The Past You’ve Always Wanted

“The Past You’ve Always Wanted”
A Review of X-Men: Days of Future Past by Nick Olszyk

MPAA Rating, PG-13
Professor X, Wolverine, and Beast
Reel Rating, Four Reels        

            Only a week after Godzilla, X-Men: Days of Future Past brings another fantastic special effects bonanza that’s just as profound but better written than its large lizard friend. This is the seventh X-Men film and the best. The plot involves time travel, mutant killing robots, vomit brown 70s costumes, and wisecracks from Wolverine; it is pure, unfiltered entertainment with the all important message that it’s never too late to change. Of course, time travel helps a lot with that.
            The future is grim for Prof. Charles Xaiver (Patrick Stewart) and his band of brothers. The year is 2023, and nearly all mutants have been killed or captured by sentinels, robots that can adapt to any mutant power. Luckily, Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) can someone how use her intangibility to send a person’s consciousness into their past self. It’s a bizarre time traveling method but at least it avoids the awkward problems that faced Marty McFly. Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) volunteers to make the trip to 1973 and convince young Charles (James McAvoy) and young Eric (Michael Fassbender) to put their grievances aside and fix the future. “I was a different man,” Old Charles tells him. “Be patient with me.” Wolverine grunts, “Patience isn’t my strong suit.” He wasn’t kidding. 1970s Charles is a drug addict, wallowing in his own pity, while Eric is imprisoned in the Pentagon for his role in the JFK assassination. In the course of the events, new characters are introduced and old favorites reappear; the cast boasts an astounding eight Oscar nominated actors among them. The best is Quicksilver (Evan Peters), a rebellious teenager who uses superspeed to rob department stores and pull pranks. The sequence where he takes out a dozen Pentagon guards in a millisecond to the tune of “Time in a Bottle” is the best superhero moment I’ve seen in years. The only drawback is that plot assumes quite a bit of knowledge from the previous films, but it stands alone pretty well too.
What would you tell your past self? Study harder? Eat more vegetables? Don’t go out with Brittney Owens because she’ll break your heart by showing up to Homecoming with someone else even though she said she would go with you and you bought a corsage and everything? Age brings wisdom. As people make mistakes, they learn gradually how to avoid those same mistakes in the future. This why it is so important for children to have constant contact with their grandparents; the experience of years can teach the young to avoid mistakes in the first place. In a sense, the elderly mirror the role of time travel in this film.
Another thing that brings wisdom is suffering. The mutants of 2023 don’t seek revenge or fight among themselves; they have endured years of genocide and seen its terrible consequences for themselves and all of humanity. Even Wolverine is softer and more docile than any previous film. Young Charles and Eric have had their share of suffering too, but respond by either withdrawing from society or directly attacking it, a perfect summery of 70s America. They cannot see how their selfish actions will lead to the demise of everyone they love. Old Charles and Eric have seen it and respond with compassion. Suffering removes the ability to rationalize falsehood and focuses attention on the truth. As Rabbi Abraham Heschel said, “the man who has not suffered; what could he possibly know anyway?”

            As the ending of the film approaches, it becomes clear the fate of the world depends on an act of mercy, not war. The choice that all beings, mutants and humans alike, face is whether they can let go of their hate to make a better future. The answer is yes. It is possible, and Jesus is the ultimate example. Totally righteous as God, he nonetheless accepted death and resurrection so that man could have a future in the Kingdom of Heaven. While the past is solid and cannot be changed, the future is wide open. Imagine your older self looking at your past that has not yet happened. What would you change? Make your future the past you wished you could have had.

This article first appeared in Catholic World Report on May 28th, 2014.