X-Men: Days of Future Past
This review of X-Men: Days of Future Past originally appeared as a guest post on timetravelnexus sometime around February 2016. Now that the site appears to be discontinued I’m (re)publishing it here!
X-Men: Days of Future Past. Time travel gone wrong.
As a fan of the X-men and of course of time travel I thought X-men: Days of Future Past would be right up my alley. Generally speaking, it was, although that alley seemed to be somewhat out of town and leading nowhere.
Bolivar Trask carries out research out on mutants in the 1970s. Angered by this, Mystique assassinates Trask, but her subsequent capture means that her DNA is used to develop sentinels, a robotic weapon which detects a mutant gene and uses that information to destroy the mutant who carries it.
By the present day (2013) the sentinels dominate the world and the extinction of both humans and mutants is imminent. Xavier and Magneto join forces and come up with a plan to go back in time and prevent Trask’s assassination, thereby preventing the existence of the sentinels and ending the war before it’s begun.
Shadowcat has a mutation which allows her to transport people back in time a few weeks into past versions of themselves. Unfortunately transporting someone as far back as 1973 would cause so much mental strain for the time traveler that their mind would tear apart.
Thankfully Wolverine has a self-healing mutation which means that he can make the journey into the past without personal damage, and try to dissuade Mystique from committing Trask’s assassination. Whilst there he faces difficulties from a young Xavier who’s given up on himself, and from the young Magneto who has more sinister intentions.
As an X-Men movie this is good: there are a lot of different mutants with lots of different mutations and a lot of good effects and cinematography things, especially at the start of the movie where there is a lot of attention on the sentinels and their capabilities.
That said, I don’t think it measured up to the original three X-Men movies (X-Men, X2: X-Men United and X-Men: The Last Stand) as some of the ideas had already been used.
The plot, generally speaking is good, but my main gripe is that the bottom line of it is that it swipes away the plots from the previous movies as they now lie in an alternative time line. Not that it’s my concern, but I’d imagine that it would make for a further sequel to be more tricky in that there’s less history to ‘extend’. Then again, I suppose they could almost make up anything they like now with a relatively blank sheet.
The angle as a time travel movie
I must confess to being a little disappointed in the time travel respect. I thought that a mutation allowing time travel was going to be used to a much greater degree. Rather, it was one mutant who sent one X-Man back in time, and once he was there that was pretty much it for the time travel.
There are a few interesting time travel elements. For example, Xavier talking to himself through time (and sets up of an alternative history) . There is also mention of a branch of quantum time travel where time flows like a river. An example is given where a petal thrown into a river is ineffective in altering the course of the river which still continues to flow. The parallel is that a change in historical events, if far enough back in time, will do little to change events in the future as the river of time will continue to flow normally. The thought then, is that the idea of sending someone back in time to alter history to affect the future is futile .
However, the underlying message of the movie is that this is not the case because people remain free to make a choice and follow their free will.
Generally speaking though, the time travel aspect in X-Men: Days of Future Past may as well have been left out entirely. It seemed to be put there as a gimmick.
I should think that most movies have some sort of error. I can forgive most, but what I do have a problem with is a discontinuity in the story line. Plots with time travel I suppose really do open themselves up with these kinds of errors thanks to the infamy of time travel paradoxes. The best fiction with time travel are those where a decent stab has been made in either avoiding – or better still, solving – these paradoxes.
And here X-Men fails as a time travel movie – it trips up on perhaps the most famous of time travel paradoxes – the Grandfather paradox. (This is where a time traveler goes back in time, kills his grandfather meaning that he subsequently cannot go on to marry and further his family line, including the original time traveler. If the time traveler therefore doesn’t exist, he cannot go back and kill his grandfather).
Here we have Wolverine going back in time to create an alternative history as the history which has already transpired spells doom for humans and mutants alike. And in the alternate history, there is no need for Wolverine to go back in time, so in effect there is no time travel, meaning that the alternate history couldn’t have been created.
Indeed, this is semi-alluded to in the closing scene of the movie when Wolverine wakes up in a new future – one in which he hadn’t gone back in time to bring about that new future…
So the question is – why bother with this time travel stuff when the plot could have worked without it? For example, a mutant could have seen a projected future, and steps need to be taken to avoid it. Maybe the time travel element was added so that some of the original actors could be brought back into the movie, or just to attract us time travel fans, but perhaps I’m being cynical.
Time travel method
The method of time travel itself is, as you’d expect from the X-Men, an ability born through a genetic mutation.
The method of time travel is to transport your mind into the body of your own younger self. The self that remains in the present sleeps but if the version of you in the past suffers a traumatic event then you flip and wake up back in the present.
Normally someone can only be sent back in time for 2 weeks, or possibly a month at most because the human mind can’t be stretched for much longer. Fortunately Wolverine’s self healing properties means that this restriction isn’t applicable to him which effectively makes him the only candidate who is able to go back in time by multiple decades.
Final general comments
I couldn’t help but notice the similarity between the futures given here in X-Men: Days of Future Past and the Terminator movies where eventually technology becomes self-aware and wishes to annihilate humankind. Is this lack of creativity in science fiction, or perhaps the most realistic vision of the future? Let’s hope that like the future of 2015 portrayed in the Back to the Future movies with hover-boards, it doesn’t come to pass.
In summary I think X-Men: Days of Future Past as a time travel movie falls a little short. The time travel element is an interesting component but is neither an integral or a necessary part. Indeed, it is done poorly in that it introduces errors in a field of science fiction which is already complicated!
Paul Wandason is a time travel enthusiast who writes for time2timetravel.com, a time travel blog with basics of time travel. As a father of two growing daughters, Paul’s eager to avoid the grandfather paradox and has no intention of annoying any of his future grandchildren. If he had any free time he’d probably fill it by looking at the stars and other wonders of the universe. And if he had a time machine he’d probably hide it from his grandchildren.
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