This article contains spoilers for X-Men: Days of Future Past.
X-Men: Days of Future Past isn’t the worst entry in the franchise, but it is without question the most frustrating. It also doesn’t make any goddamned sense, especially for a movie whose ostensible purpose is to reconcile a continuity that has gotten a bit away from the producers, what with the many chefs in the kitchen. What Bryan Singer does with DOFP, however, only muddies the waters further, shutting down future possibilities instead of opening them it up. I thought these kinds of stories—the comic book equivalent would be DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths—were meant to liberate writers from the unwieldy complexities of history?
Devin Faraci at Badass Digest claims that DOFP does just that, essentially wiping the slate clean for the franchise going forward. He’s very wrong: let’s see why. First, he writes that all of the other films in the series, with the exception of X-Men: First Class, are eliminated from the timeline when Wolverine wakes up in newly-created future at the end of DOFP. That’s quite wrong, because there is story material in both X-Men Origins: Wolverine and The Wolverine that take place prior to First Class, which stay in continuity. Wolverine’s participation in every war up to WWII all remains canonical. Much of Origins, however, is wiped away (e.g., the Three Mile Island stuff at the end: that means Deadpool’s mouth doesn’t get sewn shut, presumably).
Moreover, the argument that “there are no continuity problems in the X-Men films” is completely false. The split in the timeline—which occurs with Mystique’s choice to kill or not to kill Bolivar Trask in 1973—means that First Class occurs in both timelines, which means that it has to jibe with X-Men, X2, The Last Stand and the Wolverine spin-offs: in other words, the films that DOFP de-canonizes. The well-known continuity errors between First Class and the later (earlier) films still stand as errors that DOFP does nothing to fix. Some of the continuity problems in the franchise stem from Singer’s inability to resist dropping easter eggs throughout his films (e.g., Hank McCoy’s appearance on a TV screen in X2, which doesn’t jibe with his appearances in The Last Stand or First Class) or the reuse of characters at various points in the timeline (e.g., Cyclops and Emma Frost appearing as youngsters in Origins, Stryker being everywhere, Sabretooth in X-Men and Origins), most of which don’t serve any real narrative purpose anyway: most of the films would be almost exactly the same without them, except that fanboys would be deprived of their titters of recognition. Let this be a lesson for future franchise builders: don’t waste potentially important characters on one-off mentions, because you might want to use them later.
Singer’s lack of restraint carries over to the final scenes of DOFP, in which the bleak future is revealed to have been prevented. Despite the infinite possibilities for creativity, what he imagines is—surprise!—precisely how he envisioned the X-Men the first time around. The casts of X2 and The Last Stand are all here, looking just as they did in those films. This means that future continuity problems are almost inevitable going forward: if Singer wants to use Cyclops, Jean Grey, Kitty Pryde, Colossus, Iceman, Rogue, or Storm, they have to be practically embryonic (if the movie is to take place in the 1980s, as has been reported) in order to not contradict DOFP. Moreover, we now know that the events of Apocalypse will inevitably lead us back to Singer’s boring original vision (even though the original trilogy didn’t happen!), which evacuates future instalments of any stakes. It would have been much smarter to end the film in 1973, leaving the future of these characters undetermined. He had the opportunity to wipe the slate clean and instead he engraved his initials in it.
Not only is this scene bad franchise management, it doesn’t make narrative sense either. Are we really to believe that, after drowning in 1973, Wolverine is acting without awareness until he wakes up one morning decades later? Why wouldn’t he have memories of the intervening years? He’s been alive, conscious, and doing stuff—including teaching history at Xavier’s School. That’s a pretty full plate for a zombie. (At first I wondered why the Professor would know anything about the narrowly-avoided future—he seems to understand Wolverine’s confusion pretty quickly—but of course he would remember how he met the time-travelling Wolverine in 1973 and the wonderful adventure they shared.) If he’s not a zombie, Wolverine walking up without any memories of the past several decades essentially means that he drowns in 1973, then after he’s revived it’s business as usual in the altered timeline until one day he wakes up feeling as though the last fifty years didn’t happen. Huh? Why include this scene at all? We don’t see Bishop waking up after his time-trips experiencing similar bouts of short-term memory loss, so it’s not a matter of internal consistency.
I have to believe that this is just Singer’s ego on display. DOFP‘s ending announces, loudly and clearly, that he thinks he got these characters right the first time. Ratner came along and screwed it up, but don’t worry, Daddy’s back to course-correct. I have a hard time believing that somebody like Faraci, who actively dislikes Singer’s vision of the characters, would be on board with this. I have a lot of fondness for Singer’s original films (though I think First Class is a vast improvement), and even I hate this ending.
How could they have done this story, which in the comics is good but not great, effectively? Easy: exclude the original cast. Solidify the idea that First Class was a total reboot by positing a future that has nothing to do with the one seen in Singer/Ratner’s original films. That’s how you solve the continuity problems of the franchise. All Singer’s done here is muddy the waters further and put strictures on what can be done in the series going forward. It shouldn’t have to be DOFP‘s job to reconcile seven films made over fourteen years, but if it’s going to try, it probably shouldn’t remind me every three minutes what a bad job it’s doing.
X-Men: Days of Future Past is in theatres now.