What to watch to understand X-Men: Days of Future Past

X-Men-Days-of-Future-Past-banner

This week the big release is X-Men: Days of Future Past and as indicated in our german review the movie is absolutely worth seeing on the big screen.
But what if you have never seen an X-Men movie?
With

  • 3 original movies (X-Men, X2: X-Men United, X-Men: The Last Stand),
  • one prequel (X-Men: First Class)
  • and 2 spin offs (X-Men Origins: Wolverine, The Wolverine)

this movie universe is starting to become as complicated as the comics it is based on. It might even be on the verge of alienating the uninitiated or those who have given up on comic book movie.

So in this article we have compiled different approaches in order to be able to enjoy this newest X-Men installment. Because, let’s face it, X-Men: Days of Future Past is not a movie for rookies.

Franchise history

Xmen banner
Confused already?

This segment is just intended as a quick overview over the entire movie franchise:

Bryan Singer directed the first two installments (X-Men (2000) and X2: X-Men United (2003)). Two movies which together with Raimi’s Spider-Man (and later Nolan’s Batman Begins) pretty much started the whole comic crazy we are currently living in.

The story centers around Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) who finds himself between the fronts of two ideologies: the progressive Charles “Professor X” Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and the aggressive Erik “Magneto” Lensherr (Ian McKellen).

But despite the critical and commercial success Singer left the franchise after parts 1 and 2 because he had the chance to direct Superman Returns. So the X-Men franchise was put into less than capable hands and the third part of what is now seen as the “first trilogy” was a standard action-fest without the thematic nuances of the first two parts.

Trying to milk even more out of the franchise the makers opted for an origin story of Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine – the most popular of the characters – with X-Men Origins: Wolverine. And where the third part was considered a disappointment, Origins was seen as a pure travesty.

2011 should see the creative resurgence of the franchise even though all signs pointed into the opposite direction. A rushed production and cheaply done visual effects made a bad first impression when the trailers for X-Men: First Class hit the internet. But retelling the origin story about how Professor X (now played by James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) met proved to be the adrenaline shot the franchise needed. Directed by Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass) this movie turned out to be one of the few prequels that actually worked.

2013 would then see another movie about Wolverine – simply titled The Wolverine to distance itself from X-Men Origins: Wolverine – which for the grand scheme of things proved a bit inconsequential.

And now that we have arrived in 2014 we can look forward to X-Men: Days of Future Past which will bring both versions of Professor X and Magneto together linked via a timetraveling Hugh Jackman. The question remains:

Are you ready for this?

If not here are the ways to approach the franchise:

I have never seen an X-Men movie! (X-Men (2000))
X-Men 1

This might sound like the most obvious statement but it certainly is the easiest way to get into the franchise. In year 2000 comic book movies weren’t as established as they are today. So the filmmakers had to go the extra mile to convince those who hadn’t read the comics. Featuring Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and Rogue (Anna Paquin) as the audience’s proxy into this crazy world full of mutants and crazy powers.

Pros:
You will know the most important players

Cons:
It might take some time to get used to the younger versions of the characters without having seen X-Men: First Class.

I have never seen X-Men and the original movies look dated! (X-Men: First Class (2011))
Xmen first class

Days of Future Past unites two different casts. The older generation (started in 2000 with X-Men) and the prequel story X-Men: First Class (2011). But the great thing about this reboot is that it is completely accessible for newcomers. Most prequels tell a story set before the initial movies but assume the audience’s familiarity with the characters. This leads to a disjointed experience where newcomers are confused beyond belief and other viewers already know what happens.

Instead X-Men: First Class takes its time to introduce this world and its protagonists so that you care about them even if you haven’t seen them in other movies.

Pros:
You will know the actors who are the focus of Days of Future Past and their backstory.

Cons:
You will wonder why Hugh Jackman is so important and what his deal is.

I want the least confusion possible but I can only watch one movie before!
(X2: X-Men United (2003))
Xmen 2

X2: X-Men United (2003) has since its release become one of the high watermarks of comic book movies. Where X-Men (2000) focused on the fight against Magneto (Ian McKellen) this sequel added even more characters and a third party: the humans. Suddenly the line between good and evil became even blurrier with the addition of William Stryker (Brian Cox) and the villainous Magneto got more relatable.

Like all good sequels X2 also tries to explain the story to all those who have missed part 1 so while not being as accessible it is still possible to follow into this world having only watched this movie. If you have time for only one movie before Days of Future Past this is the movie to watch.

Pros:
You will know pretty much all the important characters including William Stryker who also features in Days of Future Past. You will understand Wolverine’s conflict and backstory.

Cons:
It might be a bit harder to get into the world with it being a part II.
Like with X-Men you will need some time to adjust to the younger cast from X-Men: First Class.

I want to get the best possible experience (and some time to kill)!
DOFP Cast

One might think that for the most complete experience one should just watch all movies with X-Men stamped onto the cover. But this will cause you more headache because of how disjointed the franchise became after Bryan Singer left.

Characters die in one installment and then magically reappear in the newest movie. Characters lose powers then regain them, mutants appear played by different actors… it really is a continuity mess. And now you have to add in to this mix that the newest movie features timetravel and since when has timetravel made things less complicated?

But instead of giving us a 10 minutes prologue which tries to fix all the plotholes from movies nobody cares about X-Men: Days of Future Past does the right thing and just ignores everything past X2 (not counting First Class). So the order in which I would recommend watching them would be:

  • X-Men (2000)
  • X2: X-Men United (2003)
  • X-Men: First Class (2011)
  • X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

Pros:
You get all the information necessary to understand all the characters with minimal contradictions.

Cons:
There is one shot of Wolverine’s love Jean Grey that will only make complete sense with X-Men: The Last Stand – although (spoiler) she technically also died in X2 so the part about losing Jean still makes sense without the third movie.

Screw it! I will watch everything!
X men 3

Sometimes this itch has to be scratched. Sometimes we want to take the tour the force and take it all in.

Pros:
You will have done everything in your power to prepare for the movie

Cons:
(spoilers for everything before the new movie)
Why is the Professor alive?
Why does Magneto have his powers?
Why does Wolverine have metal claws?
Why did I watch X-Men Origins: Wolverine?

BONUS ROUND!

I only want to watch movies with Hugh Jackman (X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009))
Wolverine

If you really want to know more about Wolverine you might be tempted to check out this movie

Pros:
You will know why he got the metal claws.

Cons:
You will realize that the mystery was better than the resolution.
You will have suffered a lot.

I have watched X-Men Origins: Wolverine and it was ok (The Wolverine (2013))
The Wolverine

If Origins didn’t break you The Wolverine is a much better entry compared to this.

Pros:
You can just skip Origins and go directly to The Wolverine.

Cons:
Being better than Origins isn’t saying much.
The thing about Wolverine’s claws might get confusing in Days of Future Past.

Final Words
So now you have your battle plan!  Prepare for a comic book movie that actually makes good use of its premise. A movie qhich combines two great ensemble casts and most importantly is great fun to watch.

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Wolfgang Verfasst von:

Der Host des Flipthetruck Podcasts. Mit einem Fokus auf Science Fiction und Roboter sucht er ständig jene Mainstream Filme, die sich nicht als reine Unterhaltungsfilme zufrieden geben.

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