were going to send Wolverine back in time until seconds before they actually did it anyway.
So maybe what Professor X and Magneto meant by “we need your help” wasn’t “we need to send you back in time in about 10 years when everyone’s gone to hell” but “we need your help to stop the sentinels which have very recently become a problem for us and could get a lot worse. Right? Right.
Question 5: How come Kitty Pryde has the ability to transmit Bishop’s mind back in time, when her mutant powers only let her phase through walls?
Beats me. Magic gloves?
Question 6: Wolverine gets taken away by Stryker at the end of DOFP. Except Stryker is actually Mystique. So what’s that about?
Er, this one has us beat too, and it’s kind of a mess if you think about it. X-Men Origins: Wolverine showed us that Stryker recruited Wolverine and Sabretooth in 1975 after rescuing them from the firing squad in Vietnam, where they’d been fighting for some time. Until then, the two had – we’re told – been inseparable. Yet in 1973, Wolverine isn’t in Vietnam, he’s bumming around New York and Sabretooth’s nowhere to be found. Maybe he’s between tours?Either way, the implication with the Stryker/Mystique moment is that the timeline has changed and that in the altered universe, Mystique is the one who takes Wolverine into military custody and gives him up to the Weapon X programme. We can’t really explain why she’d do that, but fair enough.
Question 7: What happened to all those guys from First Class?
There’s a long list of blink/sneeze/cough-and-you’ll-miss-them explanations about what happened to the other mutants from the previous X-Men film. When Mystique infiltrates Trask’s office, she sees autopsy reports and photos for several mutants, including Azazel and Angel. Magneto mentions that Emma Frost (and possibly Banshee?) as being “casualties” of the intervening years between First Class and the past of Days of Future Past. Havok, at least, is alive and part of the mutant battalion in Vietnam which Mystique rescues, though no-one actually uses his name, so if you’re bad with faces (or can’t remember much of a film you saw years ago) you might not notice until he uses his powers.
Question 8: If it’s 1975, how come Quicksilver has those over-the-ear headphone separates that didn’t seem to exist until about 3 years ago?
A better question is why Trask’s Sentinels are more advanced in 1975 than anything we have in 2014.
An even better question is, if they’ve got a guy who can literally stop bullets with time to spare, why doesn’t anything think to take him to Paris, given that their entire future hinges on stopping someone being shot?
Question 9: What actually happened at the end of the film? Why’s everyone suddenly alive when Wolverine wakes up? What’s going on!?
So, here’s what happens. By preventing the assassination of Trask, and having a mutant save the President’s life, the X-Men have averted the Sentinel-ravaged future Wolverine was sent back from. But because he’s not in the future timeline when it gets erased, he arrives back in his future body in the altered timeline.
So, the actions of the 1975 X-Men have apparently changed the future dramatically. Jean’s alive, Cyclops is alive, the sentinels haven’t overrun the earth and Wolverine’s a teacher. At the very least, the events of X-Men: The Last Stand didn’t happen the way they did, and the events of X-Men and X2 are now pretty suspect as well. But Professor X does remember that a time-travelling Wolverine came to help him out. So everything in X-Men: First Class happened, and everything in the 1975 era of X-Men: Days of Future Past happened, and from that point on all continuity has been rewritten so that different stuff happened. Which does have the positive outcome of erasing X-Men Origins: Wolverine, at least.
But hey, it’s time travel. It’s not supposed to make sense.
Question 10: Where was Nightcrawler/Angel/Stan Lee?
Oh, what? They were here a moment ago, you just missed them. Seriously, they got almost every X-Men in there, but admittedly not all of them. Stan Lee wasn’t in X-Men: First Class either, though, so maybe he’s just not allowed to appear in the past looking like he does in 2014. That would just confuse people, right?
Question 11: Aren’t you just nitpicking? Can’t you just enjoy the film? Why doesn’t this even matter?
Hey, I read comics. I’ve mastered nitpicking and enjoying myself at the same time.
But more seriously, here’s the thing about continuity. It applies to comics, and it increasingly applies to film sagas with seven sequels too. And the thing is this: if you want what happens in your films to matter, you have to pretend that there’s something at stake.
This is something Marvel Studios understands. In building a world of multiple interconnected franchises, the events in one are reflected in another. Tony Stark didn’t HAVE to have PTSD in Iron Man 3. He didn’t HAVE to mention that he stopped an alien invasion. But the fact that he did? That’s what convinces us these characters are able to grow and change. It’s what gives the story weight. It invests us in the events that are happening.
And while this might seem like a nerdish desire for consistency, it’s really not. It’s the desire for the experience of watching a film to be as good as it can be. Bad continuity distracts you from what’s actually happening on screen. It’s not that it particularly matters how Professor X came back to life – it’s that they didn’t acknowledge it at all. If, in his first scene of DOFP, Professor X had said to Wolverine something like “I’ve died before, it’s not necessarily the end” or “I’ve come back from worse”, that would’ve been enough. Enough for the filmmakers to say “yes, we know he was dead, and now he isn’t. But we needed him alive, so let’s move on.”
By NOT acknowledging the past, the filmmakers leave the audience preoccupied and confused. We’re waiting for an explanation that isn’t coming, instead of investing in the story we’re watching. It sets a precedent that essentially stops filmmakers from engaging their audiences. Because if people are watching the X-Men films for the characters, and what happens to those characters doesn’t stick from one movie to the next, it doesn’t matter if we miss one.
And I’m no movie producer, but teaching audiences they can miss films? That seems like a bad idea to me.
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