X-Men: Days of Future Past might be the most simultaneously spoiler-heavy and spoiler-free movies of all time. In the sequel to 2011's First Class, the shocks emerge from everything Bryan Singer and writer-producer Simon Kinberg don't do. Or undo? Redo? Time travel is the franchise installment's curveball, tearing through history and rebuilding it into a new reality. Vulture talked to Kinberg about Days of Future Past, navigating the logic obstacle course, and winding up with Days of Future Past's grand finale — so beware of MASSIVE SPOILERS.
In the film, Kitty Pryde's fourth dimension–bending powers teleport Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back from the war-torn dystopia of 2037, when Professor X, Magneto, Storm, and the rest of the X-Men fend off high-tech Sentinels, to 1973, when Mystique's assassination of inventor Bolivar Trask sets the apocalyptic events into motion. There, he encounters the cast from X-Men: First Class, a younger version of Project X founder William Stryker, and the threads that allow him to revive those killed off-between X-Men: The Last Stand and Days of Future Past's terrifying future. Jean Grey, Cyclops, Beast, and Rogue all return for a final beat that plays like a reversal of the Lost finale.
Below, Kinberg addresses undoing X-Men: The Last Stand, character rebirths, lingering questions, and what exactly was going on in that post-credits stinger:
When this many name actors into a movie, it's usually a question of how and when, not if, half of them will die. Not only does everyone in Days of Future Past survive, but previously deceased characters come back to life. Was the resolution of Days of Future Past an absolute from the beginning?
I went back recently — like two days ago, because I've been in Baton Rouge and my brain's been in Fantastic Four — I put my brain back into Days of Future Past, and I looked at my original outline for the movie, which was dated exactly two years before we're premiering the movie: May 10th, 2012. The original outline, the first thing anyone read — the studio, the producers, anyone — it was something me and Matthew Vaughan worked on together. In that original outline, the characters that come back at the end of this movie came back. For me, the fun of this movie from when I said, 'We should do Days of Future Past,' was literally the scene of changing the future and Jean is going to come back and Jean and Wolverine are going to have a reunion. Mainly because I carry such guilt over X-Men: [The Last Stand]. The way we killed Jean in X3 haunts me because I love the Dark Phoenix saga so much.
Do you have regrets over that movie?
It was a missed opportunity. That and Days of Future Past are my two favorite X-Men runs. So, I feel like what we did on "Dark Phoenix" was not make it the "Dark Phoenix" movie. We made "The Cure" movie with "Dark Phoenix" as a subplot. If I was going to do it now, and if we were doing it now because comic book movies are different, the darkness and the drama of that story would be differently supported.
I'm ridiculed for loving Cyclops more than Wolverine, but I'll admit I shed a tear when James Marsden walked on screen.
People love Cyclops in the comics. Jimmy does an admirable job. Not to make this about X3, but in X3 we did what we did with Cyclops partly because we had a schedule nightmare. He was making, ironically, Superman with Bryan. We had a week with him and we needed to make a decision to integrate him into the film then lose him.
The magic of Days of Future Past's time travel allows all you to slaughter all the surviving X-Men in the opening set piece. And then again later in the film. To what degree can you tease an audience like that?
There was definitely a line. The thing that's tricky about that is, you don't want the audience to think, 'Every time someone dies it's a trick, so I don't want to emotionally invest in them anymore.' But we wanted to establish Kitty's power as we've defined it, both visually and dramatically, as opposed to just verbally. And there's something radical about starting a movie with a bunch of characters and seeing how badass the villains, the Sentinels, are.
For a brief moment I thought Wolverine was dead. But apparently his healing powers prevent him from drowning at the bottom of the Potomac! Comic Book Guy question: How does that work?
That was part of the challenge. Bryan and I asked, 'How do you actually put Wolverine in real jeopardy?' Not just getting shot or blown up. Bryan had some science for how the lungs would rebuild themselves.
There's a very brief moment — it might even be two shots — where Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) makes eye contact with Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) as she zips through walls with Bishop (Omar Sy). By the end of X-Men: The Last Stand, the Rogue-Iceman-Kitty love triangle was still a question mark. What should I infer here? Or am I reading way too into that glance?
It's a really astute catch because that's absolutely the intention. That is its own complicated thing because we shot a sequence with Rogue [for Days of Future Past]. But Rogue in that future, where Kitty and Bobby are living as refugees, is gone. She's gone from their lives. Even in the version we shot with Rogue, she was gone from their lives. And in the darkness and sadness of losing so many of their friends, and specifically Rogue, Bobby and Kitty ended up together. That's totally the intention of that look. We debated that look — would it confuse audiences? Would it look like a plan they're conceiving? It's just meant to be an emotional character moment between them. It's a subtle read. And the idea is that, once we've reset the world with the events of 1973, there was never a world in which their friends and Rogue were killed. So he never strayed from Rogue. He stayed with her as plotted in the original movies.
Shit like that, in the whole movie with all the time travel stuff — what would have happened, what did happen, what changed — there's a rationale behind pretty much everything in the movie. We talked about a ton. I've never talked so much about a movie while making it.
Was there something specific that plagued you?
There was so much because we wanted to honor X1 through 3 even though we were changing the timeline of those movies. I think the big thing for me is how Charles's mansion is different when Logan wakes up in the changed future, but still the same as it sort of was. When Logan wakes up, it's not the school from X1. It's the mansion/school from the X1 period because of what's changed. If you look, take a look at the [lighting and design]. It's different.
Quicksilver throws out a line to the X-Men that recalls comic book history: "My Mom knew a man who could bend metal." Knowing Magneto is the father of Quicksilver in the comics, is it a planted seed or inside joke?
[Laughs] A little tease. You know the intention of that tease. Hardcore fans will know. Some people who get that Magneto is a bit of a playboy will know.
Stryker is a character that keeps reappearing in the franchise, perhaps because he's one of the only identifiable bad guys the X-Men have encountered. And then, in the final beats of the film, it turns out he's Mystique — the ultimate "WTF." Will that payoff in the future?
We really wanted to do something subtle with Stryker in this movie. We wanted it to be the beginning of the origin of him. He's in the shadows most of this film. In some ways, Stryker was included in order to trigger something for Wolverine. How would it impact Wolverine, going back in time and seeing this guy who is going to manipulate him in the future. That was just interesting. Stryker's been interesting in the books and the Brian Cox version was fantastic. But the last moment in the movie with the Mystique reveal … there's for sure more to that. As we follow the characters in to X-Men: Apocalypse, we have to address that and make it a real thing.
At the end of this movie, you tease Apocalypse, one of the Big Bads of the X-Men universe. Is there a lot of pressure shooting one of these introductory, post-credit stingers?
The hope of Days of Future Past is that people like it and, even though we changed a ton from the original comic, we stayed true to the essence of it. But the hope is also to broaden the audience, people who aren't necessarily hardcore X-Men fans, or maybe haven't even seen an X-Men movie, go see this movie. Hopefully the event of the cast draws people in. So the pressure on Apocalypse is to do something similar. Broaden the audience and stay true to the core ideals of the comics and fans. I don't approach this stuff as a business, I approach it as a writer and an artist, so how do we do something different? First Class was so different in tone and character. Days of Future is a completely different movie. Science fiction and ambitious. I want Apocalypse to feel ambitious.
How does that character complicate the world for you? We know he builds pyramids with his mind.
It's more of an opportunity. For most of these X-Men movies, Magneto is the villain. Or Stryker. So the idea of having a new villain and super powerful villain. It's extinction stakes, which these movies haven't visualized before. The best superhero movies have subgenres. Days of Future Past is time travel sci-fi. Apocalypse is a disaster movie mashed up with superhero movies.