Saturday, May 31, 2014

Days of Future Past: A Study In Time Travel

WARNING:  Do not read this unless you either have seen the latest X-Men movie or do not care to be spoiled. There will be spoilers contained herein; there might also be headache-inducing discussion of time-travel concepts as presented in various media. You have been warned…so have at thee! (Wait…that’s an Avenger, not an X-Men.)

Seems there is confusion concerning the timeline based on the events that occur in X-Men:  Days of Future Past. In my opinion, I felt the movie did an impressive job of shoring up some of the continuity issues encountered in the previous trilogy and spinoffs, while maintaining certain nods to them moving forward. As someone who has watched and read countless movies, television shows, science-fiction and non-fiction books, etc, I consider myself somewhat of an amateur time-travel expert (i.e. self-anointed). Thus, allow me to make sense of the matter with my own analysis/theories:

Let’s just get this one out of the way…X-Men Origins:  Wolverine has been ignored and is not canonical to the X-Men cinematic universe, and was disavowed almost immediately after its widely-panned release. At the very least, it is not a part of either the previous or current movie series. This minimizes one (minor) issue between it, X-Men 2 and DoFP:  William Stryker’s age in each time period. (This also would mean Deadpool is alive and kicking, without being a mutant-Frankenstein stuffed doll…roll sequel reboot for his character!)


In my opinion, this probably is the source for most of the confusion:  how time-travel works – at least, for someone’s “conscious” – in the X-Men cinematic universe is explained at the very beginning of the film. (I will allow that many people may have missed it, as it was stated rather quickly without extensive discussion.) Wolverine’s mind is sent back in time to his younger self; anything that he does as his younger self will affect the future. If you’ve ever seen the series Quantum Leap or the movies Somewhere In Time, The Butterfly Effect or Timecop, it’s the same fluidity concept of time:  events changed in the past warp and refigure events of the future, and whether someone’s physical or mental essence is sent back in time – like Bishop, who mind jumps back a few hours to warn the others when Sentinels arrive – they don’t create a new timeline but rather simply change the current one in the past. AGAIN, NO ALTERNATIVE TIMELINE IS CREATED. I mean, it’s in the title…THE FUTURE LIES IN THE PAST! There was also the assertion that if Wolverine succeeded in changing the timeline, his mind would return to his “present” self and only he would remember both the events of the dystopian and changed future (albeit, with some necessary memory updating à la Butterfly Effect or Timecop). If he failed to change the timeline, his mind would simply return to the dystopian future.

The Star Trek franchise – mind you, my all-time favorite – is notorious for using the alternate timeline concept quite frequently, which I feel is the reason for the confusion. Although there are multitudes of theories on time-travel, this is the concept most people are familiar with because it has been used in countless movies and television shows. The reason for this is that it presents the least paradoxical situation encountered with a singular timeline concept:  if you go back in time and kill your own grandfather before you are born, how can you go back in time and kill your own grandfather? [See Back to the Future] Theoretically, you can’t because you’re not killing your own grandfather; you’re killing the grandfather of an alternate version of you, who now will never be born or never existed in that alternate timeline in the first place. Theoretically as well, even if you again travel back in time in order to undo the change(s) to the timeline, yet another alternate timeline is actually created that, yes, is, and will be, similar to the timeline from which you originally came but it is not, and will never be, the original timeline. The original timeline either continues on without you or it blinks out of existence the moment you travel back in time – not to mention that the original you is now a person out of sync from any timeline, as this new alternate “original” timeline will already have an alternate you…who, by and large, is you. There’s no way for you to get back to the original timeline. [Think Prime Spock and Alternate Spock in the reboot Star Trek; even if Prime Spock were to again travel back in time to stop Nero at the point he first appeared in the past, yet another Alternate Spock – in every way similar to Prime Spock – would be created with Prime Spock now stuck in that alternate “original” timeline rather than returning to the original timeline. Star Trek: First Contact glosses over this idea when they return to the future; theoretically, they wouldn’t be returning to “their” future.]

(Start Point)    (Point @change)         (Point @time travel)

Original Timeline
Alternate Timeline
Alternate “Original” Timeline

These are key components of the “Grandfather Paradox.” Both Back to the Future and Timecop are excellent examples of the singular timeline paradox, the latter matter-of-factly stating “the same matter can’t occupy the same space,” while Stargate:  Continuum, a straight-to-video movie release as part of the Stargate SG-1 series, on the other hand is a great example of the “alternate versions” concept. (No, we’re not even going to discuss the Terminator franchise.)


It’s safe to assume that events in X-Men, or something similar, happened, that events in X-Men 2 may or may not have happened and that events in X-Men:  Last Stand – and, possibly by extension, The Wolverine – did not happen. How can we know this? For the former, Rogue’s strand of white hair in DoFP’s epilogue scene; that occurred because of the events in the first-ever X-Men movie. Plus, the X-Men by all appearances have been and still are a team, which means something at one point brought them all together. (Frankly, it’s just easier to believe the events occurred rather than attribute these circumstances to an alternate reason.) The wild cards here are Scott Summers and Jean Grey, who are both alive. This clearly indicates that events in Last Stand never occurred, meaning that neither Scott nor Charles Xavier died at the hands (mind?) of Jean; thus, that’s THE Charles Xavier – not some morphed comatose patient – at the end of DoFP, and Jean appears to be in control of her powers that directly led to her “death” at the end of X2 and into the events of Last Stand. Even more, DoFP seems to indicate a more favorable acceptance of mutants from that point on; would there be a call for a mutant cure, which catalyzed the climatic battle at the end of Last Stand? What this also means, though, is that at least some of the events in The Wolverine did not happen; it is possible Wolverine still traveled to Japan, but under different circumstances other than the devastation of mutant kind.

This brings us back to X2; did those events happen in the changed timeline? There simply isn’t enough information presented to conclusively state one way or the other; Scott and Jean being alive and an operational Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters does not disprove the events of X2. Other than Mystique’s masquerade at the end of DoFP, William Stryker was still unaccounted, which means he very well could have continued on with the Weapon X program that may or may not have led (will lead? damn time travel stories!) to an eventual confrontation between him and the X-Men. Young Magneto even suggests to Wolverine what his bone claws would be like if they were metal – hinting at him volunteering for the Weapon X program, as Stryker claims in X2. In DoFP, future Wolverine indeed has his famous adamantium claws – as Kitty Pryde near-fatally experiences; yet, Silver Samurai sliced them off in The Wolverine, and Xavier and Magneto reunite with a bone-clawed Wolverine at the end to confront the coming events of DoFP. This means three things:  Wolverine presumably was part of the Weapon X program (i.e. X2 flashbacks) at some point; at least some of the events in The Wolverine had to have happened; and he evidently regained/regenerated his adamantium claws between the events of The Wolverine and DoFP. [Perhaps a nod to X-Men#25 and Wolverine #145, where Magneto ripped out all the adamantium from his body and Apocalypse – the next movie’s villain *wink* *wink* – re-bonded it to his skeleton.] Again, though, there isn’t enough information presented to know if any of this holds true for the changed timeline presented at the end of DoFP.

So...does that clear things up about time travel? :)

©2014 Steve Sagarra

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