Can 'Days of Future Past' Save Fox's 'X-Men' Series? (Analysis)
Does the time-travel aspect of May's tentpole give the studio a chance to start all over on its premiere superhero franchise?
As the latest trailer makes clear, there’s a lot at stake for X-Men: Days of Future Past. “We now find ourselves on the edge of extinction,” one character tells the audience. “We’ve been given a second chance,” says another. As suitably melodramatic as that sounds as the core of a time-travel movie, there’s a meta-commentary to such dialogue, pointing to the future of the X-Men movie franchise itself and the possibility to re-imagine its future in the wake of this summer’s installment.
In one sense we already know, of course, what comes after DOFP; the title and release date of 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse were announced months ago, and producer Bryan Singer has revealed that it will follow the First Class cast and move the franchise into the 1980s in terms of the flashback timeline.
But beyond that, Days of Future Past offers the X-Men movie series the chance to remake itself and shake off the shackles (and continuity) of previous movies, particularly the divisive X-Men: The Last Stand, a movie not only lacking the Singer touch, but also one that essentially closed out the “contemporary” part of the franchise by killing off three of the central castmembers in one fell swoop.
In theory, if Wolverine’s mission is successful in this May’s movie, then he will have altered the future of the First Class cast in some as-yet-undefined manner that will mean that the dystopian, robot-filled future that Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen exist in has ceased to be, or at least has become considerably better.
The scale of those changes depends on the boldness of the filmmakers (in the original comic story that the movie is loosely based on, it’s suggested that the mission’s success does nothing but accelerate the development of the dystopian future) but opens up all manner of possibilities that could be pursued -- not least of which being the chance to reintroduce fan-favorite characters recast from their previous appearances (No longer will Halle Berry be required to play Storm, or Famke Janssen Jean Grey), with each character freed from any future history laid down in the first three X-Men movies.
Such in-story continuity reboots are familiar to comic book fans -- DC Comics’ superhero universe has gone through at least three in the past few decades, most recently with the New 52 relaunch -- with movie franchises getting in on the action, with J.J. Abrams introducing the idea in the 2009 Star Trek. If handled correctly, it’s a win-win for moviemakers: They get to reset the clock as they see fit, but without having to tell fans that the earlier movies didn’t “happen.”
That said, it’s a concept that can be mishandled and lead to trouble. After all, rewriting the “future” of the X-Men does potentially invalidate the movies that arguably created the franchise’s core fan base, which runs the risk of upsetting the audience most excited about the series. After all, there’s little point in renewing the narrative possibilities of a series if the fans have decided to move on to something else.
Rumors about Fox wanting to create its own mini-Marvel universe with the X-Men and Fantastic Four properties co-existing could come into play here, as well; by declaring that everything that’s taken place chronologically after Days of Future Past’s 1970s time frame is up for grabs, it opens up storytelling possibilities not only for the X-movies, but for Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four, as well.
Is the risk of alienating X-Men fans worth building a solid structure for a new superhero universe with the potential jackpot of multiple franchises on offer? In a couple of months, we'll know more about whether Fox has really been given a second chance when it comes to its superhero properties.