X-Men: First Class proved a retro-hit last year, bringing the story of the mutants back to the ‘60s with groovy results. Now, producer Bryan Singer has announced that the inevitable sequel will be subtitled and at least partly inspired by Days Of Future Past, a comic book story from 1981 that involves time travel and a future that’s disastrous for mutants. Here’s everything you need to know about the original comic, and how director Matthew Vaughn and his co-screenwriters Jane Goldman and Simon Kinberg might adapt it for the screen.
Published in the January and February issues 1981 (#141 and 142 of The Uncanny X-Men), Days Of Future Past sees the adolescent Kitty Pryde of 1980 swap minds with her future self, Kate, from a disastrous 2013. Kate hopes to warn the 1980 X-Men of the upcoming assassination of Senator Robert Kelly, whose death sparks the chain reaction that leads to this apoco-future, and prevent it from ever coming into existence. Think The Terminator with a mutant and you’re halfway there. The essential elements of the story are similar: (mental) time travel to the past; warning of a pivotal event that will lead to a dire future; attempts to change it and change that future. The comic-book storyline proved one of the X-Men's most memorable, and has been reinterpreted in animated versions since (more on that later).
So what’s so bad about this future? Well, in the comic’s 2013, mutants are a carefully controlled minority subject to giant, near-unstoppable robots called Sentinels and collared to prevent them from using their powers. Humans with anomalous genes are prevented from reproducing, lest they give birth to more mutants, and the whole of North America is under the Sentinels’ control. Because the Sentinels were programmed with too-broad mission parameters, they have usurped control of the country in order to complete their anti-mutant mandate – and now have their eyes on expansion to the rest of the world to stop the mutant menace wherever they find it. The rest of the planet plans to answer this aggression with nuclear force, so Kate’s mission is to stop a global thermonuclear war.
According to gravestones and struck-through faces we see in the comic, the Sentinels have vanquished most of Marvel’s line up by 2013. The book includes visible gravestones belonging to X-Men including Professor Xavier, Kurt Wagner (Nightcrawler), Warren Worthington (Angel), Bobby Drake (Iceman), Hank McCoy (Beast), Lorna Dane (Polaris), Scott Summers (Cyclops), as well as the Fantastic Four: Ben Grimm, Sue Storm, Reed Richards and Johnny Storm. Elsewhere, the list of their hero and villain victims includes Iron Man, Doctor Doom, Captain America, Daredevil, Ghost Rider, Spider-Man and Hulk. Yup, they apparently killed The Strongest One There Is (presumably they nabbed Banner before Hulk had a chance to react). Sentinels are not to be messed with.
So Then What?
Back in 1980, Kate-in-Kitty’s-body warns the X-Men about the coming storm. They fly her down to Washington where Professor Xavier is testifying before Congress, in order to have the Professor telepathically test to see if she’s telling the truth. But the team arrives to find the assassination of Senator Kelly about to happen, with Mystique leading the reformed Brotherhood Of Evil Mutants (here, Blob, Avalanche, Pyro and Destiny) against the hapless legislator. The X-Men (Storm leading, followed by Colossus, Angel, Kitty, Wolverine and Nightcrawler) must protect the Senator and prevent a massacre, while trying to avoid frightening the humans further by killing anyone themselves. Meanwhile in 2013, survivors Colossus (Kate’s husband in that timeline), Storm and Wolverine, along with Fantastic Four offspring Franklin Reed and his telepathic honey Rachel, lead a desperate attack on the Sentinels’ headquarters at the Baxter Building (formerly home of the Fantastic Four) in an attempt to cripple the Sentinels’ network.
This film could be a rather elegant way to tie together Fox’s previous X-Films, which were set in the “near future” (so we were told in his first effort), with their retro, 60s-set First Class series. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that the “future” bits here could feature mutants we saw in the original X-trilogy. A cameo from Halle Berry as Storm perhaps? Something for Patrick Stewart to do as the older Xavier? A return for Hugh Jackman as Wolverine? The latter’s unlikely to be a substantial role given that he’s currently hard at work on The Wolverine – but can’t be ruled out for the same reason. If The Avengers taught us anything, it’s that there’s no reason you can’t cross the streams of different franchises, and Bryan Singer seemed to support that possibility in noting, “I think it's time to reach out and explore [the X-Men universe] and perhaps even bring some connectivity between the films, as Marvel's done so well." Wolverine crossover! Time to build on that cameo, people.
Rather than cast a fourth Kitty Pryde, why not have Professor X be the one who visits his own mind way back when, thanks to something-or-other in the future? That should give young Xavier (James McAvoy) something meaty to work with, and keeps him in the centre of the action – and potentially brings in Patrick Stewart, which is never a bad thing. There is precedent for this: the story has been re-interpreted twice since the original comic was written. The ‘90s X-Men animated series had future-mutant Bishop replace Kitty and hunt down Kelly’s killer (apparently Gambit, but actually Mystique in disguise), but most usefully in the Wolverine And The X-Men TV series it was Professor Xavier who provided the warning from the future himself. (Incidentally, both of those efforts had hugely downbeat endings).
Another slight difficulty with this story is that virtually none of the characters in either timeline of the Days Of Future Past story are established in the First Class universe – and those that do appear in both don’t get quite the right focus for a story that follows the end of last year’s effort. So while Professor X appears in the 1980 strand of the comic, he has virtually nothing to do there (except for exposition and being briefly captured by Mystique, along with Moira McTaggart) – hence our suggestion that he be the mental time-traveller here. Rose Byrne’s McTaggart, meanwhile, would hopefully get to do some cool spy stuff. We’re not sure why though. And where to fit Nicholas Hoult’s Beast? Will he have to produce some sort of device to send Xavier back? Will we see his blue-furred older self? In the comic, Mystique is at her most thoroughly evil, whereas at the end of the last film Jennifer Lawrence’s version was still conflicted in the tug-of-love between Professor X and Michael Fassbender’s Magneto. Incidentally: we’re going to need a role for Magneto. And maybe January Jones’ Emma Frost too, since she swanned off with the Master of Magnetism at the end of the last film.
Kitty and Colossus are central to the comic, and while both appeared in the previous X-trilogy, that's no reason that they couldn’t appear here, since Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman made it pretty clear last time that continuity with that series wasn’t an issue. But if their roles are essentially given to Professor X and maybe McTaggart, there’s no real need for them to appear. You could say the same for Storm, Nightcrawler, Blob, Pyro and Senator Kelly too, all of whom appeared in the original three films (or in Blob’s case, in X-Men Origins: Wolverine) but all of whom could be replaced by existing First Class universe characters. Still, this is a franchise that just loves to add new mutants to the mix, in which case we might see Bishop, since he’s canonically from the future. Other possible additions: the series might take another crack at Gambit, building on that animated storyline wherein he plays a key part since he’s consistently a fan favourite, or Warren Worthington, who was thoroughly wasted in The Last Stand and was an original member of the X-team.
If Xavier replaces Kitty Pryde and Magneto takes the lead in the assassination plot, we’re well on our way to something that ties in with the end of X-Men: First Class. Incidentally, that’s assuming that the inciting action will be the assassination of Kelly (already targeted by Magneto in Singer’s original X-Men) and not something bigger, which remains to be seen. Xavier can then warn of the danger to the future, and try to avert it with technological help from Beast. Mystique may defect at a crucial moment and join Magneto’s growing harem. The story would need lots more fleshing out: there’s virtually no second act in the two brief comics that exist. But that just gives Matthew Vaughn, Jane Goldman and Simon Kinberg a chance to play with the characters and give us some of the X-Men interaction that’s such a big part of why people love the series. And the whole thing should involve Sentinels that very carefully do not look like Terminators, thereby distinguishing itself from the competition. If they’re really, really gutsy, and thinking long-term, they could pull an Empire-Strikes-Back and use the same sort of downbeat finish as the cartoons, suggesting that the future cannot be change and setting up a more present-day fight for the future in future X-films. But that could be a chronological complication too far for even this convoluted a series.