So much of who we are is forged from who we were. Our past successes lead to arrogance and nostalgia. Our mistakes lead to pain and prejudice. Sometimes when one examines the past, it seems as though we are too far down a particular path to even consider turning back.
But what if we could?
What if we could change the past? What if we could reboot it. Would we? Should we?
X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST drops us into a desolate world. It is one where mutants are hunted by immensely powerful Sentinels, as are both the humans that will give birth to future generations of mutants, and any human that aids in the resistance. This mass genocide doesn’t leave a whole lot of hope for mankind, as the people in charge of such a movement are said to be merciless and inhumane.
Mankind’s only hope is the X-Men…what’s left of them anyway.
They are having a mild level of success eluding The Sentinels with Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) using her abilities to pull mutants back in time, but she’s doing it by a matter of minutes. When the idea is presented to her to send a mutant back decades to stop The Sentinel Program before it is launched, she says that few mortals could survive such a shock to the system. Enter Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), a mutant so impervious to pain that he can be knocked back into 1973 and come back smiling. He is tasked by Professor x and Magneto (Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan) to find the younger versions of themselves (James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender).
They will both be needed to convince the 1973 version of Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) not to kill The Sentinels’ inventor, Dr. Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage). They believe this is the moment of truth, and the crossroads for future events.
However, when Logan gets back to the past, things aren’t so simple. Magneto is in prison, Professor X is a depressed shell of his future self, and Mystique isn’t listening to reason. With the help of the younger version of Hank “Beast” McCoy (Nicholas Hoult) he’s able to get the former two on-board, but Mystique proves to be a greater challenge.
It will take a great deal of effort, and more than a little bit of luck, to make her see reason…and to get her to consider the future ramifications of her present course.
DAYS OF FUTURE PAST wants us to consider that as much as we might want to, that undoing the damage done is never as easy as we’d want it to be. There are too many moving parts, too many ripples in the water. It’s an idea that we all tend to face at some stage in our lives. We screw-up at some stage and start to think “what if”. What if we made a different decision . What if we’d been less selfish – or more selfish. What of we could know then what we know now. However, as Beast points out to his fellow mutants – and to us by extension – is that the universe is pretty good at course-correcting. In the end, even our wildest dreams of going back in a time machine and changing the past are like dropping pebbles into the river. At the end of the day, there’s no changing the course of the tide.
That doesn’t stop our heroes from trying of course, which in some ways becomes the most interesting element of the film. Sure the spectacle of watching Magneto pull RFK Stadium off its foundation is awesome, and the sight of seeing Quicksilver run around a kitchen and change the course of a shoot-out before the bullets can hit their targets is a joy. Five films in though, it feels like we’ve seen these sorts of displays of prowess. What we haven’t seen is scenes of these characters confronting the people they used to be – be it indirectly or directly. To that end, seeing Charles Xavier confront his moment of weakness, or Eric Lehnsherr expressing his regrets are fascinating. They are moments we wish we had more of, and also underline how much we miss the present version of Mystique who has no such confrontation.
It’s a misstep, and one which leads me to the bigger misstep.
For as much fun as this is, one can’t help but feel as though we’ve heard this song before. “Do not fear those who are different”, “Fight together or die alone”, “Evolution is not the enemy”. It’s been five films and we keep coming back to these same ideas. Having these characters needing to work with and interact with the past versions of themselves presented a real opportunity to reflect on choices made and legacies forged. Unfortunately, it all falls back on mutants facing down the government and saying “down boy”. Again. There are so many characters, with so many facets to them and so many challenges. Why in the world must it keep coming back to “all for one”?
At this stage, I can only hope that we’re ready to go somewhere new. These actors are still fun to watch when they put on these particular capes and cowls, so more of the same might not be the worst thing in the world. However, it’s been almost fifteen years of this. To underline that just a little bit more, the first time we watched Hugh Jackman let loose his claws, Bill Clinton was still in office. DAYS OF FUTURE PAST is an attempt to course-correct the present…an attempt to press a cosmic ‘reset’ button and move forward.
As enjoyable as I found this trifle, I do hope that the franchise’s success at pressing ‘reset’ means new things for the next fifteen years.