Destroy All Monsters: Superheroes Last All Summer Long
Note: Major spoilers for X-Men 7 follow.
In the last scene of X-Men: Days of Future Past, Wolverine wanders through X-Men Heaven, distinguishable from the church at the end of LOST only by the absence of pan-theistic iconography in the stained glass. The light is gauzy and soft, the sound slightly off-focus, and the photography slow and dreamlike.
We know this is X-Men Heaven because everything is as it should be, and no one has died. All those who have given their lives in X-service, not just in Days of Future Past but throughout the X-Men series, are here with Wolverine, good as (old)new. Kelsey Grammar is Beast again. Professor Xavier is played by Patrick Stewart and is sitting in his chair. All of the romantic relationships have reverted to some kind of idealized canon, meaning that Rogue is with Bobby, and Kitty is with Colossus.
Scott, bless him, is back from the dead, and standing between Wolverine and Jean. Even in X-Men Heaven, certain standards of decency must be maintained. There is no chance for Logan and Jean, ever. Nor is there even a visible speck of the (comics) X-Men's best-written female character, Emma Frost, to disturb the Cyclops/Phoenix perma-bond. Emma's (worst-written female character) movie equivalent was reportedly flicked out of the space-time continuum like a dust mote, some years prior to 1973, so she has no part of X-Men Heaven.
In Days of Future Past, 1973 is the Peking of Dr. Ian Malcolm's butterfly effect metaphor, and the Xavier School of X-Men Heaven is Central Park. Somehow, the right combination of circumstances on the White House lawn in 1973 set off a chain of dominos that resulted in an X-Men universe where everything is beautiful and nothing hurts.
Days of Future Past is the Slaughterhouse-Five of the X-Men universe, as Wolverine becomes unstuck in time, off on a mission to play Dr. Sam Beckett to the X-Men, with the accumulated wisdom of Professor Charles Xavier serving as his Al. It's wonderful time travel fiction as such things go, in that it credibly serves up a kind of final statement on the X-Men franchise thus far while simultaneously resetting the table for the next round of games. Days of Future Past would, could, and should be the last X-Men movie. Days of Future Past will, can, and shall be the first X-Men movie. The end is the beginning is the end.
As with all utopias, X-Men Heaven is, in its way, a dystopia in disguise. We leave the theatre believing that everyone has arrived at a happy ending, forgetting that two of the film's (and the franchise's) most pivotal characters have been quietly forgotten in X-Men Heaven. In spite of having turned to the good side long before the future-war events of Days of Future Past - allowing for an in-continuity version of Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen's legendary real-world bromance - Magneto does not exist in X-Men Heaven.
And in spite of being the pivot upon which this particular slice of the franchise turns, Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) is absent as well. For a franchise that prides itself on a certain kind of moral relativism - there are points throughout the seven movies where both Magneto and Mystique are, arguably, entirely correct in their thoughts and actions - it's a surprisingly Old Testament conclusion.
Perhaps that's the point. As Paradise Lost (and if not, His Dark Materials) intuited, rebel angels might merely be too clever, too vivid, too human for the Church, but that might make them the more enviable characters for us humans, across the board.
Days of Future Past is certainly a tale of humans; humans who, for the sake of moving the plot along, just happen to be mutants. It is as slyly physical and body-obsessed as these movies tend to be. It dotes upon beings with strange tattoos, deformities, and marks, whose external trappings belie a superpower inside. It observes them in spandex super-suits; it observes them in civilian dress; it observes them wearing nothing at all.
When Hugh Jackman wanders away from his bed in 1973, majestically naked, and reveals the full extent of his perfect physique to the audience, the sounds that came out of the two women sitting nearest to me in my screening were worth the price of admission all on their own. "Oh dear," was whispered behind me; and a low, guttural purr came from my immediate right.
Turnabout, of course, is fair play. At some point in Days of Future Past - when Mystique had a character pinned to the wall by the neck, using one of her outstretched feet and thereby revealing the inner inside of her inner right thigh to the public in a way that would nominally be reserved for much closer associates - I started to wonder whether, between X-Men and Blue is the Warmest Colour, there might in fact be a very minor cottage industry in prosthetic labia for motion pictures. Blue, pink, whatever; the molding process is probably the same. Blue, pink, whatever; a naked girl is a naked girl.
There is less of a divide between the humans and mutants in Days of Future Past than there usually is, even though that divide still theoretically drives the story. Tyrion Trask makes a shlubby, movie-long attempt to sell the American government on the idea that mutants are bad, a device which seems to drive at least half the X-Men movies. Yet by the future-war time period, humans and mutants have teamed up to fight killer robots. Perhaps this is what lost Magneto his seat at the heavenly table: his ideas were antiquated. At the end of it all, we were all in it together.
The X-Men films were once, at least peripherally, concerned with their own subtext; they have traded in that nowadays-unique card in the superhero genre for a more mainstream slice of the pie. The movie isn't about marginalized people in a society that hates and fears them, so much as it is about broken people, learning to be less broken. If Mystique is the pivot upon which the story turns, the main character is (surprisingly?) Xavier, whose musical theme in John Ottman's score is called "Hope" for a reason. True to Bryan Singer's lifetime muse, this is less an X-Men story than an episode of Star Trek (and it includes a clip from one to underline the point). Days of Future Past, marble-mouthed title notwithstanding, is about that connection between past, future, and self; it's about finding the will to believe in, and work towards, better days.
And this self-help revisionism extends, of course, into the franchise itself with metatextual mind-fingers. There is no question that Days of Future Past is the first truly post-Avengers non-Marvel Marvel movie, if one can even parse a sentence such as that. It copies the parent format flawlessly. As a story and a movie in its own right, it's merely competent; as a piece of franchise engineering, it's nearly brilliant. It solves the core problem of the long-term saga, one which all of these mega-franchises will eventually face: how to create a story where stuff actually happens, while still retaining the audience appeal of everything being exactly as you like it.
Solved, thanks to Kitty Pride, mutant fortitude, and some time-casting mumbo-jumbo. In X-Men Heaven, the end is the beginning is the end. Time travel, body politics, and the twilight comic universe that lives perennially in our dreams, where death never lasts.
Destroy All Monsters is a weekly column on Hollywood and pop culture. Matt Brown is in Toronto and on Twitter.